Scholarly research in the fields of sociology and psychology of the gay has evolved within the past several decades and currently needs a broader and deeper examination. One of the recent studies in this sphere was carried out by Vanessa Panfil. The question of LGBT community and the difficulties in the lives of young people experiencing bullying and misunderstanding in society have interested the author during her professional life. In her research, the author incorporates all the factors impacting the life of gay African Americans in an urban criminal gang and answers the question concerning the life of such people inside a gang.
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The Author’s Topic of Research
The central topic discussed in Panfil’s book is the life of young gay men of color in urban gangs. The researcher realizes the amount of negative influence the surrounding world is presenting for young gay people. They encounter “homophobic school climates, … street harassment,” and even unsupportive family members who do not understand or encourage but even may express their disapproval aggressively (Panfil xi). The author argues that despite numerous interventions carried out in the USA in support of LGBT community, there are many serious challenges young gay people of color face that lead them to engage in a marginal lifestyle of a gang.
The Author’s Research Questions
To research the topic of the study in depth, the researcher sets forward several questions which she attempts to answer in the book setting forward the general research question. What is the life of a gay man inside a gang like (Panfil xiii)? This main question leads to several specific ones that address a narrower point for consideration. Why do gay men become a part of a stereotypically masculine and homophobic criminal group (Panfil 4)? This question aims to determine the reasons for gay men to become members of gangs. What are the structural particularities in gangs where gay men are either explicit or closeted (Panfil 110)?
Asking this question, the author concentrates on the possible differences in a gang’s hierarchy depending on the presence of gay members in it. Finally, how do the marginal features of young men’s race and sexual identity influence their lives in an urban environment (Panfil 2)? This rather broad question addresses the collision of two dimensions (color and sexual orientation) that impose a prejudiced attitude toward a person in the modern world.
Author’s Evidence to Support the Argument
The author explicitly delivers the information serving as the evidence in support of the research argument. The study participants are young men of color who are members of urban criminal gangs. They become involved in such groups where people possess weapons, drugs, and have criminal history due to their “rough and violent” neighborhoods which force them to protect themselves in such a manner (Panfil 1-2).
Moreover, according to the interviews, open gay orientation imposes many cases of harassment, abuse, and physical attacks in the streets, during which the participants had to fight back, sometimes in a violent way. Having acknowledged the unwelcoming environment for gay people in an urban neighborhood, Panfil emphasizes the challenges African American gay men encounter in their daily life.
The vast majority of gay African Americans come from poor families or unfortunate neighborhoods. That is why they try to replace the family with a gang which becomes their safe surrounding (Panfil 73). However, men do not always come out in a gang environment, which predetermines the type of a gang. The willingness or the lack of desire to share their genuine sexual identity with fellow gang members implies psychological and sociological issues of trust, support, and safety.
The Relationship Between the Author’s Theories, Concepts, and Data
In research, the author employs a wide range of concepts and data retrieved in the process of working on the project. Panfil has collected data with the help of surveys and interviews with 53 young men who were active gang members (x). The interviews have been conducted both individually and in groups and concentrated on the participants’ experiences of being gay in a gang. The concepts of sexual identity, ethnicity, and race are discussed within the framework of the theories of lacking family support, the need for protection, and feeling equal.
The concept of criminal aggression and power is addressed as a manifestation of masculinity and self-protection in unfortunate life circumstances (Panfil 12-13). The overlapping concepts of race and sexuality provide additional perspectives for research and are discussed on the background of socially and economically unstable societies (Panfil 207). Therefore, the researcher attempts to embrace all possible dimensions in which a problem might be studied and discloses important details that explain the choices young gay men of color make.
How the Author Answers Research Questions
Gradually answering the specific research questions, the author provides a broad response to the main question. As for the question concerning the reasons why gay men become a part of a stereotypically masculine and homophobic criminal group, a researcher provides an explanation that contradicts the stereotypical belief. A man joining a gang does not try to escape from homophobic harassment but searches for a family-like community with friendly relationships between the members. Some of the gangs even had names containing the word “family” as in “Royal Family” (Panfil 105). Masculine behavior and manhood of a criminal group helped those unwilling to come out to cover their identity behind hyper-masculinity.
The structural particularities in gangs where gay men are either explicit or closeted are presented in a clear way. The author elaborates on three main types of gangs: partially gay or hybrid, all-gay, and all-straight gangs. When heterosexual gangs and all-gay ones are perceived as those having clear in-group relations, the hybrid type presents a greater scientific interest. In such communities, men “had more freedom to say and do what they pleased” not trying to fit their views into the scope of beliefs of others (Panfil 160). From this perspective, a closeted gay member of a heterosexual gang would suffer the most, trying to cover his genuine identity behind the acquired criminal behavior.
Also, the author examines how the marginal features of young men’s race and sexual identity influence their lives in an urban environment. The interviews with the participants show everyday challenges these men faced in their childhood and keep facing in adulthood. Their choice to join a gang is primarily dictated by social and economic issues such as unemployment and criminal neighborhoods (Panfil 208). Thus, the research embraces the factors impacting the life of a gay man of color in a criminal gang in all their complexity.
Conclusion and Sociological Questions to the Author About the Research
In conclusion, Vanessa Panfil succeeded to deliver a complex scientific issue of race and gay identity in a dangerous urban environment, presenting valid research data. The author thoroughly addressed a new topic in sociology and showed a broad scope of unresolved questions to be answered in the following studies. Upon learning the main ideas of Panfil’s research, I would like to ask the author several questions.
What are the possible ways to eliminate the adverse perception of gay people in an urban environment? Also, were there any cases when a gay member of a gang succeeded in merging into a heterosexual gang with positive outcomes for his self-perception? Finally, what are the perspectives for governmental programs implementation aimed at decreasing criminality and raising awareness of gay people harassment?
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Panfil, Vanessa R. The Gang’s All Queer: The Lives of Gay Gang Members. New York University Press, 2017.