May 4, 2020
Margherita shares her experiences as a short statured, Italian, lesbian woman.
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[Title on screen reads, ‘Margherita’s Story’]
[Text on screen reads, ‘Content Warning: Includes discussion of sexual abuse’]
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[Short statured Margherita sits on the couch with her dog]
So, my name is Margherita Coppolino. I like to say the last name because I'm very proud about my Italian heritage background. This is my fur child, Missy, who's the love of my life and the boss of the house. I'm a proud feminist living with a disability, lesbian, and live in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne where all the migrants migrated when they first came to Australia. And my mother migrated in '59 from Sicily and she fell pregnant on the boat coming to Australia. So when she arrived, she was well and truly pregnant with me. She wasn't married so she had to put me up for adoption. In those days if there was anything medically wrong with the child they couldn't be adopted so I was made a ward of the state for 18 years. In the orphanage I really denied my ethnic background. I think we can honestly talk about the '60s being not so great in regards to accepting of people from CALD communities. And it wasn't until I left the orphanage I tracked my family background and had a conversation with my mother some years later by phone. I really understood then just how difficult it was for my mother in those days and then made that decision in my life that it's really OK being from an Italian background. And really started to own and acknowledge that that's a part of me, it always has been.
So it's been a lovely journey to where I am now because that's a part of me that has taken almost up until now to come to terms with. I mentioned I'm a woman of colour but I also have a disability so OK, you know, I have a... I'm short-statured with a dwarfism condition. I was born with it. Believe it or not, that was the easiest intersectional background for me to come to terms with because I was born with that. I pretty much came to terms with it quite young in life. I keep forgetting that I'm only four foot nothing in height until people remind me that I am short.
Another intersectional lens - this journey was a little bit different. And my sexuality, I think, reflected from... coming to terms with it was my institutional upbringing, my...being brought up by nuns the Catholic way. So I really struggled coming to terms with my sexuality, based on exposure in those environments. I unfortunately did experience sexual abuse in some circumstances and I think that's had an impact on...on my developing intimate relationships. When I did the Royal Commission for children with sexual abuse I actually did a private hearing and when I did that...I actually started to heal. And it was probably one of the most powerful things that I've done in my life. So now I'm excited around where I might go now in...having a long-term relationship...because of the healing I've done since coming out and confronting it.
Two years ago, in New York, I was asked to go to COSP, which is the convention of the state parties, to do CRPD, which is the convention of rights of people with disabilities. PWDA and the DPOA, which is the alliance, decided to put on a side event on LGBTIQA and I got asked to tell my story and be on that panel. And I kind of went, "Yep, OK, I'd be ready. If I'm going to do it that's probably a good place to do it." I went through, using a couple of slides, and one of the slides I used was a photo that was done of me by Belinda Mason for Intimate Encounters where it was of me full-frontal nude that she did for the people with disabilities in intimacy. I showed that and I thought, "That's what it took for me to come out in public, to come to terms with my body image," that once I got through that and broke through that then it was OK for me to be a lesbian.
What's been really exciting about that journey is I now wear rainbow stickers and all of that and I don't have to come out, just everybody knows, right? It's much... But I think the other part to that, too, is I bring my whole self to everything that I do. I haven't been able to do that until up to two years ago. That's how significant New York COSP was for me. It was a breaking point for that. Most people, and particularly young people with a...and particularly women with disabilities do get to a stage where body image comes up all the time. Even if they're not talking about sexuality, the body image is a hot topic.
For me, to encourage other women with disabilities who are struggling with their body image - find some way to break through. For me it was about appearing in Intimate Encounters. When Belinda said, "We're going to do you full frontal," the first thing I said, "Well, you have to tell me when so I can go to the gym, so I can shave my legs, shave my armpits." And then I thought, "I don't do that anyway, so..." But once I'd stripped off it was like, "This is not so bad." And then when she showed the photo, it was shown for the first time at the Gay Games in Sydney 2000. And there were people walking around and they'd come up and they'd walk past and say, "Nice bod." I kind of went, "Thank you. OK!" And those two little comments, it was like, "I just got told I've got a nice bod."
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