‘Skylarking’: Homosexual Panic and the Death of Private Kovco

Robert Payne


This essay analyses key examples of language used during the recent case of Private Jake Kovco, the first Australian solider to die during Australia’s military involvement in Iraq. Kovco died not in combat but in his barracks room, shot in the head by his own pistol. In particular, the essay considers the implications of the military inquiry being told that Kovco may have accidentally shot himself while joking with his roommates ‘in a female/homosexual way’, the gun held to his head ‘almost to say this is so gay I would rather be dead’. Payne revisits Sedgwick’s concept of ‘homosexual panic’ to argue that the erasure of homophobia from the record of the incident (euphemised as ‘skylarking’) contributes to the normalisation of homophobia as an unworthy source of social and political panic, precisely because of the ‘systemic function’ Sedgwick attributes to homosexual panic in reinforcing heterosexual masculine entitlement.


Panic; queer theory; Private Kovco; homophobia; military

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/csr.v14i2.2070