“I Will Fight You Like I’m Straight”: Gay Gang- and Crime-Involved Men’s Participation in Violence

  • Vanessa R. PanfilEmail author


Despite extensive criminological literature on violence and victimization, the portrait of gay men’s involvement is unclear. Literature exists on gay men as victims of intimate partner violence and anti-gay bias crimes, but there is very little on gay perpetrators of violence. In this chapter, I seek to critically interrogate existing assumptions and address this lack of coverage. I utilize in-depth, semistructured interviews with 53 gay gang- and crime-involved men to discuss their participation in violence under a variety of contexts to provide a descriptive picture of their varied uses of violence. Although their uses of violence are largely consistent with the extant literature, their experiences as gay men are often central to their justifications for violence. I also explore the links between violent victimization and violence perpetration. My data suggest that negative experiences such as neighborhood violence, homophobic bullying in schools, and anti-gay harassment all play roles in respondents’ decisions to utilize violence; however, this violence did not always serve to prevent their future victimization.


Gay Gang Violence Crime Homophobic bullying Anti-gay harassment Agency Masculinity Stereotypes Victims Intimate partner violence Interviews 



This study was supported in part by two awards from the University at Albany’s Initiatives for Women. I also thank Dana Peterson for her helpful comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.


  1. Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York, NY: W. W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  2. Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G. V., & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Mechanisms of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 364–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Becker, H. S. (1967). Whose side are we on? Social Problems, 14, 239–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birkett, M., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. (2009). LGB and questioning students in schools: The moderating effects of homophobic bullying and school climate on negative outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 989–1000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bontempo, D. E., & D’Augelli, A. R. (2002). Effects of at-school victimization and sexual orientation on lesbian, gay, or bisexual youths’ health risk behavior. Journal of Adolescent Health, 30, 364–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bourgois, P. (1996). In search of respect: Selling crack in El barrio. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Button, D. M., O’Connell, D. J., & Gealt, R. (2012). Sexual minority youth victimization and social support: The intersection of sexuality, gender, race, and victimization. Journal of Homosexuality, 59, 18–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carbone-Lopez, K., Esbensen, F.-A., & Brick, B. T. (2010). Correlates and consequences of peer victimization: Gender differences in direct and indirect forms of bullying. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 8, 332–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carriles, F. (2011, January 26). The 90s: Queer Nation and the Lesbian Avengers. A portrait of queer America. Retrieved from
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Sexual identity, sex of sexual contacts, and health-risk behaviors among students in grades 912: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, selected sites, United States, 20012009. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health and Human Services, MMWR Early Release 60.Google Scholar
  11. Collier, R. (1998). Masculinities, crime, and criminology. London, UK: Sage.Google Scholar
  12. Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  13. Copes, H., & Hochstetler, A. (2006). “Why I’ll talk”: Offenders’ motives for participating in qualitative research. In P. Cromwell (Ed.), In their own words: Criminals on crime (4th ed., pp. 19–28). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.Google Scholar
  14. Craft, S. M., & Serovich, J. M. (2005). Family-of-origin factors and partner violence in the intimate relationships of gay men who are HIV positive. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20, 777–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cruz, J. M. (2003). “Why doesn’t he just leave?” Gay male domestic violence and the reasons victims stay. Journal of Men’s Studies, 11(3), 309–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cullen, F. T., Unnever, J. D., Hartman, J. L., Turner, M. G., & Agnew, R. (2008). Gender, bullying victimization, and juvenile delinquency: A test of general strain theory. Victims and Offenders, 3, 331–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Decker, S. H. (1996). Collective and normative features of gang violence. Justice Quarterly, 13, 243–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Decker, S. H., & Van Winkle, B. (1996). Life in the gang. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  20. Esbensen, F. (2003). Evaluation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) Program in the United States, 1995–1999. 2nd ICPSR version. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.Google Scholar
  21. Esbensen, F.-A., Peterson, D., Taylor, T. J., & Freng, A. (2009). Similarities and differences in risk factors for violent offending and gang membership. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 42, 310–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Espelage, D. L., Aragon, S. R., Birkett, M., & Koenig, B. W. (2008). Homophobic teasing, psychological outcomes, and sexual orientation among high school students: What influence do parents and schools have? School Psychology Review, 37, 202–216.Google Scholar
  23. Ferguson, A. A. (2000). Bad boys: Public schools in the making of black masculinity. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  24. Gibbs, J. T., & Merighi, J. R. (1994). Young black males: Marginality, masculinity, and criminality. In T. Newburn & E. Stanko (Eds.), Just boys doing business?: Men, masculinities, and crime (pp. 64–80). London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago, IL: Aldine.Google Scholar
  26. Greenwood, G. L., Relf, M. V., Huang, B., Pollack, L. M., Canchola, J. A., & Catania, J. A. (2002). Battering victimization among a probability-based sample of men who have sex with men. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 1964–1969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grossman, A. H., Haney, A. P., Edwards, P., Alessi, E. J., Ardon, M., & Howell, T. J. (2009). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth talk about experiencing and coping with school violence: A qualitative study. Journal of LGBT Youth, 6, 24–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Herek, G. M. (2009). Hate crimes and stigma-related experiences among sexual minority adults in the United States: Prevalence estimates from a national probability sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24, 54–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Herek, G. M., Gillis, J. R., Cogan, J. C., & Glunt, E. K. (1997). Hate crime victimization among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults: Prevalence, psychological correlates, and methodological issues. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12, 195–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hochstetler, A., Copes, H., & Williams, J. P. (2010). “That’s not who I am”: How offenders commit violent acts and reject authentically violent selves. Justice Quarterly, 27, 492–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Holstein, J. A., & Gubrium, J. F. (1995). The active interview. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  32. Jacobs, B. A. (2000). Robbing drug dealers: Violence beyond the law. New York, NY: Aldine.Google Scholar
  33. Johnson, D. (2008). Taking over the school: Student gangs as a strategy for dealing with homophobic bullying in an urban public school district. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 19(3/4), 87–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Katz, J. (1988). Seductions of crime: Moral and sensual attractions in doing evil. New York, NY: BasicBooks.Google Scholar
  35. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.Google Scholar
  36. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Diaz, E. M., & Bartkiewicz, M. J. (2010). The 2009 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: GLSEN.Google Scholar
  37. Kuehnle, K., & Sullivan, A. (2001). Patterns of anti-gay violence: An analysis of incident characteristics and victim reporting. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16, 928–943.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lofland, J., Snow, D., Anderson, L., & Lofland, L. H. (2006). Analyzing social settings: A guide to qualitative observation and analysis (4th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson.Google Scholar
  39. Logan, L. S. (2011). Gender, race, sexuality, and street harassment: Media and the case of the Killer Lesbians. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  40. Mahalik, J. R., Locke, B., Ludlow, L., Diemer, M., Scott, R. P. J., Gottfried, M., & Freitas, G. (2003). Development of the Conformity to Masculine Norms Inventory. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 4, 3–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Majors, R., & Billson, J. M. (1993). Cool pose: The dilemmas of black manhood in America. New York, NY: Lexington.Google Scholar
  42. Matza, D. (1964). Delinquency and drift. New York, NY: Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  43. McClennen, J. C., Summers, A. B., & Vaughan, C. (2002). Gay men’s domestic violence: Dynamics, help-seeking behaviors, and correlates. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 14(1), 23–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McGee, T. R., Scott, J. G., McGrath, J. J., Williams, G. M., O’Callaghan, M., Bor, W., & Najman, J. M. (2011). Young adult problem behaviour outcomes of adolescent bullying. Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research, 3, 110–114.Google Scholar
  45. McKenry, P. C., Serovich, J. M., Mason, T. L., & Mosack, K. (2006). Perpetration of gay and lesbian partner violence: A disempowerment perspective. Journal of Family Violence, 21, 233–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Merrill, G. S., & Wolfe, V. A. (2000). Battered gay men: An exploration of abuse, help seeking, and why they stay. Journal of Homosexuality, 39(2), 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Messerschmidt, J. W. (1993). Masculinities and crime: Critique and reconceptualization of theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  48. Messerschmidt, J. W. (2000). Nine lives: Adolescent masculinities, the body, and violence. Boulder, CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  49. Miller, J. (1998). Up it up: Gender and the accomplishment of street robbery. Criminology, 36, 37–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Miller, J. (2001). One of the guys: Girls, gangs, and gender. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Miller, J. (2002). The strengths and limits of ‘doing gender’ for understanding street crime. Theoretical Criminology, 6, 433–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Miller, J. (2008). Getting played: African-American girls, urban inequality, and gendered violence. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Oliver, W. (1994). The violent social world of black men. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  54. Panfil, V. R. (2014a). Better left unsaid? The role of agency in queer criminological research. Critical Criminology.Google Scholar
  55. Panfil, V. R. (2014b). Gay gang- and crime- involved men’s experiences with homophobic bullying and harassment in schools. Journal of Crime and Justice. doi:  10.1080/0735648X.2013.830395.
  56. Peterson, D. & Morgan, K. A. (2014). Sex differences and the overlap in youths’ risk factors for onset of violence and gang involvement. Journal of Crime and Justice. doi:  10.1080/0735648X.2013.830393.
  57. Peterson, D. & Panfil, V. R. (2014). Street gangs: The gendered experiences of female and male gang members. In R. Gartner and W. McCarthy (Eds), The Oxford Handbook on gender, sex, and crime. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Peterson, D., Taylor, T. J., & Esbensen, F. (2004). Gang membership and violent victimization. Justice Quarterly, 21, 793–815.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Presser, L. (2003). Remorse and neutralization among violent male offenders. Justice Quarterly, 20, 801–825.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Queer Nation. (1990). History is a weapon: The Queer Nation manifesto. Retrieved from
  61. Regan, K. V., Bartholomew, K., Oram, D., & Landolt, M. A. (2002). Measuring physical violence in male same-sex relationships: An item response theory analysis of the Conflict Tactics Scales. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, 235–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rios, V. M. (2011). Punished: Policing the lives of Black and Latino boys. New York, NY: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Russell, S. T., Franz, B. T., & Driscoll, A. K. (2001). Same-sex romantic attraction and experiences of violence in adolescence. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 903–906.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stewart, E. A., Schreck, C. J., & Simons, R. L. (2006). “I ain’t gonna let no one disrespect me”: Does the code of the street reduce or increase violent victimization among African American adolescents? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 43, 427–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sykes, G. M., & Matza, D. (1957). Techniques of neutralization: A theory of delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22, 664–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Taylor, T. J., Peterson, D., Esbensen, F.-A., & Freng, A. (2007). Gang membership as a risk factor for adolescent violent victimization. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 44, 351–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Thornberry, T. P., Krohn, M. D., Lizotte, A. J., Smith, C. A., & Tobin, K. (2003). Gangs and delinquency in developmental perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Toro-Alfonso, J., & Rodriguez-Madera, S. (2004). Domestic violence in Puerto Rican gay male couples: Perceived prevalence, intergenerational violence, addictive behaviors, and conflict resolution skills. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19, 639–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Totten, M. D. (2000). Guys, gangs, and girlfriend abuse. Peterborough, Canada: Broadview.Google Scholar
  70. Ttofi, M. M., Farrington, D. P., & Lösel, F. (2012). School bullying as a predictor of violence later in life: A systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective longitudinal studies. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17, 405–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Waldner-Haugrud, L. K., Gratch, L. V., & Magruder, B. (1997). Victimization and perpetration rates of violence in gay and lesbian relationships: Gender issues explored. Violence and Victims, 12, 173–184.Google Scholar
  72. Wright, R., & Bennett, T. (1990). Exploring the offender’s perspective: Observing and interviewing criminals. In K. L. Kempf (Ed.), Measurement issues in criminology (pp. 138–151). New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wright, R. T., & Decker, S. H. (1997). Armed robbers in action: Stickups and street culture. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Criminal JusticeRutgers UniversityNewarkUSA

Personalised recommendations