New Book: American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men
BuzzFeed: Many people argue that "gay panic" as a defense is a total cop-out. Based on your research, do you think the term is useful at all?
David McConnell: I don't think "gay panic" is especially useful. There's really no difference between "gay panic" and the surprise anyone might feel by learning, unexpectedly, that someone desires them. "Gay panic" is not and shouldn't be a special category. It can be upsetting for men to be the object of unexpected, unwanted desire, but it can be upsetting for women too, and they have to deal with it much more frequently. As a legal defense, it's certainly a cop-out. It's complete bull.
Maybe one case I looked at seemed to be a genuine instance of "gay panic," but even then, the perpetrator was deranged. He was depressive and had tried to commit suicide already. His sense of panic wasn't about being gay. It was a generalized sort of embarrassed.
Furthermore, as a legal defense, "gay panic" doesn't work. People think it used to be more successful. Historically, in the case of serious crimes like murder and assault, "gay panic" has never worked. Roman Navarro was murdered in 1965, and his two killers were young hustlers who tried, explicitly, a "gay panic" defense. No one believed them. So the real issue is that when we say "gay panic," we put the focus on the group that's been victimized and not on the source of the violence, which is really the nature of masculinity itself. And that's what we really need to talk about.