talian beaches are more than public space, they are public events. Italians are sun-lovers. For those who live in the foggy and polluted purgatories of Milan and similar industrial centers, three weeks on a beach in July or August is their annual reward.
In this respect gay people are no different. However, our purgatory includes living in a world dominated by heterosexuals; being bombarded by overtly heterosexual messages and being treated like second-class citizens or social pariah much of the time. Three weeks on a gay beach, with like souls, is our annual reward.
At the end of a large bay on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda is a two-kilometer strip of fine sand known as Long Beach. Every day in summer families and couples cart a bewildering assortment of umbrellas, towels, chairs, inflatable toys and food down the short paths from parked cars, mini vans and four-by-fours to the beach.
Along the southern side of the bay the sand ends. Paths become increasingly treacherous as they wind through the scrubby Mediterranean bushes along a granite cliff. Whether people created them in the summer or wild pigs hoofed them out in the fall and winter, both use the paths to travel in relative seclusion along this section of coast.
This scruffy end of the bay is too out-of-the-way and rough for most people. Why hike all the way to a craggy little inlet when there are stretches of beautiful sand near your parking spot?
Alberto and I understood that this wild section was “the gay beach.” We had claimed a little inlet beach and named it “our beach.” We shared it with a small semi-regular collection of men who probably also considered it their beach.
By the time Alberto and I arrived that morning some of the regulars were already in place. Luigi, a chubby blond, sat naked with his ex-boyfriend, Massimo, speculating about who was cruising whom. Massimo, a civil servant from Milan, seemed out of place in his over-sized boxers shorts. They waved hello.
Two German tourists lay fully exposed beside each other. They were taking a short intermission between circuit parties and hot clubs to sample simpler pleasures.
The Sardinian forest ranger was alone. Long Legs and the other Sard boys would probably arrive after work, as usual.
At the end of the rocky point, Clam Man’s bare bottom stuck up from behind a boulder as he scoured the pools for sea urchins.
Off in the bushes, I spotted Mr. Creepy, at his lookout, bouncing his penis up and down as an invitation to anyone who passed by.
Alberto and I found our place in the center of the beach, took off our swim suits, spread our towels and lay down. That’s where we were when the boats arrived.
The first rubber and fiber glass motor boat skimmed across the bay and straight toward our beach. Then as if the navigator had changed his mind it stopped and laid anchor just off shore. A second boat raced up beside it.
Perched along the soft inflatable pontoons of their boats, three woman and seven men sat gently bobbing up and down in the waves, staring at us as if we were zoo animals.
We sat up and stared back.
“I think they’re waiting for us to leave and give the beach to them,” Alberto said.
“I hope they’re comfortable,” I said, “because I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon.”
One women posed on the bow; her long hair loosely hung in the breeze, her back arched and her breasts strategically pointed upward towards the sky. She called out loudly, “Okay, who dares to swim over to the faggots (froci).”
A young man immediately dove in and swam to the beach. He got out of the water, walked past us and up towards the path which lead into the bush. Maybe he was naïve or just looking for something.
A moment later two of his older companions arrived at the shore but stayed in the water.
“Where are you going?” called one.
“To see where the path leads,” he said without hesitation.
“Come on, we’re going back,” said the other and they began to swim slowly towards their boats.
We watched the young man continue up the path. He seemed neither threatening nor threatened. After a moment or two he returned, dove into the water, swam out to the boats and slithered up over the sides.
As he repositioned himself among his friends, the woman in the bow said in a volume suitable for the hearing impaired, “Congratulations, you were the only one brave enough to go near the fagots.”
Suddenly, the captains started their motors and steered their boats directly towards us. They looked like Marines about make a beachhead. Naked, we stood and watched. One of the boat men yelled something at us. Then at the last minute the captains veered round and headed back across the bay.
This “us” and “them” territorial contest wasn’t like Stonewall, the June 1969 gay riots in New York’s Greenwich Village that led to beatings and arrests. There was no violence.
But more than 40 years after those riots our lives are still defined by hiding or being pushed out. That afternoon no one covered themselves. No one ran in fear. We stood our ground. Tomorrow, with the sun, we would be back.
By the end of the week our vacation’s would be over. We would pack up and return to our homes in the city, our work and our hidden lives.