catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Fat lesbians, slim gays and other things about homosexual Australia

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Back in January 2004 the then much smaller readership of Catallaxy discussed the vital sociological question of ‘why are lesbians fat?’. As I recall the unfortunately now lost comments thread not everyone was convinced that lesbians were unusually fat. Thanks to Private Lives, the biggest ever study of gay and lesbian Australians, we now know that in this case anecdote and observation have not let us down.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (pdf) 17.4% of Australian women are obese. According to the ‘Private Lives’ survey 23.6% of same-sex attracted women are potential cast members for a Little Britain Fat Fighters sketch. And for the guys the opposite is true. The obesity rate among men generally is 16%, but among gay guys it is 12.3%. If we widen (pardon the pun) the numbers to include the overweight it is gay men who differ most from their straight peers. Overall, lesbians are only 5 percentage points more likely that women generally to be overweight or obese. But gay men are 16 percentage points less likely than men generally to be carrying excess kilos. The different sexual cultures of the various groups probably go a fair way to explaining these differences, and reveal a health benefit of male promiscuity – it helps keep down the weight of their partners and potential partners.

There is plenty else of interest in Private Lives. For example, there is some insight into why – as John Heard has claimed – the grassroots pressure for gay marriage reform is not very strong. For a start, most gay men are not in a relationship. And even among those who are, less than a third have had or would like to have some kind of marriage or commitment ceremony. Other surveys have found more support for the principle of gay marriage, but it is not a practical issue for most gay men since they either have nobody to marry or don’t want to marry him anyway. For lesbians the situation is a bit different. Most of them are in relationships and approaching half have had or would like to have some kind of marriage or commitment ceremony. But for the lesbian sample as a whole, like the gay men most either don’t have anyone to marry or don’t want to marry.

Another John Heard cause, the reconciliation of Catholicism and homosexuality, is doing less well. In the Private Lives sample, 31% were born into Catholic families, but only 8% are still Catholic. This was part of a general departure from religious faith. Only Wicca had more supporters now than in birth families (those wacky lesbians). (Correction 5/4: Buddhists increased their numbers too.)

Church-based discrimination can at least be fairly easily avoided by simply leaving, as most gays and lesbians seem to have done. Things are trickier in the broader society. 17% of gay males report an actual physical attack on them, and 27% threats of violence or intimidation. Lesbians are less likely to be targets. The questions aren’t quite the same, but gays seem at much higher risk of a ‘homophobic’ incident than ethnic minorities are of a ‘racist’ incident. In a quite possibly related finding, depression rates are high.

But not all harm is inflicted by others. Both legal and illegal drug use is considerably higher than the national averages (pdf). And the levels of reported unsafe sex leave us in little doubt as to why HIV infection rates are rising again.

Finally, and <a href="following up from our f-word discussion earlier this week, this report from an academic research centre actually uses the word ‘fucking’ in reporting gay male sexual practices. Perhaps they were just using terminology their respondents were familiar with. But this I think goes beyond my claim that ‘fuck’ can now be used in an almost neutral way. It is turning what was once a taboo word into a euphemism. ‘Fucking’ is an ambiguous term that normally refers to something much more socially acceptable than what is actually being discussed here, male-to-male anal sex. For a still somewhat marginalised community, even a less than fully respectable word from the straight world is still preferable to spelling out in more specific language how they are having sex.

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Written by Admin

April 2, 2006 at 7:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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