It is by telling the reader what not to expect that Francesco Cicconetti, an Italian social media creator and LGBTQIA+ activist, opens his first novel, Scheletro Femmina. As a consumer of Cicconetti’s content, hearing about the upcoming publication of an autobiographical novel about his life intrigued me, and, throughout the pages, his promise of transcending the theme of transition provides the reader with a deeply personal snapshot of Cicconetti’s humanity through the lenses of his identity and lived experiences. From young love to the deconstruction of relationships and the hardships of adulthood, Scheletro Femmina is indeed not just a novel about transitioning. Cicconetti’s identity serves as an echo to the deeply human search for belonging that permeates the entire novel: belonging to a place, to someone, and, most importantly, to ourselves.

Between fictional narration and real-life memories, Scheletro Femmina is described by its own author as a novel “born out of an urgency”, a deep necessity of the author to review his life through the lenses of an external witness. Among its pages, the novel presents an amalgamation of people, places, and emotions coming in and out of existence like memories emerging from Cicconetti’s subconscious mind. Nonetheless, alongside the ephemerality of the environments outlined by the author, the dualism between the pains and joys of self-discovery represents a common thread linking together the entire narrative arch.

Describing the writing process of the novel, the author recalls the ever-present vicinity of pain and love, serving as a paradoxical source of inspiration that constituted propulsion for his writing. These emotions exist among the pages in their brutal authenticity, oftentimes uncovering actions and words of which, in retrospect, the author himself is not proud, but which required an external point of view to be thoroughly comprehended. “Some things I am ashamed of, but I wrote them anyway because they are true” Cicconetti confessed to the staff of Mondadori, the Italian publishing house behind the novel, underlying the vulnerability permeating the entire text.

Scheletro Femmina is, at face value, the result of the need of its author to offer some form of representation for the countless trans and non-binary individuals that, in the current Italian socio-political climate, find themselves underrepresented at best and persecuted at worst. The novel recalls the hardships of coming to terms with one’s identity, amplified by the dissonant echo of gender dysphoria and societal expectations weighing down on the protagonist’s shoulders. In particular, the hardships of the transitioning process, whether emotional or purely bureaucratic, recounted in the novel, mirror the experiences of countless trans and non-binary people in Italy.

Indeed, Italian law first recognized the necessity to outline the legal contours of the transition process in 1982 with Law 164. The original provision was the first legal instrument issued in Italy concerning gender identity but, at the time, it included a mandatory surgery in the four-step process outlined in its text. This initial framework was amended in 2015 to embrace a more inclusive interpretation that rendered gender-reaffirming surgery as non-mandatory to have one’s transition recognized legally.

Currently, the Italian legal framework envisages three stages in the transition process of an individual: the first step refers to a series of psychological interviews aimed at investigating the subject’s life, to ascertain the presence of gender dysphoria and how it impacts their daily life. The duration of the said process can vary according to the single case but, either way, it is often considered concluded when the medical professional deems the patient stable enough to proceed towards hormone-replacement therapy. Hormone-replacement therapy is the second step in one’s transitioning journey and it is prescribed by an endocrinologist. It consists of the administration of either feminizing (estrogen) or masculinizing (testosterone) hormones to any transgender or non-binary individual willing to help their bodies and appearance align with their gender identity.

The bureaucratic phase is the final step in the current framework for any individual seeking to transition in Italy. This phase features the filing of an appeal by a lawyer specialized in sex rectification to a court residing in the place of residency of the requesting individual. This phase is aimed at requesting registry adjustments and/or authorization for gender-affirming surgery. The attorney supplying the appeal will concretely produce the application for the hearing on the basis of the medical and registry documentation analysis, as well as the will of the individual to take on such a journey. Although it is rare for a court to reject these appeals, the proceedings often require several hearings and investigative processes, creating a series of bureaucratic limitations that postpone the necessary realization of the applicant’s will.

In such a socio-political context, Cicconetti’s novel aptly describes the difficulties of finding a space for oneself in an environment capable of both rejection and acceptance, as well as all that exists between these two poles. A pharmacist oversteps the boundaries of politeness by requesting an in-depth recap of the protagonist’s transition before selling him hormonal medication, a stranger deems it acceptable to question his masculinity and shame his physique; they are characters, but they are so much more than just characters. They represent the ease with which discrimination and microaggressions emerge in the everyday life of countless LGBTQIA+ people in Italy and worldwide, they represent the thinly-veiled transphobia that often goes unnoticed among the general public. 

Nonetheless, at the same time, among the hardships recounted, Scheletro Femmina leaves plenty of room for love and its influence on the protagonist’s growth. From a rocky relationship with a protective mother to the ups and downs of a relationship negatively impacted by the protagonist’s struggles, relationships and their polarizing influence on emotion are ever present in the novel. In particular, the protagonist’s relationship with his maternal grandmother, overcoming even his uncertainty on whether to disclose his identity or not, serves as a constant reminder in the protagonist’s life of the constant support of unconditional love. 

It is in this coexistence that the true value of the novel lies. Scheletro Femmina is indeed not only a novel about transitioning, it is a tool that its author used to confront and make peace with his past, with all the different versions of himself he embodied throughout his life. The “urge” that according to Cicconetti sparked the necessity to write is that of telling one’s story, to observe the ever-changing nature of humanity and tell its story. Cicconetti’s character represents a unique form of representation because it not only serves as a means for identification for countless trans and non-binary people, but it serves as a compass for the author himself to comprehend himself, in a beautiful merging of outward representation and inner self-discovery.

Francesco Cicconetti, Scheletro Femmina, Mondadori, 2022 (in Italian).

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