Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Formation of Fear in Gay Space: The 'Straights' Story

Academic journal article Capital & Class

The Formation of Fear in Gay Space: The 'Straights' Story

Article excerpt

It is well-known that lesbians and gay men have long been produced and examined as objects of fear. However, this article analyses lesbians and gay men as subjects of fear. This paper offers an exploration of the formation and uses of fear in the context of lesbian and gay experiences of danger and safety associated with violence. In so doing it explores the politics and geography of fear that inform lesbian and gay perceptions of danger and safety. The evidence provided is based upon an analysis of an established and a non-established arena of lesbian and gay performance and visibility/invisibility.

Introduction

Lesbians and gay men have long been produced and examined as objects of fear (Duggan, 2000; Hart, 1994; Moran, 1996). This article offers a new departure: a study of lesbians and gay men as subjects of fear. More specifically we offer an exploration of the formation and uses of fear in the context of lesbian and gay experiences of danger and safety associated with violence. (1) It is now perhaps a trite point, but one worth repeating within the frame of a lesbian and gay politics of violence, that fear of crime is for many more important than direct experience of criminal acts in the generation of experiences of danger and safety. In this article we begin an exploration of the politics and geography of fear that informs lesbian and gay perceptions of danger and safety.

Our analysis of lesbian and gay experiences of fear of crime uses data generated as part of a major research project, 'Violence, Sexuality and Space'. (2) In general the research concentrates on how three specific groups (gay men, lesbians and heterosexual women-identified as 'high risk' groups by various crime surveys) produce and make use of space in two contrasting geographical areas, a large city and a smaller town both in the North West of England. Manchester is a major city at the heart of a large urban conurbation. It has an identifiable and well established gay space known as 'the Village'. The Village is the location that gives concrete form to what has been described as 'the strongest and most vibrant Lesbian and Gay communities in the country'. This 'gay Mecca' (Healthy Gay Manchester, 1998) offers gay men in particular, high visibility and spatial concentration. It is a 'mecca' characterised specifically by way of various forms of cultural capital: 'pleasure', consumption, 'style', fashion, cuisin e and more specific events such as a Queer arts festival. Lancaster offers a sharp contrast. It is a much smaller provincial city some 50 miles to the north of Manchester. It has no clearly identifiable and durable gay space. (3) The project data was generated using a reflexive, multi-method approach. In each location we conducted a space census survey, semistructured interviews with key informants and focus groups for lesbians, gay men and straight women. (4)

After situating our work on lesbian and gay fear within the wider contemporary fear of crime debates, we begin our analysis by reference to findings generated by the survey, to date the UK's largest survey of lesbian and gay experiences of safety and danger. (5) The surveys generated some unexpected findings relating to the importance of fear of violence in lesbian and gay definitions of safety and danger in our two locations. One difference between the data from the two locations is the appearance of 'straights' as a distinct category of danger in the Manchester data. Having set out a summary of the more general findings we turn our attention to the data on 'straights' as danger. We explore the meaning and significance of 'straights' as danger through an examination of the project's wider research data on safety and danger, generated through the focus group discussions and semistructured interviews. We develop an analysis of the complexity of definitions of fear of violence and safety that are being produced in and through this category. We then turn to consider the spatial themes that inform the fear and danger associated with 'straights'. …

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