LIVING IN DOUBLE WORLD: HARMONIZING HOMOSEXUALITY AND
MASCULINITY THROUGH SYMBOLIC CONSUMPTION IN PRIVATE
This article demonstrates the interpretation of a selected homosexual‟s narratives of his consumption patterns and taste which emerge as a refuge from any social stigmatization. These reconstruct a sense of masculinity while cherishing their homosexuality. The investigation emphasizes various experiential aspects of interior decorative activities of his secret room which is treated confidentially and demarcated from more open rooms. The interpretation indicates that the decoration is employed to sacralize the room which is used for the escapism and romantic ritual purpose. Moreover, the conflated decorative styles of loft and vintage, as reflexive of camp consumption, are discussed in line with an affirmation of masculinity and an embrace of homosexuality. Hypermasculinization is also explored since it creates a cultural superiority over the heterosexual mainstream to achieve the homosexual masculinity.
Much of literature in sociology and psychology substantiates that gay men experience depression and stress from social stigmatization. This is particular so when the heterosexual culture dominates the society in which homosexuals are viewed as being substandard. As such, males who engage in sets of habits, demonstrations, behaviors and consumptions departing from social expectations and beliefs of conventional masculinity. Particularly in the Thai context, these correlate with effeminate attributes are characterized as antithetical to the mainstream culture. As the result, homosexuals face conventionally social punishment and are excluded from social reward.
By this regard, to secure a place in the conventional society in which there are massive barriers to the homosexual self, gay men have a strong tendency to conceal their homosexuality in the public arena in order to maintain the continuing availability of social acclamation and rewards. However, gay men embrace their homosexuality in their private space. In accordance with these strategic practices, closet gay men actively look for and then appropriate symbolic resources to sacralize and masculinize their self which is perceived as inferior to the heterosexual in the mainstream culture. Once contaminated by the sacredness of consumption symbolism of masculinity, the homosexuals‟ inferior self is enhanced and finally becomes sacred. Through their sacred status, homosexuals can not only demarcate from heterosexuals in mainstream culture which is regarded as ordinary or profanity but also establish themselves in a position that is culturally and tastefully superior to other gay members.
This study intends to investigate the camp consumption and tastes, as cultural capital inherited in homosexuals, which are employed to not only concretize the cultural boundary between themselves and the mainstream to establish the self-protection to social oppression but also harmonize the self in realms of both homosexuality and masculinity in order to maintain the symbolism of masculinity while cherish their homosexuality.
By investigating this sophisticated consumption phenomenon, the narrative interview is employed to understand the lived experience of a selected closet gay man through his historical story which could unfold his personal meanings of a particular event and the complex motives that drive his behaviors. In the initial stage of the study, considerable time is spent on creating the relationship between the researcher and informant who eventually provided the insight of different facets of his homosexual self that are prone to be socially vulnerable. This study intentionally targets to narratives of his secret room since, because of its campy decoration, it allows him to cherish his homosexuality and secure his sense of masculinity.
The interpretation suggests that the informant acquires a private, secret space for escaping from any social stigmatization. In addition, its decorative styles and items differentiate this room from other commoditized rooms he possesses. This results in the enhancement of its sacred status which allows the informant to perform romantic rituals with his male partner as a mean to embrace the homosexuality. According to an initial examination of his room‟s décor, the room is dominated by a
loft style which emphasizes on displaying the foundation of interior design including metal, brick and wood. Apparently, all these décor materials signify the masculinity which symbolically transfers to the informant; allowing him to augment a sense of masculinity. However, further investigation discovers that the several decorative items, labeled as vintage style, are symbolically associated with femininity. This fusion phenomenon exemplifies the camp consumption in which the style is
exaggerated through intermingling opposite domains of décor. The informant attempts to demonstrate masculine symbols in order to strengthen his sense of masculinity. He is also likely to appreciate the effeminate aspect of his homosexual self. In addition, according to the data, this camp-decorated room allows an informant not only to concretize the cultural superiority over mainstream heterosexuals but also to differentiate from other gay men. This empowers him to achieve the superior and dominant attributes of masculinity. By this regard, the closet gay man can dominate and become superior to the mainstream culture not through physical capital or the fulfillment of traditional masculine attributes but rather by the superior cultural capital or camp ideology of consumption inherited in homosexuals.
Similar to those of mainstream consumers, gay consumers‟ consumption needs are intensified by the stage of uncomfortability and, apparently, they are motivated to resolve this tension. Since it is taboo in the social arena, the homosexuality appreciation is rather expressed in a secret utopia in which gay men enjoy the embracement of homosexuality and same-sex romantic rituals independent of social criticism. Also similar to conventional heterosexuals, homosexuals also endeavor to affirm their sense of masculinity. This practical discourse is achieved not only through the incrementally physical capital or economical capital but also through the accumulated cultural capital or camp, the exaggerated aestheticization of consumption. This allows gay men to situate themselves in the culturally superior position in which their sense of masculinity is then strengthened.
LIVING IN DOUBLE WORLDS: HARMONIZING THE HOMOSEXUALITY
AND MASCULINITY THROUGH SYMBOLIC CONSUMPTIONS IN
THEORITICAL POINT OF DEPARTURE
Considerable literature determines that gay men have developed depression as they have experienced social stigmatization (Kilmartin 1994). Gay men, for instance, are socially punished by abusive comments, social ignorance and discrimination and sometime unprovoked violence (MacInnes 1998). Accordingly, many gay men do not truly express their homosexual self in the public arena in order to protect their social privileges which could not be acquired if revealed. As such, closet gay men do not associate with stereotypical homosexuality or femininity because they not only intend to minimize the social stigmatization but also attempt to enjoy the advantages of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1992). In this regard, gay men have a tendency to initiate the strategies which enable them to conceal their homosexuality and compensate for the perceived lack of their masculinity through hypermasculinization.
Stigmatization of Gay Men
Gay men are substantially more stigmatized by oppression and
marginalization from various institutions in society (Weeks 1985). Even though a particular gay man has never engaged in stereotypically homosexual activities and institutions, these stigmatized circumstances and social punishment from both lived experience with significant other at home, schools and various social institutions and mediated experiences through different media products are learned (Thompson and
Hirschman 1995). The gay men‟s consciousness of social marginalization becomes
intensified particularly when they involve in the circumstances where hegemonic masculinity is paramount and, consequently, homophobia is a stereotypically predispositon. Under this phenomenon, they both are socially expected to have and struggle to maintain a traditional set of masculine attributes. As such, males who engage in sets of habits, demonstrations, behaviors and consumptions that oppose to social expectations and beliefs of conventional masculinity or, particularly in the Thai context, appear to correlate with effeminate attributes are characterized as homosexual. Homosexual is apparently regarded as a condition abhorrent to the mainstream culture (Connell 1992). These constant reminders of heteropatriarchy attest to the masculinist discourses that denigrate femininity and, apparently, homosexuality (Thompson and Hirschman 1995). Encountering this paradoxical circumstance, gay men experience tensions because they have to maintain the equilibrium of the dualism of homosexuality and heterosexuality through constructing a self that could be harmoniously situated in these binary oppositions. Consequently, if their balancing strategies are found unproductive, they then experience social oppressions in which they are socially stigmatized and disqualified for various social rewards (Meyer 1995).
Public Concealment of Homosexuality and Symbolic Consumption
A minority‟s confrontation with social stigmatization is theoretically affirmed to deteriorate their ego development (Caldwell et al 1989) and, in turn, contribute to the development of emotional distress (Potoczniak at al 2007). Moreover, since homosexuals are seen as a social construct that deviates from the mainstream culture. Because of this, they receive less or no support from social institutions and they
potentially have a strong tendency to conceal their homosexual identity in public space in order to preserve social privileges awarded only for traditionally masculine individuals (Potoczniak at al 2007). The strategic concealment of the homosexual self is conceptualized as the development of the set of behaviors which are substantially associated with traditional masculinity and, apparently, disassociated with what is labeled as femininity and homosexuality (Kates 2002). By this regard, these strategic practices can be facilitated by consumption symbolism (Wattanasuwan 2005) which is used to represent symbolically masculine meanings and disassociate from homosexuality and femininity.
Gay men‟s public exposure can result in a tension because of lower self-
esteem (Caldwell et al 1989). This tension is empirically attested, by research in psychology (Villemarette-Pittman et al 2004) and consumer behavioral science (Hirschman 1992; Elliott 1994). Tension contributes to the development of the addictive behavior which potentially leads to the consumer‟s hyperconsumption. By this regard, gay men, in order to protect their self-esteem, may become highly sensitive about their homosexual appearance particularly in public and, subsequently, are likely to hypermasculinize their self. This would secure their perceptually threatened masculinity. This practice can be done by engaging in consumption and activities in which masculinity is either implicitly or explicitly symbolized. The hypermasculinization also relates to the compensatory consumption (Grunert 1993). In Thailand, the homosexual is regarded as a man who not only has an ultimate relationship with a man but also incorporates a set of effeminate behaviors. In order to compensate for their homosexuality or the perceived lack of their masculinity, gay men are likely to involve in as many exaggerating consumptions and activities symbolically reaffirming masculinity and disassociating from homosexuality and
femininity as possible. As such, the manifestation of their masculinity becomes maximized and their socially fragile femininity and homosexuality is minimized.
Sacralizing the Masculinity
Empirically, it posits that the status of commoditized objects can be enhanced through the sacralization process, the process by which the profane is changed by the sacred object and eventually become sacred (Belk et al 1989). In a similar degree, the gay men‟s perception of their inferiority to heterosexuals because of their experience
of social oppression can be diminished through engaging in the consumptions and practices which confer them a sacred status (Belk et al 1989). As eliciting the beneficent outcome, sacred objects provide a communitas in which an individual could transcend their existence from the profane, unfavorable stage to the utopia. In utopia, they could refuge from social stigmatization and accomplish their desired self or even create the situation, which is exaggerated to sacralize the self, in opposition to the mainstream. By this regard, to sacralize themselves, gay men would engage in sacred consumption objects and practices to manifest their superiority to the profane mainstream culture. Through the transfer process of cultural meaning, these sacred consumptions and practices operate to sacralize homosexuals and empower them to accomplish the superiority over ordinary heterosexuals (McCracken 1986). Eventually, by doing so, gay men could enhance their sense of masculinity.
Profane could be regarded as ordinary, mundane actions and practices, or, in the similar degree, conventional beliefs and expectations (Belk et al 1989). As such, what opposite to the profane is recognized as sacred. The cultural capital that is gradually accumulated can be employed to create the social strata in which an individual with a higher degree of cultural capital is classified in the superior location
against social others and the mainstream culture (Bourdieu 1984). Cultural capital sacralizes gay men and empowers them to situate themselves in the premier position in which they are able to criticize mainstream and heterosexual culture and justify them as inferior. A study by Kates (2001; 2002) indicates that camp, as the form of cultural capital, is the habitus, inherited in homosexuals, that embraces the excess, exaggeration, and flamboyance. As such, camp, as a mode of consumption expression, allows gay men to exaggerate their consumption to distinguish themselves from the mainstream culture and position them in the culturally superior position against not only heterosexuals but also other gay men. By this regard, gay men express and consume in accordance with their superior camp taste to sacralize themselves. With this sacred status, gay men could be protected from the social oppression by mainstream heterosexuals and could transcend themselves from the underprivileged to the culturally desired stage in which they could enjoy the social rewards conferred by the heterosexual majority. Cultural superiority allows gay men to secure their sense of masculinity.
The present investigation is intended to understand the consumption phenomenon in which a closet gay man struggles to refuge from heterosexual threats and secure his masculine self by concealing their homosexuality and achieving hypermasculinization to enjoy social rewards awarded by mainstream culture. By using the narrative interview approach, we better understand the complex world of lived experience of an informant through his historical story which could unfold his personal meanings of a particular event and the complex motives that drive his behavior (Polkinghorne 1995). An interview began with “how could you deal with
social threats to your homosexuality?” and followed by unstructured questions to
delve more into an informant‟s emergent narratives. Beside the interviews in his condo (Elliott and Elliott 2003), an observation of different consumption items, especially home decorative items in this study, is engaged to understand their symbolic meanings an informant employs to symbolically affirm his masculinity (Kates 2001). This methodology could contribute to the better understanding of how a gay man who encounters with social stigmatization employs consumptions to construct his masculinity and superiority over heterosexuals. This research provides the theoretical foundation in gay consumer behaviors in which it can be employed to interpret gay‟s consumption story in order to understand his underlined motivation
that drives his particular consumptions in different context.
This longitudinally ethnographic research has been endured over a course of one year and a half to study the consumption pattern of a closet gay informant. Since he does not publicize his homosexuality, the researcher has invested much temporal resources in an initial period to familiarize with an informant through different activities such as being his gym trainer, shopping and nightclubbing until he has been comfortable to provide his insight narrative relating to his gay self (Kates 2001). The researcher purposively selects this informant since he could satisfy the requirements in that he is a closet gay man who live his life in the heterosexual dominance while attempts to unlock his homosexual self in his own private space (Mick and Buhl 1992). Moreover, the selected informant is willing to share his experience of sustaining his life in both worlds; which would allow us to explore his consumption behaviors which are driven by both masculinity maintenance and homosexuality embracement.
INTERPRETATIONS OF NARRATIVES AND DISCUSSIONS
According to his narrative, it is apparent that his sense of masculinity is significantly intimidated by both straight and homosexual worlds. He, therefore, employs consumption symbolisms and experiential activities that could empower him both to alleviate from social threats to his masculinity and homosexuality and to construct the desired level of masculinity. Interpretations encompass his strategies to escape from intimidating threats and to reconstruct his sense of masculinity.
The Sacred Room as Source of Escapism: The Refuge Base
Since having lived his life in dichotomous worlds; one in straight and another in homosexuality, an informant attempts to create the place at where he could harmoniously compromise his both lives in order to escape from self-threats by both worlds while cherish his homosexual self. This location allows him to maintain his masculinity while satisfy his desired sense of homosexuality independent of social stigmatization. Since he encounters with the difficulty in maintaining his double identities in the society in which gay self is marginalized, this location therefore functions as a refuge base in which his sexual partner and he are only eligible.
The Secret Room as the Sacred Place for Escapism. As an investor in real
estate, he possesses several units of apartment. All of these apartment units, but this secret one, are normally treated either as commodities which are transactioned to generate additional incomes or as where his family members dwell. Only this secret unit is exclusively sacralized (Belk et al 1989) since it is distinctively decorated and