In 1926, Italy’s dictator at the time, Benito Mussolini, reintroduced the penal code to enforce the rule of Fascism in Italy. The Rocco Code (1930, in force from 1 July, 1931) added more crimes to the list of those punishable with the death penalty, and reintroduced capital punishment for some common crimes. However, when Mussolini came under fire for not including specific laws against homosexuality, he declared “In Italy, they are all males“.
Unlike the Nazis, who treated gay people as an evolutionary degeneration of the Aryan race and persecuted them under Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, Mussolini’s fascist regime saw homosexuality as a characteristic typically found among the Germans and the English — an affliction from which the virile Italian male was immune. (Today we hear similar arguments from countries like Uganda and Nigeria, saying that homosexuality is un-African…)
As a result, Italy’s strategy was to ‘cover up’ the issue of homosexuality by creating a hostile climate in which open displays of homosexual affections were not tolerated. It was not until 1936, with the outbreak of World War II, that a more visible intolerance towards gay people (men in particular) occurred. During this period, the fascist regime sentenced gay men (often based on mere rumours or accusations) without due process, all in an effort to mimic Hitler’s racist and homophobic policies.
Italia Sono Tutti Maschi (In Italy, They Are All Males), is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel by Luca de Santis and Sara Colaone, which tells the story of the confinement of homosexuals during the Italian fascism regime. There are very few books depicting this part of our history and the authors have gone through great lengths to faithfully reproduce extracts from letters, reports and interviews with survivors — one of which inspired the central character of the book, Antonio.
The elderly “femminella” (effeminate) Antonio, also called Ninella, suffered the painful experience of political exile because of his sexuality. Torn from his family and his work as a tailor, after falling into a trap by the police, Ninella was sent to San Domino — an island in the Adriatic where gay men were exclusively interned.
On San Domino, Ninella makes friends with other unfortunates like him: the foul-mouthed Paterno, the petulant priest Don Nicholas, the slimy dealer Dante and the disguised Attilio, called Chinchilla. Over time Ninella receives the attention of Brigadier Dudiez, his supervisor, and he also falls in love with the young Mimi.
Even though Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is historically factual, it is never didactic. This true story is touching and intense and because of the subject matter, Italia Sono Tutti Maschi is a challenging but memorable and impressive read.
Italia Sono Tutti Maschi, is a must-have for all LGBT history enthusiasts. It has been hailed as one of the most important examples of Italian graphic novels that deal with historical themes. It was first published by Kappa Publishing, in September 2008, and has since been translated in French, German, Polish and Spanish. An English translation is not available yet.