Monday, October 13, 2008

Sexual Object Choice, Gender Roles and Identity

I haven't been blogging for awhile because I have been spending all of my free time reading the book Same Sex: Debating the Ethics, Science, and Culture of Homosexuality for the class that I am auditing.

It's hard for me to know where to begin. I've been having so much fun with the reading and my head is whirling with ideas. I am even wanting to do the paper assignment even though, as I said, I am auditing the class. Perhaps it is lucky for me, and E., and all that are around me that I cannot even come up with a paper topic. I am too happy swimming around in concepts.
Three articles in the volume have particularly embedded themselves in my brain activity. They were all in the "Identity and History" section. In David M. Halperin's "Sex Before Sexuality: Pederasty, Politics, and Power in Classical Athens," not only did I learn that the word and concept of "homosexuality" wasn't invented until 1892 by Charles Gilbert Chaddock; but I also began my pondering about the relationship between power, social status, gender role, and sexual object choice. In Ancient Greece, a man of social standing could physically love another man as long as that other man was somehow inferior to him be it by being significantly younger (ie. a boy), of lower social status, or a slave. There was another "as long as." This man of power and social standing also had to be the recipient of "phallic pleasure" be it by penetrating the other person or by being the recipient of fellatio. In other words, he was the "active" and "male" gender role sexual partner as opposed to the "passive" and "female" sexual partner.
So, we are touching upon the source of my lens. No matter what I do or read, I tend to interpret and analyze it in terms of gender and economic power. I am besides myself with excitement. Here we have gender roles determining social status no matter what the sexual act is. As long as the "feminine," "without power" and "passive" are the other halves of the binary, men having sex with men was totally acceptable in Ancient Greece.

This acceptance also exhibited itself in George Chauncey's "Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion?" In which the author researched court cases for charges of homosexuality that the Navy brought upon individuals in 1920 in Newport, Rhode Island. Once again, the only men who were charged with "sexual perversion" were the men that were taking on the feminine roles. The one exception to this was charges made against an Episcopal clergy member who argued that his ministerial duties led him to take on more "feminine" caring roles with young men. In this case, power, social status, and connections got the case dismissed.

"The Reproduction of Butch-Fem Roles: A Social Constructionist Approach" by Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline Davis was by far my favorite. Oh, I am again realing. This text discusses how women who wanted to enter and participate in the patriarchal mainstream in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had to dress and act like men. George Sand and George Eliot are two perfect examples.

Women who acted manly in the exterior world and men who acted feminine were considered "sexual deviants" and "inverts." Whereas there was yet no word, concept, and categorization for "homosexuality" before 1892, the category of "sexual deviant" did exist. They were public categories, not private ones which involved one's choice of sexual partner and act.

The authors' research involves listening to the oral histories of members of the lesbian community in Buffalo in the 1930's through 60's. Gender roles were pretty fixed. You were either femme or butch. That was the limit of self-expression. Women who identified as lesbian were directed towards one or the other category. You could change, decide you were butch after a femme relationship, even though I doubt it often went the other way. There is too much privilege to gain from taking on male roles.

I struggled with how lesbians, fleeing heterosexist norms, could recreate them in their community. "Mirror," "ape" are other words. "Ape" has an appropriate level of judgement for a believer in not passing them.

But economics saved the day and made me remember that if women wanted to survive on their own during this period, there had better be a person playing a "male" role to bring in the money. "Femme" jobs such as secretaries and teachers were sure not going to support anyone. You could say that ecomomics led lesbians into tight prescribed roles, or exterior societal models, or a combination of both.

It was the butch who took the heat for being outwardly lesbian. The femme could always back track or stand behind her "man." And, it was the butch who made sure that her "femme" was satisfied. Even in "male" roles, a woman wants to ensure that her partner is satisfied!
I wrote this nearly a week ago and now have my father here visiting. I am going to post it with all its incompleteness and give the world a glimpse of my current brain activity.
Have a nice day.


MLC said...


~summer~ said...

Hey lady. Good post. I can across a blog that I think you'd like.

perfectparadox said...

No idea if you are still on this blog, but I've been looking for the origin of this butch/fem picture for a long time! Do you happen to know where it came from? Thanks!

glued blue glass said...

Sorry perfectparadox, I'm not sure. Usually I have pictures link to their source but I didn't do that this time for some reason.
Good luck with your search.