gay bashing and class

Chris Burford cburford at
Tue Oct 20 16:26:50 PDT 1998

This is a challenging thread and a contrast to the discussion of the global crisis of capitalism. I agree with the implication that we need to be able to discuss such a wide range of issues.

I agree with the implications that it is unmarxist just to dismiss the gay-bashers as lumpen. They may well not in the educated strata of the work force, but I would assume the majority of them are working class.

I do not see the argument against laws restricting freedom of speech to stir up sexuality hatred, like race hatred. The latter have certainly helped in the UK. There is even here a logic in democratic dictatorship and departing from a totally radical agenda of complete individual bourgeois democratic rights. I would have thought placards like "Aids cures fags" should be an offence.

But really to analyse what causes these crimes from a marxist point of view stretches us. An article in the International Herald Tribune yesterday had some good points about the sociology of gay bashing: how it is often done by groups of young men, who compete for status in the brutality of their attacks, and use them [ironically as a form of male bonding.

Those of us who enjoy analysing the world with words and symbolic logic, may forget that most communication is physical. It is not that class politics and identity politics should be counterposed, one being made dominant to the exclusion of the other. There is a non-conscious penetration (no joke intended). People of the same sex size each other up instantly on many parameters. This is inevitably physical even if not usually erotic. The victim and the perpetrators were clearly crossing class boundaries in this crime, in a rapidly accelerating process. The victim may well have grinned slightly at his perpetrators, not entirely really to get off with them, but signalling a warmth that he hoped would be recriprocated. But the two perpetrators who may well often have grinned at each other experienced this as an affront and an intrusion from someone whose gesture could not only be rejected but could be rejected in a dramatic and humiliating way. They must have exchanged glances of comradeship between them that felt good, at the same time as they rejected the glance of the victim.

Sexuality is often bound up with issues of domination and submission, suffering and release.

Sex may symbolise this, as in the drama on colonialism that Doug referred to. The film Deliverance was not so much about male rape justifying the killing of two locals, as about rape of the indigenous community by the self-righteous city dwellers, and even more, rape of the countryside. Not perhaps brilliant art, but symbolic certainly on more than one level.

One other clue, to contribute to this debate. I am a supporter of evolutionary psychology although not in the reductionist sense. The book "Evolutionary Psychiatry: A new beginning" (Stevens and Price, Routledge 1996) quotes from an interesting cultural typology of male homosexual behaviour by Dennis Werner, which makes a specific reference to capitalism. With all the limitations of typlogies, it is briefly:

1. The adolescent type - accepted among adolescents and expected to disappear after marriage.

2. Age-grade type in which older men have relations with younger men.

3. Transvestite type in which a small number of men dress as women and accept sexual relations from men who regard themselves as normally heterosexual

These three, it is argued, exist in traditional societies.

The fourth they claim is rarer, and is where men whose orientation is primarily homosexual have sexual relations primarily with other homosexuals. They claim this type predominates among northern Europeans and their descendants and is probably spreading to other cultures. "Werner has argued that individualism and the Protestant work ethic, combined with the competitive capitalist economy, have caused men to renounce the more easy-going attitude of their forebears to same-sex relations, with the result that exclusive homosexuals have been driven into ghettos where they are confined to sexual relations with each other".

Liberal identity politics may play a strange role in this scenario. While progressive, in asserting the right to be free of oppression, they may imply a splitting of identities that can be experienced as divisive by those groups of working people who do not accept and tolerate the experience of a fully pluralist society. Such a society seems to require an increasingly conscious awareness of ambivalence and contradiction in all human interactions.

The important thing from a marxist point of view is find ways to handle contradictions among the people non-antagonistically. Therefore I think the arguments quoted in Doug's original post were right: the perpetrators are themselves victims of class oppression and exploitation that dehumanise and degrade them.

Chris Burford


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