Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana stuffed their lavishly adorned feet into their mouths in a recent interview with Italy’s Panorama magazine. The openly gay business partners, former lovers and the founders of the Dolce & Gabbana brand were quoted on matters of family structure and in-vitro fertilization saying, “The only family is the traditional one … No chemical offspring and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed. You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be . . . I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Uteri [for] rent, semen chosen from a catalog.”
This is not the first time the duo has expressed right-wing views on matters relating to the LGBT community. However, unlike before there was a swift reaction from members of the gay community and in-vitro fertilization advocates with celebrities like Elton John, Ricky Martin, Courtney Love and Martina Navratilova calling for a boycott of the Italian fashion house. I support this cause, granted from a place of ethics, as my bank account does not afford me the privilege to affect the designers’ bottom line. Should we be surprised that two gay men in their 50s, who grew up in Italy, a deeply religious country that is still caught up in the debate on LGBT rights, would utter vitriol towards members of the LGBT community? This display is a textbook case of internalized homophobia and Dolce and Gabbana have made themselves the poster children for the condition.
Internalized homophobia is a personal Stonewall – the 1969 action in New York that forcefully asserted gay rights in the face of police harassment – which all LGBT people must surmount on the road to affirming their sexuality. A simple understanding of this phrase is to consider it the negative feelings that are harboured towards oneself because of same gender attraction. The forms it may take can vary from outright shame, denial, or self-injury, to hating on other gay people and more unconscious behaviours as well. Internalized homophobia occurs within LGBT people for some of the same reasons that heterosexuals are homophobic – ignorance, often because of religion and then of course, because of negative stereotypes and misinformation that are present in the family, schools, and society. However, with LGBT people, negative attitudes become “internalized” because the subject of these prejudicial ideas is the self. It’s never a conscious choice to internalize homophobia, but it requires a conscious effort to change it.
There are biases and rifts within the LGBT community that can be traced back to internalized homophobia. There are many lesbians who loathe gay men and vice versa. I have also heard hateful words and seen harmful acts from gays and lesbians targeting members of the transgender community. Even more puzzling, in the midst of the debate on same-sex marriage, some openly gay men and women are funding efforts to push back at what is a major civil rights issue that will affect them positively. Am I saying that there should be a consensus among the LGBT community with every issue draped in a rainbow flag? No, but what is at the core of this dissent? For many it is the ideology that homosexuality is immoral and an illegitimate orientation that is learned or chosen. This ideology has been examined and rubbished, but sadly it exists within the fabric of many LGBT people’s consciousness.
As a former member of an Evangelical church, I was fed an unhealthy diet of hatred for what I now celebrate as a part of myself. The fear of rejection, being shamed and the ultimate —fire and brimstone — led me to pray feverishly for deliverance and even openly condemn members of the LGBT community. I considered the attractions I felt a curse, because that’s what the church said, and I desperately needed to be free of this internal conflict that was causing me so much pain and would lead to eternal damnation. Eventually, I left the church, but my subconscious was saturated with ideologies that discredited my lived experiences and orientation. It seeped out at intervals and I had to check myself each time it appeared. Through pure stubborn will and a desire to be happy I forced myself to recondition my mind into embracing my reality. I plan to get married. I plan to have a child and raise him or her the best way I can simply because it is a basic human practice. I proclaim and own my sexuality not because I need to make a political point, but because it is who I am.
Dolce and Gabbana have recanted on their statement… somewhat. They have said, in what was a transparent public relations move, that they used the “wrong words to express what they were thinking.” But they still did not provide the right words to clarify their position despite being pressed to do so in the CNN interview. I have no desire to silence the designers. They have the same right of expression that I have to write and challenge their mindset steeped in an archaic world view. However, I wish they would recognize the position of power they occupy and the effect their words can have on the push for full rights for all citizens in Italy and across the world.
I doubt they will change their minds though. In the same way their designs have not changed from the gaudy aesthetic of the early 90s, we should not expect them to hoist their moral anchor, tethered to the medieval times.