Sunday, July 10, 2011

Homosexuality, gender and disorderly assumptions

There is a belief often brought up by people convinced that homosexuality is an aberration. This belief is that there is some sort of sexual trauma experienced by gay people in their youth that supposedly creates the "aberrant" same-sex desires. Strangely, the way this is presumed to works changes according to the gender of the purported victim. For a gay male, it is claimed that early sexual contact with another male results in the "victim" then wanting to have more sex with more men. But for lesbians, it's claimed that unwanted sexual contact with a male results in her wanting to not have sex with men anymore. This seems contradictory: why do men get "turned to men" by sex with a man, but women get "turned to women" with a man, as well?

I've long suspected that antipathy towards homosexuality tracks extremely well with misogyny. I wonder if this difference in belief about how sexual contact "creates" homosexuals illustrates a more fundamental distinction between anti-gay beliefs about how sexuality is supposed to work amongst different genders?

The distinction at issue doesn't just hinge on gender. There's also the matter of whether or not the alleged sexual contact is seen as desirable or undesirable. However, this latter distinction is cleaved completely along gender lines: gay men are always presented as finding the sexual contact with a man that supposedly "turned" them as desirable, while lesbians are always presented as find the sexual contact with a man that supposedly "turned" them as undesirable?

What does this say about anti-gay assumptions of how male and female sexuality "innately" function?

Are men - all men - expected to never turn down sex, or to never find sex undesirable? My own informal research has found two contradictory ideas about male on male sexual advances: first, men tend to think that a man examining another man in a sexual way is not as morally problematic as a man examining a woman in the same way; but second, men tend to think that a man sexually examining their own self in a sexual way can be a justification for reacting aggressively or even violently. The difference between the expectation and the personal reality of how men ought to react to sexual advances when the advance is coming from a man seems to create a certain amount of internal tension.

As for women, lesbianism in this case could be taken as a problematic adjustment to the Victorian-era assumption that women find sex unpleasant. However, in terms of "turning" a woman gay, there also seems to be fault laid at the feet of men. The problematic attitude towards which gender is to "blame" for lesbianism can be seen in the contradictory ways of "fixing" it. There's the disturbing concept of "corrective rape", and then there's the concept that women just need a relationship with a man who doesn't hurt them. Obviously the preferred method of "correction" indicates certain attitudes about the proper sexual role of women (although it should be noted that in both cases it is assumed that it is the man's responsibility to provide the "correction").

I don't think condemnation of homosexuality can be properly addressed until it's understood as a symptom of a much deeper social issue: that of crisis and uncertainty about contemporary gender roles. Even if much of the above turns out to be totally wrong (and it very easily could be), I would hope that it at least indicates that there are a lot of underlying issues around gender and sex that need to be addressed if the lives and welfare of LGBT people are to effectively protected.

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