Too many times, we try to turn “community” into “mutiny.” Rather than embrace all the colors of the rainbow and j’adore every type of person that’s included in our patchwork, we turn on each other by acting superior to our brothers and sisters, treating the other LGBTs as somehow less deserving of rights and respect than our own particular niche group is. We can be our own worst enemy!
After all, there are still gay men who don’t exactly rejoice at being in a room with lesbians; as they so eloquently put it, they’d rather not be around “fish,” thank you! Conversely, there are some lesbians who complain about how gay men are frivolous and sex crazed, which cements these lesbians’ drive to stay in an insular world that’s way more female than male.
This petty mess reminds me of the environment I grew up in as an Italian-American, hearing some of the neighbors constantly demonize Jews, blacks, and other religious, ethnic, and racial groups in order to elevate themselves. It was as if anyone fighting for a piece of the American pie somehow felt they had to slime the other sectors in order to demand their portion.
In this case, the loathing is tinged with self-loathing, because we happen to be smearing members of our own community. Perhaps having grown up with shame about being LGBT, we exercise that feeling by lobbing prejudice against our own kind. Sometimes it’s a means of deflecting our own oppression by ganging up on our comrades.
And there’s even animus within each of the LGBT letters! After all, I know muscle queens who can’t stand twinks who detest bears who resent leather queens. “Straight acting” dudes look down on effeminate ones, I guess because they can’t be bothered to “act” like anything but themselves.
Let’s also not forget that older gays commonly trash younger ones (“They don’t know anything!”) and the younger ones return the favor (“They’re tired!”) And then you have your gay Republicans who’ll unquestioningly back a candidate who’s against same sex rights—because they’ll be good for the economy!
Joel Grey is officially part of the community! In his new memoir, Master of Ceremonies, the Cabaret Tony and Oscar-winner talks about the complicated step he made by coming out late in life. Writes Grey, who came out publicly in People magazine just last year,
“I had powerfully pushed the idea down for so long that when I eventually tried to live in that [gay] world, I wasn’t very good at it. I could never seem to let go of that feeling of shame or stop looking over my shoulder, even if I know no one was coming to get me. That is simply the result of the time I came up in.”
But Grey admits that, despite the complicated feelings flowing through him, he felt an overpowering need to be honest—to himself and to others. “If you don’t tell the whole truth about yourself,” says Joel, “life is a ridiculous exercise.” No one puts baby’s daddy in a corner. Speaking of memoirs, actress/singer Ann Magnuson is going to have a hell of one whenever she’s ready to write it.
But for now, I wanted to know how she felt about the late, great David Bowie, whom she shared a sexy scene with in the 1983 flick The Hunger, about sleek bisexual vampires. (Ann played “Young Disco Woman”.) She replied,
All I can say is that he was one of, if not the most, charismatic people I ever met and it was a thrill to make out with my teen idol. The whole experience felt like a dream and, with his passing, even more so. Any further elaboration must be saved for the memoir.”
Bias-related violence against homosexuals is believed to be widespread in the United States, with perpetrators typically described by victims as young men in groups who assault targets of convenience . Victim accounts suggest that assailants possess tremendous rage and hatred; indeed, documentation of horrific levels of brutality has led gay activists to characterize the violence as political terrorism aimed at all gay men and lesbians .
Other motives for antigay violence suggested in the literature include male bonding, proving heterosexuality, and purging secret homosexual desires . Due to a dearth of empirical research with assailants, motives are largely inferred from victim accounts and a handful of publicized cases. Thus, the goal of the research discussed in this chapter was to investigate assailants' self-described motivations for their assaults. ...
Other than their assaults, Andrew, Brian, and Eric have little in common. They span the spectrum of opinion toward homosexuality and, indeed, contemporary lifestyles more generally. Brian is a young White man with a college education; a self-described liberal, he has gay friends and argues against homophobia with family members.
Andrew is an African American man in his mid-30s with a postcollege education who also espouses progressive politics and is "down with gay rights"; he resigned from the military after witnessing a brutal gay bashing by fellow soldiers, but he also expressed personal revulsion for male-male sex acts, saying he would rather "lick my dog's butt" than kiss a man.
Eric is an economically and politically marginalized biracial (Native American and White) man who professes hatred of "faggots" and a litany of other groups, including both Jews and "rednecks," but denies committing assaults based on sexuality per se:
The enforcement of gender norms also explains Brian's calculated assaults on men whom he labeled "weak," and explains why he exhibited only shallow and unconvincing remorse. Indeed, Brian seemed driven by a visceral contempt for men he perceived as lacking in physical strength. More than once during our discussion,
he nodded toward certain men walking by--men with slim builds and studious demeanors-- as "pathetic" examples of prime candidates for assault. Brian's scorn was ironic in that he considered himself socially progressive and claimed to despise the fraternity ethos of "tribal," chest-thumping masculinity.
Because Brian has a small build and has experienced male rape attempts, one explanation for his revulsion is defensive displacement of weakness. However, contempt for "weak," or insufficiently masculine, men is a central characteristic not just of Brian but of our entire culture. Thus, cultural norms of masculinity help explain Brian's self- righteousness and lack of remorse, despite his professed support for gay rights and social tolerance.
Eric's and Brian's commitment to the enforcement of masculine norms stems from the nature of masculinity as an achieved, rather than ascribed, status. Masculinity and its converse, femininity, are relatively recent constructs of Western culture. Connell (1995) has argued that there is not one but many masculinities within contemporary Western society, with the dominant ideal--or hegemonic masculinity--operating more as a cultural standard than as an achievable status for the majority of men.
Although hegemonic masculinity is somewhat elastic--its features change depending upon the labor needs of the state in a particular era--it generally connotes dominance, competitiveness, occupational achievement, and heterosexuality. McCarthy (1994) has traced these role prescriptions to a medieval warrior ethos concerning physical courage, strength, and honor that was repopularized during the 19th century in the service of American and European colonial expansionism.
Even when motives are consciously formulated, in such situations there is often a large gap between the original plan and the extent of actual destruction, with participants later expressing that things went further than they intended. The role of rationalization thus becomes important both to enable collective criminality in the first place and to reduce subsequent guilt. Rationaliz
ations identified by Sykes and Matza (1957) include denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of the victim (e.g., the victim "asked for it"), condemnation of the condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties. Eric used several of these rationalizations in reframing the incident as self-defense (the man struck him first), claiming he was provoked (by being stared at), condemning his condemners as homosexuals with "special rights," and invoking peer loyalty.
The peer influences described by Eric and Brian are consistent with my survey results, in which peer group dynamics--including the desire to feel closer to friends, to live up to friends' expectations, and to prove both toughness and heterosexuality to friends--were the primary motivation for a distinguishable group of assailants.
Peer dynamics was the only motivational factor in my survey that was significantly more endorsed by male than by female assailants, suggesting its particular relevance in male group contexts.
Because it offers direct--rather than secondhand--evidence, group violence against homosexuals is an ideal way for men to demonstrate their masculinity to their peers. Not only is there the stereotype, mentioned by Brian, that homosexual men are unlikely to fight back, but in addition they are fairly easy to locate in urban areas and are less likely than others to report assaults to police .
In contemporary American society, young people--from the poor to the upper middle classes--are systematically neglected and devalued. Lacking access to meaningful, challenging experiences, and sensing a declining potential for success in today's increasingly service-oriented economy, they are often frustrated, discouraged, and socially alienated .
Young White males in particular face the contradiction of being taught to expect hegemonic masculine power while being denied any real access to it. This contradiction fosters "power- seeking, adventurist recreational activities at the expense of others who also lack power within the social order," such as women, racial minorities, and homosexuals.
Trapped in a temporal vortex between devalued adolescence and adult male privilege, teenage males are given tacit permission to engage in a certain degree of rowdiness and aggression, under the auspices of "boys will be boys." This is particularly true for young men from more privileged strata, such as the fraternity boys discussed earlier, for whom peer group dynamics and thrill seeking often lead to exaggerated displays of masculinity regarding which society largely looks the other way.
However, if violence becomes a pervasive way of life and endures into adulthood, the scale tilts from socially excused to maladaptive. Eric's aggression, which led to 3 years behind bars and cost him an education, is illustrative of a violent lifestyle that falls outside the ideals of hegemonic masculinity. Describing how he drank and fought his way through adolescence, Eric said,
"I used to beat people up, just to beat them up. When I ran out of people I didn't like, l'd beat up people my brother didn't like." Of his assault on the businessman, he commented, "I got satisfaction out of kicking the guy."
Eric's masculinity has the exaggerated quality of masculine protest , in which violence is employed as an overcompensation for perceived weakness. Connell (1995) views this protest masculinity as a social, rather than individual, practice.I
n what he labels marginalized masculinity, economically and socially disempowered men like Eric "claim the potency that European culture attaches to masculinity" through a facade of power when their actual circumstances provide "no real resources for power". In other words, males who incorporate the gender-norm expectations of hegemonic masculinity yet cannot realize these expectations due to their economic or racial status may act out in extreme manners, often with homosexuals as their targets.
This is by no means to imply that the majority of men from lower-class or racial minority backgrounds respond to poverty and oppression with hypermasculinity and violence, even in the most compelling of peer group situations. In most cases, a predisposition is engendered through childhood socialization involving not only poverty and social oppression
but also violent victimization and exposure to violence . Eric, for example, experienced not only childhood violence but also parental abandonment, alcoholism, and death. And when Andrew was a child, his sadistic father routinely beat him with weapons while verbally deriding him. Andrew said it had taken him many years to learn to control the violent impulses engendered by this paternal abuse.
One of the hallmarks of the marginalized masculinity that may develop out of childhood poverty and violence is a preoccupation with a masculine front, or the protection of reputation and pride. Recall Eric's explanation that his relative's gay friend deserved punishment for disrespecting him. And although the businessmen whom Eric and his friends assaulted "didn't even know it was coming,"
Factor analysis of survey respondents' motivations identified this thrill-seeking motivation as primary for a distinguishable group of assailants. Thrill seekers included both men and women who assaulted out of boredom, the desire for excitement and fun, and the wish to feel strong. A comparison of the survey accounts of thrill seekers and peer-driven assailants revealed both commonalities and differences.
Both types of assailants exhibited only minimal animosity toward homosexuals. However, peer-driven assailants tended to recognize the harm to victims while downplaying their own roles and freedom of choice, whereas thrill seekers typically minimized the impact on victims by depicting incidents as harmless and amusing. This was certainly true of Brian who jokingly described how funny his victims looked as they desperately tried to avoid being beaten and robbed.
The discovery of a distinguishable thrill-seeking motivation for antigay assault concurs with other study findings that alleviation of boredom is the most frequent reason given by teenagers for criminal and rebellious behavior in general and that homosexuals are the most frequent targets of thrill-motivated assaults . But what is at the root of the pervasive boredom and social alienation suggested by this motivation?
Some trans people resent drag queens for having male privilege and for donning the garb of the opposite sex as a performance piece, one they put on and off at will. And shockingly, there was a petition last year to remove the T from LGBT, the reasons behind it including everything from the alleged appropriation of Stonewall history to the marked difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, which supposedly should keep gays and transsexuals separate.
And that’s not all! Bi people often get the short end of the stick in the community, and the world. While gay men and women, drag queens, and trans people have all been proclaimed the “hot thing” at one point or another, the media hasn’t picked up on bi visibility and given it the mass-appeal glow that could help its acceptance. What’s worse, bisexuals are routinely discounted by gays and lesbians, some of whom clearly feel that the “B” in “LGBT” is strictly out of charity.
With misty eyes, I can remember a time in the ‘80s and ‘90s when AIDS was a horrifying death sentence and the growing epidemic was not getting any serious response from the powers that be, so the community frantically mobilized to protect itself.
And I mean the community! I’ve spoken before about how, walking into my first meeting of ACT UP—the AIDS activist group—I was astounded to see all kinds of people there, including a healthy number of lesbians, fighting for our right to live. This was the ultimate mixed guest list. A gay writer wrote an editorial at the time, wondering why on earth lesbians had joined the fight against AIDS when, according to him, they weren’t very much at risk.
That was a no brainer. It was because they‘d heeded the call to arms and wanted to kick ass to protect their community. And here’s the real shock--that was one of the last times I saw gays and lesbians together in a large room (except for the Out 100 event, of course)!
Today’s in-fighting only hurts us as we try to keep moving forward in society. As gays dis lesbians and so on, the haters stand on the sidelines, laughing and applauding at the self-sabotaging going on, especially when we hypocritically ask the world for equality and compassion. The divisiveness not only makes our lives more uneasy,
it also tends to seriously damage our cause and our credibility. I find it absurd that we pick each other apart and try to diminish the community, when we should actually be looking to expand and strengthen it. After all, there are enough people out there who are against us. Let’s target them, not each other. OK, my fellow queers?
Here’s one thing that can unite all LGBTs: The original stars of Side Show—the 1997 musical about the personal problems of conjoined twins—came together, as it were, for Alice & Emily: Unattached!, their studiously devised act at Feinstein’s/54 Below.
The talented ladies—Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner—emerged in identical black dresses and stood side by side to belt Side Show's power duet, “I Will Never Leave You” before amusingly deciding they were standing in the wrong order, upon which Skinner moved to Ripley’s right and re-stuck herself. The whole show was an alternately funny and poignant ode to the women’s sisterly connection, coming,
as Skinner remarked, after “a lot of shows between us, a lot of therapy bills, and two ex husbands.” They lilted during musical twosomes like “Together” and “Bosom Buddies,” interspersing them with more sobering material by Harry Nilsson and Carly Simon.
At one point, Skinner explained that “Alice is always cast as women who become a bit unhinged, and I always get cast as wry, bitter, somewhat angry women.” That paved the way for some solo turns—and a costume change--with Skinner scoring on a Michael John La Chiusa song and Ripley (who won a Tony for 2009’s Next To Normal) soaring on “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard.
Ripley played the ingénue in the original production on Broadway, and indeed she’s ripened into a socko potential Norma, if producers want to bother listening. But maybe it should be Ripley and Skinner together in the role!
Although their assaults fall within most legal definitions of hate crime, Brian, Andrew, and Eric--like the rest of the informants I interviewed-- all insisted that their assaults were not motivated by hatred of homosexuals.
To reconcile the apparent contradiction between the socially normative attitudes often held by assailants and the viciousness and brutality of their behavior toward gay men and lesbians, during the course of my research I came to conceptualize the violence not in terms of individual hatred but as an extreme expression of American cultural stereotypes and expectations regarding male and female behavior.
From this perspective, assaults on homosexuals and other individuals who deviate from sex role norms are viewed as a learned form of social control of deviance rather than a defensive response to personal threat.
Thus, heterosexism is not just a personal value system, it is a tool in the maintenance of gender dichotomy. In other words, through heterosexism, any male who refuses to accept the dominant culture's assignment of appropriate masculine behavior is labeled early on as a "sissy" or "fag" and then subjected to bullying. Similarly, any woman who opposes male dominance and control can be labeled a lesbian and attacked.
The potential of being ostracized as homosexual, regardless of actual sexual attractions and behaviors, puts pressure on all people to conform to a narrow standard of appropriate gender behavior, thereby maintaining and reinforcing our society's hierarchical gender structure.
Eric exemplifies how heterosexual males, once they have incorporated a heterosexist ideology, appoint themselves as agents for the control of sexual deviance. In describing the three assaults on gay men that he committed while alone, Eric used shorthand explanations that assumed a shared cultural belief that his victims had violated unwritten codes of appropriate behavior and thus deserved punishment.
In the first instance, Eric inflicted punishment for the gender-inappropriate act of cross-dressing; the fact that he offered no justification for this assault other than to repeatedly describe his transvestite victim's physical appearance (makeup, female clothing, and long braided hair) suggests that he believed the gender-norm beliefs upon which he acted are universally shared.
In the case of the man who had stolen his cousin's jacket, Eric inflicted punishment primarily for thievery; the man's identity as a "fag" merely provided additional justification for a beating that would have ensued anyway. In Eric's mind, "thief" and "fag" were equivalent concepts, as both entail violations of social norms shared by his peer group and society at large.
Finally, in assaulting his relative's gay friend, Eric distinguished his victim's sexual inclinations, which were not problematic, from his refusal to be invisible. Thus, Eric was punishing the man not for homosexual acts but for so-called flaunting, that is, refusal to be shamed of deviance. In each case, Eric was enforcing gender norms that he understood to be mandatory in our culture.
The internalization of masculine subjectivities begins as early as preschool, when parents and teachers react more negatively to sex role deviations among boys than among girls, and continues throughout adulthood.
The peer group initiations of adolescence are particularly central in boys' incorporation of misogyny and heterosexism as essential components of masculine identity. ...
Notably, all three assailants committed assaults either with or in front of friends, pointing to another social dimension of antigay violence. Brian and Eric in particular characterized their actions as assisting their friends. Brian saw himself as helping a friend who needed money and a calling card; Eric saw himself as protecting his young and hotheaded friend Mike.
The peer group is especially influential for young men like Eric, who are alienated from institutions of society such as the school, the family, the workplace, religion, and politics. Pinderhughes (1991) has explored how marginalized young males establish their identity and self-worth by proving through toughness and hatred of the appropriate enemies that they are "down with the program".
In youthful peer groups, socially prohibited acts serve several instrumental functions. One of these is the garnering of social status by individuals who are often cut off from other methods of achieving it.
A second function is to reduce intragroup competition by displacing it onto an external object--a surrogate victim scapegoated as deserving the abuse. A third function is to increase group solidarity and cohesion; this in turn bolsters interpersonal support in networks typically characterized by low cohesion and stability. Interviewing men convicted of robbery,
for example, Cordilia (1986) identified a pattern in which social factors overrode monetary gain as a motive. In this pattern, the robbery was not planned until after the men began drinking together, and the crime served to solidify a disconnected group by providing it with a cooperative enterprise.
The phenomenon of group escalation, in which people engage in more extreme behaviors as part of a crowd than they would if alone, has been extensively documented and has been shown to be particularly powerful among teenagers and young adults.
Research into juvenile delinquency has largely adopted this explanation of crime as the outcome of group processes. Individuals may participate in criminal acts without fully intending to do so and without necessarily possessing values that condone crime:
During the course of conversation, or while exchanging banter, someone may jokingly propose doing something delinquent. As the discussion continues, a situation of "pluralistic ignorance' develops in which each person believes that the others are more committed to carrying out the act than they really are. Rationalizing their behavior in various ways, they perform the deed in a state of "shared misunderstanding." (Mawson, 1987, p. 52)
Eric's feeling that he was compelled to join in the altercation once it was underway is thus explained by the dynamics of collective action, in which the group--often under the leadership of its most impulsive member--takes on a life of its own .
Thus, in group assaults the homosexual victim can be seen as fundamentally a dramatic prop, a vehicle for a ritualized conquest through which assailants demonstrate their commitment to heterosexual masculinity and male gender norms while simultaneously engaging in homosocial bonding with eachother.
For Brian, a primary motive in committing assaults was to "have fun." He and his friends launched their adventures with excited anticipation and high energy. They prepared like athletes before a game, stretching their limbs, rehearsing their moves, avoiding alcohol and drugs. Brian explained:
It wasn't because we had something against gays, but because we could get some money and have some fun. It was a rush. A serious rush. Massive rush. Danger, fight-or-flight syndrome, pumps up the adrenaline. And when we get over on someone, it really heightens the rush.... It was nothing at all against gays. They're just an easy target.
Gays have a reputation that they can't fight. It's a stereotype, it's not always true.... Women are easy targets, too, but that's cowardly. That's lame. I've never hit a woman. But if someone's male, and an adult, and the sizes are reasonable, then he's fair game. At least that was my attitude at the time.
This sporting tenor is not unusual. Consider this account by a man who was invited on a gay-hunting expedition at a college party by some young men who did not realize that he himself was openly gay:
Nothing could better illustrate the casualness with which antigay violence is perpetrated than their casual invitation, the absence of . . . hostility or rancor motivating it. It was more like they were bored and looking for something interesting to do, to liven up the evening.... They were inviting me to join them in what was essentially a social activity.
Our great grandfathers who grew up in rural areas used to go out and hunt rabbits and squirrels for fun. Nowadays, in urban areas, they hunt gays and Latinos. (Varnell, 1991, p.4)
among Eric's peers the assault was far from surprising. For them, the men's eye contact, laughing derision, and profanity were provocative challenges requiring physical response. Indeed, cognitive research has identified sets of norms, rules, and expectations that are shared within subcultures and lead to this type of predictable, even ritualized, social aggression.
Studying a group of economically and socially disenfranchised White youths similar to Eric's peer group, Pinderhughes (1991) found perceived powerlessness and victimization to drive their ritualized social aggression against both homosexuals and African Americans, whom they perceived as "taking over".
In these situations, power and violence are in a sense opposites, for "where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears when power is in jeopardy" (Arendt, 1969, p. 56).
Thus, whereas violence is often seen as an expression of power, in Eric's case it can be alternatively conceptualized as a response to real or perceived powerlessness, wherein affluent, presumably gay men wearing expensive clothing symbolize undeserved "special rights" for minorities. ...
Analyzing assailants' self-disclosed motivations illustrates how a combination of primarily social factors, rather than a simple and singular psychological element such as hatred or repressed homosexuality, explains antigay violence. The mutually reinforcing melding of hierarchical gender norms, peer dynamics, youthful thrill seeking, and economic and social disempowerment explains how individuals as divergent as Brian, Andrew, and Eric ended up on such parallel missions.
In a nation that glorifies violence and abhors sexual diversity, a minority perceived to violate gender norms functions as an ideal dramatic prop for young men to use in demonstrating their masculinity, garnering social approval, and alleviating boredom. This becomes more true as heterosexuality increasingly becomes a primary measure of masculinity and as gay men and lesbians become increasingly visible in the media and popular culture.
Furthermore, for members of economically and socially marginalized groups, gay men in particular are ideal targets because of their symbolic identification with upper-class privilege.
The three cases presented in this chapter illustrate how antigay violence can be seen primarily as an extreme manifestation of pervasive cultural norms rather than as a manifestation of individual hatred. This distinction explains why assailants typically express little remorse despite the fact that their expressions of cultural hostility are experienced by gay men and lesbians as vicious terrorism.
This distinction is also critical if we hope to reach assailants and potential assailants at the clinical and educational levels, because people who have assaulted homosexuals typically do not recognize themselves in the stereotyped image of the hate-filled extremist.