When I was sixteen, I had a teacher of Latin who had become a joke for the whole school. Every day of the semester for thirty years she gave the same lesson. The older students, including my older sister, had made a diary of what she would speak every day, for each day of the semester. Same arguments, same homework. And that pattern was followed to perfection.
We had a student-teacher meeting where we were asked to express our opinions and suggestions to teachers. So I did. I stood up and asked why the Latin teacher had the same lesson every day of the semester.
A frozen silence.
Then the teacher told me, “But you have not spoken ever since the beginning of the year. And when you decide to say something, you say that. You shouldn’t have said that.”
I’ve never had good marks in Latin.
“Her name was Futurina, which means hope for the future. She risked being shot, tortured, deported. And I should not have the courage to talk about something so stupid?”
She didn’t answer, in fact, but I had asked. My classmates were divided. Some accused me of attracting the anger of teachers, some supported me, but the fact remained that I was the first to speak about a problem that went on for thirty years, that everyone knew but no one wanted to deal with.
My grandfather died at the age of twenty-six on the Russian front. His body was never found. He left to go to war, leaving my grandmother pregnant. They had been married only a month.
My grandmother loved him and went crazy. She risked her life acting against the regime. They say she was a beautiful woman, and she was legend in my hometown. Her name was Futurina, which means hope for the future. She risked being shot, tortured, deported. And I should not have the courage to talk about something so stupid?
My parents went through the Years of Lead, the armed struggle, terrorism, bombs in the streets. My dad says that in Rome, in those years, it was normal to meet people with a pistol in their pocket. He spent more than a night in jail for having participated in a protest march. In 1978, a revolutionary group, the Brigate Rosse, kidnapped the political leader of the Christian Democratic Party, Aldo Moro. The body was found in the trunk of a car some days later. The next day, all over the country were hanging black posters, in which loomed one single word: assassini, that is, murderers. No one ever knew who was responsible for these posters. I was only six years old, and I was able to read that word. Murderers, written everywhere on the walls. No one knew who it was, but at least the word had been spoken.
I thought to tell the truth was always the right thing. But it’s not that way. Not in all parts of the world, at least.
It happened in my life that I started to publish some books for young adults at the age of nineteen. The publishing houses, in my country, are large entities such as religious organizations, and in their temples you have to enter in silence, on your knees. In Italy, everything works for large families. Organizations and companies are only extended families. And as in any family, you can enter only if someone introduces you. And if you’re not introduced, you have to go with modesty and education, without screaming, thanking them for the honor that has been granted to you.
“Another big problem of my story was that the two main characters fell in love despite being of the same sex. This was not suitable for publication, because it could offend the Catholic Church.”
Well, I entered into silence at the beginning. With proper education. Then it happened that I wrote an Orwellian story, where the government put some kind of antennas in people’s minds to control their thoughts, and some rebels tried to change things.
My publisher was very angry. I could not criticize so much. I could not shoot at political institutions, especially since the great publishing house was owned by the daughter of the head of government, like in any respectable dictatorship. In a country where the head of government has the largest publishing house and the three major television networks, all this was not possible.
Another big problem of my story was that the two main characters fell in love despite being of the same sex. This was not suitable for publication, because it could offend the Catholic Church. And my publisher didn’t want any responsibility in this.
The funny thing is that I could kill my characters. Violence was granted. I could kill and torture and slaughter them all, but a love story between man and man, or between woman and woman, was not granted. Because the family is sacred, and the family is made up of a man and a woman to have children.
I think anyone can understand that the threat of homosexuality is very trivial, at least in my country. Same-sex couples do not have children, so they do not produce a flock. The oppressors need the flock. For the same reason, the women in my country must continue to have three or four children, even if there is no work and the women often have nothing to feed them, and there will be no jobs or future for them when they grow up. I also have children, and I’m sorry to say that for them I hope for a future outside Italy.
“And then,” I said to my publisher, that time, “what the hell can I write about?”
“I still think that things need to be said. Even if you are alone. Even simply talking about an unconventional love.”
“Write quiet stories without problems, where everything runs smoothly and the protagonists are a man and a woman,” he answered. “People don’t want to be shaken. They just want a story to read.”
I didn’t believe it, and still don’t think that people are idiots. That they want only to read a story, a story that does not leave anything behind, that does not change, at least a little, their way of thinking and their lives. Maybe people buy the last Italian bestseller, written by the winner of the last reality show, because it was the only thing to buy. But it is not said that they don’t want more. That they don’t deserve something better.
I still think that things need to be said. Even if you are alone. Even simply talking about an unconventional love. I cannot bring myself to go with the flow. I’m sorry. For me, writing a story in which the protagonists are in love in spite of everything, and do not necessarily respond to the usual pattern of man and woman to make a family, is a challenge. I like to think that diversity creates critical attitudes.
Even writing of love could be a challenge. I am convinced that if the human race has a hope of escaping injustice and oppression, it is stored in love and feelings. Love and feelings are all that remain. And they are powerful, because we cannot help them. Therefore writing of love is my way of being honest with myself. My little, modest attempt to change the world.
By Cinzia Maro