The Sociology of Queer Identities (Plural!)

Having given up on wrestling with Leo Strauss’ esoteric and exoteric meditations on the question of What is Political Philosophy? for the night and having exhausted the pleasures available from Letterman, it’s a relief for this tired sociologist to read something in the papers about some good sociological research. (It’s also an advantage of daylight saving in Brisvegas that not only do the curtains not fade so badly, but that the online Mexican rags can be inspected shortly after the witching hour…)

The Age has a story on some research by Dr Shaun Wilson of ANU. Shaun’s a nice fellow – I met him at a couple of conferences over the years and he did his PhD at UNSW with a friend of mine. What’s neat about Shaun’s research is that it reminds us of what should be obvious, but what is obscured by media representations, marketing cliches and politicised identity templates from both left and right. That is – there are a lot of gay blokes out there in the burbs who aren’t listening to Kylie and throwing their pink dollars around on Oxford Street. I have no objection whatever to Oxford Street (though I do object to Kylie) but I think it’s good to get across the message that many queer Australians are not all that different from us straights. Kinda helps with things like rights, equality and respect.

UPDATE: Mardi Gras 2005 spreads out into the burbs. I had no idea there was a Sydney suburb called Rooty Hill. Even better than Brisbane’s Camp Hill…

The Age leads with a photo of two partners:

Kevin Hussey and his partner George Soumelidis defy the cliche of the gay lifestyle. The couple, in their 30s, are not flush with “pink dollars” and don’t live within a Volkswagen’s drive of the inner city. In fact, they are Mr and Mr Average, of Oakleigh. Contrary to the stereotype, this may be the reality for a good proportion of Australia’s same-sex population, who still remain a numerical mystery to demographers. Australian National University sociologist Shaun Wilson, however, has begun to open the closet. “The population is much more diverse than the cliche suggests,” says Dr Wilson who has outlined new research in the Monash journal People and Place. Outside the so-called gay ghettos of Melbourne and Sydney, he says, may reside a “less visible” homosexual population defined beyond the conventional markers of a modern gay community.

Shaun’s research also suggests that the queer population is likely much bigger than the census figures would suggest (0.25%), which are based on same-sex couples living together (… there is no specific question on sexual orientation). The 10% figure often cited, which comes from the Kinsey Report has long been dismissed as a furphy. Wilson estimates that the figure may be as high as 5%, based on extrapolations from US data.

The article goes on:

So what defines Australia’s same-sex population?

For the record, they don’t appear to cluster around occupations such as floristry or hairdressing. Neither urban geography nor education and employment categories were much of a predictor of homosexuality or bisexuality in Dr Wilson’s sample. The research does, however, suggest that the same-sex population might be younger and less religious than society at large. More males than females also tend to identify as gay or bisexual. Interestingly, a class division also emerged in Dr Wilson’s study. While middle-class workers tended to identify outright as gay or lesbian, blue-collar workers were more likely to say they were bisexual. “This may suggest that gay and lesbian identity is more accessible to the affluent and educated,” Dr Wilson says. For Mr Soumelidis, a cleaning supervisor, his sexual orientation is not all-defining. “I don’t go around introducing myself as ‘George and I’m gay’,” he says. Ditto Mr Hussey, who works in the carpet industry. He has lived in Prahran and St Kilda, but there is something enticing about Oakleigh, he says. “There a lot less attitude out in the ‘burbs, but it’s better out here because the real estate is cheaper.”

Research has consistently demonstrated over the years that hostile and homophobic attitudes soften markedly when people realise that they actually know queer folk. Hence, in many situations, coming out is not the trauma that it might be, and performs a service generally in increasing acceptance (though obviously it very often can be problematic). The representation of queer people as Australians like “all of us”, and even as battlers, because they often are, can only be for the good.

Right, back to Strauss now. And for anyone else wrestling with a thesis or otherwise awake in the early hours, Letterman has Kate Beckinsale on tomorrow night.

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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DREADNOUGHT
2022 years ago

Oh Kate, she is spellbinding!

Homos are probably normal? This is groundbreaking research?! I remember Michael Kirby saying years ago that homos are as boring and unremarkable as any other person.

I have a strange feeling, however, that Mr and Mr Oakleigh or wherever have much more exciting weekends than their breeder counterparts who’d be trailing kids to footy, etc. I also get a bit wary of attempts to paint the faggot straight. Flamboyant florists and gaybourhoods are real bastions of subversive creativity.

Homos are different. Not all that different, but pretending we are identical to breeders seems disturbingly like an attempt to make us less threatening to the chattering classes.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

I doubt it’s the chattering classes who are threatened, Dreadnought. Might be more Mr and Mrs Oakleigh.

I live in the centre of Brisvegas queer culture, and appreciate the subversive creativity, but I’m over Kylie!

I’d accept there’s a big debate here. It’s not dissimilar to the whole feminism of difference/feminism of equality issue. People like Andrew Sullivan in the States have in the past put great store with the argument that “queer folks are folks too” (to paraphrase Gov. Earl K. Long of Louisiana) and opponents within the queer community have reasonably replied that this is to efface difference in order to achieve an equality that isn’t worth achieving if it comes at the price of diversity. Similarly, many queer people in Australia aren’t sold on same-sex marriage, thinking that the institution comes with too much baggage and that there are other better forms of partnership to be explored and invented.

There’s also the issue within some queer spaces of the acceptance of the straight-acting person or the older unfashionable queen.

In any case, I think there’s some strategic utility in pointing out that a lot of queer people are “normal” as you say. Note also that the research was on people of both genders.

As to whether the research is pathbreaking, well, I don’t think I said it was. But one of the uses of well done social scientific research is that it can explode cliches and also provide a factual basis for a political and/or cultural argument.

Anyway, back to study.

And Kate is great!

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

too bloody stinky to sleep in vegas tonight, Mark. no wonder this blog is called Troppo!

DREADNOUGHT, the title of the post did say identities (plural!). so I don’t think anyone’s trying to ‘paint the faggot straight’. and I agree creative subversity is a thoroughly good thing. oh, and kate beckinsale rocks my world. ‘Laurel Canyon’ is out on dvd now if anyone’s looking for a fabbo kate flick.

identities can be tricky. I identify as a lesbian but go out with men sometimes. women who aren’t ‘born women’ who identify as lesbians cop it. and even women like me who are a bit girly and like wearing dresses feel uncomfortable, or are made to feel uncomfortable in some spaces. not that I would want to be thought of as a lipstick lesbian!

so I think there’s room for more acceptance both within the queer community and in broader society.

Nic White
2022 years ago

“The research does, however, suggest that the same-sex population might be younger and less religious than society at large.”

Just like grass is also green and the sky is blue, you really dont need a study to tell you that.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Actually most studies I have seen in Australia have homosexuals at 1-2% of the population with males being a larger proortion than females.

DREADNOUGHT
2022 years ago

The comment was on the article proper yellow, not Mark’s post.

Sulky Sullivan drives me nuts. He’s sacrificed a lifetime of achievement for one silly, demeaning issue. And you are right about gay marriage Mark, most homos don’t care, it seems to be Mr and Mrs Oakleigh who want to ‘give’ us ‘equality’.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Actually most studies I have seen in Australia have homosexuals at 1-2% of the population with males being a larger proortion than females.”

Yeah, well. ….I frequently read all manner of learned, God-fearing folk who confidently assert that there are hardly any poofs, yet – suprisingly in the circumstances – they’re apparently a terrible and growing threat to Our Way Of Life. It’s a pity the Bible is silent on the pressing need for ironic self-deprecation.

“No-one really knows” is the answer to “how many poofs are there?” I suspect that it’s probably around 3-5% of the population but you’re likely to find lots more in Darlinghurst and fewer in Oodnadatta – maybe someone should do a study into why that is ;) It’s probable that homoseuality has always occured naturally, in this proportion. It’s just that visibility of same has increased exponentially in recent decades as has the ability to be open about one’s sexuality.

Let’s not be too hard on Andrew Sullivan. Marriage frames in a very different way in the US to the way that it does here. For instance, de facto recognition is pretty much non-existent in most US jurisdictions. It’s kind of an all or nothing deal. And people change, A few years back Andrew was wondering whether big, testosterone-fulled muscle queens on E were a good idea. Now he is one! Maybe there’s something in this reparative therapy bizzo….

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

Geoff, That is absolute crap.
There have been some studies on this which are statistically robust.
They were in the range I mentioned.

It isn’t hard to do such a survey.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Homer, the article I linked to refers to a survey that Wilson did on sexual orientation which found 3% of the population identified as homosexual or bisexual – higher for men than women. If they know anything at ANU, they know how to do a survey!

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

“Geoff, That is absolute crap.”

What’s crap? 3% as opposed to 2%? Or the fact that I’m wrong about lack of biblical support for ironic self-deprecation?

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

I lost my respect for Kate Beckinsale when she shacked up with the director/writer of [i]Underworld[/i]. What she said, in essence, is that she fancies witless 14 year olds. Her utter failure to be around when I was 14 disqualifies her in my book.

Jacques Chester
Jacques Chester
2022 years ago

Damn bbcode. Damn HTML. Damn injection attacks.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Was Underworld directed by a witless 14 year old?

suzoz
suzoz
2022 years ago

Why argue about percentages? Is it that if it can be ‘proven’ that homos are only 1% of the population they are less deserving of human rights, respect, than if they are 5% of the population?
Percentages don’t mean much to me. I think sexuality is quite fluid, especially in women. I know many women who have had relationships with other women at some point in their lives and then gone on to be with men and have kids with men. They wouldn’t show up in any statistics.

Fyodor
2022 years ago

[OT on]/

What, you didn’t like Underworld? Are you saying it wasn’t as good as, say, Pearl Harbour, Serendipity or Van Helsing?

Kate Beckinsale only made one good movie (Last Days of Disco) and can’t act. That doesn’t stop her from being a mite tasty.

/[OT off]

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Quite liked Underworld, myself, for its gritty feel, action sequences and general look. It’s worth seeing it in a cinema, has a big impact. Oh, and Kate’s a bit cute in a leather catsuit. Bill Nighy was fabulous, as well.

Fyodor, I agree with yellowvinyl. ‘Laurel Canyon’ is a great movie. ‘Last Days of DIsco’ is great too, of course!

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

i’d agree, suzoz, with the comment about the fluidity of (many) women’s sexuality, as shown in my own identity issues discussed already. a large scale research project on the lines of kinsey (longitudinal and looking at all sexual encounters and desires, not just identities, and the correlations) would be needed to get to grips with this. i doubt that would get funding in the present climate. unfortunately. i think the message from kinsey is that men’s sexuality is pretty fluid as well, which is no doubt why some people find his conclusions threatening:

http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007947.html

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

oh, and Mark, the director of ‘Laurel Canyon’, Lisa Chodolenko’s previous less mainstream film ‘High Art’ is great too. oz connection there – Radha Mitchell’s in it. and connoisseurs of 80s trash will enjoy seeing Ally Sheedy as a gristly NYC lesbian photographer.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0139362/

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Who is this yellowvinyl chick? She’s fucked up. Ken, sign her up to write here.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Fluidity is good – as many prisoners will attest:)

I know these things run differently with women but it seems to me that guys are pretty much sorted on the drive towards sexual/cultural/social identity from a very early age. Situational sexuality – as in a prison setting – says nothing more about men and sexuality other than men will source sex regardless of the obstacles. Bisexuality clearly is an exception but it seems that the numbers of people who are capable of a lifelong
identification with a homo/heterosexual duality continuuum in terms of sexual/cultural/social identity are very few, relatively speaking.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

Scott wrote:

“Who is this yellowvinyl chick? She’s fucked up. Ken, sign her up to write here.”

Re – the internet dating thread, maybe this link will tell you more about who this yellowvinyl chick is:

http://www.rsvp.com.au/profile/profileDisplay.jsp?fromNameSearch=true&handle=yellowvinyl&template=SearchRSVPname&k=6828128951189545020&s=35259591&t=GUEST

I don’t know if that’ll work. horribly long link, I know. do the cut and paste thing, I guess. I’m just a brissie chick, basically, lesbian who likes boys as well by sexual orientation, photographer by trade. I know Mark slightly. not that exciting, really.

flattered, though, Scott.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

ps – just yr average fucked up lesbian amputee buddhist chick, I spose!

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

pps – yellowvinyl [at] ourbrisbane [dot] com

the name is Kim…

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

“I know Mark slightly. not that exciting, really.”

that so didn’t come out right. i meant that i’m not that exciting. Mark is exciting. To know Mark is exciting.

why did i get carried away with that terribly 80s drink, the kahlua and milk, tonight?

i saw a girl on the bus wearing a duran duran singlet. a new one! that must be why!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Ah, you’re too kind, Kim.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

just read the update. maybe i should move to Sydney given my sluttiness quotient (see relevant thread… http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/007926.html )

what a name for a burb – rooty hill! is it as fun as it sounds? that’s not the same as hillsong, is it?

Scott Wickstein
2022 years ago

Rooty Hill is rumoured to be a fevered, swamp filled land, full of monsters and demons.

It is in fact a fairly shabby, run down place with a lot of decent people trying to enjoy life as it comes.

I had a dinner at Rooty Hill RSL a few years ago. Not bad fare, but a bit limited, and too many pokies for my liking.

harry
harry
2022 years ago

Hillsong is out at Baulkham Hills – not too far from Rooty Hill.
Rooty Hill is a bit south and ~ten k’s west of Baulkham Hills.
So, yes, yellowvinyl, you could fullfill your ambition and live in Rooty Hill and attend Hillsong quite easily.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

Rooty Hill is as Scott says. A fairly deprived, blue collar ‘burb in the vast, amorphous western sprawl of Sydney, remarkable only for it’s RSL mega-complex.

Mardi Gras is attracted by the infinite possibilities of the name I suspect, rather than the populace.

yellowvinyl
2022 years ago

many thanks, gentleman, for the info. I may move there as I’m probably hillsong’s worst nightmare.

camp hill in bris is a very genteel suburb with beatiful old queenslanders on top of the hill and river breezes and much favoured by old queens because of the name…

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘…the vast, amorphous western sprawl of Sydney…’

I reckon you to be the most tactful of fellows, Geoff. To have said that, you must have been supremely confident there were no Westies listening.

On his election site Antony Green made reference to the ‘less salubrious suburbs of Wentworthville and Pendle Hill.’ I bet he’s never even been here. I wrote and told him, very nicely, that the characterisation was neither correct nor witty, but he didn’t change it.

I can understand the likes of Lucy Turnbull doing it (read her ‘Sydney: Biography of a City’ for a study in unreconstructed snobbery), but what is it exactly, that causes even the sweetest people, not mention staunchest champions of the working class, to write off the West with these dismissive phrases? (I’m sure I was just as bad, by the way, before I settled here.)

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

I don’t think it’s writing off the west so much as it’s a frank admission of the fact that western Sydney is pretty much a closed book to those who don’t live there -and I live in Canterbury – City of Multicultural Diversity. We’re west too. At least, west of Marrickville………

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

‘…a frank admission of the fact that western Sydney is pretty much a closed book to those who don’t live there.’

Yes, I think that’s spot on. The M4 is the culprit. Driving from Strathfield to the Mountains is like flying at 30,000 feet or using a tunnel: the territory you pass through is irrelevant. But check out Parramatta some time, for an interesting patchwork of ‘icons and eyesores'(Elsa Atkins’ apt phrase).