Thursday, December 14, 2006
"The Holy Papa do not shop at Prada!"
Out magazine today has a pretty interesting article about gay life in Rome, and some of the history of that gay life. (Take it for what you will, however; Out magazine is the journalistic equivalent to Highlights for Gays.) Included are discussions about the extreme homoerotism of so much religious art and iconography, titillating gossip about Julius Caesar having been an insatiable bottom, Italy's first transgender member of Parliament, and why so many gay Roman men still live with mom and dad and are happily living in the closet.
Scarcity of real estate also sustains the “Mamma Hotel” arrangement. There can be no gay neighborhood in a city like Rome because salaries are too low and rents are too high for more than a small minority of young professionals to support themselves. (Scattered across the city, Rome has three gay saunas, one gay restaurant, and about 10 gay clubs. Garbo’s yuppified atmosphere is rare. Most bars, like the twink-packed Coming Out or the harder Hangar, have a grittier edge.)
This economic stagnation creates domestic flexibility. Because the young have no place to go, their families can’t throw them out, which makes families extremely resilient. It also makes dating all but impossible—which is why many Romans mostly make do with sex, often in dark rooms and saunas.
Compare “Mamma Hotel” to America’s urban gay culture—in which announcements of sexual orientation enlarge, for many, the distance that’s created when we leave home. In our 20s and 30s, that distance grows larger as gay men join the upwardly mobile class of their peers, carving out individualistic identities based on economic consumption (and, often, some kind of therapy before finally beginning the lengthy process of reconciling with our parents). Which culture is more restrictive? Which is more free? For all its limits, Italian gay life safeguards something valuable that many in America struggle to find: a sure sense of involvement with family and community, a certainty that one is not alone in the world.
For all its benefits, it sounds like a pretty lonely life to me.
But the most interesting part of the article, and strangely, the most sentimental, comes towards the end, when discussing the various aspects of life in the Vatican. It seems widely "known" and agreed upon that obviously the Pope is gay (his bright red shoes are from Prada, for crying out loud, though it's denied that he shops there; they were a gift) and his boyfriend is his private secretary, a 50-year-old blond, dashing athlete of a man who's been compared to George Clooney in the Italian press.
The story gets sentimental when the article talks to an expat American living in Rome with AIDS. He says he gets free healthcare there: he's received thousands and thousands of dollars worth of treatment, chemotherapy and medication, even though he lives there illegally. When he talks of being afraid that the doctors wouldn't treat him because he wasn't an Italian citizen, they replied, "Don't worry, we're doctors. We're here to take care of you." Contrast that to America. The man, nicknamed Ichabod by the journalist due to his extreme height, says that he grew up in the American Midwest, and developed a great distaste for hypocrisy. He continues: The Vatican is one of the most homophobic institutions in the world and probably the most gay institution in the world, outside of gay nightclubs. And yet within that paradox there is actually a great deal of room for humanity and passion. For me, living in Italy has been about learning to live in paradox.