350 MC Proposal

In this proposal (which I wrote before carrying out the research evidenced on this blog) my objectives in this research project appear to have evolved quite a bit. Whereas before I seemed to be focusing on the homophobia gay people received for their portrayal in popular culture, I have instead gone on to look at how these representations improved and challenged perceptions of gay men. This idea of researching into the representations of gay men has remained throughout my research, but its the effect these representations have produced, which have changed the direction of the project.

 

“Does Today’s Perception of Gay People Insight Homophobia?

Introduction

This research project will be looking at what is assumed of a gay person once their sexual orientation is known. There are certain stereotypes of this minority but do these expectations lead people to think ‘they know’ a gay person just from finding out their sexual preference.  The issues arising from this are how it impacts the gay community, in terms of segregation in society and homophobia. To begin with the research will focus on what expectations there are of gay people before going on to look at its implications.

Description

Homophobia is still prevalent today, amongst the celebrations of gaining equal rights, such as the legalization of gay marriage, there are still attacks against the lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) community. “Gaze” magazine writer (Teeman: 2013) addresses this issue by stating

Marriage equality may be the hot gay political issue but, for me, homophobia and all that belies it, embellished in these attacks, is the more urgent, less easily resolved phenomenon. (Teeman: 2013)

Teeman’s experiences have formed this belief and in his article gives an example of a man being shot dead near Stonewall Inn, a landmark birthplace of modern US gay rights movements. Other forms of discrimination exist; according to the ‘Stonewall Education Guides’ teachers in both primary and secondary education struggle with addressing homophobic language and 9 out of 10 admit to not having had training in tackling this bullying. The problems with not challenging this are that when phrases such as ‘that’s so gay’ and ‘gay boy’ are used they liken the term to something inferior and negative, which creates a culture of homophobia that “can impact on young peoples sense of belonging, self-esteem and attainment at school.” (Stonewall: Unknown)

Over the decades there have been a whole range of gay emblems that haven’t changed much to this day. According to ‘The Guardian’ writer (Burston: 2013) comedians have been similar over the years, with different names but the same ‘camp’ mannerisms. The same characters are being repeated in today’s popular culture, ITV’s new sitcom ‘Vicious’, which features two flamboyant gay characters has been likened to the duo from the 1969 comedy film ‘Staircase’. Surely the repetition and consistent portrayal of gay people in this way will impact the perception people have on the gay community as a whole?

Key Points

The key ideas that will form the structure of this research are mentioned in the previous section. To summaries they will be:

  1. Homophobia
  2. Stereotypes
  3. Representations

Sources

The supporting material for this project will be sourced from both primary and secondary research. First hand observations, interviews, government statistics and archived records will be used to create the foundation for the primary research, supported by resources from popular outlets such as TV, film and music.

Methods

To acquire these sources of information, the project will use online, statistical information from websites such as www.statistics.gov.uk and recorded interviews. Secondary sources can be collected from archived magazines that are specifically from the genre ‘gay lifestyle’.

Watching and recording social media trends from sites such as facebook and twitter can also provide invaluable insight.

Specific and unbiased interview methods will have to be created to enhance the success and quality of the project.

Results

Aside from the statistical information I will gather to give my argument some integrity, the findings will be opinions taken from people within an informed position. People talking from personal experiences or who have previously researched into the topic themselves.

Method of Interpretation

In preparation I will form well-structured interviews that ask quality questions, relevant to the area of research. Source appropriate statistics and once all the information is gathered identify recurring themes.

Plan

First step:

  • Preparatory work reading/library research already carried out and still ongoing.
  • Establishing contacts with interviewees and authors to start immediately. This information to be gathered by mid-January.

Second step:

  • Analysis of data (to happen continuously whilst gathering research)
  • Full completion of analysis to be done by end of January

Third step:

  • Structure findings (beginning February)
  • Write up (to be completed by mid February)

Bibliography

Burston, P. 2013. Gay culture doesn’t begin and end with Grindr and the scene. The Guardian [online] Available: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/apr/20/gay-culture-grindr-scene  [Accessed 7th Nov 2013]

Stonewall Education Guides, Unknown. Challenging Homophobic Language. [PDF] Available at: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/homophobic_language_total.pdf [Accessed 8th November 2013]

Sullivan, A. 2005. The End of Gay Culture Assimilation and its Meaning. New Republic. [online] Available at: http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/the-end-gay-culture [Accessed 19th November 2013]

Teeman, T. 2013. An Englishman in New York. Gaze: a modern review, 1 June. P.8.

Ward, V. 2012. BBC Told to put More Gay People on Children’s TV. The Telegraph. [online] Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/bbc/9744094/BBC-told-to-put-more-gay-people-on-childrens-TV.html [Accessed 9th November 2013]

 

Gay Role Models in Football

Hitzlsperger wrote on his website: “Homosexuality is simply ignored in football.The media, on the other hand, have been interested in the subject for years. It’s just that the players concerned have not dared to declare their inclinations because the world of football still sees itself to some extent as a macho environment.”

This quote was taken from the Belfast Telegraph’s article titled “Graeme Le Saux’s support for Thomas Hitzlsperger”.

Graeme Le Saux, a former football player for both England and Chelsea, received years of homophobic abuse from team-mates and fans. He appeared to be different from the usual football player, taking an interest in the arts, reading the guardian newspaper and choosing not to participate in the “laddish drinking culture”, as put in the The guardian’s article. Le Saux isn’t even gay, but because he was seen as being different he was assumed to be gay.

With this story in mind, along with what happened to Justin Fashanu, (the only professional footballer to come out as gay, who took his own life in 1998 after racial and homophobic abuse) it is not surprising that as of 2012 there were no openly gay men in football, in England’s top 4 divisions.

Graeme Le Saux has now been appointed to the football associations new equality panel. On the Belfast Telegraph’s page Le Saux supports Hitzlsperger’s decision to reveal he is gay, whilst at the same time making it clear that other footballers should not feel pressured into coming out. His cautious message is not surprising given his history, but he isn’t alone in realising how difficult it is for footballers to come out whilst still playing. Hitzlesperger “believes gay male footballers are living in fear of the repercussions they could face if they come out”. Repercussions I discussed in a previous blog post, which were sponsorship deals could be jeopardised and their abilities as a player could be brought into question by fans, coaches and fellow team-mates.

Screen shot 2014-02-05 at 16.57.24

Thomas Hitzlsperger had revealed his sexuality after retiring from Aston Villa, in order to avoid these potential repercussions. A similar story happened with Robbie Rodger who retired from Leeds at the same time as announcing he is gay. On the BBC sport website, Gordon Taylor (chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association) said “We do have players who’ve said that, while they are gay, they don’t feel comfortable enough to come out”.

With these several examples of footballers wanting to wait until they’ve retired before coming out, it seems clear there are still fears within football to be gay. But this discrimination within football has been noticed and in recent years the “Kick It Out” campaign  (an anti-discrimination campaign originally set up to tackle racism within football) has began to work on challenging homophobia. This was introduced after Stonewall produced a report calling for football to take action against homophobic abuse.

It appears to be quite apparent that there is this stigma for gay men to participate in football, because there are still these rigid notions of gender within sport, as I have talked about in previous posts. Heteromasculinity seems to still be present; Graeme Le Saux receiving abuse for being believed to be gay suggests this. There is a distinct lack of role models and representation within football, which isn’t helped with the fears surrounding coming out. Role models which could challenge this stigma, making sport a more accepting place for the LGB community.

Orthodox Masculinity

Whilst researching into notions of gender and sexual orientation within sports, I came across this paper titled “Establishing and Challenging Masculinity: The Influence of Gendered Discourses in Organized Sport”.

The paper discusses the discourse of masculinity within organised sport, including an experiment observing the behaviours of a British football team during a match and interactions within the changing rooms.

The paper explains how sport has been used to promote male dominance over women. Sport has given men a way of demonstrating strength and violence. As a result the competitive nature of sport can be used to justify social dominance.

“But sport could only work in this capacity if women (formally) and gay men (culturally) were excluded from participation. If women and gay men also bashed their bodies and thumped their chests, men would be less equipped to lay claim to patriarchal and heterosexual privilege (Bryson, 1987)”.

The version of masculinity most typically esteemed within sporting cultures is ‘orthodox masculinity’. The “principle conditions are that one be heterosexual and hyper-masculine. This combination is so strong that heterosexuality and masculinity are deemed synonymous; cultural conflation that Progner (1990) calls heteromasculinity”. Also within this theory of masculinity it is believed that men try to raise their masculine status by distancing themselves from any forms of femininity. One way of achieving this is by expressing homophobic views in order to disassociate oneself from homosexuality (comments such as “that’s gay” & “Don’t be a poof”).

The authors of this paper decided to observe a football team (rather than any other sport) because “messner (2002) suggests that sports, such as football, serve at the center of masculine production for all boys and men in western society”. What they discovered was that several incidents presented themselves when homophobia was used to heighten their own masculine status. For example when one of the football players made a comment to another team mate saying “What are you a poof?” the player responded with acts of aggression, such as punching a wall. Several other homophobic comments were observed during half time of one of their matches, such as “Don’t be a fucking poof!” and “Bend them over and fuckin rape them!”.

From reading this paper it is suggested that orthodox masculinity appears to exist within football. Which means that heteromasculinty is also present; as a result this could discourage gay men from participating in the sport. If we go back to a point that stonewall mentioned in their report that, the participation of gay men could be increased if their were a stronger presence of role models within the sport, then this rigid notion of masculinity could potentially be challenged by an increase of gay football players.

 

Understanding LGB Sport Participation

I have already identified a lack of gay role models within the sporting world in an earlier post. With this in mind I have decided to research into why the numbers of lesbian, gay & bisexual (LGB) people are so low within sports. There may be either a lack of participation from the LGB community or gay sports people just might not feel comfortable revealing there sexuality, for reasons I mentioned in my earlier post “Homosexuality In Sport”.

In 2012 Stonewall, a leading charity for the LGB community, produced a report titled “Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) People in Sport: Understanding LGB sports participation in Wales”. The report identifies that sport is an influential part of our culture and so it is therefore important to try and understand how LGB people take part in sport or in some cases why they choose not to participate at all. This report aims to find out about LGB’s involvement by gathering views from this community on how they perceive sport.

It appears that schools have played a large part in shaping the participants views of sport, those that have experienced negative experiences in school sports say that this has affected the way they view sports later on in life. Those who had negative experiences said they were often a target of abuse and exclusion. One of the reasons believed for this exclusion was because they didn’t conform to typical expectations of other boys and girls.

“Participants told us that they feel sport reinforces rigid ideas of both gender and sexual orientation.” – Reasons for thinking this are that stereotypes of genders in relation to sport are internalized at a young age. For example boys are expected to play certain sports, such as rugby because it is “macho” and therefore fulfills this notion that boys are meant to be masculine. Whereas girls are discouraged from playing these more “macho” sports (such as rugby) because it doesn’t match the feminine expectations of being a girl. Participants of this report also made direct associations between certain sports like football and rugby, with being both “masculine” and for “straight men”.

Taking the views from the participants into consideration we can conclude from this report, that sport reinforces rigid notions of gender and sport. But stonewall believe these issues can be tackled, by having…

“A more diverse experience of sport at a young age could challenge existing stereotypes and encourage a broader range of people to play sport”

and…

“Their participation could be increased if there were a stronger presence of LGB role models in grassroots and high-profile sports”

We already know that there is a lack of role models within sports, for example only 0.16% of athletes in the London Olympics were openly gay.  But this report appears to identify certain sports as reinforcing these rigid notions of gender, such as football. I am therefore going to look into the current state of football and the presence of gay role models within the sport.

 

Nicholas Nixon: People With Aids

From very early on in the outbreak of the aids epidemic it was known as a ‘gay plague’, because the gay community was one of the first within well developed countries to catch the virus. Visual representations of aids often featured gay men as victims and this is exemplified in Nicholas Nixon’s body of work ‘People With Aids’.

This work gave aids a body, an image, that showed victims as being weak and defenceless against this disease and some of his subjects, such as the ones below were gay. Nixons portraits show that the issue wasn’t a social one, which could affect anyone, but instead he individualised it and showed these suffering individuals as the face of aids. This led to them being portrayed as ill outcasts, stigmatised for their illness.

These visual representations of the gay man are what Felix Gonzalez-Torres was challenging with his work, mentioned in a previous blogpost.

Nicholas Nixon Nicholas Nixon 2

Duane Michals: The Unfortunate Man

Duane Michals: I am Gay from Leslie-Lohman Museum on Vimeo.

During this talk that Duane Michals gives at the Leslie & Lohman museum of gay and lesbian art, he discusses many of his photographic series, but there is just one he mentions that I am focussing on: ‘The Unfortunate Man’

The Unfortunate Man

 

“The unfortunate man could not touch the one he loved.
It had been declared illegal by the law.
Slowly his fingers became toes and his hands gradually became feet.
He began to wear shoes on his hands to disguise his pain.
It never occurred to him to break the law”

This is the text that is written beneath the photograph in the artists handwriting. Duane Michals doesn’t just photograph the surface of the subject and accept it as fact, instead his photographs display more of an insight. He talks about wanting to penetrate beneath what is being shown and understand the emotion and feeling of a scene.

When he is discussing this photograph he talks about not letting other people define you, because if you do then you will never be free. Not to let the law, the church or the public define you or else you will be limited to what they say you are and want you to be.

‘The Unfortunate Man’ is used as an example, for a situation which many gay people find themselves in. Because “it never occurred to him to break the law” this character let the law define him, restrict him, stopping him from being free.

This work has helped to clarify the direction my research is headed. Challenging beliefs and ideas of gay people through various representations, is a re-occuring theme throughout the research I have been doing. From analysing the characters Charles Hawtrey and Rock Hudson and how they challenged the notion of masculinity to Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s attempt to dis-associate the the homosexual body from the Aids epidemic. There are still areas that gay people need further representation, and I have already identified the lack of representation within sport, which could further challenge beliefs.

 

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: Untitled

In 1991 the artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres created a photograph of an unmade bed, featuring two pillows that still had impressions left upon them as if someone had just lay there. This photograph is a memorial to the artists partner Ross Laycock, who died of aids in 1991, and has been left untitled.

In 1992 this photograph was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, but the image didn’t remain within the confines of the gallery space, it had also been displayed at the same time on 24 billboards around the city.

Torres 3

Torres 2

Torres 1

(Keating 2009) Discusses the effects this work has had, explaining how these photographs displayed upon billboards will have appeared quite ambiguous to pedestrians passing by, a screen usually reserved for displaying images used to sell a product is instead exhibiting an artwork. Of course it’s context doesn’t suggest its an artwork and with no prior knowledge of the artist the viewer would be completely unaware of its purpose. Instead they would have to rely upon what the image signifies in order to construct a meaning. A bed could mean several things and could change depending on who is reading the image, for example it could be a place of solitude, relaxation or sexual activity. But the impressions left upon the pillows and the crumpled sheets suggest a body has just left the scene, and this absence of the body could suggests loss or even death.

From the start of the aids epidemic the gay man was depicted as a helpless victim of the disease. When the disease was first noticed within gay men “our homophobic culture produced an illness which was restricted to the (homosexual) body and it’s engagement in deviant sex.” – Kelly T Keating

“The British historian Jeffery weeks states: On a world scale most people living with HIV and Aids are not gay. Most are poor, black and many are women. But despite all the government sponsored education campaigns, the scientific papers and the documentaries, and common sense perceptions, Aids and gayness are indissolubly linked. To be diagnosed HIV positive, to live with HIV disease, is to risk being diagnosed as homosexual.”

During the Aids epidemic the association between the disease and the homosexual body became so strong they conflated into one. But what Gonzalez-Torres did with ‘Untitled’, by leaving the bed absent of a body was leaving Aids without a body to associate with. He was beginning to disrupt that link between the disease and the homosexual. The loss, grief and death, which is signified within the photo, becomes the product of Aids, not the homosexual body.

Homosexuality in Sports

Following on from the Hollywood Reporter video I decided to look into how open people are about their sexuality within the sporting world. If TV really does reflect our lives within society then having gay representatives within sport would really challenge any stereotypical ideas of gay men.

I wasn’t expecting a great deal of openly gay people within sport but having read an article titled “Why so many sports starts are terrified to admit they’re gay” on the daily mail website, I was surprised by just how little there are. In the London Olympics only 23 out of 14,690 athletes were openly gay, which is an improvement on the Beijing Olympics where there were only 10 openly gay. So the 23 in the London Olympics only made up 0.16% of the total amount of athletes, if this is compared with the treasuries estimation that 6% of the population are gay then this suggests that not everyone within the olympics is honest about their sexuality.

Their reasons for not revealing their sexuality can vary and may simply be because they find it unnecessary to state their sexuality but the article on the daily mail site says that there are fears to coming out within sport. These fears are that it may jeopardise sponsorship deals and that fans, coaches and team mates may suddenly question their abilities.

“Homosexuality is still the love that dare not speak its name in large parts of society. And sport is the area where homosexuality carries the greatest stigma.” – Im not sure whether this quote from the article is completely true, but the statistics of openly gay people within the olympics does imply there is a stigma to homosexuals within sports.

The Hollywood Reporter


This video from the Hollywood reporter channel on YouTube is an interview between Dustin Lance Black (an American screenwriter & film director) and Chad Griffin (a political strategist), on gay rights within America. In it they discuss the importance of having gay characters within TV and Films, but also how to improve equality for the LGB community by challenging beliefs and stereotypes.

“The entertainment industry is at the forefront of reflecting our lives, our culture.”(12 minutes, 30 seconds)

If we accept this quote to be true then we can see how TV has introduced LGB’s into society. Slowly this community have appeared on TV with reality shows such as ‘The Real World’, which supposedly featured ‘real’ gay people. There are also scripted shows such as ‘Will & Grace’, as well as gay TV personalities like Ellen Degeneres.

The examples listed here in this video are from American television but similar ones can be found in Britain. For example “Big Brother” has featured many gay people and the show has the same reality TV conventions of the “Real World”. We also have many gay TV presenters like Ellen Degeneres, such as Alan Carr and Graham Norton.

Through these shows gay people became recognisable and accepted more within society. “Hollywood was starting to turn a mirror on us and saying this is who we are.” – It can’t be overestimated the representation of gay people in TV and films, it’s how we look at ourselves.

If TV and films are so powerful in reflecting society then it needs to be careful with the characters they represent. To avoid any hurtful homophobic slurs/language Dustin Lance Black suggests a more diverse writing staff. If writing teams aren’t diverse then they are more likely to be ignorant to hurtful language, but having people in the room that understand and are more sensitive to this can help.

“If we want to have more diversity in film and TV, we need to have more diversity in who’s creating it.” (17 minutes)

When people within the public’s awareness are honest they change lives and make it easier for others to be honest. It tells the younger generation that they aren’t second-class, they can grow up with the same aspirations. There are areas within America where there are no laws to protect gay people, they can still loose their jobs because of their sexuality. Dustin says that in these same areas they like sports and therefore by having people within the sport world come out this challenges peoples beliefs. It shows them that gay people can be anyone and that they aren’t the stereotypes they thought they were.

What this interview tells us is that TV and film can hold enormous power when it comes to integrating a minority into society. It can open peoples minds and challenge ideas, but what about the representatives that reinforce the stereotypes. There are times when the effeminate gay man appears on the TV, so what effect does that have? Surely it would only confirm to some people that a gay man can not be anything different, therefore it must come as a shock if someone with masculine attributes comes out. I believe what is said in this interview that gay people within sport would improve equality, because this would change peoples beliefs of gay men.