Can men be socialized as gay?

Gay Clients in Queer Social Work (Part II)

Dominik Sommer, Rüdiger Lautmann

published on 09/14/2016

The two-part article shows the everyday conflicts and special life situations of gays and their consequences for social work.
to the first part of the post

In the first part of the article, we explained how the mindset in the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender-intersex (LGBTI) complex has developed and continues to change. The queer theory gives the different conflict fronts a common conceptual basis: This is the criticism of heteronormativity, that is, of the dictates of bisexuality and male-female uniformity. A professionalism of social work that breaks away from the usual rigid patterns is able to do justice to the newly emerging clientele from the LGBTI field. In the second part of the essay, we use the example of gays to shed light on the multiple areas of friction on which clients experience problems in their everyday lives.

Everyday conflicts of gay men

Growing up with sexual peculiarities means a special challenge in the development of a secure identity, since sexuality is an essential component of a stable self, as has hardly been seriously doubted since Sigmund Freud (1905). As shown in the first part of the article, social work can make use of queer gender understandings to productively address sexual identity in caring relationships. This brings to the fore the special challenges that gay men - and not only they - are subject to and that can be relevant for social work. For this purpose, life-historical conflicts of gays in the areas of family of origin, partnership relationships, work, gay subculture, masculinity and sexuality must be taken into account and possible answers formulated on the part of social work (cf. summer 2012).

Gay men can be understood as men first or as gay first - that is a question of perspective. We deliberately bring the gay perspective to the fore, it emphasizes the fragility of a deviant male sexuality. Certainly gays are also men in a biological as well as in a social and psychological sense, with a male body, male social roles and male problems. In manifest conflicts, however, the vulnerable part of gay identity is of primary interest, i.e. the one that, in its exceptional character, deals with the differences to classic notions of masculinity.

The reasons for this are obvious: Many gay men have to deal with their masculinity because heterosexual role models in couple and family relationships and in sex (the absorbing role in sexual intercourse) only work to a limited extent for them, because female and male parts of their own psyche can be negotiated more clearly (than in the usual constellation) because deviating life plans want to be integrated into coexistence at work and in leisure activities. And the numbers of psychosocial conflict experiences still suggest that the special everyday requirements of many gays cannot always be easily solved.

The suicide risk of lesbians and gays between the ages of 12 and 25 is four to seven times higher than in the heterosexual comparison group (cf. Meurer 2003). Six times more gays have attempted suicide in their lifetime than in the entire male population (Häusermann / Wang 2003). Kurt Wiesendanger assumes that "every second gay person experiences his homosexuality very ambiguously [...], or to put it the other way round: almost every second person has to deal with a non-integrated and non-communicated part of himself every day, which would, however, fundamentally create identity "(2005: 13).

Social work with gays related to the family of origin

In the best case scenario, the parents notice earlier than their offspring that he is different than grows up according to the heteronormative scheme. Your boy then appears to them as Sissy boy. Ideally, they take note of this with a smile and let their child go its own way. As a rule, however, the heterosexual assumption applies. Parents, siblings and friends of the family naturally assume that the growing man desires women and will later live with a woman and bring about the next generation with her.

If needs and feelings are communicated openly and trustingly in the family of origin, then this reduces the gay risk of rejection during the coming-out, is perceived as moderating experiences of discrimination and has a positive effect on their satisfaction with life (cf. Bachmann 2013: 89f. ). The idea of ​​two gays living together in a couple relationship triggers fear, especially in patriarchal families, and is experienced as an affront (cf. Rauchfleisch 2001: 177). In this situation, when the gay comes out, the relationship between the gay person and the family of origin changes fundamentally. He has to deal with not conforming to the sexual role models of his family. Coming out is very likely to be associated with emotional ruptures, a loss of affection, emotional insecurity or injuries. In extreme cases, discrimination and homophobic violence from within the family will lead to a break with the family. If no one supports the gay person in this existential biographical process, this is where internalized homophobia begins, i.e. a kind of self-hatred that rages against oneself and against others of his kind.

In the protected framework of queer social work, relationships with the family of origin unconditionally be clarified. Grief, anger, despair, bitterness and shame on the part of clients, their injuries and the support they receive from the family of origin can be made aware - at best in a group of peers.

The life of partnership relationships

In their partnership relationships, LGBTI people first have to overcome the devaluation of their individuality before like-minded people can appear lovable to them. And even then, at least initially, there remains a certain lack of orientation as to how they can shape their intimate private life. The role models from the heteronormative everyday life do not want to fit: On the one hand, they simulate an ideal world, the reality of which is known only too often as insincere and ugly from the family of origin. On the other hand, the normal model of father-mother-child consanguinity is based on traditions and premises that do not exist for rainbow families and, incidentally, also for blended families and unmarried partnerships.

The queer person is initially lured into the freedoms of the subculture, at the end of which the youth phase and the 'maturing task' of starting a family do not have to come. Here can someone decide on a permanent partnership, this can evolve into a marriage and can generate the desire for children (through foster care, adoption, or procreation / conception). These options are diverse, non-traditional and not yet legally secured; they do not fit into any biographical rule model.

The relationship life of very many gay people stays away from familiar forms of families. Instead, cliques, friendships and elective affinities fulfill the need for intimacy. The sexual is often split off from this, as is often the case in the heteronormative world (only that there is frowned upon). A differentiated and partially commercialized subculture offers the chance for intimate encounters that are limited to sexual pleasure and cannot provide emotional support for everyday conflicts. In the queer cosmos, individualization was the original state, and that shapes relationships to this day. One of the consequences is the broad differentiation of partnership forms. Individuals can choose and have to decide without being committed to their whole life. Diversity and flexibility characterize queer relationship biographies. The single status here does not refer to a deficiency or incompetence; rather, it is a well-established and common way of life that is fully accepted.

Networks and support systems are needed in order to be able to shape and withstand the risks of unconventionality. In transitional phases, crises can arise that result in the need for help. In our time, the rules of queer relationships are in constant flux, they are politically contested and the battlefield for criticism of heteronormativity.

Social work with working gays

Even if at first glance sexuality is of secondary importance in most professions, according to a study by Dominic Frohn (2007; 2014) almost 80 percent of the lesbians and gays surveyed state that they have been discriminated against in the workplace. The degradations range from gay and lesbian jokes, insults, avoidance, exclusion from promotion and physical violence. Similar to women (keyword: glass ceiling), gays at work generally have the feeling that they have to do more than their heterosexual colleagues in order to be recognized. More than half of the gays and lesbians surveyed in the aforementioned study stated that they were not outed to their colleagues in the company. In the case of executives, the number of people hidden increases to 66 percent.

Working gay clients, like all other sexually deviant clients, face the dilemma that both the publicity of their sexual orientation and its concealment are problematic. If a gay man decides to go public in the workplace, he often encounters a lack of understanding on the part of his colleagues: When sexual identity becomes an issue, it is perceived as shameless or indiscreet - although the heterosexual colleagues naturally chat about their relationships or amorous adventures. But if the sexual orientation is hidden and a colleague hides certain topics such as partnership, family life or children, he gives rise to whispering and speculation, and the risk of bullying increases. People who are discriminated against because of their homosexuality tell significantly less about their private life; their publication strategies are more shaped by “secrecy or indirect evidence than by direct communication” (Knoll et al. 1995: 14).

Gay addressees of social work who are in professional life can only make the decision about an open or hidden approach to their homosexuality personally. Personal experiences and work environments are too diverse to be able to make general recommendations. Self-publication 'without considering losses' can overwhelm everyone involved and lead to damage. At the same time, dealing actively with the stigma is often more non-discriminatory in the medium term - even if this path initially appears conflictual and inconvenient. Clients can be supported in the decision about the appropriate stigma management as well as in dealing with the fear of possible conflicts, in dealing with devaluation and injury as well as with the shame of heterosexual colleagues.

Social work in the gay subculture

The gay scenes are diverse, commercial and non-profit, organize themselves virtually and “live”. Scene locations are much less hidden today than they were thirty years ago. Most gays, however, are still dependent on contact with the scene in order to escape the taboo on their sexual and emotional experience. Gays leave their hometown and move to metropolises to get in touch with other gays. The subculture offers a framework in which a gay does not have to feel like a marginal figure all the time; his way of self-image and the desired way of life can be tried out and negotiated here.

The “scene”, however, does not manage without exclusion and discrimination, as the devaluation of queens by “normal” gays shows (“Reign of gay men over queens”, Connell 2000). Wiesendanger (2005) describes this type of homonegativity as “gay self-hatred”, which feeds on unprocessed experiences of discrimination. Gays are still not noticed in their own sexuality from childhood. A subculture, in which mainly gays move, first of all creates relief.

The proud and relaxed appearance of gays at parades, however, cannot hide how difficult it is for gays to immerse themselves in the subculture for the first time. You need strong social skills in order to overcome inhibitions and not be caught off guard by the massiveness and breadth of gay offers, the associated needs, wishes and ideas. Not every prospect has these skills from the start. In parts of the commercial scene, where entry requirements are low and which catch the eye first, the tone is harsh: lookism, hedonism and youth cult in combination with self-abandonment under the influence of drugs set requirements that have to be dealt with. In doing so, the existential needs of the individual gay - for love, for autonomy and for health - fall by the wayside.

Injuries and feelings of isolation or self-harming identification can be countered by non-judgmental queer social work. She can support gays in their own To find a way through the entanglements of the scene and to achieve a positive identification with your sexuality - beyond the depreciation of others and self.

In the area of ​​health care, queer social work also requires specific sensitivity, education and de-stigmatization work. Crisis and conflicting identity constructions increase the risk of infection with HIV and other chronic sexually transmitted diseases in all population groups. Gays are still particularly at risk from a lack of recognition in their social environment as well as from social stigmatization and discrimination (see Langer 2009; Hutter et al. 2000).

Social work with gay sexuality and masculinity

Gay (young) men usually lack the (appreciative) knowledge and scripts for the first time at the beginning. In the concepts of hegemonic heterosexual masculinity, gay sexual practices are, if at all, only shameful and derogatory, often as “feminine” or “feminine”. Gay men are all too happy to be reduced to their sexuality by straight men ("ass fuckers").

From the end of the 1960s onwards, gays became empowered by aggressively opposing the rigid, moralizing and exclusively heteronormative way of dealing with physicality with permissive and hedonistic sexual behavior. Their socially tabooed sexual practices (e.g. anal intercourse) found their legitimation in the execution and in the associated pleasure - necessarily hidden in hatches, parks and saunas. To this day, part of gay intercourse is non-binding and anonymous as well as being strongly characterized by the nature of a contract (cf. Rauchfleisch 2001: 37). The men get down to business quickly (in the darkroom, by internet appointment), you have a couple of good hours, and that's it.

Part of the permissive drive control goes back to catching up experience. While heterosexual teens can usually gain a wide variety of sexual experiences during and after puberty, gays at this age are often excluded from both sexual discourse and the act. Other gays anchor their sex life primarily in a relationship. Another part compensates for the desire for recognition and closeness in the permanent living out of lust. Likewise, instinctual wishes make an intimate encounter relatively uncomplicated; closeness is simulated beyond an emotional encounter. For the time being, it promises a release from the emotional isolation. The quick satisfaction of instincts can thus become an expression of silent feelings, which has its origin in the social isolation of gay people.

This tendency is intensified under heterosexist socialization conditions that attribute lower value to feelings in men. Our current notions of masculinity (e.g. Czollek and others) ensure that gays are collectively devalued; and especially other men with prejudice and violence ensure that. The common stereotype of gay masculinity is still the drop-handed queen. “This inversion is a structural characteristic of homosexuality in a patriarchal society, and it is completely independent of the personality or identity of gays” (Connell 2000: 178). In contrast, the majority of gays assess their own masculinity as “normal” or average (Krell 2008: 272). Self-image and the ascriptions of the external image are far apart for many gay men.

Social work with gays in later life

The later phases of life also know situations in which a gay clientele needs social work when there are: conflicts in the partner relationship, the coexistence of normal family and gay double life and dealing with children from a previous marriage or in a rainbow family. For this purpose, professional know-how is only gradually developing, which many people seeking advice have long been waiting for.

Gays in old age also represent a new challenge for which social work has so far been unprepared. These men have lived through the decades of law enforcement and existence-threatening contempt before 1969 and carry the wounds they suffered around with them, poorly healed. In several places in Germany there are projects that enable the gay elderly to live in dignity (see Lottmann / Lautmann 2014).

New clients change the profile of social work

Queer informed social work can help mitigate the consequences of devaluing gay sexuality and aggressive heterosexist attributions. Conflicts of many gays between identifying with stereotypical images of masculinity and expressing them own Masculinity can be made an issue in queer space without reservation, also within the framework of an individually appropriate stigma management. Role conflicts, relationship experiences and wishes for a fulfilled sexuality can be discussed

No matter how unusual some features of the LGBTI way of life may seem at first glance, social work in this field does not need to be alienated. She finds the same problem here as in many of her common fields of work: clients too damaged identity - a concept of the sociologist Erving Goffman to make an effort that has already appeared in social work training. In his well-read book stigma (1967) Goffman showed how discreditable traits impair the individual quality of life and what those affected can do to cope with them. Both the stigmatization and the handling of the hurtful situation are primarily social processes. Self-help and private support alone are not enough to meet the welfare state standard - this is the founding idea of ​​all social professions. The severity and omnipresence of the heteronormative claim affect people as soon as they become aware of their lesbian, gay, transident etc. peculiarities. Social work can assist them in all stages of getting along.


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Dominik Sommer
Born 1974, studied social sciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin and social work (M.A.) at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences.
He works at the gay counseling Berlin in BEW and in a TWG for gays with mental health problems.
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Dr. phil. Doctor of Law Rudiger Lautmann
Born in 1935, worked from 1971 to 2010 as a professor of sociology at the University of Bremen and now lives in Berlin. Numerous publications on law and crime, gender and sexuality.
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Dominik Sommer, Rüdiger Lautmann: Gay clients in queer social work (Part II). Published on 09/14/2016 in socialnet materials at, date of access 05/24/2021.

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