Homophobic violence, cultural essentialism and shifting sexual identities

  • Tomsen S
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Abstract

Contemporary researchers have gathered widespread evidence of same-sex practice and desire with no implications for identity, across a range of historical and social settings. Paradoxically, models of understanding hate crime and homophobic violence that incline towards sexual essentialism have emerged in the same period. Categorizing perpetrators and victims as distinct groups of dangerous heterosexuals and vulnerable ‘sexual minorities’ is a politically seductive position in the media, public bureaucracies and criminal justice systems of contemporary liberal states. Fatal attacks are regarded as extreme expressions of homophobia that encapsulate this group division. But the author’s study of anti-homosexual killings in New South Wales, and related criminal trials, signals the frequent significance of same-sex activity that is not accompanied by homosexual/gay identity among perpetrators and victims, and the relation to perpetrators’ reasoned concerns about masculinity. Expert discourse and legal findings have typically viewed non-gay same-sex activity (by either victims or perpetrators) as the marker of an unresolved struggle for homosexual identity. But more recently, this is interpreted as signalling a lesser mental pathology or problematic male risk taking for pleasure. These shifts have had unexpected negative outcomes for victims without a gay social identity, and some perpetrators in ‘homosexual advance’ cases now derive a benefit from the newer cultural understanding of gay and straight categories.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Hate crime
  • Homophobia
  • Queer
  • Sexual identity
  • Violence

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Authors

  • Stephen Tomsen

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