It’s generally with a degree of controversy that historical figures, especially those from the Catholic Church, are outed as gay.
A speculative new book on the history of queer Malta, Queer Mediterranean Memories, has boldly done just that, in what is the first comprehensive history of the Maltese gay and lesbian experience.
Melbourne author and lawyer Joseph Chetcuti methodically charts and ponders the secret sexuality of historical figures as far back as the apostle St Paul, who spent time in Malta, to modern-day patron saint George Preca and parliamentarian Mable Strickland.
“Malta’s gay and lesbian [people] are ‘a people without a written history’. We have yet to trace our footprints, the events and people of significance to us. Our history, as told by our oppressors, is one of deceit, seeking to suppress any proof of same-sex love,” Chetcuti writes.
Chetcuti told Southern Star he has not set out to be provocative, but is merely trying to raise the profile of Maltese gay and lesbian history.
“In the book, what I’m really trying to do is appropriate these people, or at least to discuss the issue of their sexuality, so they become ours, like Caravaggio became one of us,” Chetcuti said.
“It doesn’t follow that because Caravaggio was gay that we’re all artistic, but it does become important that it’s no longer invisible, and it’s a question of visibility.”
Chetcuti is a trailblazer in his home country, writing the first book on homosexuality in the Maltese language, The Pink Book, in 1997.
So controversial was the book, in 2007 Chetcuti was banned from giving a lecture on it by the Maltese Community Council of Victoria. There was similar uproar in Malta.
While Chetcuti is careful not to claim outright certitude on his subjects’ sexuality, he does implicate a number, including St Preca, on some contestable assumptions.
“Preca’s voice floored me. I fell onto the sofa in disbelief. With respect, it left little to the imagination. I immediately recognised him as one of our own.”
Chetcuti said the issue of Preca’s possible homosexuality is important as it makes a mockery of Vatican suggestions to reject gay men entering the priesthood.
“The issue with Preca is very important… the whole issue of sexual orientation… some gay men have sublimated their sexuality to do with the church.
“What is incredible is that sometimes gay men and lesbians have been the greatest contributors towards the church. That has gone unacknowledged.”
In the book’s foreword, Chetcuti quotes former US Episcopalian Bishop of Newark and now religious commentator John Shelby Spong discussing St Paul’s sexuality.
“The Roman Catholic Church never debates any issue publicly but you may be sure it’s being debated privately because the Roman Catholic tradition is compromised constantly by the fact that [it has] a significant number of gay clergy and periodically one of them becomes a front-page story in the newspapers,” Spong said.
“I think St Paul was a gay man. I think the data would indicate that [he was] is very substantial.”
info: Queer Mediterranean Memories is available from Hares and Hyenas.