Working Thoughts on Gender and Sexuality

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but I like things having to do with social theory. One of my first musings about society had to do with gender and sexuality. This post won’t so much deal with gender theory as with the biases I bring to research. My thoughts on gender and sexuality developed as I sought to define my own gender role and sexuality. Furthermore, I noticed that some people didn’t fit gender stereotypes and I wanted to know why. If gender were a naturally occurring phenomenon and not socially constructed, how did such a position account for the presence of “gender anomalies”? What of “alternative” sexualities?

Explanations of gender and sexuality aberration that did not satisfy me were childhood trauma or mere force of will. These explanations assume a few things. First, they assume that heterosexuality and traditional gender expression occurs naturally, almost as if parents and other authority figures left children to their own devices from birth, they would come out “naturally”—i.e., heterosexual and traditional in gender expression. Second, it assumes something drastic has to happen to overturn one’s natural makeup. When a given makeup is attributed solely to males and solely to females (and only those two sexes), childhood trauma or choosing not to be normal can make sense of a minority population. However, there are tons of people who don’t fit normal gender and sexual stereotypes who weren’t abused/neglected and who didn’t choose whom they were attracted to. Regarding abuse/neglect, more often people express gender in a male/masculine female/feminine way and are heterosexual; how then would the variable of abuse/neglect produce butch females, effeminate males, or people wishing to transition to another gender, when such account for so little of the general population?

I see gender and sexuality formed, discussed, censored, attacked, reinforced, encouraged, defined, redefined, debated, or denounced from infancy onward. The so-called “natural” heterosexual is such through continued inculcation of the following: constant reinforcement that heterosexuality is natural and “other” sexualities are aberrations from this norm. If it were natural, I don’t think heterosexuality would need constant reinforcement. Statements such as “Boys don’t cry,” or “Son, if you walk like that, it won’t be girls you attract,” or “That’s not ladylike,” or “Boys don’t like girls who speak their mind,” or “Boys who like theater are gay” wouldn’t need to be said. Even more basic than that, though: nurseries are decorated according to a certain color palate based on a baby’s sex. What toys they play with and how their parents interact with them from birth is already playing into a budding personality. And this doesn’t even touch on intersex individuals. I guess in my mind, natural=instinctual (understood this way, how much of what humans do is natural?); if something has to be taught, it ain’t natural. Perhaps that is too narrow of a definition but that is how I understand it currently.

But I also don’t assume that homosexuality is natural either. Sexuality is such a complex thing in my mind, that while it entails natural phenomena—hormones, sex organs, chromosomes—such do not determine how things will flesh out socially. The mere fact that I possess more testosterone than estrogen, working sex organs, and xy chromosomes does not put the stamp on how I will express gender or sexuality. What do those shared traits have to do with radical social differences within genders and even within sexualities?

Regarding definitions, Brian K. Smith (brought to my attention by Russell McCutcheon) helpfully notes that definition is not a finality but a beginning, at least concerning scholarship. It gets a conversation started and can be modified along the way. So with this initial post on gender and sexuality, I attribute their expression primarily to socialization. Biology has its part to play in providing the props; social activity is the actor who employs the props.

In later posts, I want to develop these thoughts in how I play them with “religion” (scare quotes, because in religious studies, this word is notoriously hard to pin down).

I invite and hope for your thoughts.

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