Tuesday, July 22, 2014


There are two kinds of people: those who like to divide everything into two kinds and those who do not.  I belong to the latter camp.  Particularly when it comes to human characteristics, I resist doing in/out sorting.  But even so, it had not occurred to me that by creating the idea of homosexuality, the concept of heterosexuality had to be invented at the same time.  But there are many kinds of homosexuality -- some of which overlap with heterosexuality -- and there are many kinds of heterosexuality -- some of which overlap with homosexuality.  Sexuality itself can be defined in many ways by desire, identity, practice, history, boundaries, varying over time, and even null.  (None. Nun.)

In our culture every category is vulnerable to being made into a selling platform, so first we sold all the men on the idea that GI Joe was an ideal and a hero.  Then we sold them the idea of being the head of a family which meant wearing a suit, driving a fine car, and mowing the lawn.  Then Hugh Hefner sold the men the idea that they should avoid families and live in a mansion wearing silk pajamas, smoking a pipe, and pretending to fuck pretty teenaged girls who never got pregnant.  There have been lots of other platforms since.  Movies, magazines, clothing manufacturers, builders, restaurants, brands of alcohol or tobacco, are all busy trying to define these categories.  Men who wear mackinaws.  Men who operate heavy machinery.  Men who are lab scientists.  Astronauts.  SWAT teams.

Gender is one of the powerful definers of identity and identity is the way we relate to each other.  Clothing, equipment, food, music, behaviors, can all be linked to one’s identity as a sort of advertising, letting people know what the particular product has to offer and what they should be looking for.   These categories of marketing work against uniqueness because individuals don’t offer efficiency in marketing or distribution.  People who want uniqueness are hard to predict or control -- they are hunter/gatherers.  Profit can't be graphed.

Heteronormativity (and homonormativity) is a term that says “this is what you’re supposed to be like,” but it is usually so embedded in people’s assumptions that it’s invisible to them even as they act it out.  This interests me: things we assume that are unexamined, that control us without us realizing it, that are used to make us do things that are not in our best interests.  Always those practices mean consumption -- something we’re meant to buy.  (I mean, besides buying the idea.)   This applies to institutional religion as much as any other consumer categories.   They are selling a certain socio-economic style as much as any workout gymnasium or beauty salon.  But let’s stick to gender styles, which sometimes involve sex and sometimes don’t.

Hyperhomonormativity, or one rather aggressive version of it, was the female man: the slightly built man with the sharp lisping tongue, the extravagant clothes, the interest in women’s things.  The child man, soft and clinging.  But then came the reversal:  the masculine man who was tough as nails, too tough for a woman partner.  

By now all non-conforming sexual “styles” are implied membership in a group often denoted by a lengthening line of alphabet figures as "LGBTIQ?" (the "?" means questioning, used to keep from confusing it with Q for queer).  So far no one has thought to add celibacy, but the idea is multiplicity and welcoming the unique.  The marketing people have tried to cope by imitating the permutations of cola: sugarless, caffeineless, old-fashioned, canned, bottled, cherry-flavored, lemon-flavored.

Normativity of any kind is opposed to that and is a potent force for herding everything together in the religio-administrative-commercial-world of international society.   There are some hidden ideas under hetero or homo normativity.  They are hard to think about, esp. whatever has not been transformed into a selling angle yet.  One is that “sex” is a unified force in each person.  A second is that sex is always about desire and passion.  A third is that one’s sexual nature doesn’t change over time, except maybe a loss of performance due to aging.   Another is that sex is gender-dimorphic: entirely different for males than for females.  And underlying all is the idea that it is a matter of genitals, which are always either male or female, with the goal of making babies which are a wonderful selling opportunity.  All of these assumptions are just wrong.  They are reinforced by the taboo on nakedness, the suppression of information about the variety in babies, and the stigmatization of anything “different,” an instinct that goes back into the earliest human awareness when life was about family/tribe/belonging for protection.

What we call “sex” is just one nexus in the web of belonging, comfort, attachment, maturation, nurturing, and aesthetics that is ourselves and our place in the world.  Today circumstances (war, which is a kind of marketing; and peace, which is also marketing) have taught us that men can do women’s work, women can do men’s work, a sleeve is a sleeve and a button is a button.  A weapon can be fired by anyone.   Technology means that the dimorphic difference in physical prowess and baby-carrying have been replaced by differences in intelligence, education and temperament.  

As for genitals, not only do we finally admit that some babies are ambiguous almost beyond deciphering -- molecularly as well as genitally -- but also that one can be surgically and/or chemically switched from one to the other.  Or be left with two aspects or none or a unique configuration of both.  We haven’t quite achieved the molecular dexterity to change a XXY or XYY genome to either XY or XX.  (A YY chromosome will not survive because vital “information” for maintaining life is on only the X gene.  I presume that an X gene alone will also fail to support survival.)

Any kind of “normativity” is destructive when it becomes prescriptive, dictating what you have to be like, or at least give the appearance of being like.  Even worse in our society is HYPER heteronormativity -- everything conforming to but exceeding the social norms.  We celebrate someone like Arnold Schwartzegger.  Someone like Putin, who has got to have one of the most insecure jobs in the world, tries to dominate by riding a bear while bare-chested, even though he’s small, bald and squinty.  In fact, a nutcase loser like Hitler can be obsessed with the image of what he wishes he were: big, blonde, Nordic, athletic, etc. and impose it on everyone else.

We’re not very good at grouping or identifying people by their inner and therefore less accessible aspects, whether they are smart, kind, or generous.  People who want to be affiliated by their appearance will invent some kind of costume: black leather jacket, red bandana headwrap, desert boots, leather elbow patches on tweed jacket, cowboy shirts, insulated bib Carhartts, camo, tartan -- whatever.  Tattoos and piercing imply total commitment and a certain amount of pain, a price, in acquisition. 

And yet there is an element of adapting to the big picture, what's available.  We wear jeans and hoodies because they’re cheap, found everywhere, and practical.  We “hook up” with who is there and who is economically viable.  Right now low-skill uneducated men, who would formerly be employed to do raw physical labor, are connecting with young fertile women who will support them for the sake of the babies.  That's a het option.  

Such a man who connected with another man like himself, a homo option, might be more likely to slide into alcohol/drug partying.  If he were attractive enough to connect with an older, higher-income, more powerful man, that might be a route to experience and connections that would make him a better employment candidate.  But this would depend upon the emotions and morality of that older man, which will take time to discover.  A dark skin used to be a debit -- now in many circles it is a credit.

I was fascinated to hear Jack Fritscher say in a YouTube interview that he based “Drummer” magazine (homomasculine leather) on the image of the Marlboro Man -- or the cigarette company's idea of that figure, which was the tall, red-headed, Irish-descent male model of Fifties television Westerns, quite different from the reality of open range cowboys.  

The "type" has gone from the conventional but ragged suit vests and white shirts with arm garters or roping cuffs of the runty 19th century ghetto escapee who took on the miserable boy-job of herding cows -- to the proud and moral 20th century six-footer portrayed in slick magazines like “Cowboys and Indians” -- to the leather man forking a Harley when not boarding a jet flight to the next international city for a “scene” with equally charismatic men.  Modern men with unsuspected tragic futures -- but proud.  There’s a smashing novel in it.  Might even be a best-seller.  Don't let Annie Proulx near it. 

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