Overweening Generalist

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sex Has Caught My Eye: Gender/Identity Issues

Since writing about sex and culture got all my ad dough pulled, I figure what've I got to lose now? So yea: sex has caught my eye...when doesn't it? Am I right?

Gender and Identity: We Got Issues
How easy I've had it, being...oops! I mean self-identifying as a heterosexual male. "Being" implies too much ontological certainty, and I can speak for myself, but when I'm reading about others, I realize I can't speak for them. They have their... choices? I will give them the benefit of the doubt. They are dealing with their not-feeling-like-I-fit-in-the-traditional-Heterosexual-Homosexual model thing. They are far more diverse than we "I always felt like I was gay (or straight)" types. I've been thinking a lot more about this stuff since around January of this year, when a good friend told me the lurid trials of an extended family member who has gone from male to female - or is in transition - and I met someone else in a similar situation. It's funny-weird how when we pay attention to these things and start thinking about them, many other instances seem to jump into our lives, seemingly taking metaphysical advantage of the situation. Case in point: it was right around this time that I stumbled upon a book review of independent scholar Hanne Blank's book Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality.

What does it "mean" to be "straight"? We assume it's as old as dirt, and that most people have gone around calling themselves "straight" for the last 10,000 years. But not so. It's only about 150 year old, this gender identity of "straight." It's another social construction, at least according to Baltimore-based Blank, and I appreciate her gnomish Hermetic turn-the-tables move with this book.

She writes as if we must explain heterosexuality, and I think she's right: we may as well. But what's hilarious is she uses many of the same tropes that have been used when writing/thinking about explaining homosexuality. She's published erotica and has made an in-depth study of the meaning of virginity; she's had carnal relations with women yet lives with an XXY man now. One of those. The kind that give nightmares to Santorum types. I think they think it's catching, or they might have It already.

                                     Klinefelter's Syndrome "male," or however they want to 
                                     self-identify. They have an extra X chromosome. 

This is deeply amusing science, taking the assumptions of iconic "problem" books of naming, labeling, Linnaean-ishly classifying, and rationalizing - the DSM-IV being the best example - and holding a mirror up to that culture.

I first became aware of the riff from homosexuals that there are no homo- or hetero- people; there are only sexual acts, from reading Gore Vidal. While I think this sort of argument can appeal to intellectuals (it appealed to me, even though I had gay friends who "were" so much more than their acts!), I'm not sure it helped improve gay people's lives much. When the lumpenproles in backwater areas need to bash someone they perceive as even lower than themselves in the primate status hierarchy, they will, books like Blank's not factoring in much.

For anyone who wants to challenge the false-to-facts iron shackled-binarism of hetero vs. homo, here's a good book that argues for those desperately needed metaphors of the continuum and fluidity in human sexual identity.

Along these lines, a little fanfare for the Aussies, who now allow a third gender identity on their passports, "X."

It seems there's a fairly widespread confusion about sex genes/biology and "gender." Gender is a subjective feeling of "female-ness" or "male-ness." I have never seen any persuasive reason why we ought not allow allow people to express their gender in any way they want. But then in that sense I'm a classic liberal: cruelty is the worst thing we can do.

Sexual Identity and Non-Aristotelian Logic: A Proposal
I think I'm also predisposed to combat Aristotle's pervasive Law of the Excluded Middle. By and large, "Arry," - as Ezra Pound called him - invented modern, two-value logic, the values being "true" and "false." There can be no middle ground in Arry's Logic. Since then very many multi-valued logics have been developed and made use of by scientists and others. When it comes to sexual orientation, I'll be ironically conservative and say we ought to start with four values and develop our sex-logic from there.

Let us suppose there are 1.) heterosexuals 2.) homosexuals 3.) people who define as bisexuals or those who feel their gender does not match their biology 4.) asexuals. This last one? There are people who have no desire for sex with anyone, ever. According to Brock University psychologist Anthony Bogaert, of more than 18,000 British residents surveyed in 2004, about 1% seemed asexual. This is a lifelong non-desire for sex, not celibacy, which is a lifestyle choice. Sex for asexuals is a major yawner. Or a boring joke. In every other way, they appear "normal," a hideous word I normally steer clear of. (citation for asexuality: The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex and the Brain, by Judith Horstman, pp. 81-83)

To extend this sex-logic, we may either 1.) add more categories, and indeed I might have at least two under my #3 above; or 2.) assign numbers between 0 and 10 to each of the four categories, 10 being overwhelmingly, extremely straight or gay, for example. I see something approaching infinitude or a Very Large Number in #3 above. And remember your math: the set of points between 0 and 10 is infinite, by Cantor's definition.

No word from Down Under as to whether they are mulling a fourth choice for their passports, but I'm guessing no one really cares, especially the asexuals.

Finally, I followed the saga of actress Cynthia Nixon, who ticked off the militant political gays by telling the press that, while she lived with a man for a long time, she now lives with a woman and "chose" to be gay. She felt the backlash and clarified, saying she's bisexual, and didn't choose to be...but lucky gal: bisexuals get to choose by definition whether they want to sleep with males or females, or...any who fall in that vast chasm between. There's still a lot of dispute whether bisexuality even exists. (I hope to blog on that before I die, or get a decent-paying job, whichever comes first.)

Advantage: Bisexuality
Until then, I'm with Woody Allen, who said he was heterosexual, which is fine, but bisexuality "immediately doubles your chances for getting a date for Saturday night."

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