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Saturday 10 October 2009

Provocation and Hallucination

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 16th August 2009

How might the classic work of Sigmund Freud bring some light to the provocation defence abolition debate?
Sigmund Freud
When I read Freud's classic paper on "The Uncanny," I realised that there was some applicability to our current political debates. In that paper, Freud spent some time noting that there's a fine line between the domestic, familiar and homely on the one hand, and the unsettling, 'foreign', 'alien' and 'unfamiliar' on the other. In practice, there's actually a murky boundary. This has some strengths, given that while anti-feminist nonsense routinely depicts families and homes as 'havens in a heartless world,' often the reality is that spousal abuse and child battery and sexual abuse renders these homely interiors equally terrifying places for many women and children.
So, is there a 'gay uncanny,' and might it be used to map out the inside of the minds of straight men who resort to aggravated assault and homicide against gay men who make passes at them? Freud has some useful observations to make here. The 'uncanny' also refers to something withdrawn from the perception of others- secretive, hidden or...closeted? Suddenly, a straight male discovers that his friend or drinking partner is a hitherto 'unsuspected' gay man or man who has sex with men, which leads the 'scared' straight man to fear gay sex as something that "looks" like straight sex, but isn't.
Homophobes and fundamentalist Christians are usually scared of us because according to them, we "look like" them, but "aren't", so they try to violently repudiate us through violent boundary demarcation, through transforming us into dissolute, sexually aggressive and 'menacing' monstrosities, which 'excuses' homophobic discrimination, gaybashing and social exclusion. It may also explain the elements of aggravated assault in antigay homicides, because we're "not like them." Needless to say, these particular straight men also have fairly rigid ideas that relate to "permissible" male and female gender roles, so they also fear "being made a woman."
Freud refers to the above as the "doppelganger" effect. LGBT folk are seen as 'insidious' within the fundamentalist mindset, because we 'look' just like them but 'aren't.' Furthermore, this 'duplication' is 'imperfect,' which leads violent straight male homophobes to entertain further boundary anxieties. If 'they' look like me, might 'I' not be 'one of them?' Hence, some resort to violence to destroy the uncanny gay doppelganger who resembles-them-but-is-not-them.
Vision also plays a role in the exploration of the uncanny. Homophobic straight men fear the gay eroticising gaze, because it sexualises their bodies and 'turns them into women', whereas it's perfectly okay for the straight male gaze to eroticise women even when those women don't want to be the mere object of that gaze. To be the object of someone else's gaze is to be 'powerless' and 'like a woman,' so the gay gaze must be violently disrupted. (Similarly, misogynist versions of the provocation defence exist when women break free from this prescriptive framing as an object).
What do we do about this? There's nothing immutable or permanent or desirable about the above. I am describing the foetid inside of a homophobic male mind, which is a violent and psychopathological mire. Homophobic violence is motivated by psychopathology, but psychopathology itself doesn't excuse the perpetrators of violence, otherwise we wouldn't imprison people who commit crimes partly due to antisocial personality disorder. In any case, public policy should not accept a phantasmagoria as the basis for excusing and condoning acts of homophobic violence in the context of the provocation defence.

Recommended: Sigmund Freud: The Uncanny

Craig Young - 16th August 2009

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