Monday, September 20, 2010

The Distribution of Gender over Sexuality? Or Vis-a-versa?

Reading an article for my Human Sexuality in Cross Cultures class on the transformation of homosexuality, I couldn't help but laugh.  Not at homosexuality or those who subscribe to the delineation.  It was the faction of "homosexuality" that had me shaking my head.  I find it mildly comical that as our Western society developed intellectually, the more distinguishing categories and sub-categories were established to allow the general populace to gain an understanding of the world as we found it to be.  Now, present-day academia has us reforming our views to dissipate these dogmatic categorical connections. 

We (we subjugated, and, I'll say it, slightly futile Gender Studies scholars) are shown cultures and tribes living today who practice gender and sexual roles that would astonish the Westerner, while simultaneously debasing our theories that we have adopted as laws of nature through its very existence.  If adult males in Sambia say that inseminating male youths to make them more "masculine," who are we to say that the majority of their tribes' men are acting "homosexual" or "effeminate"?  Our own guidelines are as banal and deeply rooted as theirs are. We have thousands of years of Christian-based secularism; they have an even greater number of years of ancestors' stories of what magic is to be practiced when.  Who's wrong? Who's right?

The fact that both groups can exist at once is proof that neither is more correct in their beliefs.  But now we have all these jumbled categories and sub-categories, divisions such as "passive homosexuality" and "hyper-masculinity."  This is the vocabulary with which we have limited ourselves.  So as our current Western gender/sexuality scholars progress, what will their aim be? Towards formulating a deeper division, or towards uncharted territory? I'm desperately holding out for the latter.

Further reading: Ritualized Homosexuality in Sambia Culture


  1. I'm curious as to what you mean by "uncharted territory." I think you made some solid points in this post by asking who is wrong and who is right. The answer, it seems to me, is that culture is what makes that question even possible.

    Let me explain. Our Western culture gives us the frame of reference through which we observe the tribal culture of Sambia, as you used in your example. From our point of view, these actions are homosexual (as defined by what it means to be, or what acts are, homosexual in our culture.) From their point of view, they are obviously not.

    When you say that you desperately want scholars to push our society towards uncharted territory, are you saying that we need to reshape our culture so that our definition of sexuality changes, or simply fuse our culture with others around the world, to make some kind of amalgam?

    I understand, I think, that you want the end-game to be one where people stop judging, stop jumping to conclusions, and start understanding one another. A noble goal. But I don't think you can ever really drop the frame of reference that a culture provides; I think it will always be there, and we will always view the world from our own perspective. I don't know that our culture necessarily limits itself and our views, however, and I really need no other example than to site yourself; someone born and bred in a Western culture who, through education, has come to an understanding that sexuality and gender roles are subjective. Are you then simply advocating greater education of the subject to everyone in our society?

  2. I am so glad I started this blog because it not only allows me to practice how I deliver academic opinions, but also forces me to define those opinions. So thank you for your comments.

    I certainly didn't view this post as naive and wide-eyed as you pegged it, but reading it over now, I realize there are stark ideals that I have mentioned that just could never be. So to clarify, I would say that I have an issue with categories as a two-dimensional structural foundation around which society bases itself. That isn't to say I believe we should do away with them - without classification of any kind, communication between institutions and cultures would falter and progress would be at a standstill. Certainly as advancements are made, categories will present themselves naturally.

    With regard to my comment about our culture's vernacular limiting our understanding of subversive communities, I did not wish to imply that categories themselves should be abolished so no group is ostracized. It is how our society structures itself around these categories through laws and antiquated traditions that need reevaluation. The accepted policy, "Don't ask, don't tell" is a prime example of how our categorization of the homosexual male population has had a gross impact on nearly every facet of our society; we take contrived stereotypes as typeface and stylize policies and laws around these notions.

    Still, though, I realize this argument is just as idealized as my original post, yet I hope it articulates the specific discourse that I would like to see happen more often.