March 01, 2004

Dichotomized Human Sexuality

Since coming out as a senior gay man, I have often wondered whether or not the dichotomized pair, homosexual versus heterosexual makes sense. I mean, we tend to think in terms of these two kinds of sexualities as being in opposite corners. If we even bother to think of other kinds of sexualities, they are considered to be of minor importance. When was the last time you participated in a conversation about sex changing surgery? And, if you did, was it possible for everyone partaking in that intercourse to do so without bleeting, (“E-e-e-e-u-u-u-u-u-w! “) while discussing the complicated surgical procedures necessary to transform a male into a female, or visa versa?” In fact, I bet the conversation was closed down before it could get that far, because most of us are not capable of thinking outside the homosexual versus heterosexual box.

Dichotomized Bears *2

On the other hand, research in anthropology and related fields demonstrates that the Western dichotomized conceptualization of sexuality is unusual. Vittorio Gallo and Phyllis R. Robinson state the following in a discussion about variability of human sexuality in an article titled, “Is There a Homosexual Brain, in The Gay and Lesbian Review: Worldwide.
"Furthermore, cross-cultural research shows, among myriad other variations in sexual categorization, that there are cultures in which men have heterosexual nuclear families and are happy with this construction, yet they also have sexual relationships with other men, without identifying as either homosexual or bisexual(Gallo, 14)".*

In fact, the greatest difficulty may be encountered by an anthropologist when attempting to study homosexual behavior in a culture which has no thought about such behavior and thus, no terms to describe it. In his book, Same Sex, Different Cultures: Exploring Gay and Lesbian Lives, (1997) Gilbert Herdt uses the phrase “same-gender sexual relations” instead of the term homosexual because he believes in a three-dimensional model for human sexuality. He describes that model metaphorically in the following statement.
The many terms that might be employed to refer to same-gender relations, including the terms bisexual, gay, and lesbian in western cultures, must be understood as historically situated passageways, as spaces in a larger house of uncertain construction and infinite number of rooms none of which should be a priori privileged over others (Herdt 5).*1

I like Gilbert Herrdt’s metaphorical house of sexuality and I would like to spread the good news about it. That is, we all live in Herdt’s house, no matter what our sexuality. The house shelters us and makes us one family, even those of us who hate our brothers and sisters for their various sexualities.

*Gallo, Vittorio, Robinson, Phyllis R. “Is There a ‘Homosexual Brain?’” The Gay and Lesbian Review VII.1 (2000): 12-15.

*1 Herdt, Gilbert. Same Sex, Different Cultures: Exploring Gay and Lesbian Lives. Boulder: Westview Press, 1997.

*2 The image above was taken from The American Bear Association and Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary, (viewed Saturday, February 28, 2004 at 1;20 P.M. EST).

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