Wish it Was a Coming Out

Melissa Ianniello

2018 - Ongoing

I am 30 years old, I am lesbian and I did not succeed in talking to my grandparents about me, about the real me.

Wish it Was a Coming Out originates and starts there, from a suffering lie that lasted for years.

When, during my teenage years, I realised that I was attracted to girls, I understood that people’s sexual orientation is often taken for granted by others. I realised that if coming out is supposed to be a liberating action, I soon discovered how difficult it can be to reveal a part of one’s identity to some people, a part which is still a cause for prejudice. For years, I carried the burden of not being able to share the discovery of my lesbianism with my grandparents, missing out on the chance to have a shared understanding with them. The lack of such a confession gave rise to the need for self-redemption, the necessity for an act of catharsis which would benefit myself and others.

And so, as an indirect tribute to my grandparents, I began exploring the life experiences of people who were similar to them in terms of age, but similar to me in terms of sexual orientation. Here you are Wish it Was a Coming Out, an ongoing long-term project, with which I want to investigate the double taboo related to homosexuality and old age in Italy. The protagonists of this work are a group of gay men and lesbian women between sixty and ninety years old. I began to connect with them at the age of 27, in 2018, when I got their contact details through word of mouth and some online dating apps. Later, after a first telephone chat, I started travelling around Italy to meet those who wanted to share their personal story. In doing so, I captured smiles, worries, thoughts, love and desires, which are rarely given a voice. I decided to photograph these people as couples or alone, in their own homes, in scenes of true intimacy.

Beginning with the shared experiences, both of mine and of my subjects, my aim was and still is to provide insight into the lives of gay and lesbian people in Italy today who experience that contradictory and fascinating phase of life linked to ageing. Considering that Italy is culturally, socially, and economically different from North to South, I decided to seek out these people in as many regions as possible, which is why I have travelled and continue to travel all over Italy. This work, with its possibility of remedying those silences that we always carry with ourselves, talks about the desire to expose oneself fully without negating any part of one’s identity: the words ‘coming out’ in the title do not refer simply to one’s sexuality but also, and above all, to the intergenerational sharing of one’s own experiences, life, and whole self.

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  • A corner of Roberto Tavazzi's house, with the pink and rainbow hat that accompanies him at each Pride (Foligno – Umbria).

  • Umberto Davini, 68 years old, Altopascio (Tuscany).
    Umberto has been a great traveller since he was young: he wanted to explore new realities and travel throughout countries he had never visited. In the ‘70s he set off for India in order to meet Osho: it was the beginning of a very special trip which continues today, within him. He is vegetarian, almost vegan, loves nature, and for some time, he has dedicated himself to a new passion: photography. He enjoys photographing the stones which have been eroded over time or smoothened by the waterways, and the tree trunks which have been pulled onto the beach by the high waves.

  • Maria Laura Annibali, 77 years old, and Lidia Merlo, 74 years old, Rome (Lazio).
    Maria Laura and Lidia have known each other for 17 years. Their love blossomed at a mature age, but it struck like a classic bolt of lightning. It was Lidia who won over Maria Laura: on top of a relentless courting full of sweet nothings and poetry, she wrote a dedication to Laura one night on the wall in front of her house: “Laura, I am passionately and hopelessly in love with you”. From that day on, they began dating, and soon after they became an official couple. Recently, they got married in a civil union.

  • The teddies that Maria Laura Annibali and Lidia Merlo have given each other as presents over the years (Rome – Lazio).

  • Pina Capizzo, 63 years old, Assemini (Sardinia).
    Pina had a difficult childhood. Her father, a jealous and traditional man, was violent towards her, and she was sexually abused by a group of men from her village. She was very young when she realised that she was lesbian. Having been taken out of school at her father’s will, she was forced to work as a cleaning lady in some ladies’ houses, and it was there that she fell in love with one of the daughters. It was an unspeakable love, and at 18 years, she married a man who she didn’t love in order to escape the oppression of her father. She finally got redemption at 50 years old when she came out as homosexual to her husband: as a separated woman, she is now free to experience new relationships and feelings with other women.

  • Gianni Picciotto, 72 years old, Perugia (Umbria).
    Gianni is of Sicilian origin. He came out as gay at a very young age. He even told his own family, who welcomed and accepted him despite his “diversity”, thanks to the help of his mother. While still a minor, Gianni met a guy named Pino. Once Gianni had turned 18, they set off for Torino in search of work. They had an intense relationship for 52 years until Pino passed away in 2015. On 14 April 2020, at the age of 72 years old, Gianni died too.

  • Victor Palchetti-Beard, 69 years old, and Gianni Manetti, 72 years old, Florence (Tuscany).
    Victor and Gianni have been a couple for 43 years. Victor is an American who came to Italy in 1975 during his university years. Shortly after arriving, he met Gianni through shared friends. It was true love, but Victor is American and couldn’t stay long in Italy. So, Gianni’s mother decided to adopt Victor in order to help her son to start a family. However, this family can’t be made official today with a civil union because Gianni and Victor are brothers from a legal point of view.

  • Anna Palla, 65 years old, Cagliari (Sardinia).
    Having spent half her life in search of money and success, Anna decided to undertake a spiritual journey. This journey allowed Anna to free herself from her old “idols” and it led to her own renaming: nubedivento. Today, she feels like a free woman. She has found within herself what she was mistakenly looking for elsewhere.

  • The bedroom in which Gianni Reinetti assisted his partner Franco until his death (Turin – Piedmont).

  • Pasquale Ferro, 65 years old, Ischitella (Campania).
    Pasquale was born in Naples. He had a difficult childhood, full of misery and violence. As well as that, he was denied the opportunity to attend school. Despite that, he was able to redeem himself over the years: he discovered that he was gay, and he came into contact with the homosexual scene in Naples. He began writing and doing theatre, letting himself get inspired by the “street” and its stories. In time, he became a playwright and also worked as a journalist. His will to describe the “street” – the one which he knows personally – evolved from the desire to give some dignity to the so-called “outcasts”, who don’t have a voice.

  • Pina Capizzo holding a notebook which contains a poem she wrote and dedicated to her father (Assemini – Sardinia).

  • Lara Elia, 48 years old, and Lia D'Urso, 67 years old, Nicolosi (Sicily).
    Lara and Lia met online in 2009, in the field of lesbian feminism activism. Lia is a retired restorer from Catania; Lara was born in Africa to her Italian father and English mother, but she was raised in Rome. She is a journalist who deals with scientific dissemination. They live in a small villa in Nicolosi where they divide their lives between their passion for gardening and their love for their pets. They are avid activists who never miss Pride.

  • Silvano Patacca, 66 years old, Pisa (Tuscany).
    Silvano is the program director at the Fondazione Teatro Verdi (Verdi Theatre Foundation) in Pisa. He loves his job, as well as theatre, and he is an old romantic looking for his soulmate. Despite his age, he refuses to give up looking. Silvano still hopes to meet a man with whom he can have a stable relationship, a relationship which will give him that sense of stability which he has been longing for his whole life, and which he will continue to look for.

  • A corner of Roberto Tavazzi's bedroom (Foligno – Umbria).

  • Stella Marchi, 67 years old, and Paola Fognani, 75 years old, Rome (Lazio).
    Stella and Paola have been a couple since as far back as 1984. They have overcome many challenges together, such as Stella’s tumour. They were married in a civil union and live in their house in Rome with their cats. Both of them are pensioners and LGBT activists, and they are great travellers who love the mountains. They are an example of how, despite having spent many years together, the passion is still alive between them: they still love each other in the same way they did before.

  • Lara Elia and Lia D'Urso's bedroom (Nicolosi – Sicily).

  • Tina Meriggi, 80 years old, and Lorenza Accorsi, 74 years old, Milan (Lombardy).
    Tina and Lorenza met at the over 40s social group held by ArciLesbica (national lesbian association) in Milan. At that time, Tina was almost 60 years old. Despite their age, their relationship was full of passion from the very beginning. It was during their first holiday at a nudist camp site in Normandy that they truly fell in love. Three years after they first met, Tina retired; from then on, they started to travel a lot, more than before, seeing the world together. In 2018 they were married in a civil union in Milan.

  • The hands of Edda Billi, 87 years old (Rome – Lazio).

  • Vittorino Panzani, 78 years old, and William Belli, 70 years old, Trent (Trentino-South Tyrol).
    Vittorino and William are a couple who have been together for 47 years. Both of them came out at a very young age, and immediately after, they started to actively participate in the LGBT movement. Over the years, they have never missed the Pride Festival and they have travelled all over the world. They live in Trent, where they have been working for over 20 years as antiquarians, and they were married in a civil union.

  • Edda Billi, 87 years old, Rome (Lazio).
    Edda was born in Follonica, in the coastal area of Maremma. She was a teenager when she fell in love with an older girl who drove a jeep and loved poetry and literature. It was this young woman who introduced Edda to the world of books and culture, and she was also Edda’s first love. The pressure that Edda’s family put on her because of her sexual orientation lead her to move to Rome. She has become an emancipated woman: a poet, an activist with the separatist feminist movement, and one of the first occupants of the Casa delle Donne (a political and cultural centre created by women for women, in Rome). Even today, Edda refers to herself as being in love with women and with life.