Two Brothers Targetted by Homophobic Violence; One Dies

From Pharyngula, an article about how two brothers who were holding each other’s arms as they walked were assaulted, and one of them killed, because passersby in an SUV thought they were gay:

[Jose] Sucuzhanay (suh-KOO-chen-eye) and his brother Romel, 38, were walking arm-in-arm after a night out when a sport utility vehicle pulled up near them at a Brooklyn stoplight, police said.

Witnesses said they heard the men in the car shouting anti-gay and anti-Hispanic slurs at the brothers. The attackers jumped out of the car and smashed a beer bottle over Jose Sucuzhanay’s head, hit him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat and kicked him, police said. Romel Sucuzhanay was able to get away; the attackers drove off after he returned and said he had called police, authorities said.

This reminds me of stories my father tells of when he used to walk arm-in-arm with a blind friend of his, and people would shout epithets at them out of car windows.

Both of these would, of course, be equally reprehensible if they involved actual gay couples. (In my father’s case, I think the harassment would be much more reprehensible if it had involved an actual gay couple, because my father and his friend could laugh off the insults in a way that would have been more difficult if the insults had functioned, as intended, as a way of reinforcing second-class status based on sexual orientation.) However, situations like these do remind me of something else that strikes me as important: Occasionally, I see discussions cropping up about why many men in America often aren’t physically affectionate with their each other. Well. There you go. A man’s being physically affectionate with a brother, or a male friend, isn’t just a violation of taboos about showing femininity. It’s assuming a risk of harassment and violence.

The lives of gay men are more affected by this, of course, in shocking and horrible ways. But the enforcement of masculinity and heterosexuality is bad for many men, gay and straight.*

I hesitate to say that it’s bad for all men. Was it bad for the murderers? I suppose I could say that it twisted them, and that’s a kind of hurt. Those kinds of arguments have often been made — for instance, it was a common abolitionist argument to talk about how badly slavery hurt white slave-owners who were warped by the experience of owning other people (these were politically expedient arguments, so it makes sense that they were often repeated). But these arguments always feel distasteful to me. To compare the hurt of murdering someone with the hurt of being murdered seems like an inadequate, and disrespectful, analysis.

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14 Responses to Two Brothers Targetted by Homophobic Violence; One Dies

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  2. 2
    FilthyGrandeur says:

    this is just terrible; not only are gay couples unable to show affection for one another but even male family members too.
    it also sort of reminds me of when my brother hugs our step dad and always follows it with “no homo.” (thank you lil wayne)
    it’s this weird masculine circle that keeps getting reinforced by threats or violence.

  3. 3
    Emily says:

    I don’t know…I think the hurt of being a murderer can be pretty bad. It makes me think of domestic violence – where so many men who batter were battered as children when they were physically helpless. It doesn’t excuse what they do as adults, but it does leave room for some sympathy for the hurt they suffered.

    While you can never know what drives an individual in this situation to such extremes of violence (at least not when you’re this far removed from the situation), I feel like it’s pretty likely that they themselves were subjected to rigid rules of masculinity/heterosexuality enforced by violence or the threat thereof.

  4. 4
    Danny says:

    I hesitate to say that it’s bad for all men. Was it bad for the murderers? I suppose I could say that it twisted them, and that’s a kind of hurt. Those kinds of arguments have often been made — for instance, it was a common abolitionist argument to talk about how badly slavery hurt white slave-owners who were warped by the experience of owning other people (these were politically expedient arguments, so it makes sense that they were often repeated). But these arguments always feel distasteful to me. To compare the hurt of murdering someone with the hurt of being murdered seems like an inadequate, and disrespectful, analysis.

    In some situations I think it is worth recognizing the pain the attacker/abuser/etc. feels if for no other reason than to identify and end the cycle of pain. One thing I consider sometimes is this: That person may have become an abuser because they were abused themselves. Is it really fair to dismiss the pain they suffered as a victim just because they are now the attacker? But in thinking about that I kinda get stuck in a loop.

    Let’s say woman A was abused in the 60s as a child and grew up and had her own son in the 2000s who we’ll call B. Most people will point out how she was abusive to her son today and shrug off her abuse in the 60s with, “She should have known better.” Well when B grows up and has daughter C in the 2040s and abuses her because he was abused should his abuse at the hands of A be shrugged off with the same “He should have known better” or should he be treated more leniently? If you go easy on him then why not go easy on A when she abused B in the 2000s or the one that abused A?

    As you can see I would like to see all the victims get help but in trying to do so how far back would one have to go? I’m aware that this sounds like a ramble but frankly the fact that it is a ramble perfectly explains my confusion on the issue.

  5. 5
    idyllicmollusk says:

    There were two factors that led the killers to attack the men: the attackers thought the brothers were gay, and the attackers thought the brothers were hispanic (they were). The attackers shouted both anti-gay and anti-latino insults preceding and during the attack.

    So what we have here is a hate combo-deal. Membership to either marginalized identity is bad. Perceived membership in TWO is punishable by death.

    I wrote about this at my blog after it happened, but really the first place I saw this discussed was at Immigration Talk with a Mexican American: Another Walking While Brown Hate Crime.

    I just want to emphasize the combo-deal here… that the crime was not based only on race or only on perceived gayness, but a combination of both.

  6. 6
    Backpacking Dad says:

    Occasionally, I see discussions cropping up about why many men in America often aren’t physically affectionate with their each other. Well. There you go. A man’s being physically affectionate with a brother, or a male friend, isn’t just a violation of taboos about showing femininity. It’s assuming a risk of harassment and violence.

    I’m not sure how much work awareness of this risk does in heterosexual timidity in showing affection. Although the risk itself is a justification for not displaying affection in public I’m not sure that it is actually motivating, at least not in anything like the degree to which the worry about appearing effeminate is. That is, baldy and boldy: straight men don’t hold hands because of the cultural penalties; they are probably smart to also not hold hands because of the physical penalties, but I doubt that enters into the calculus of the behaviour in most cases. I don’t have an inside track on the motivations for avoiding this behaviour in the homosexual community, but I’d bet that there the physical penalties are much more present as part of the calculation.

  7. 7
    Mandolin says:

    Backpacking Dad — that makes sense, although I’d argue that the risk of harassment and violence is probably something that contributes on a subconscious level, for some people at least.

    Also, I’d imagine that it varies based on how much one has been targeted by homophobia — some straight men are frequent targets, and I imagine that they (like homosexual men) probably have to consider potential violence as a factor in their behavior.

    There are some comments on the pharyngula thread by men who are discussing places where they make sure to monitor their behavior so they don’t come across as “too gay.”

  8. 8
    Schala says:

    “Backpacking Dad — that makes sense, although I’d argue that the risk of harassment and violence is probably something that contributes on a subconscious level, for some people at least.”

    The threat of violence and even more ostracization than I experienced was the greatest motivator. I wasn’t scared of feminity in itself. Heck, everybody *knew* I was feminine (but me apparently), but I avoided actions that I perceived could land me in even more trouble than I already had (which was constant bullying). Wether it was feminine or not didn’t matter, it was the stuff people spoke against I had to be wary of.

    Ironically, since transitioning, I’ve had no problems with being bullied. And I have no reason at all to hold back feminity, for perceived threats, as there’s apparently no threats at all, now.

  9. 9
    Mandolin says:

    “Ironically, since transitioning, I’ve had no problems with being bullied.”

    That’s excellent.

    I have a friend who seems to get harassed whatever her gender presentation, and when it’s not harassment, it’s … really strange reactions. I think she falls into an interstitial space between categories and people don’t know how to react to her, so they get scared or angry, or both. People don’t need to know she’s trans to fire her from jobs for petty reasons that are obvious disguises for their discomfort. They’ll just fire her because they don’t understand her.

    I know that’s not a unique experience by any means, or any kind of profound observation. It just makes me sad. And upset.

  10. 10
    Schala says:

    “I have a friend who seems to get harassed whatever her gender presentation, and when it’s not harassment, it’s … really strange reactions. I think she falls into an interstitial space between categories and people don’t know how to react to her, so they get scared or angry, or both. People don’t need to know she’s trans to fire her from jobs for petty reasons that are obvious disguises for their discomfort. They’ll just fire her because they don’t understand her.”

    That gets to a sort of tangential argument about people not liking “being confused”. People don’t like androgeny apparently. Just see infant clothing and how “pinked” and “blued” it often is. Just so someone can’t make the awfully awful mistake of calling an infant the wrong sex (like the infant really cares below a year old).

    If you dress a baby boy in pink, woe is you, and you’ll be told, in no uncertain terms, by some people, that you’re stepping over a line or something equally dubious. Not because of the child, but because of their own discomfort.

    I had longish hair, which gave me a pretty androgynous or even girly look, as a baby, until 3-4 years old, then my baby pictures are seen with really short hair. One wonders why, as I certainly never voiced preferences for short hair.

  11. 11
    FurryCatHerder says:

    I’m certainly sensitive to those people who suffered abuse as a child, mostly on account of I suffered a boat load of it as well.

    But past a certain age, “right” and “wrong” should be much clearer and I have a very hard time being sympathetic to the next generation of abusers.

    There is one thing about “the cycle of violence” that really bugs me. When I was in my late teens and 20′s, I used to be afraid that I was somehow going to turn into this sex-pervert abusive monster because I’d been physically and sexually abused. I know there’s a lot of value in getting that cycle to be broken, but I think the message needs to be worked on. What I see is “Don’t beat” more than “Get help” as the message for victims of childhood abuse. I’d like to see more PSAs targeted at adult survivors of childhood abuse.

    – Julie.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    ” I’d like to see more PSAs targeted at adult survivors of childhood abuse.”

    Excellent point.

  13. 13
    Medea says:

    So what we have here is a hate combo-deal. Membership to either marginalized identity is bad. Perceived membership in TWO is punishable by death.

    Just one is enough. There have been fatal attacks on white gay men and latino men who were out with their girlfriends.

  14. 14
    PG says:

    I have a theory that physical affection between two men actually is more accepted in cultures that historically frowned upon public displays of affection between two people of the opposite sexes in a romantic fashion. These cultures are no less homophobic than American culture; they simply don’t interpret physical affection as necessarily tied to erotic love and romance. For example, in the Middle East and South Asia, it has been safer for two men to walk together holding hands (or for two women to do so) than for an opposite-sex couple to do so. The permissiveness is not because Islam and Hinduism are so accepting of homosexuality — unfortunately, they’re like most other religions in that respect — but because PDAs are presumed NOT to be romantic.

    From a Western perspective, old Bollywood films can present the paradoxical image of two men freely hugging and holding one another, while a kiss between lovers was taboo. (Still is, actually, which leads to some bizarre movies where characters live together before marriage or have abortions but still cannot be shown kissing.) Opposite-sex couples are subject to attack, often backed by force of law, from the literal morality police. As India has become more Westernized in its mores, there is much more dating, “love marriage,” etc., and this has run headlong into the traditional prohibition on an unrelated man and woman being in public together and especially being affectionate in public together.