RETROSPECTIVE: Queer Voices
Look back at some essential LGBTQ+ voices to familiarise yourselves with
written by Maria Orlando
Pietro Turano is an Italian actor and LGBTQ+ activist. He is most famous for starring as Filippo Sava in SKAM Italia, the Italian remake of the original Norwegian series SKAM.
Turano is a member of staff at Gaycenter in Rome, as well as Vice President of the Roman bracket of Arcigay, with both institutions existing to provide guidance and support to the LGBTQ+ community while battling against systemic homophobia and transphobia. Turano uses his 75,000 Instagram followers to unite his work as an actor and activist; starting his activism at the age of fifteen and, as an openly gay student rep of his high school, received abuse from classmates and homophobic threats spray-painted outside his school. He responded to the threats head on, thus bringing national attention to his case, even causing Gaycenter to reach out to him, leading to his eventual connection to them.
Turano began starring in SKAM Italia from its second season, as Filippo Sava, the brother of established main cast member Eleonora Sava (Benedetta Gargari). Through the character of Filippo Sava, Turano has allowed viewers in Italy and beyond to see an outspoken gay man act as a sort of guru to Martino, presenting Pride as the revolutionary force it is and helping him through his own internalised homophobia. He gives Martino the information that every closeted queer kid needs, and he does so inbetween ridiculous jokes in Roman dialect. Filippo’s role mirrors the same kind of work Turano carries out through Arcigay and Gaycenter and indeed SKAM Italia’s showrunner Ludovico Bessegato accepted Gaycenter's help in handling the writing of Martino’s coming out and navigating his emerging relationship with Niccolò (Rocco Fasano) within the narrative of the show.
SKAM Italia is a phenomenon that took Italy by surprise. When writer and director Bessegato got the okay from SKAM’s original outlet NRK to produce an Italian remake, he did not expect the outpouring of love from fans and critics that it received. The original Norwegian show came from NRK’s desire to get teenagers more interested in public tv networks. They brought on director Julie Andem to carry out a year-long process of research with teenagers in schools around Oslo. The uncomfortable truth is that Italy, just like Norway, was starved of the honest content that SKAM prioritises. In Bessegato’s writing, we see teenagers that go far beyond the tried-and-retried stereotypes of the teen movie genre. Finally, the words being put in young people’s mouths don’t make them sound vacantly superficial, because, yeah, in 2018 it was still just as hard for Martino to come to terms with who he was, and Sana (Beatrice Bruschi), the protagonist of the fourth season released this May, is seen visibly struggling between being a practising Muslim and fitting in with girls her age.
In the past few weeks, the possible passing of a decree outlawing discrimination like homophobia and transphobia has been attacked as a freedom of speech issue. Because in Italy, in 2020, people should be allowed to shout abuse in the streets unquestioned, right? They should be allowed to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of gender identity and sexuality, right? If this kind of ignorance can take place unquestioned front and center on national television during Pride month, it only serves to show there is a long road ahead.
Yet shows like SKAM Italia and Turano’s active involvement in it help shape a younger Italy, one that I didn’t think existed growing up. And yet it does! Turano’s work as an actor-activist is one I have immense respect for. It shows Italy can start showing up for itself, and representing its truth as rich in diversity. To do so, activists like Turano are left to do the hard work of educating both the most open and the most ignorant. Italians often find themselves scrolling through mostly English-speaking social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram and reacting to other countries’ backwardness with a false sense of superiority. Yet, any member of a marginalised community growing up in Italy knows that until we upturn our local systems of systemic oppression, Italy won’t be magically set free from discrimination. It starts now.
Pietro Turano: Instagram
Maria Orlando: Instagram
written by Ben Wheadon
Yves Tumor is a non-binary American musician, defined by wild experimentation in their music and a dedicated presentation of kaleidoscopic style.
Tumor's latest album Heaven To A Tortured Mind is a testament to Tumor's wild creativity, fusing Parliament-esque funk and experimental production - but what was perhaps most interesting to see continued with Tumor's fourth studio album, was a continuation of the artist's expression through fashion and androgynous imagery. Continuing a rich tapestry of transgender representation in popular music, the legacies of Gladys Bentley, Jayne County and Katey Red find an echo in the mesmerising style of Tumor, combining fantastically evocative, erotic musical performances with a distinct stylistic approach.
The music video for Heaven's lead single, the fantastic 'Gospel For A New Century', perfectly encapsulates precisely what it is that pushes Tumor forward as an artist; dedicated to experimenting with physical forms and the demarcations of gender in performance. Presenting as a literal demon of irrepressible, undeniable sexual energy - the video demonstrates what Tumor means as a performer so well. Committed to experimenting with the human form, the design of Tumor as a goat-horned monster of imposing, chaotic energy.
But the appearance of Tumor's as sexual satyr within 'Gospel For A New Century' should not be used to synonymize Tumor's experimentation with form with their position as a trans musician. Too regularly have non-heteronormative forms become approached solely through the lenses of fetishisation, but for Yves Tumor, the eroticism of his satanic form is but one facet of the artist's expression. They are a musician representing themselves largely removed of any need for censorship or self-denial, instead exploring the possibilities of human forms in music and music videos.
In the often white-washed history of LGBTQ+ activism, it is essential to always recognise the roots of progressivism as ones planted in no small part by black, trans voices. Netflix's The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson has gone some way to ensure the role of Johnson in the Stonewall Riots goes under-written no longer (though the Netflix show *should* be boycotted after plagiarising the work of Tourmaline). The creative voices of black, trans artists should be recognised as constantly among the most forward thinking and imaginative musicians, figures and activists both in and out of America. Yves Tumor is just one of the essential black, trans voices that should not be overlooked right now, and their music should not be ignored.
Yves Tumor: Instagram /// Spotify /// SMPM Review of 'Heaven To A Tortured Mind'
Vitali Gelwich: Instagram
Ben Wheadon: Instagram
written by Fin Cousins
Lee Harwood is an understated writer who, for me, exemplifies self-affirmation in the face of shame and stigma through his work. Harwood was one of the leading voices in the British poetry revival in the 1960s, and while he never came out openly as being homosexual, his romantic relationship with legendary American poet John Ashbery prompted his writing of The Man with Blue Eyes in 1966, one year prior to the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which initiated the legal decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK. When analysing the sexuality of Harwood, we find a poet comfortable in describing his sexual attraction to both genders, a rare quality given the low number of “out” poets at the time. While critics have often shied away from analysing Harwood’s sexuality, or analysed his attractions too concretely, the complexities of his love for both genders run throughout this work.
The Man with Blue Eyes is an anthology dedicated to Ashbery, in which poems buzz with youthful nostalgia through what Harwood calls “confusing ecstasies”. The final poem ‘Landscape with 3 People’ shifts into a focused and unadorned narrative to counterbalance the more blurred and delicate passages of ecstasy that had preceded it. Rather than attempting to construct or “remake” scenes as he does before this climactic final poem, here he reflects with clarity: “my dreams were too strong to forget, a previous summer”, and moves beyond youthful confusion and intoxication, into very real difficulties of passion. His statement “I loved him and I loved her” becomes an absolute centrality to this work. The “and” is the focal point around which the two genders function as if in orbit, rather than in opposition. Where critics had suggested that Harwood was learning from Ashbery a method of encrypting sexuality, this conception leads to any ambiguity being considered explicitly homosexual. Here, Harwood does not define himself as homosexual, rather he defies the need to define himself.
The idea of bisexuality suggests a binary, and denounces the real fluidity of Harwood’s recollections, which find power through coalescence rather than opposition. When Harwood claims to “know so little”, except that his lover is beautiful, he embraces this unknowing, and a critic reading his work should follow suit, as the work finds power in being explicitly queer.
Rather than finding power in keeping the reader at bay, as the likes of Philip Larkin would suggest, here Lee Harwood finds strength in the opposite, a kind of frankness in poems so sentimental that they seem to surprise even him. To explore the scenes he describes, a reader must learn not to paint the writer himself with a brush too large. If you are exploring queer writing of the 60s through the likes of Ginsberg, O’Hara and Kerouac, Lee Harwood’s The Man with Blue Eyes is an intimate and often overlooked text to delve into. His writing gently, but assertively, dispels constrictions of anxiety, inhibition, and impositions of category and hierarchy.
Lee Harwood: Guardian Obituary /// Poetry
Fin Cousins: Instagram
BENJAMIN ALIRE SÁENZ
written by Guille Fernandez
Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a novelist and poet that I have admired ever since I was a teenager. Sáenz was born in New Mexico, being of Mexican-American descent, and came out as gay at the age of 54 in the late 2000s. While his name may sound familiar to avid readers of LGBTQ+ authorship, however, I genuinely believe that he is not recognised enough as an author outside of such sphere. His work often explores ideas of figuring out one’s own identity and dealing with the idea of being both Mexican and American yet being neither at the same time. In Perfect Light, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and The Inexplicable Logic of My Life are sadly the few novels I have read by him yet I am in love with his prose and imagery creation.
Particularly through 'Aristotle and Dante...', the novel provided Sáenz with his greatest success, sparking a community connection with endearing characters, explorations of LGBTQ+ identity and how second and third generation immigrant identities are forced to navigate a narrative of belonging (and, at the same time, not belonging) in 1980s America. Ari and Dante won Sáenz many prestigious awards including the Stonewall Book Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the Michael L. Printz Award and many others that truly recognise Sáenz’s story for its creative and artistic merit.
In my opinion, 'Ari and Dante' is the best book ever written. Period. I read it for the first time at the beginning of the 2015 summer and have sporadically been revisiting it over the years. My most recent reading of the novel was a week ago, I decided to revisit it as a farewell to my literature degree and also because it reflects perfectly how I personally feel about summertime. Summer is a time for both happiness and sadness. Reading it again shone a different light on the characters I had come to love over the years. Living a life in a different country from where you grew up having to fend for yourself, as well as studying a degree in literature in which I studied so many of the themes that are represented within Ari and Dante make me feel much closer to the characters I once thought I had figured out. The novel is narrated by Aristotle Mendoza as he lives through what he thinks will be a boring normal summer in El Paso, Texas. He meets Dante Quintana and they quickly become the best of friends. The friendship between Dante and Ari is the main focus of the novel. It is a character driven plot, the focus on the character development of Ari and Dante as they try to figure out their sexuality and identity is so captivating that I would encourage anyone reading this to pick a copy of Ari and Dante.
Guille Fernandez: Instagram
Maria Orlando is a bookworm and writer that traded Italy's mild weather for London's constant drizzle. All to study literature. Oh well.
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English literature graduate from King's College, London.
Fin Cousins is an English literature student studying at Kings College, London. He is an avid consumer of sports, fashion and music. He is still waiting for his rap career to take off.
Guille Fernandez is music lover who studied the cello for almost 10 years before moving to the UK to study English literature at King's College, London.
Earthburned: Pride Month fundraiser merchandise store
Black Visions Collective: African-American organisation looking to destabilise institutional racism while centring queer and trans voices
Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline: UK based LGBT phone support line
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in South Wales. Follow us on instagram, like us on facebook and subscribe to our mailing list below to be alerted every time a new post is published on the site.