Early Research: Awareness of Homosexuality


HookerBefore Stonewall

Awareness of Homosexuality, 1973

Today I start a new series of pieces in which I look back on some of my earliest articles – some being 40 years old now.

I start with a little article that was in effect the very first article I ever wrote – back in 1971. It was to become a chapter for my PhD; and I was asked to write it by my friends Jock Young and Roy Bailey as part  a book of articles  and works coming out of the National Deviancy Conference. Jokingly they wanted to mimic the big social problems book of that time- Merton and Nisbet’s Contemporary Social Problems , which went through various editions. And they wanted me to write a piece about homosexuality which was only decriminalised in the UK a few years earlier and was still classified as a sickness.. I would have been about 25 at the time….

At that moment I was heavily inspired by the symbolic interactionist work of Anselm Strauss (who died in 1996)- who was developing both his ideas of grounded theory and the concept of ‘awareness context’. He was asking questions about who knows what about cancer patients and was concerned with the problem of information and knowledge distribution amongst groups – of who is aware of what. At that time, passing as normal when gay was a very common practice and I was interested in how this worked and also how it may be changing with the emergence at that moment of the Gay Liberation Front.

Things have changed a lot over the past 40 years and the article now looks quite formal and very quaint.  It suggests to me how contemporary sociology eventually becomes a historical document! How things have changed!

I started my first ever article (in 1973) with the following:

In both England and America, homosexuality is a stigma symbol. To be called a homosexual is to be degraded, rendered as morally dubious, or treated as different. To be publicly known as a homosexual is to invite your employer to sack you, your parents to reject you, the law to imprison you, the doctor to cure you, the moralist to denounce you, the priest to pity you, the liberal to patronise you and the queer basher to kill you. Further, given the currently fashionable theories of homosexuality which locate its origins in the parents, it is to court shame not just for yourself – but for your parents and loved ones too.Given such costs it is little wonder that most homosexuals elect to conceal their identity from public gaze.

And ended it with:

In the immediate future, there are signs that this is about to change – that homosexuality will become increasingly visible, spoken about and an issue; and that sexuality will become a more public experience. If this does happen, the interaction problems analysed in this article will become speedily updated.  P103 ; p120


(See: Ken Plummer ‘Awareness of Homosexuality’ (1973) in Roy Bailey and Jock Young Contemporary Social Problems  (1973) Farnborough: Saxon; Lexington, Mass: Lexington)

Click here on  Awareness of Homosexuality

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