Many people believe that gangs are made up of violent thugs who are in and out of jail, and who are hyper-masculine and heterosexual. In The Gang’s All Queer, Vanessa Panfil introduces us to a different world. Meet gay gang members – sometimes referred to in popular culture as “homo thugs” – whose gay identity complicates criminology’s portrayal and representation of gangs, gang members, and gang life. In vivid detail, Panfil provides an in-depth understanding of how gay gang members construct and negotiate both masculine and gay identities through crime and gang membership.
The Gang’s All Queer draws from interviews with over 50 gay gang- and crime-involved young men in Columbus, Ohio, the majority of whom are men of color in their late teens and early twenties, as well as on-the-ground ethnographic fieldwork with men who are in gay, hybrid, and straight gangs. Panfil provides an eye-opening portrait of how even members of straight gangs are connected to a same-sex oriented underground world.
Most of these young men still present a traditionally masculine persona and voice deeply-held affection for their fellow gang members. They also fight with their enemies, many of whom are in rival gay gangs. Most come from impoverished, ‘rough’ neighborhoods, and seek to defy negative stereotypes of gay and Black men as deadbeats, though sometimes through illegal activity. Some are still closeted to their fellow gang members and families, yet others fight to defend members of the gay community, even those who they deem to be “fags,” despite distaste for these flamboyant members of the community. And some perform in drag shows or sell sex to survive.
The Gang’s All Queer poignantly illustrates how these men both respond to and resist societal marginalization. Timely, powerful, and engaging, this book will challenge us to think differently about gangs, gay men, and urban life.
"Panfil inserts herself into the underground of an underground . . . to better understand the experiences of gay men in the hypermasculine context of gang life. Complicates assumptions that male gang members and active offenders are exclusively heterosexual and . . . paves the way for a more in-depth understanding of a marginalized community."
"A gem of contemporary sociology: a potent reminder of the discipline's power to work past a culture's assumptions and, in the process, to articulate the reach and influence of those assumptions . . . its influence is likely to eventually spread far beyond the academy."
"An interesting take on a world that never makes the headlines. Not only did Panfil have access to a group of men who were willing to tell all, she fully used that access to understand why a gay man would turn to a group that’s stereotypically anti-gay. This leads to a bigger picture and larger questions of violence and closeting, as well as problems with being black, gay and gangster."
"A fascinating and eye-opening portrait of young queer men involved in this country’s gang underworld, which is typically associated with hypermasculinity. . . . The book dives deep into the complexities of what it means to grow up queer in the hood and discusses how through gangs, disadvantaged youths can unite, feel empowered, and create their own families of support and protection — even across lines of sexual identity."
"A riveting look at identity construction, the qualities of 'real' men, boundary maintenance (the things we do to present ourselves as we’d truly like to be seen), and so many other nuanced components of the gay criminal lifestyle. If the highest praise is reserved for books that cause us to question deeply held beliefs, this book ranks among the best."
"Panfil seeks to complicate the popular narratives surrounding gang members and the hypermasculine, hyper-heterosexual lives they lead. . . the book functions as an important tool in the recognition and the dismantling of systems that lead to the marginalization, poverty, and violence that [these] men face."
“ The Gang’s All Queer offers a treasure trove of insights for gang scholars, but more importantly, demonstrates how much we all have to gain by embracing the queer criminological turn.”
—Jody Miller, author of Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence
"The Gang's All Queer not only provides an exciting and rich description of gay gang life, but it exposes the ease with which we'd heretofore seen gangs as an entirely (unexamined) heterosexual enterprise. A startling and essential book."
—Michael Kimmel, author of Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era
“This book makes a substantial contribution to queer criminology. The book artfully shifts from the conception of gays as victims of hate crime to gays as agents and offenders, all while challenging troubling racist stereotypes of queer and Black masculinities. The conversations that this book can facilitate will greatly impact how we think about crime and criminology, while developing queer, black, and racialized-inclusive criminological research.”
—Wesley Crichlow, author of Buller Men and Bwatty Boys
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