This paper is based on findings from focus group discussion with four gay Traveller men that took place in April 2016 in Galway, Ireland as part of project called ‘Mental health and suicide among Travellers: a sociological pilot study’.
The focus here is on relationships between gay men’s masculinities, the ways in which ‘coming out’ as a gay Traveller contributes to their role as social agents of change, the extent to which gay Traveller’s sense of identity and belonging is under threat due to their multi-layered experience of subordinated masculinities and subordinated access to power, and how their sexuality creates a liberating effect that frees them from conventional social relationships that generate dominance and subordination.
Our results show that hegemonic masculinity is a social and cultural norm among Traveller men and that fear of judgment is so strongly embedded through socialisation that mental health issues become inevitable for many gay Traveller men who experience subordinated sense of masculinity. Unequal relations of power between Traveller men, and between Traveller men and general population create double marginalisation for gay Travellers.
Through cultural ideals of appropriate roles, values and expectations for and of men within Traveller community and in settled community, particular type of hegemonic masculinity takes on a form of ideology that is reproduced through ‘stylized repetition of acts’ and through cultural signifiers of identity and belonging such as religion. Either negative or misrepresented ways of life that characterise Travellers in the media further contribute to a displaced sense of who Travellers’ are but also perhaps who Travellers themselves wish to be. This point was strongly emphasised by our participants who perceive young Travellers as agents of change – the ones who break away from institutionalised relations of power between men and women, who pursue education and ‘settled way of life’, and who are ready to contest cultural signifiers of ‘Traveller-ness’. And through Traveller gay men’s own struggle (social/cultural/psychological) to be ‘seen’ they are challenging Travellers’ sense of identity, cultural norms and mores making them the agents of change.