Italian Masculinity as Queer

Italian Masculinity as Queer: An Immoderate Proposal

by John Champagne

This essay investigates a particularly polemical claim: that, throughout much of Western history, Italian masculinity and male sexuality have been represented in the literary and fine arts as “queer” in the specific sense of deconstructing the binaries masculine/feminine and homosexual/heterosexual.  Briefly surveying some of the historical circumstances that have overdetermined Italian masculinity and male sexuality as queer, the essay then follows one theme—the status of Greek models of homoerotic relationships between men—through some of the extant historical and literary accounts, as well as recent scholarship.  Taking as its starting point recent work on several of Caravaggio’s paintings, the essay then reads one particular artistic trope—the god Dionysus/Bacchus—in terms of the god’s sexuality and gender identity, arguing that, in today’s parlance, Dionysus/Bacchus is queer.