BEING A PART OF THE QUEER SCENE IN ITALY
Vincenzo D’Ambrosio is part of a movement that counteracts its state’s political attitude. We tried to capture this essence and talked with him about stereotypes, nightlife in Italy, and being called “femminiello”
In a country, where Carola Rackete might have been sentenced to imprisonment for saving lives, where the leaders don’t believe in “rainbow families” and “ethnic shops” are considered hotbeds for drug trafficking, people are finding their personal ways in rebelling against a right-winged government without going out onto the streets and wielding posters of demonstrations. Vincenzo D’Ambrosio is one of them: Without the intention for change or rebellion, out of an inner urge, he challenges entrenched ways of thinking by being a part of the Italian queer scene. How a new, empowered masculinity, that doesn’t accept heteronormatvity as standard, norm or goal, has the opportunity to set us thinking.
Nele Tüch You’re originally from Napoli. How was it growing up there?
Vincenzo D’Ambrosio Being a Neapolitan means being part of a theatre of life every day. I grew up in the city of sounds, of vocation and of traffic, in the warm winter sun, listening to the voices singing in the streets. Living in a small town, I didn’t fully experience the city and I didn’t get to participate in cultural life, but I still lived my queer reality freely. In fact, I started performing in a club near my home when I was 19. It all started as a game. My city has given me everything I needed to be what I am now.
NT I lived in Italy for two years and stereotypically speaking (being aware I’m provoking here) people from Italy really love the city they are from, are very proud of Italian food, drive like crazy, don’t like to use condoms and are quite uncomfortable with same-sex relationships. What’s your experience as an actual Italian?
VDA It’s important to remember that Italy is a country built on pleasure and leisure: we invest and have invested in art, food, architecture, music, landscape and beauty in all its forms.
That said, while some of these stereotypes are close to being real, I can assure you that Italy is much more than that. Italy is a very big country and each region has its own culture and traditions, so generalizing is very hard in a country that was unified not more than 150 years ago.
I must say I’m most surprised and saddened about the condom stereotype, it is something I have never experienced in my life and I hope this is a very small percentage.
Anyway, next time you’re in Italy come to hang out with me and my friends and I’ll show you a whole new side of it.
NT Yes, I’d love that! Comparing Rome to Berlin, there is no real big fashion scene or underground party scene, except for a couple of happenings and like one or two good clubs. How is it in Napoli and Milano?
VDA Having never experienced the Berlin and Rome fashion scene or underground party scene, I cannot make any precise comparison. While the Milanese nightlife has always been cosmopolitan and increasingly extensive, the Neapolitan one in recent years is radically changing: it has seen an explosion of techno and house parties, becoming a true reference point for clubbers.
NT Do you have any tips for cool, underground and queer locations in Italy?
VDA Having grown up in Napoli, and living in Milano just a few years ago I can recommend some beautiful places of the Neapolitan and Milanese queer scenes. Napoli is one of the most gay-friendly cities in Italy and, with the gulf and islands close at hand, it’s possible to find beautiful gay beaches frequented by the Neapolitan gay and trans community, like the gay-friendly Marechiaro beach, Cuma beach and the gay beaches on the Amalfi Coast like Bagni Regina Giovanna and Formillo beach. In the historic centre of Napoli there’s the busiest Piazza Bellini, that thanks to its several gay clubs and bars, it’s the heart of the nightlife for the LGBTQ community.
In Milano gay bars and establishments are sprinkled all over the city, but Porta Venezia, officially called Porta Venezia Rainbow District, is the centre of the Milanese gay scene’s nightlife. Its incarnation as an LGBTQ hotspot makes it exuberant and a little bohemian. In particular, in Via Lecco, several bars follow one another, where it is possible to have an aperitif and drink until late. The street, during Pride week, becomes the city’s Gay Street.
NT How is the queer scene in Italy and how is it being a part of it?
VDA Today the queer scene emerges with an increasingly clear identity, from festivals to art fairs through the streets, a phenomenon that is growing in Italy but at the same time due to an extremist ruling class, in the last year the rights of homosexual and transgender people have been questioned and the attacks on LGBTQ people have increased. Love seems to me, the most normal thing in the world and to me loving someone of the same sex in a country with relative freedom is an act of strength.
Being part of my community is a continuous search inside myself through the people I meet and inspire me. I want people to understand that their identities can be fluid and at the same time very stable. Queer people must be free to live their lives as easily as those who don’t have to face these problems.
NT Anti-immigrant, anti-feminist, anti-gay and anti-abortion Salvini changed parent 1 and parent 2 into mother and father on children’s identify cards and declared to defend the natural family with all power possible. And Italian’s Minister for the Family, Lorenzo Fontana, announced that “rainbow families don’t exist”. How does it feel to identify as queer and to live in Italy right now?
VDA Like most countries in the world, unfortunately, Italy is living a moment of big economic crisis, therefore general crisis, where politicians are pushing certain issues instead of others to confuse and distract the population from real issues. The country is split between supporters and protesters and I think that until there are people fighting for their rights, there is always going to be hope.
I find the statement of “rainbow families don’t exist” hard to fathom since this is a reality that does exist and I and my friends live it every day. Their attempt to erase us is delusional and we are all fighting to never let this statement become a reality.
NT Being a man comes with a great privilege but also with the pressure of matching a heteronormative ideal of masculinity. I love how you own the feminine side within you. Was this always the case?
VDA Ever since I was little I’ve always had visibly feminine attitudes. My family never hindered me in my choices, allowing me to express myself as I wanted, so I experienced my identity and sexuality in a very open way. Although I was aware of the looks I received, of the people on the street who looked elsewhere or were next to me, several times I was derided in public by groups of boys of my age, defined “femminiello” in a negative way. I felt marked. It was just growing up and meeting people like me that I learned how important the femminiello figure in my culture was.
NT It seems like you really found a family outside your biological one. Can you tell me something about them?
VDA Since I arrived in Milano I felt a different awareness and, living in the centre, I had the chance to experience the queer reality of the city. I’ve always enjoyed socializing with queer people like me. My community has always lived at night to be free to be itself. I like living the night because it makes you grow and allows you to feel part of something, part of a family: my friends drag queens, transvestites and trans people, we are all like brothers and sisters who live together and support each other. A couple of years ago I started taking my old camera with me every night to document our reality. Maybe in the future, I will be able to publish a photo book of mine to thank them all.
Photography ALESSANDRO MERLO
Styling & Creative Direction RICCARDO MARIA CHIACCIO
Hair and Make up ASSIA CAIAZZO
Fashion Assistant ELAINE BONGIOVANNI
Special thanks to TEATRO ARSENALE DI MILANO
Interview and Text NELE TÜCH