A bastard of a life: homosexual desire and practice among men in working-class milieux

R. W. Connell, M. D. Davis, G. W. Dowsett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

35 Citations (Scopus)


HIV/AIDS prevention work has been mainly designed by professionals and has reached mainly educationally and economically advantaged groups. This study involved men who have sex with men in working-class milieux, using life- history and action-research methods in two cities. Material drawn from twenty-one case studies is presented. The economic, domestic and educational relationships of working-class life shape sexual identity and practice. A muted and undifferentiated erotic milieu in childhood is the common starting point for very different trajectories into adult homosexual relationships, though ‘beats’ are generally important in making connections. A stronger network and sense of community appears in the provincial city than in the metropolis. Economic vulnerability and cultural constraint shape homosexual experience. Sex in long-term relationships is the most valued (though not the most common) and is more likely to involve anal intercourse; significant risks arise here. A complex political and cultural process shapes sexual practice as reciprocal or one-way and as more or less skilled. ‘Gay identity’ is not sought by most of these men, whose personal style more often draws on conventional working-class masculinities. But contradictions about desire and femininity are simultaneously present and sometimes destabilise masculinity. Responses to the HIV epidemic first involved withdrawal from sexual activity, then growth of activism. A ‘barefoot educator’ community activism has already emerged and should be a focus of HIV/AIDS prevention strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-135
Number of pages24
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1993
Externally publishedYes

Cite this