Good gays - bad gays?
Helsinki gay community fears killing of Professor Kari S. Tikka could polarise singles and those in established relationships
By Perttu Kauppinen
On Friday morning, Jorma Hentilä, chairman of the pro-gay rights Seta Foundation, signed the condolence book for Professor Kari S. Tikka in the Helsinki restaurant DTM. Tikka was a regular at the establishment, and it was from there that he left on the night that he died.
Seta, which promotes equality for sexual minorities, brought the condolence book to the restaurant in order to provide a way for people to express their emotions. Tikka was a familiar face for those who frequent Helsinki's gay bars, and those who knew that face were devastated by the crime.
Already last Sunday evening Hentilä received 11 telephone calls. All callers were men. Two of them were unknown to Hentilä. However, their emotions were all the same: grief, anger, and confusion over the killing of Professor Tikka.
Juha-Heikki Tihinen, another regular at DTM, says that everyone who frequents gay establishments knew Tikka, at least by sight, and everyone knows someone who knew him even better.
"Helsinki's gays, at least the ones who are involved in organisations, or who go out a lot, can be called a community. In gay bars everyone recognises everyone else, and Tikka moved around in that community a good deal",Tihinen says.
In addition to the personal grief felt by those who knew Tikka, there is collective grief - shock that something like this could have happened.
Last week Seta's social workers were prepared to answer a flood of calls from people who felt frightened and concerned. However, nobody rang.
The unexpected silence was attributed to improved networks in the gay community in recent years. Friends can give such good support that there is no need for outside help.
Years earlier the situation would have been different.
Hentilä says that in the 1980s and in the early 1990s violence and the threat of it were clearly a cause of concern for Helsinki gays. It was a time of living in the closet, and gay men did not know other gays. The atmosphere in society was also different - a cause of greater anguish. Hentilä himself once had to keep his orientation a secret in order to protect his political career.
Now fear is eased by the consensus within the gay community that the killing was not a homophobic hate crime. The suspected killers have been caught, and there is no fear of an actual attack from outside - even though the motive for the killing remains unclear.
However, there are many other kinds of fears.
Dr. Lasse Kekki, a researcher at the Academy of Finland, says that the crime might increase internal intolerance within the gay community. In some media outlets, the murder victim and his lifestyle have been portrayed as the cause of the tragedy. Kekki says that the same might happen within the community itself.
"Conservative gay culture emphasises the importance of secure couple relationships. There is talk that people should not try to jump over age gaps and differences in social class", Kekki ponders.
The expert on gay issues says that this kind of conservatism has been raising its head for some time now. It involves a simplistic division between gays who live as couples, and those who are single. Some of those who live as exclusive couples look down on single gays who live in bars and emphasise their sexuality.
"It would be most dangerous if the gay community were to see men like Tikka, who live active and interesting lives, to be somehow abnormal. It is easy to denounce something like that, and it is easy to blame the victim. In the background are images of what is the right kind of homosexuality."
The situation is absurd, in that all homosexuals have been seen as abnormal by the standards of the heterosexual world. On the other hand, a heterosexual man who is interested in significantly younger women is not seen to be exceptional to any great degree.
Another fear involves stereotypes from the outside. Sami Mollgren, editor-in-chief of the www.ranneliike.net website, says that many are afraid that violence could escalate. Although just a small proportion of gays frequent gay bars to seek short-term sexual relationships, the image of the party-mad oversexed gay man lives on tenaciously.
"Most of the people I know live in solid couple relationships. Now there is fear that the dominant image will turn toward the traditional model, in which gays in bars are there for no other reason than to look for someone to have sex with", Mollgren says.
One stereotype has, perhaps surprisingly, been left unconfirmed. Posters advertising tabloid newspapers did not cry out about a gay murder, nor was sexuality emphasised in the news that was reported.
"If the papers had written that the gays had it coming, there would have been something to get excited about", notes Juha-Heikki Tihinen. "Now there is no easy way to react."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 4.6.2005
Previously in HS International Edition:
Suspects in Tikka murder also suspected of robbery (2.6.2006)
Police believe they have solved Professor Tikka murder case (31.5.2006)
Two young men held in connection with murder of Professor Tikka (30.5.2006)
Helsinki professor found murdered in apartment (29.5.2006)
PERTTU KAUPPINEN / Helsingin Sanomat