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'Pride in unity, pride in struggle'

Transgender lesbian activist
Leslie Feinberg tours Italy

By Minnie Bruce Pratt

The lesbian, gay, bi and trans movement of Italy showed the spectacular breadth and depth of the colors of its rainbow flag as it hosted transgender lesbian activist and author Leslie Feinberg from June 2-6 in a week of special events. Workers World Managing Editor Feinberg spoke at local meetings in the northern cities of Milan, Bologna and Turin, and traveled south to address gatherings in Florence and Rome.

Leaders in diverse sectors of the Italian LGBT movement invited Feinberg because this is a historic moment in which they are trying to develop greater unity in their struggle. As the trip unfolded, that solidarity began to emerge, visible to all.

The tour coincided with the publication of the Italian edition of Feinberg's "Stone Butch Blues," a novel set in pre-Stonewall gay drag bars of working-class Buffalo in upstate New York. The gender journey of the protagonist, Jess Goldberg, explores the relationship of the struggle against oppression based on sex, gender and sexuality with other battles against racism and war, and with the working-class struggle for liberation.

The novel's Italian translators were Margharita Giacobino, a feminist writer and author of "Pride and Privilege: the Heroic Journal of Lesbian Literature," and Davide Tolu, a leading FTM [female-to-male] transsexual activist and author of "The Journey of Arnold: Story of a Man Born as Woman."

Francesca Polo, of Il Dito e La Luna, publisher of the Italian edition of "Stone Butch Blues," told Workers World, "I think that Feinberg's tour was important in particular because it brought together lesbians and transgender people. I believe that Leslie/Jess can be the missing link in this relationship and be instrumental in arriving at a better understanding."

The Coordinamento Nazionale Trans FTM, a group established for the purpose of organizing Feinberg's tour, and Il Dito e La Luna coordinated the events, together with local LGBT groups in Milan, Turin, Bologna and Rome, and a national lesbian caucus arranged a conference in Florence for 2004 National Pride in Italy.

Marco Geremia, of sponsoring group Antagonismo Gay Bologna, evaluated the current state of the Italian LGBT movement. "Since the early 1990s, the mainstream Italian homosexual movement downsized the scope of its criticism by expressing mere 'integrationist' political demands. That resulted in the marginalization of entire groups, such as the trans sisters, the lesbian feminists, radical gays and others." He stressed, however, that the anti-globalization movement, beginning with struggles in 2000, had re-invigorated connections between groups.

"In this context Leslie's words 'catalyzed' our efforts by confronting them with the insights of a transgender warrior, a workers' representative, an American communist."

For Monica Romano, an MTF leader of Crisalide Azione Trans Milano, the meetings were opportunities for building unity: "In my opinion, the Italian LGBT movement can do great things. It has a great potential for changing society. Its weak point is its internal divisions. Leslie's message drew attention to the necessity of fighting together for our common goals."

Milan: 'At home with red flag!'

The historic Milan meeting on June 2 marked the first occasion of this national cooperation between lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Italian groups. It was held in the local headquarters of the Communist Refoundation Party (PRC) in a working-class section of town. Parti ci pants entered through a courtyard draped with red banners and rainbow peace flags.

The LGBT caucus of the Milan PRC hosted the meeting, along with Arci Lesbica Zami, Centro di Iniziativa Gay (CIG), Crisalide Azione Trans Milano, CoDS Diritti E Liberta' Autonomia Tema tica DS and Linea Lesbica Amica.

A panel, assembled to give an Italian context for the ideas in "Stone Butch Blues," included Francesca Polo, Monica Romano and Marco Romelli, also from Crisalide Azione Trans Milano.

"When I see these red flags I feel at home," Feinberg told the standing-room-only audience. She gave a Marxist over view of human history, pointing out the long period of matrilineal cooperative societies around the world in which sex/ gender/sexuality variance was more accepted and respected.

Feinberg pointed to evidence that patriarchal partitioning of the sexes and state enforcement of heterosexuality and gender expression became components of the development of the nuclear family as a transmission belt of wealth, property and title as societies cleaved into exploiting and exploited classes.

She stressed that ultimately the liberation of sexuality and gender and sex is a revolutionary task that cannot be accomplished without the overthrow of capitalist private ownership and its replacement with world communism--a society in which production is planned to meet the needs and wants of all. That goal of a classless society, she argued, cannot be won without building class unity today by bringing together the LGBT and women's struggle, the battle against racism and imperialist war, and the defense of immigrant rights as key elements in a united front.

She celebrated the building of bridges between the people in that meeting hall--an audience that represented the broadest political, sexual and gender spectrum--as well as working-class people from the neighborhood who came because they saw the posters. Some participants had just come from an anti-war demonstration of thousands in Milan where the U.S. flag was burned.

Turin and 'Red' Bologna

Two meetings were held in Turin on June 3--an afternoon panel presentation on transgender, and an evening discussion of "Stone Butch Blues." Both were sponsored by the Coordinamento Gay Lesbiche Transessuali di Torino, hosted by the Turin Public Library, and supported by the city administration. The panel emphasized social and historical aspects of transgender.

Panelists in the afternoon roundtable included Feinberg; Porpora Marcasciano of MIT Nazionale (Movimento Identità Transessuale) Bologna; Diana Nardac chione of Arcitrans; Mery Nicotra of Associazione Donne in Viaggio; Merella Izzo of Crisalide Azione Trans Genova; and Cigi Malaroda, Marco Pustianaz, Roberta Padovano, all of Coordinamento GLT Torino.

The evening presentation featured Feinberg, with translator Margherita Giacobino and Christian Ballarin of Gruppo Transessuali Luna. The audience packed the meeting room, staying past midnight for the question-and-answer format program with Feinberg.

When asked if U.S. police are still as brutal towards oppressed people as they are depicted in her novel, Feinberg pointed to the torture of Iraqi and Afghan prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guanta namo. "This racist dehumanization also demonstrates the violently anti-trans, anti-gay and anti-woman character of the state machinery of repression," she empha sized. "And some of these Penta gon torturers are cops and prison guards in the U.S., too."

In Bologna, openly trans candidate Marcella de Folco--running from the party Communisti Italiani for European Parliament--held a reception for Fein berg at the city's trans community center.

That evening, the June 4 meeting was held at the Cassero Gay/Lesbian Center inside the massive Porta San Stefano. Activists have for four years been illegally occupying the ancient structure that has survived from the walled feudal city. The building could not hold all who came, the majority of whom identified themselves as communists.

Bologna is called a "red" city for its tradition of being in the most pro-communist region of Italy.

The meeting went long into the night. Feinberg stressed the importance of establishing strong bonds of unity on shared principles between communists around the world in the battle against capitalism and imperialism.

Porpora Marcasciano, who is from Bologna, told Workers World, "In the past years we've been trying to move a step across the tight borders of identities and we've started to meet up and work together on issues like sexuality, gender, globalization, war."

Marcasciano observed about the June 4 meeting: "In Bologna four groups cooperated: MIT Movimento di Identità Transgender, Antagonismo Gay, Arci Lesbica, and LUO Libera Università Omosessuale.

"We can say that for the first time a synergic work was established between local and national association/groups which share political, social and cultural strategies which belong to the radical left tradition. I believe this tour has represented a point of arrival with respect to the LGBT debate, fights and strategies in Italy, but especially a starting point for a new political and cultural elaboration."

Marcasciano led everyone in song at the close of the evening, with fists raised in a pledge to continue the struggle. All sang together the famous "Bella Ciao," anthem of the Italian partisans who fought against the Nazis and liberated many parts of Italy, including the north, before the Allied troops landed at the close of World War II. This was especially meaningful, since U.S. President George W. Bush had just arrived as part of D-Day commemorations, boasting that the U.S. had liberated Italy, in order to boost his current claim that he is "liberating" Iraq.

Florence and Rome

National coalitions organized events in Florence on June 5--LesPride and Coordinamento Nazioniale FTM--as part of a three-day conference of LGBT culture.

Participants crowded the Polispazio Queer, a former convent, for a panel on FTM transsexual experience. Speakers included Christian Ballarin, Simone Cangelosi, Adriana Godano, Matteo Manetti, Stefano Alberto Maselli, Saveria Ricci, Monica Romano, and Liana Borghi, one of the organizers of the conference.

In an evening lecture, Feinberg drew historic lessons from the 19th-century North American movement to abolish slav ery and the early women's rights movement about the necessity to stand up together against white supremacy, women's and trans oppression.

Her remarks were followed by what Marco Geremia of Antagonismo Gay characterized as "a vital, strong and even tense confrontation between FTM trans/transgender people and lesbian feminists on a long-unexpressed question," the issue of feminist analysis of patriarchy and the fact of FTM transition to male gender.

When asked to conclude the debate Feinberg asked all those "who feel the weight of oppression on your backs, who feel compassion for others who are oppressed, even if you do not understand that experience and that pain, all who are willing to work to build a movement based on solidarity--knowing full well that the task of building unity is difficult--to stand with me now."

Virtually the entire audience of hundreds rose to their feet in an ovation.

Geremia said that as a gay man, "what was enriching for me was the contribution that Leslie, as a transgender warrior, and other FTM trans gave to the work of deconstruction of male identity. A contribution that had much of re-construction in it. In fact, we've welcomed with enthusiasm the urge to analyze what having masculine resemblance means."

Rome was the final stop in this marathon of political meetings, with a panel sponsored by all five of the city's major LGBT groups: ArciLesbica Roma, Arcitrans Libellula, Di'GayProject Onlus, Gruppo, and Circolo di Cultura Omosessuale Mario Mieli.

The meeting was held in the Women's Building. Exhilaration was the mood of the evening as the meeting, which featured speakers from each of the organizations, including Helena Velena, the MTF host of the television show "Gay Rome," whose earlier interview with Feinberg had gone out to 200,000 viewers.

Feinberg talked about the historical threads of evidence of ancient trans expression apparently rooted in early matrilineal communal societies that she had discovered on her trip through Italy. She saluted the organizers of the evening's gathering that represented many political currents. "That's the kind of unity necessary to build a strong revolutionary movement," she said.

The audience burst into applause when Feinberg recalled the Chinese proverb: "Those who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it."

Of the lively discussion that followed, Monica Romano of Crisalide Azione Trans Milano said she was struck by "the strong interest expressed by people there, especially by the youngest ones. They were enthusiastic, determined to open their minds and listen. Nobody was left indifferent to what had been said during the meeting. In my experience, this doesn't happen very often during political debates or cultural events."

Throughout the tour, Romano noticed there was "a great excitement and a real interest for going deep into the subjects that emerged during the meetings. There's a wish for talking, exchanging experiences and knowing each other better beyond our differences. This is great." She believes that the people who read "Stone Butch Blues" and attended the meetings now "feel more free to express themselves and their identity. And this is saying something!"

Building bridges

Davide Tolu believes the series of political meetings had a positive impact on building unity among the various segments of the LGBT movement in Italy. He feels that there are now "new, stronger bonds amongst individuals and also amongst different associations," as well as new "bridges amongst groups discriminated [against] for their gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, race, religion, political convictions," with Fein berg's speeches serving as an inspiration on "how to cross those bridges and overcome our differences to build a stronger unique group."

Publisher Francesca Polo also affirmed the success of cooperation among LGBT groups: "This was an excellent occasion to try out if working together is possible. I think that the results were positive: if the aim is shared, the co-operation among different groups is not only possible, but even quite effective."

Porpora Marcasciano added, "All of this happened in the days of Pride and at the same time as the visit of G.W. Bush in Italy, and therefore the actions, initiatives and experiences it gave had a strong political meaning."

Speaking for Antagonismo Gay, Marco Geremia observed that the meetings had been in "the spirit of the early LGBT liberation movement." He concluded, "Meeting Leslie Feinberg has been a great honor and an exciting experience, which we'll bring as a gift within the European LGBT Forum."

Minnie Bruce Pratt gave talks in Florence and Rome on the connections between women's liberation and sex and gender diversity. She was interviewed on "Gay Roma," and spoke as a representative of the International Action Center-New York/ANSWER at the massive June 4 demonstration that drew 200,000 to Rome to protest against Bush and the U.S. war on Iraq.

Reprinted from the July 1, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyrighted under a Creative Commons License.
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