I will explore transness*, as a branch of queerness, as an identity that not only necessitates anti-fascism, but is inherently anti-fascist. This essay will attempt to tackle transness* as a queer identity as one that can be defined by anti-fascism due to its defiance against the cultural hegemony and norms that are created by a fascist nation.
There is major lack of recorded trans* history as well as a well of Italian trans* history that has not been translated into English. In May of 2020 the Italian Office Against Racial discrimination called for the creation of ArchiviST* or the Archivi Storia Trans which is a digital trans* archive. Because of how recent this development is, there are still major historical gaps in trans* and queer history. However, with what record does exist, I will explore the relationship between transness* and anti-fascism.
Fascism and Cultural Hegemony
Fascism thrives under the concept that there is only one type of individual in a nation, and that is someone who lacks any individuality. In Benito Mussolini’s 1932 doctrine, “The Doctrine of Fascism,” he states that fascism is anti-individualistic. “Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State”. Under fascist rule in Mussolini’s Italy, the only identity an Italian person could have owned is a person of “The State.”
Italian scholar and political leader Antonio Gramsci helped to round out this fascist culture of anti-individualism and introduced the idea of cultural hegemony. As defined by Gramsci, this cultural hegemony “refers to a process of moral and intellectual leadership through which dominated or subordinate classes of post-1870 industrial Western European nations consent to their own domination by ruling classes.” Gramsci continues to outline three facets of life that would enforce or create the boundaries and practices of cultural hegemony: institutions, forms of consciousness, and cultural/political practices.
Transness and Antifascism
Before discussing the role of queer and trans* groups’ role in anti-fascism, the word trans* must first be understood. Transgender scholar Susan Stryker defines the term trans*, a term that falls under the larger umbrella of queerness, in her novel Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution. In recent years, many people and scholars have adopted the term trans* with the asterisk to define transness as an inclusive term that can be a descriptor for anyone who falls outside of the strict male/female gender binary, this then includes binary transgender individuals as well as people who identify as non-binary and gender non-conforming. But what does transness have to do with fascism?
Anyone who identifies as queer, especially trans* people lie outside of the cultural hegemony established in Italy and many other countries. Trans* and queer groups are therefore viewed as radical groups in countries like Italy with a history of fascism. Scholar Rosa Hamilton introduces Italian queer activist Mario Mieli who echoes this idea. Mieli notes the fact that fascism thrives on heteropatriarchy. The socially accepted societal structure in fascist Italy is to welcome cisgendered men as leaders and superiors, and all people are assumed to be heterosexual. Mieli states that the mere existence of queer and trans* people were an act of protest against fascist governments. Hamilton herself takes this idea a step further. Scholar Rosa Hamilton talks about the queer anti-fascism movement that emerged around the 1970s in Europe, spearheaded by trans* groups and cisgendered lesbians. Hamilton says that “for these activists, queerness was necessarily anti-fascist, revolutionary, and intersectional.”
In Mussolini’s Italy, queerness was labeled as “degenerate” and in order to stop the “spread of degeneration” many queer people, primarily gay men, were sent to an island known as San Domino. Some people recall San Domino as a gay man’s “paradise.” However, this exile served as physical evidence that queer people were not included in Mussolini’s vision of what it meant to be Italian. To be queer was a direct attack on Mussolini’s belief that to exist in a fascist state you must be anti-individualistic. To be queer and trans* meant to own or declare an identity which shows an inherent sense of individualism, and these people therefore claimed an identity that was anti-fascist in nature. This led ultimately to their exile. Scholar Stefania Voli in their article Broadening the Gendered Polis, details several anti-fascist protests from queer groups. In 1972 in San Remo many queer groups and associations protested Italy’s International Congress on Sexual Deviancy which was organized by the Italian Center for Sexology. This congress advocated for anti-trans* and queer legislation as well as funded conversion therapy. Following the protest this group then founded “FUORI! (in Italian, an acronym for Fronte Unitario Omosessuale Rivoluzionario Italiano, the United Italian Homosexual Revolutionary Front).” Not only was the existence of queer people an act of defiance in and of itself, but queer groups also began to physically act out against fascist institutions that oppressed them. They made many attempts such as these which actively fought against institutions like the Congress on Sexual Deviancy which helped to create and enforce cultural hegemony in Italy.
Queer Anti-Fascist Media
2008 graphic novel In Italia Sono Tutti Maschi by Luca DeSantis and Sara Colaone depicts the treatment of men who were sent to San Domino under Mussolini. Many of these people were called women, dressed femininely or as women, and were referred to with she/her pronouns. This bending of the gender binary and gender roles that were commonly associated with queer men aided in them being viewed as outsiders in fascist Italy.
This graphic novel was inspired by a privately published documentary called Ricordare (english translation: To Remember) directed and produced by Gabriella Romano in 2003. The documentary is a series of interviews from Italian people who lived in San Domino, or were living in Italy and were willing to speak on the treatment of queer people. One person whose identity was left anonymous recalls the day they had been arrested. They remarked explaining to the police that none of the people who were exiled to San Domino had a criminal record. The police came to their home and burned pictures of them dressed as a woman. Another anonymous interviewee remarked that as of 2003, many queer people remained very scared, “they think they still live at that time” (26:29). The interviewer noted that many queer people refused to be interviewed because they feared that they were being blackmailed. The fear mongering and treatment of queer and trans* people in Mussolini’s Italy led to a still-prevalent lack of media about queer and trans* people. The effect of this is ongoing.
The Future of Transness*
While there are still major gaps in trans* Italian history, there is hope for the survival and recovery of a queer past. Italian trans* activist Porpora Marcasciano has been trying to fill those gaps. She has written several books and a documentary talking about the trans* experience growing up in a fascist and post-fascist Italy. Marcasciano’s novel The Dawn of the Bad Trans Women: Stories, Fragments, and Lives of My Transgender Generation translated by Serena Bassi details Porpora’s trans* experience. In the first chapter she talks about the very first trans* women she ever saw, and the hateful whispers that seemed to follow them. Porpora marks a hopeful future for Italian trans* people, and queer people globally,