Gay and homosexually active Aboriginal men in Sydney



The social and personal effects of masculinity are a fundamental part of sexuality, identity and practice. As Connell has written, the majority of work on masculinity has been theory- driven and largely psychologised and the social dimensions are often missing and class- bound (Connell 1992: 734). Masculinity needs to be defined as: 'socially constructed [with] a material existence at several levels: in culture and institutions, in personality, and in social definition and use of the body' (Connell 1990: 454). For some of the men in this study there is a marked degree of reflectiveness in terms of the possible constraints and possibilities of both homosexual masculinity and Aboriginal masculinity. Questions about whether Western masculinity is both resisted and accommodated, and about the general construction of Aboriginal masculinity, warrant further investigation. 
James: I think . . . it is the whole white masculine thing that has rubbed off on our culture . . . really destroyed a lot of ties between gay, bi and heterosexual men in our community and um they find that really threatening. 
Masculinity is an integral part of sexuality whether heterosexual or homosexual, and homosexual men do not escape what Connell calls the 'moment of engagement' with hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1990: 452-78). This is theorised as descriptive of the process whereby a boy takes up the project of hegemonic masculinity as his own, in the form of a commitment to 'competitiveness, career orientation, suppression of emotions and homophobia' (Connell 1990: 459). Masculinity is appropriated in, for example, participation in sports to impress the father: in classical Freudian theory interpreted as part of the successful resolution of gender conformity (Freud 1905). The sense of this combative masculinity and its negotiation is present in the interview with James. James says that he was 'protected' by his Aboriginality because the local sports heroes were Aboriginal. What follows would suggest that gayness was superimposed over Aboriginality at some stage. 
James: I grew up as the school poofter. I used to dodge, you know, I used to go different ways on the way home. I used to come home crying all the time . . . I couldn't tell my parents . . . I got beaten up. I thought that every man was gay, my grandfather, my father, except they had to get married because that was what society was about . . . no one else ever taught me anything else.  

Bruce: I was walking down Oxford Street and I see all these Aboriginal boys who I thought were straight in frocks. It was like big lights, big time, good time. So it was their turn to just shed that thing that they've had from where they were. And now they've all gone home to raise families. 

Philip spoke of his difficulty as a cultural worker to negotiate between a general acceptance of his profession and lingering aspersions as to his masculinity by some of his peers. It is here that the institutional dimension of masculinity is encountered. The complexity of homosexuality/ Aboriginality/masculinity and cultural appropriateness is also revealed in the following: 
people are realising what we do is more important than who we sleep with . . . [but] one old lady actually told us 'when people come and see [the performance] they don't want to see your sexuality on show' . . . I was told they don't want effeminate men in their [company]. We call the straight men the hairy-arsed blokes. 
The interview with two Aboriginal ex-community workers was also interesting in terms of tensions and problems around gender. Gender has increasingly been on the political agenda in Aboriginal society and reflects the realities of domestic violence and alcohol abuse, and of generational change (Atkinson 1990). The gender conflict is inherent in the reality of a long history of predominantly Aboriginal women working at some levels of community organisations, youth culture and possible gay misogyny. One issue that was raised by several interviewees was that Aboriginal gay and lesbian community workers were overloaded in terms of the expectations of them in community health employment. Some felt that this worked to elide any consideration of issues related to their own and others' sexual choice. The following comments illuminate these concerns: 
Peter: All Aboriginal organisations are run by women. The problems today are different and more is required than just a band-aid service. I've been trying for years to get work in these organisations, they should be more accepting of gays and lesbians.  

Martin: Aboriginal women have been carrying the load for so long. Men have been displaced in terms of traditional role and have turned to booze and drugs. Colonialism is behind this.  

Peter: The women fought for what we have now.  

Martin: Men in higher positions are bureaucrats, Uncle Toms.  

Peter: People can't cope with the strength younger Aboriginals have today. It's not so much anger as frustration. They will lose everyone if they don't wake up to themselves. 

© HIV, AIDS and Society Publications 1996 
This report may not be copied without the express permission of the copyright holder. 
ISBN 085837 832 9