Silvia Rota Sperti
1977 saw the publication of a text that was fundamental for the Italian homosexual movement and beyond. Its author was a young man in his early twenties who wandered around Milan disguised as a woman, led the city’s nascent gay circles and surprised university professors with his irreverent intelligence. This young man, who was as whimsical as he was brilliant, had frequented the circles of the Gay Liberation Front in London and was determined to bring to Italy the seeds of a revolution that to him was vital: that for the affirmation and liberation of gay people.
Elements of a Homosexual Critique is an elaboration of the graduate thesis in moral philosophy he wrote at the State University of Milan, and remains an essential text. It is a book that has remained somewhat in the shadows for years, mostly appreciated by small circles of militants, or abroad, which is surprising in light of the visibility and lively political activities of its author. Fortunately, things have changed, and today Elements is recognised as the main manifesto of the Italian gay movement.
But let’s start at the beginning.
Mieli was a prodigy, gifted with very acute intelligence and a sharp tongue, and had charisma in spades. In the lively turmoil of the battles of the 1970s, he established himself as the spiritual guide of the nascent gay movement. His goal was not to achieve a sort of (bogus) social tolerance for gay people, but radical acceptance through a change in common thinking and therefore of the system. The goal, in his words, is the “liberation of homoerotic desire in every human being”. If that seems ambitious to you, immerse yourself in the pages of the book: it will amaze you even more.
Drawing on Freud’s studies, Mieli starts with the concept of polymorphic infantile erotic disposition. It is a disposition that “in adult life, every human being carries within himself in a state of latency or confined to the abysses of the unconscious under the yoke of repression.” Society represses this trend through an education that is actually “educabstraction”, channelling citizens into the rules of heteronormativity and stifling any deviation or free expression. Liberation from this yoke is necessary for the emancipation and full realisation of individuals, and therefore for their happiness.
Mieli uses the words of a revolutionary and is generous with radical criticism, which crosses into the territory of politics. Liberation, in fact, will inevitably lead to the collapse of the “castrating” power system, that is, capitalism. Here is another of the pillars of the counterculture of the time called upon: Karl Marx. Homosexual liberation is essential to emancipation from heterodirected capitalism and its dictates, which are contrary to the free expression of individual eros. We seem to hear an echo of the formula, which was very popular in the seventies, according to which “the private is political”. Personal liberation is linked to the project of changing the world, without which this liberation itself cannot be achieved. It is necessary, says Mieli, “to overturn the entire approach to morality”. Unleashing desire. Allowing the thousand facets of eros, of which homosexuality is perhaps only the most manifest and consistent part, to be admitted and celebrated.
These are big issues, which the very young Mieli exposed with academic precision and abundance, rewarding us with a study as illuminating as it is disruptive, which has disturbed and thrilled scholars and thinkers from all over the world, academic and non-academic alike, and has anticipated many of the concepts that were yet to come, such as queerness.
Reading him is – however pleasant – not just a tribute to the gay movement. It is a liberating journey, an act of personal growth. It is almost a moral obligation if you want to open your horizons on the theme of homosexual liberation, or, if you prefer, sexual liberation.