a1 School of Law, Birkbeck, University of London
In recent years homophobic bullying has received increased attention from NGOs, academics and government sources and concern about the issue crosses traditional moral and political divisions. This article examines this ‘progressive’ development and identifies the ‘conditions of possibility’ that have enabled the issue to become a harm that can be spoken of. In doing so it questions whether the readiness to speak about the issue represents the opposite to prohibitions on speech (such as the notorious Section 28) or whether it is based on more subtle forms of governance. It argues that homophobic bullying is heard through three key discourses (‘child abuse’, ‘the child victim’ and ‘the tragic gay’) and that, while enabling an acknowledgement of certain harms, they simultaneously silence other needs and experiences. It then moves to explore the aspirational and ‘liberatory’ political investments that underlie these seemingly ‘common-sense’ descriptive discourses and concludes with a critique of the quasi-criminal responses that the dominant political agenda of homophobic bullying gives rise to. The article draws on, and endeavours to develop a conversation between, critical engagements with the contemporary politics of both childhood and sexuality.
(Online publication April 27 2011)