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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 01:32 AM   #1
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Is homosexuality a social construction?

And heterosexuality for that matter. Hear me out.

I've been reading about sexuality from cross-cultural perspectives, and what I think I am realizing, is that all forms of sexuality are socially constructed. Its apparent that since the beginning of time, people have engaged in same sex sexual encounters and relationships, it is well documented throughout historical and ethnographic sources. However, the idea that a human being has an immutable, essential sexuality that defines them comes directly out of European modernity, and the political objectives of the Enlightenment, which were to figure out ways to manage and control populations. If you take the scope out of Europe, and out of a Western lens, you see people engaging in same sex relationships and encounters all over the world, but sexuality is seen as something more fluid and less fixed. In some cultures, everyone engages in same sex behavior at some point in their lifetimes, it is seen as a rite of passage. In several African cultures, the words for "homosexual" did not even exist prior to colonialism, because no one was seen as a "homosexual." In these pre-colonial cultures, humans naturally shifted throughout relationships with men and women over the course of their lives, and this was seen as nothing exceptional. To me, this proves that the categories of "gay/straight/bi" are merely social constructions, and any kind of scientific inquiry into "proving" that sexual orientation is biological is just like scientific inquiry devoted to proving "race." Foolhardy, and categorically misguided.

What do you think?
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 01:46 AM   #2
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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Originally Posted by LBV. View Post
And heterosexuality for that matter. Hear me out.

I've been reading about sexuality from cross-cultural perspectives, and what I think I am realizing, is that all forms of sexuality are socially constructed. Its apparent that since the beginning of time, people have engaged in same sex sexual encounters and relationships, it is well documented throughout historical and ethnographic sources. However, the idea that a human being has an immutable, essential sexuality that defines them comes directly out of European modernity, and the political objectives of the Enlightenment, which were to figure out ways to manage and control populations. If you take the scope out of Europe, and out of a Western lens, you see people engaging in same sex relationships and encounters all over the world, but sexuality is seen as something more fluid and less fixed. In some cultures, everyone engages in same sex behavior at some point in their lifetimes, it is seen as a rite of passage. In several African cultures, the words for "homosexual" did not even exist prior to colonialism, because no one was seen as a "homosexual." In these pre-colonial cultures, humans naturally shifted throughout relationships with men and women over the course of their lives, and this was seen as nothing exceptional. To me, this proves that the categories of "gay/straight/bi" are merely social constructions, and any kind of scientific inquiry into "proving" that sexual orientation is biological is just like scientific inquiry devoted to proving "race." Foolhardy, and categorically misguided.

What do you think?
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:02 AM   #3
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

I find this idea to be possible, but how does it explain same-sex exclusive people from non-Western countries before Western morality was ever introduced to those places? Before Japan had any contact with the West there were still onnagirai, "woman haters" who didn't want any sexual contact with women. Maybe sexuality isn't a social construct, there ARE people inherently attracted to one sex only (or both), but Western morality has made it more rigid so you more or less have to pick men or women and it's more difficult to be anywhere inbetween. So it might not be so much sexuality is a social construct and more that it's a biological characteristic. And the ability of the person to express their sexuality is affected by the sexual culture of where they live.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:04 AM   #4
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

I personally don't think sexuality is that fluid. For men, anyway.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:22 AM   #5
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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I find this idea to be possible, but how does it explain same-sex exclusive people from non-Western countries before Western morality was ever introduced to those places? Before Japan had any contact with the West there were still onnagirai, "woman haters" who didn't want any sexual contact with women. Maybe sexuality isn't a social construct, there ARE people inherently attracted to one sex only (or both), but Western morality has made it more rigid so you more or less have to pick men or women and it's more difficult to be anywhere inbetween. So it might not be so much sexuality is a social construct and more that it's a biological characteristic. And the ability of the person to express their sexuality is affected by the sexual culture of where they live.
I don't know, thats a good question. I've never heard about the onnagirai before, I need to read up about them. I'm sure there are some gay people who could never have any kind of sexual or affective relationship with someone of the opposite sex, but there are lots of gay people who probably could. I think that sexuality is like race. There are definitely biological characteristics that are important, but culture/society defines the parameters from which those biological dispositions can be expressed. In ancient Greece for example, even pederasts usually had a wife, and children. And its not because being a pederast was socially stigmatized, it was because there were fewer limits/parameters on sexual politics. A man could have a wife and a male lover at the same time. I think we are taught from very early what it means to be hetero/homo, and then we embody those characteristics we identify with and they begin to feel natural to us. But they are really socially mediated.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:32 AM   #6
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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Originally Posted by LBV. View Post
I don't know, thats a good question. I've never heard about the onnagirai before, I need to read up about them. I'm sure there are some gay people who could never have any kind of sexual or affective relationship with someone of the opposite sex, but there are lots of gay people who probably could. I think that sexuality is like race. There are definitely biological characteristics that are important, but culture/society defines the parameters from which those biological dispositions can be expressed. In ancient Greece for example, even pederasts usually had a wife, and children. And its not because being a pederast was socially stigmatized, it was because there were fewer limits/parameters on sexual politics. A man could have a wife and a male lover at the same time. I think we are taught from very early what it means to be hetero/homo, and then we embody those characteristics we identify with and they begin to feel natural to us. But they are really socially mediated.
Isn't it true that people form strong racial preferences when choosing sexual/romantic partners? Those with those strong preferences claim that they have no control over them. From that I don't think we can claim that racial preferences are biological (even if people have no control over them). Likewise, couldn't it be the case that some peoples' gender preferences (whether strong or weak) are like racial preferences?
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:33 AM   #7
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

Wasn't it cultural in ancient Greece for older men to have sex with younger ones? Kind of like a rite of passage/mentor type thing? I don't think that means there was necessarily a sexual attraction going on there in most cases.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:37 AM   #8
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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Wasn't it cultural in ancient Greece for older men to have sex with younger ones? Kind of like a rite of passage/mentor type thing? I don't think that means there was necessarily a sexual attraction going on there in most cases.
The boys may not have been attracted to the men. But I believe the older men were sexually attracted to the boys. These men were in positions of power. Why would they have sex with someone if they were not attracted to them?
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:40 AM   #9
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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Originally Posted by Novichok View Post
Isn't it true that people form strong racial preferences when choosing sexual/romantic partners? Those with those strong preferences claim that they have no control over them. From that I don't think we can claim that racial preferences are biological (even if people have no control over them). Likewise, couldn't it be the case that some peoples' gender preferences (whether strong or weak) are like racial preferences?
Some people do form strong preferences, yeah. I agree that for some people, gender preferences are like racial preferences. Except that there are people out there who don't have those strong racial preferences, and are open to choosing romantic partners of all different races. Unfortunately, people who may not have strong gender preferences when choosing sexual partners do not have that same level of freedom in Western culture.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:40 AM   #10
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

Sex can have different uses: procreation, dominance, bonding; and be use by and with either gender. So, our need to label things to control things brings about sexuality as a construct. Sex is just a tool.




*I'm about ready for bed so I'm not how much sense that made.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 02:43 AM   #11
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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Originally Posted by Novichok View Post
The boys may not have been attracted to the men. But I believe the older men were sexually attracted to the boys. These men were in positions of power. Why would they have sex with someone if they were not attracted to them?
Maybe because it was just expected of them? That's just how they rolled, so to speak. It's interesting to think about. But I don't think it's that much different than straight men who have sex with other men for money in porn. I think most men could have sex with just about anything with the right help. I know I'm not really sexually attracted to my boyfriend but I have to throw him a bone every now and then to shut him up.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 03:46 AM   #12
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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Originally Posted by LBV. View Post
And heterosexuality for that matter. Hear me out.

I've been reading about sexuality from cross-cultural perspectives, and what I think I am realizing, is that all forms of sexuality are socially constructed. Its apparent that since the beginning of time, people have engaged in same sex sexual encounters and relationships, it is well documented throughout historical and ethnographic sources. However, the idea that a human being has an immutable, essential sexuality that defines them comes directly out of European modernity, and the political objectives of the Enlightenment, which were to figure out ways to manage and control populations. If you take the scope out of Europe, and out of a Western lens, you see people engaging in same sex relationships and encounters all over the world, but sexuality is seen as something more fluid and less fixed. In some cultures, everyone engages in same sex behavior at some point in their lifetimes, it is seen as a rite of passage. In several African cultures, the words for "homosexual" did not even exist prior to colonialism, because no one was seen as a "homosexual." In these pre-colonial cultures, humans naturally shifted throughout relationships with men and women over the course of their lives, and this was seen as nothing exceptional. To me, this proves that the categories of "gay/straight/bi" are merely social constructions, and any kind of scientific inquiry into "proving" that sexual orientation is biological is just like scientific inquiry devoted to proving "race." Foolhardy, and categorically misguided.

What do you think?
I basically agree with this post and also your other post in the thread. Still, let me try to say a bit more (even though what's in my head is very murky to myself too). Sexuality is this all-encompassing word and holds within it many ideas - what I think would be useful is to break up "sexuality" into a few common categories. Sexual identity, in my opinion, is mostly a social construction. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is mostly "innate". And sexual behaviour is born of the interaction between sexual identity, sexual orientation, and also the social milieu and one's individualised response to that environment. But these categories interact and inform each other, although there is some sense that sexual orientation is somewhat more fundamental than the other two.

Well, this subdivision begs your question, because it is precisely these Western studies you speak of that first identified sexual identity and sexual orientation as separate categories and isolated them from sexual behaviour. Before that, all we had was this vague idea that perhaps sexual behaviour wasn't all there is to sexuality. What we have to ask then is whether this construction of sexuality is natural. Because we may think of constructions as artificial, but sometimes they were precisely what was needed.

I don't want to go into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here, but that's kind of what this is, right? Back in the day Ahmadinejad told Columbia University and America that there were no homosexuals in Iran, and I read a Slate article that claimed that this might not be so crazy in theory - but only in theory because Ahmadinejad is obviously wrong, because perhaps in traditional Iranian (or whichever) culture, there simply wasn't such a notion of "gay", even if men had sex with men. Here's the link to the article: http://www.slate.com/articles/health...razy_afte.html. It also contains a very interesting exposition on the Aka people, who apparently have very different conceptions of sexuality than what we are used to. Not only do they claim not to know what homosexuality is, they also do not know what masturbation is!

Now, back to what I said about a necessary and natural construction. I read some anecdotes and interviews of undetermined veracity where some Baltic (?), Middle Eastern (?), African (?) men were interviewed, and they expressed relief at the moment when they first learnt of the Western construction of gay and homosexuality, as though a light bulb came on and something clicked within them. How can you argue against that?
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 04:06 AM   #13
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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I basically agree with this post and also your other post in the thread. Still, let me try to say a bit more (even though what's in my head is very murky to myself too). Sexuality is this all-encompassing word and holds within it many ideas - what I think would be useful is to break up "sexuality" into a few common categories. Sexual identity, in my opinion, is mostly a social construction. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, is mostly "innate". And sexual behaviour is born of the interaction between sexual identity, sexual orientation, and also the social milieu and one's individualised response to that environment. But these categories interact and inform each other, although there is some sense that sexual orientation is somewhat but fundamental then the other two.

Well, this subdivision begs your question, because it is precisely these Western studies you speak of that first identified sexual identity and sexual orientation as separate categories and isolated them from sexual behaviour. Before that, all we had was this vague idea that perhaps sexual behaviour wasn't all there is to sexuality. What we have to ask then is whether this construction of sexuality is natural. Because we may think of constructions as artificial, but sometimes they were precisely what was needed.

I don't want to go into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis here, but that's kind of what this is, right? Back in the day Ahmadinejad told Columbia University and America that there were no homosexuals in Iran, and I read a Slate article that claimed that this might not be so crazy in theory - but only in theory because Ahmadinejad is obviously wrong, because perhaps in traditional Iranian (or whichever) culture, there simply wasn't such a notion of "gay", even if men had sex with men. Here's the link to the article: http://www.slate.com/articles/health...razy_afte.html. It also contains a very interesting exposition on the Aka people, who apparently have very different conceptions of sexuality than what we are used to. Not only do they claim not to know what homosexuality is, they also do not know what masturbation is!

Now, back to what I said about a necessary and natural construction. I read some anecdotes and interviews of undetermined veracity where some Baltic (?), Middle Eastern (?), African (?) men were interviewed, and they expressed relief at the moment when they first learnt of the Western construction of gay and homosexuality, as though a light bulb came on and something clicked within them. How can you argue against that?
I recently read that article about the Aka people as well.

And its hard to argue against the last point in your post. Like Wowwow said, we gotta make do with what we got. And its important not to romanticize the past, and assume that the pre-Western categories of sexuality weren't oppressive. They probably were oppressive in some ways as well. As an aside, I'm reading a book now about homosexuality in Africa, and its interesting that many African leaders talk about homosexuality as if it were another extension of the imperial project, coming in to cause more havoc within the postcolonial states, and preserve colonial dependencies. This view is fueled by gay rights activists from the West who advocate for gay rights in SubSaharan Africa in an ethnocentric fashion, without taking into account the cultural spheres of the countries where those abuses against gays occur. They are so wedded to their notions of homosexuality being an essential, immutable human characteristic, that this language can seem like Western ideological domination (especially when leaders have to sign human rights accords to uphold these views, under the threat of political and economic sanction). I think gay rights activists should be more anthropological () in their approach to addressing gay rights outside of the West, and frame sexuality within terms that resonate culturally with local populations. Instead of their current "Born This Way" approach.
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 04:16 AM   #14
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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its interesting that many African leaders talk about homosexuality as if it were another extension of the imperial project, coming in to cause more havoc within the postcolonial states, and preserve colonial dependencies... this language can seem like Western ideological domination
That's basically my mom's attitude towards Christianity. And honestly, there might be some merit to that.

Quote:
I think gay rights activists should be more anthropological () in their approach to addressing gay rights outside of the West, and frame sexuality within terms that resonate culturally with local populations. Instead of their current "Born This Way" approach.
Yes, I agree with that. But many gay rights activists are one-dimensional warriors like Maria Sharapova. What do you think would resonate culturally with a local population of your choice?
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Old Apr 10th, 2013, 05:08 AM   #15
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Re: Is homosexuality a social construction?

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That's basically my mom's attitude towards Christianity. And honestly, there might be some merit to that.

Yes, I agree with that. But many gay rights activists are one-dimensional warriors like Maria Sharapova. What do you think would resonate culturally with a local population of your choice?
The people I work with live in the US, so I don't have the cultural difference aspect to contend with.

I can imagine approaches in Africa that would present evidence from and appeals to pre-colonial/pre-Christian times, before same sex relationships were stigmatized. If they want to ring in a new African Renaissance, they should realize that this current homophobia did not exist in Africa prior to colonialism.
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