‘Finocchio’ is the most common word used in the Italian language to describe a male homosexual.

You will, however, not find it in the dictionary with this caption.

In the Italian vernacular it is the equivalent of ‘faggot’ or ‘fag.’ On the other hand, the dictionary will tell you that ‘finocchio’ is the vegetable ‘fennel.’

The dark and strange connection to homosexuality has its origins in medieval times, when people accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake. As the pyre was prepared, it was covered with fennel leaves. Why? Its aroma helped masking the smell of burning flesh. The word took on a life of its own and now, many centuries later, it is powerful as ever- the premier Italian slur for all things gay.


I grew up hearing the word describe anybody suspected of being queer. I was petrified of being called finocchio, to the point that I lied to my mother and told her I did not like fennel, hoping then she would not buy it—then the word finocchio would not be uttered at home.

I had a fear that the mere mentioning of ‘finocchio’ in the house would unmask me in front of the whole family. That’s the power of words. They can be intimidating, oppressive, or self deprecating.They can also be liberating.

As gays, at one time or another, we have been called Queers, Fags, Faggots, Homos, Poofs, Poofters,Queens, Fairies,plus a whole series of obscenities that cannot be printed without a warning.

From the comments that have been posted on SFGN after the article “Who’s in the Soup” was published, I sadly realize that we are far from being a united community. After all these years, we cannot even agree on what to call ourselves. Some object to gay, others to queer, some to homosexual. One reader invites us to find a new word to describe our community, while the next in line wants to bring back faggot, or ban it. “Variant” was proposed as an alternative together with “Nonhetero”.

Readers are finding faults with each of the words, though a few of the comments were tongue and cheek, or so I hope. Wow! If so much energy and thought was put into fighting police brutality, police entrapment, gay bashing, bar raids, corruption and hate spewing churches we would be much closer to obtaining equality with our straight counterparts and the gay community would have a better sense of its own self worth.

So why do we care? It doesn’t matter what name is used to describe who or what we are, as the ancient Romans used to say “Sumus quo Sumus” (made famous by “La Cage aux Folles” opening number “We Are What We Are”). Each one of us should know who he is without the need for an approved moniker.

Pick the one you like, use them interchangeably, wear them according to your moods, or just plain utter them to shock people. Be what you want to be. Find a name for all seasons. Embrace them and you will defuse their stronghold over you.

Don’t worry about what people think. They don’t do it very often. A walk through the valley of most souls will barely leave your feet wet. It’s what you think that matters. Be proud and be comfortable with who you are. Call yourself what you want. Isn’t it nice to have such a big basket to choose from?

I’m so comfortable with my identity that you can call me finocchio anytime. I couldn’t care less anymore. In fact, I kind of like it now. I even told my mother I love fennel and when she asks: “would you like a finocchio?,” my answer is “Oh absolutely mamma, bring a few home for dinner.”