Tuesday, March 18, 2014


happily NOT cis-sexual

Homosexuality is one of those Latin composite words that tells you nothing -- like appendicitis just means inflamed (“itis”) appendix ("a little extra added-on bit").  So sexuality, assuming it means actual having-sex coition, is modified a bit with “homo” so that it means people who have coition only with people who are the same gender category as themselves.  This leads people who are a little inexperienced to believe that it is not possible for them to have children.  It also confuses people like the innocent middle-aged woman who cannot imagine an orifice a penis could enter except a vagina.  She was rather like the equally innocent old woman who was very surprised that a person in prison for murder could murder another person while incarcerated, since she assumed that such a person was in prison to PREVENT them from murdering more people.  Expectations broken right and left.

Reality is so slippery.  Words fail us.  Especially when the underlying assumptions don’t fit the situation and both the phenomenon and ways of approaching the phenomenon keep changing.  In case you think you know all about it, here are some confusions.

1.  Sexual desire is an emotional and physiological pull to become intimate with someone.  (I’m ruling out animals this time around.)  But that could be attraction to a “category” -- males or females -- a type (big strong people or people of a certain race) -- or one specific individual.  "Desire" is not observable except from self-reporting or behavior.  It's "felt."

2.  Sexual gender is determined by gestation before birth and is distributed along a spectrum from male to female but is dependent on the genome plus the “epigenome” (a second set of molecules formed possibly through the environment or maybe carried in the ovum through the mitochondrial DNA or even from sperm).  It can result in an ambiguous body if the organs are shaped strangely or if the genomic information is distorted.

3.   Sexual self-identification is determined entirely by self-report.  It is mysterious, but clearly real, and means that a person may feel like the opposite gender from what was assigned at birth and is now not in agreement with the person's body or desire.  These days it is possible to surgically and hormonally bring the body into agreement with what the person feels they are.

4.  Gender-role assignment is made by the community, which assumes according to custom and economic necessity that in their ordinary daily lives men do “this” and women do “that.”  Some contexts are homo-social, meaning that men socialize with men and women socialize with women, Hutterite-style, because that’s the way it turns out if they do their assigned jobs because of the kind of work they do.  In the past the gender-roles have been group phenomena -- fireMEN and cowBOYS -- but now that we are in an era of individuality (though it may be ending) people sometimes simply want an atypical choice.  If enough individuals do this, the homo-sociality may switch poles: at some points in history or place teachers were all male.  (Girls didn't go to school anyway.)  In my life I have been part of the feminization of animal control officers and religious ministers. 

So it’s clear to me, at least, that a person can desire men -- and I mean big burly sweaty hairy men with muscles who do dangerous work -- consider oneself female in agreement with one’s gynecologist, dress girly, and still want ordinarily to keep the company of men rather than women, partly because of the socially assigned roles of men -- like being an academic intellectual.  This has an economic dimension:  women are socially assigned low incomes and less power.   What we lump together as "sex" is actually layers of expectations.

This male academic probably knows his Latin prefixes.

All this stuff means that new words have to be invented, so back we go to the box of Latin prefixes and suffixes to see what there is.   In a previous post I discussed demisexuality.  (5-4-13, "demi" meaning partly or half)  One of the newer prefixes is “cis” as in cisgender, cissexuality, and cisidentity.   Think consistent.

"Cisgender and cissexual (often abbreviated to simply cis) describe related types of gender identity where an individual's experience of their own gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth. Sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook define cisgender as a label for 'individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity' as a complement to transgender."  If they were geometric shapes, they would be congruent.

"There are a number of derivatives of the terms in use, including cis male for "male assigned male at birth", cis female for "female assigned female at birth", analogically cis man and cis woman, as well as cissexism and cissexual assumptions.  In addition, certain scholars have begun to use the term cisnormativity, akin to the queer studies' heteronomativity.  A related adjective is gender-normative; Eli R. Green has written that "'cisgendered' is used [instead of the more popular 'gender normative'] to refer to people who do not identify with a gender diverse experience, without enforcing existence of a 'normative' gender expression".

It’s nice to have all one’s ducks (or dicks) in a row, but what’s relevant to modern mixed society in which there are people who step out of their expected identities, desires and roles, is whether they can be tolerated by the people around them.  Are they going to be hated, exploited, tolerated, praised or ostracized?  That depends in part on whether they form into groups, especially if the groups are seen as politically powerful or worth exploiting as lifestyle platforms that will prompt people to buy things.

For most of conscious American history (which is as various as any of this stuff, so I suppose I should say cisAmerican meaning unchallenged monoculture: feels American, looks American, was born American) no one paid much attention to what people did with their identities and desires anyway.  Then, maybe because of releases like increased prosperity, the formation of cities, political coalitions, religious “denominational” variations on Christianity, media attention and so on, the idea of “gay” gradually developed.  And then demanded freedom to be themselves. But Walt Whitman never thought of himself as gay -- nor he think of himself as a mock-female.  He only thought of his desire to take men in his arms, which he expressed by helping and comforting them.

"A 1976 study found that out of 42 anthropological communities: homosexuality [defined as the practice of anal coition] was accepted or ignored in 9; 5 communities had no concept of homosexuality; 11 considered it undesirable but did not set punishments; and 17 strongly disapproved and punished. Of 70 communities, homosexuality was reported to be absent or rare in frequency in 41, and present or not uncommon in 29. " 

Abrahamic religion mostly condemns sodomy, but endorses slavery, death by stoning for female extra-marital sex or other (always female) taboo behavior, as well as approving polygamy, prostitution on various levels, and other sex-related practices that are criminalized in the contemporary United States, such as child abuse.  These are all based on behavior and physiology with no consciousness of self-identification, no tolerance for non-conformity and desire seen as a kind of violence because it cannot be controlled, no matter the consequences.  We’ve kept that last and intensified it.  Jesus, of course, counseled against all this.  That's why the call the Gospel "the Good News."

Today there are parts of our society (like mainstream junior high school students) who accept anal sex as an practical alternative, or strangulation as hip sex play.   Most people don't condemn serial monogamy even if it is not legitimized by civil marriage and divorce -- which keep legal matters sorted out -- or church considerations as to the state of the relationship in Heaven.  People still value desire as a necessary component of happiness and a justification for cheating. We realize that prostitution is not the only kind of paid sexwork.  In short, we are in a state of change between emphasis on either group or individual, among polycultural sets of assumptions, and with criminal and civil laws that are badly out of sync.  Our prisons are a catastrophe and half of young people define themselves as religiously noninstitutional of any variety.

Frogs testing for the impact of chemicals

Still below public awareness is the increasing number of babies of ambiguous physiology caused by manmade -- yet often estrogenic -- molecules in our plastic, our pesticides, our cosmetics, and our medicines.  We do not know what these molecules do to desire.  The main desire some of us have is to resolve all this into settled and predictable terms so we can get on with life.  Others revel in the new wilderness of ideas and possibilities as a chance to explore.

And then there are always the fashions of the Times.

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