May 22, 2011

Gender Reloaded 3: Snapshots from Greece and India

The dominance model and the biological sex model compared and in transition

When writing this series I had several discussions with people on the difference between the older dominance model (where “masculinity” is defined on the basis of freedom and proactiveness) and the biological sex model (where “masculinity” is based on a sexual attraction towards the female body).  I was particularly interested in how these two models play out today in cultures outside North America and Northern Europe.

The movement from dominance to sexual orientation in Greece

Irini from Greece asked his contacts in a Greek trans and queer forum about the two models, and posted a response over at Crossdream Life.

“I am acquainted to gay people, through he lgbtq [lesbian, bay, bisexual, trans and queer] movement, but that in no way matches a ‘first hand’ experience. That’s why I thought it wise to re-post your question in a couple of local LGB forums. I got some responses from gay people I know.

Their answers (plus the few things I know) add up to this:

The way homosexuality is perceived in Greece (an -probably- in most southern Europe) is ‘mixed’ and ‘in transition’:

There is, on the one hand, the old and traditional perception of homosexuality, which is very similar in context to the ‘expression of active vs. passive’ you mentioned. That perception makes a sharp distinction between the active …man, who is usually married or in an relationship with a woman and who in our language used to be called ‘kolobaras’ and, on the other hand, the passive effeminate …sissy, who was respectively called ‘pustis’ (I must note, none of these words are very polite, but, surprise surprise… ‘pustis’ is worse…). In this old context sexual orientation was defined by social gender (masculine=active, feminine=passive).

However, a much more modern perception of homosexuality also exists. This, more modern perception is very similar to the one you have in Northern Europe. According to that perception all male gay people (active or passive or whatever) strongly identify as (gay) men.

These two perceptions, the traditional and the modern, are now mixing up or battling each other or just going on in each own parallel way.

Generally saying, in big cities and in progressive environments you will most probably encounter the modern perception, while you will see more of the traditional one in smaller places. Also bi people today seem to favour the traditional perception more than people who only like men (since it is more well suited for bi people).

As for the alternative community (my own two cents here), if you are referring to the local lgbtq movement, then it’s the modern perception all the way… ‘Traditionals’ generally wouldn’t care less about getting mixed up with movements, activism and the such… However, that does make the community much weaker, in respect to number, visibility etc.

Oh, and another thing that has been pointed out to me: Southern Europe does share a lot of culture and history with Latin America and North Africa (and the Near and Middle East, too). However the gay culture is not the same in all these regions. Our Muslim neighbors -especially- are way more traditional in these matters.”

Many genders make the dichotomy hard to uphold

An online friend from India, Abhirup, made the following comment to an earlier version of this series. He agrees with much of what I write here, but still think that I focus too much on the traditional Western dichotomy of sexual orientation.

“I guess the core sexual orientation of a human being has certain biology for sure because of course any human trait for that matter, has to have some innate biology. However, it is not logical to follow a model that [defines] a human being in absolute gendered terms and what is worse, seeks to integrate one type of human being with another under a common category of sexuality.

For example, are a man and a third gender really 'same gender' or 'opposite genders'?

Ancient Greek and Roman cultures would never place a man having romantic relations with men under the same category as feminine gendered males who had receptive sex with men (the core group of today's feminine gay males).

A feminine homosexual male or a transgendered MTF [male to female] who is androphilic is not the same as a masculine lover of men and the two cannot share the same space. However, in the west, both are ‘gay’ while in the oriental cultures, the former has a separate space called the ‘Hijra’ or ‘kathoey’, and the latter remain in the mainstream. Also, let's not forget that the feminine male's lust for men might not be the same as the masculine male's love of men, their sexual feelings may also be different despite their erotic target being common.

Similarly, a feminine heterosexual or a gynephilic MTF is not the same as a heterosexual man, and a heterosexual man's lust for women may not be confused with the attraction a gynephilic MTF may feel for a woman.

And to complicate matters, we do have bisexuals and pansexuals and everything else.

So, unless you consider human gender as the first and foremost aspect of human identity, every other type of categorization becomes incomplete and least of all, totally useless.

Now if you consider the entire spectrum of human gender identities, which includes at least a third gender (and in some other cultures even a fourth or fifth gender), then the entire process of defining people on the basis of who they have sex with will become impossible. There will be just too many combinations for it to be of any practical significance(man-woman, man-man, man-third gender, man-third gender+woman, man-third gender+man, man-man+third gender+woman; woman-third gender, woman-woman, woman-man, ... , and so on).”

The respect for diversity

If you want to find anything like this kind of respect of tolerance in Western science, you would have to go to researchers like Alfred Kinsey in general sexual research, and Harry Benjamin in transsexual research. Both of them argued that you have to respect the variation of gender behavior and sexual desire, and both of them have contributed to a greater tolerance and respect for human diversity.

Most of what is now found in sub-disciplines like evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology is still dominated by people who try to define “abnormal” behavior as perversions, though.

But, since the cultural  acceptance of homosexuality, something has changed in this camp. The biological sex model has been replaced by a a revised version: the sexual orientation model, or Sex 2.0.

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