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.