On Love, Queerness, and Transphobia While Vacationing in Rome

My partner Anthony is unapologetically trans. They’re always quietly — yet firmly, hold space in a room, unwavering and generally unbothered by the risk that comes from existing as a trans individual. That risk is sometimes as simple as wearing a dress or skirt on a body people like to quickly gender a certain way. One of the worst fears you can have as a partner is when harm comes your loved one’s way — are you going to be able to protect them at that moment?

As the weeks turned into days before our trip to Italy, I got very nervous. Anthony is not the kind of *diva* to go undercover or hide. The reactions and possibly actions of Romans as they come face to face with the beauty of Anthony were a worry of mine, especially considering the environment we live our lives in.

San Francisco is generally an accepting community, where there’s enough queer and trans life for people to not bat an eye at it. We’re used to getting compliments on outfits…. whether it’s genuine or an earnest attempt at showing acceptance. (Please note: The first transphobic glaring towards Anthony in San Francisco was during Dreamforce; that should tell you everything.)

When we go to an environment where cultural attitudes could be different, what kind of experience does that entail? What even is the cultural attitude towards transness?

Italy, it turns out, is a mixed bag of laws. ILGA-Europe (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association) characterizes Italy as the worst among the Western European countries. It’s mostly attributed to the ban on same-sex marriage, a general lack of discrimination protections, and truly regressive laws about parental rights for children conceived via IVF or adoption. When you zoom in closer, you note that civil unions are allowed (the classic compromise) which seems like a begrudging compromise that makes some sense in context.

Rome literally envelops Vatican City, the city-state that is the home for Roman Catholicism, a religion that is decidedly not queer-friendly. 

Even Roman Catholicism, which espouses that homosexuality is immoral, has seen small compromises in attitudes. Pope Francis’ comment in response to the question of gay men becoming priests, “Who am I to judge?” indicates a sense of personal choice and a case-by-case basis for what is seen as acceptable. The fuzzy nature of attitudes becomes even more unclear as you look at Italy’s history with transness.

Legally changing your gender has been allowed in Italy since 1982 (!); Vladimir Luxuria, an openly trans woman, served in European Parliament. But our experiences in Italy seemed to indicate that general culture was tolerant of transness, not necessarily accepting of it. The rise of TERFs in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, indicates far-right vilification of transness that was definitely felt. Spending a week and a half in Rome made it clear that women were more likely to have strong and distasteful responses to Anthony’s existence. There is so much to think about and unpack about how femininity is wielded by those in privileged positions against others who expand what the meaning of femininity is. 

As I was finishing this article, Giorgia Meloni was elected as Italian Prime Minister. She is part of the far-right political party Brothers of Italy, which has its roots in post-war fascism. Meloni has been open about fear-mongering about LGBTQIA+ groups and “gender ideologies”. But like with other things discussed, nothing is cut and dry: she has tried to distance herself from fascism, despite footage from her youth proudly proclaiming her love of Mussolini. While this clearly sets the stage for even more hostility towards queerness and transness, who knows exactly how this impacts lives. I worry that the visibility of a far-right cis woman will make things very scary for trans people.

Considering the state of the world as fascism creeps its way back into everything, I can not help but admire Anthony’s steadfastness in being their truest self. I think Anthony’s vision of themself, representing femininity in a way that is not strictly gendered, gives permission for so many more people to express their softer side. People should let themselves contain multitudes! Feel free to exist in ways that are different and uncomfortable! I would not be doing my job as a partner well if I forget to mention Anthony’s nonbinary clothing line And Our as a venue for any curious readers to explore this femininity for themselves.

And now, there’s no better way to summarize the Italian trip than with a listicle a la Buzzfeed, ranking reactions to Anthony’s existence from funny and harmless to downright infuriating.

  • An Italian grandmother in a more suburban area fully making eye contact, widening her eyes, and shaking her head (sometimes you have to check to see if life is real)
  • General quick double takes (boring)
  • Giving a quick up and down while wearing a tragic t-shirt that you sewed ugly yellow ruffles onto (if you’re going to be rude, at least come correct!)
  • Doing two double takes and then proceeding to be lecherous towards every other woman on the bus (at least you have priorities)
  • Unsubtly recording a video while on your smoke break (less bad because the recorder of the video was hot – sorry!)
  • Full on disgusted glare for a good 15 seconds while in a tiny perfume shop (was too long to not be ill-intentioned, but can’t tell if the face was disgust or too generally Eastern European)
  • Recording from the other side of the train tracks, unwaveringly, and begrudgingly shaking your head to stop recording after I literally step in front of Anthony and do the stare down (please diva, get it together)

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