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Ferro, Robert (1941-1988)  

Robert Ferro, who explores homosexual integration into the traditional family, was one of the original members of The Violet Quill, a group of seven gay writers who came together in New York City during the permissive post-Stonewall era to read, discuss, and criticize their work.

Ferro's novels rely heavily on autobiography. Two of his mature works, The Family of Max Desir (1983) and Second Son (1988), center on artistic gay Italo-American young men, from the upper middle class, who travel to Italy to uncover their ethnic and sexual roots. Both protagonists, Max and Mark, find love and return home with their respective partners.

Love of family, consistent with Italo-American tradition, is the motivating force in both novels. As the male couples attempt to find their places in the bosom of the families they love, Ferro investigates the effects of gay mainstreaming.

His protagonists reject the isolation and loss of tradition of ghettoization, but, at the same time, insist on uncompromising acceptance from their relations. The novels explore homosexual integration into the traditional family.

Ferro's is, in fact, a poetics of family values, where gay sons and their lovers participate in, contribute to, enrich, and diversify the family experience.

Women and children adapt easily and welcome the new additions to their families, but the gay protagonists' fathers and brothers, challenged by the severe cultural strictures of Mediterranean machismo, are unable to totally embrace them. Inevitably this results in conflict that can only be partially resolved by mutual compromise.

Death is ever present in both these novels. Both protagonists suffer the loss of their mothers. The Family of Max Desir, in particular, chronicles in painful detail the mother's mortal deterioration. Matriarchal loss disrupts and weakens the fabric of the family.

But in Second Son, Ferro fools death by transforming its very nature, making it a catalyst for a love that enriches life. The two lovers, Mark and Bill, are free to give and take completely from one another only because they are both fatally infected with AIDS, which is referred to in the text only as It.

The Blue Star (1985) is completely different from Second Son and The Family of Max Desir. This novel, actually two stories in one, concerns the lives of two friends, Peter Conrad and Chase Walker, who meet in a Florentine pensione and quickly become comrades in exploring the city's demimonde.

Eventually Chase is induced to sire an heir for a bizarre, ancient Florentine family, whereas Peter falls in love with a faunlike Italian named Lorenzo, who is married with three children.

Chase eventually accepts the responsibilities of his compromise. But Peter, like Max and Mark, will not live a life in the shadows as "the other man" and returns home, alone, to America.

Ferro is never comfortable with the logical reality he constructs for his works. In all three novels, he jolts narrative progress with forced intrusions of bizarre situations that sometimes run parallel to the main plot and at other times puncture its fabric at unbalanced intervals.

These nonrealistic intrusions vary from the building of a secret underground Masonic Temple somewhere in Central Park to brief glimpses of voodoo and blond godlike explorers exploited by Amazonian Indians. In Second Son, Mark's friend writes to him about a secret, gay NASA, somewhere in Texas, offering seats on a spaceship bound for the planet Splendora, where gay vitality and sanity abound.

Ferro reminds his readers that reality is never what it appears to be, and what seems bizarre to one person seems ordinary to another; calling something queer is but a frame of reference.

In 1988, Michael Grumley, Ferro's lover, died of AIDS; Ferro survived him by less than three months.

Joseph P. Consoli


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Bergman, David. Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991.

Dewey, Joseph. "Robert Ferro." Contemporary Gay American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1992. 128-139.

_____. "Music for a Closing: Responses to AIDS in Three American Novels." AIDS: The Literary Response. Emmanuel S. Nelson, ed. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992. 23-38.


    Citation Information
    Author: Consoli, Joseph P.  
    Entry Title: Ferro, Robert  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 2, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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