Dissertation project: Fascism, psychiatric hospitals and the “treatment” of LGBT men and women in Italy, 1922-1943, by Gabriella Romano

H-Madness aims to share information about dissertation projects, too. This is what Gabriella Romano (Birkbeck) writes about her ongoing work ‘Fascism, psychiatric hospitals and the “treatment” of LGBT men and women in Italy, 1922-1943′:

My doctoral research examines the question of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) lives in Italy during the fascist era. The aim of this research, in the context of an almost total absence of scholarly literature about the circumstances of homosexuality during Mussolini’s dictatorship, is to shed light on this issue and focus upon mental health institutions as a tool of fascist repression. My doctoral thesis draws together patients’, doctors’ and the fascist authorities’ substantial archival records, to reconstruct the highly complex and intricate behind-the-scenes dialogue, and to demonstrate the ways in which the regime repressed LGBT lives in this period. I focus on four different institutions, in four parts of the country, to compare attitudes and data. As every hospital published its own journal where specialists discussed theories and therapies looking at specific cases, I also analyse these publications, in order to understand approaches to “sexual inversion” cases. The results of this part of the research will be contextualised within the psychiatric theory of the time, a subject that has not been sufficiently investigated until now. The aim is to ascertain whether there were discrepancies between psychiatric theory and the routine practice of mental health institutions in Italy during the regime. This research stems out of my MRes research, where I examined the case of G., a man interned in November 1928 in the Collegno Psychiatric Hospital, near Turin, because of his “homosexual tendencies”. His file contains a 31-page statement written by him, a unique and precious autobiographical document where he declares his homosexuality and describes the discrimination and injustices he had to suffer. It is a very lucid, moving and intense piece of writing. Starting from G’s case and following his story in a micro-history type of approach, my MRes dissertation, now a book (The Pathologisation of Homosexuality in Fascist Italy: the Case of G., Palgrave Macmillan 2019, available Open Access [link: https://www.palgrave.com/it/book/9783030009939%5D) sheds light on how “sexual inversion” was pathologized and how the fascist regime used psychiatric treatment as a form of repression against homosexuality, political dissent and non-conforming life-styles. G.’s memoriale is an important testimony on the social and economic consequences of homosexuality: 2 rejection from the family, professional and social marginalisation, consequent lack of income. Like most, G. was referred by a member of his family who identified the asylum as a dumping ground for an undesirable sibling: despite propaganda, family values were crumbling under the pressures of the regime. This research is overdue. It fills a gap in terms of psychiatry history, as literature until now has mainly focussed on the decades between the end of the Nineteenth and the beginning of the Twentieth century or on the Seventies-Eighties Basaglia years. It also tries to fill another gap, that of historiography on homosexuality in Italy, a subject that has been overlooked not just in regard with the fascist period, but more in general. My research reconstructs the lives of many LGBT people, a subject that, as stated earlier, is still largely under-researched. It uses archive materials that have only recently been disclosed and that have hardly ever been investigated from this specific perspective. The persecution of LGBT people in Italy has often been denied or re-dimensioned because it happened in a hidden, subtle, behind-the-scenes way and my research aims to lift the veil of silence to demonstrate how the repressive system against LGBT people operated effectively and efficiently, albeit without big public statements.

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