The rainbow man

Fabio Cattafi and father Tony
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It took courage for restaurateur Fabio Cattafi to tell his migrant family that he was gay. Joanna Geromanolis reports on a one man’s courage and determination.

Fabio Cattafi has proudly placed a rainbow-coloured sticker at the entrance to his family’s pasta restaurant in Lygon Street, Carlton, north of Melbourne.

The 42-year-old says that he has put it there to tell Melbourne’s gay community that they are all welcome.  “There is no judgement here, it’s about feeling comfortable,” Cattafi says. “As well as it is good for business too. All are welcome.”

It has been 24 years since he finally confronted his migrant Italian family with news that he was gay. “I was 18 when I broke up with my girlfriend and I fell in love with my first boyfriend, Justin,” Cattafi says.

Cattafi says coming out to a strict, traditional family was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do. His father was baffled. It was his mother’s understanding and compassion from the extended family that eventually brought his father around.

Fabio Cattafi is the second eldest of four children (three boys, one girl). He says it was all the more a challenge coming out about his sexuality to a proud Italian family who migrated from Messina, Sicily in 1965.

He is proud to carry on the Cattafi legacy.

Parents Tony and Giovanna struggled when they migrated.  They faced racism, were taunted for being of ethnic heritage and not knowing how to speak English. Establishing pasta house La Spaghettata in 1981 was their ticket. Thirty four years later, La Spaghettata prides itself on classic Italian dining.

“We all work towards a common goal and we’re carrying on mum and dad’s legacy,” Cattafi says. “I love spending time with my brother, it really is invaluable. Cattafi to this day regards his father, Tony, as his mentor and inspiration.

Younger brother Mauro says, “We knew Fabio was gay. It wasn’t a surprise. It doesn’t change anything for us, we’re happy for him and happy that he doesn’t have to hide his true self anymore”. Mauro adds, “Fabio coming out paved the way for our cousin to come out who was too scared because of family judgment”.

Fabio Cattafi and father Tony
Fabio Cattafi and father Tony

Cattafi remembers “a lack of understanding or compassion and … selfishness”. “Some people are so closed-minded and have no perception of other people or their needs,” he says.

He was not bullied or ostracised at school, “they knew I was different, they just didn’t know why. It was better that way”.

It was then that Cattafi fell in love with music, theatre and dance. His biggest passion is musical theatre and he was a professional dancer for 25 years, for the likes of commercial television stations, The Australian Opera and the Walt Disney Company.

The arts remain his great love. He cites entertainers such as Tina Turner, Sophia Loren and Patti La Belle as his greatest influences. “If I’m having a bad day or I’m in mood, I put music on to change my mood and uplift my energy,” he says. Other interests include health, fitness, travelling and self- development. At one stage, he operated his own children’s clothing label and shop in Chapel Street. But after years of working up to 70 hour weeks, much anxiety and stress, he let the shop go.

Cattafi is also a keen traveller, having ventured to Morocco, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, China, The United States and elsewhere.

He says he hopes to build his wealth, be fit and healthy, in a relationship and retired by age 50.  “I want to be the best possible version of myself,” he says. “My outlook on life is a positive and spiritual one. I’m spiritual in my beliefs and optimistic in my nature. I think I’m successful. Well, I’m happy… And that to me is success.”

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