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The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life

Category

heteronormativity

Let´s talk about sex

Sex. People making love.

No matter if you imagined an old couple or a random on-night stand fuck, the chances that intercourse (precisely penetrative sex), was part the image are pretty high. On your mind was probably the stereotypical idea we have about sex: A social act between two, a female and a male agent. Maybe you came up with a completely different scene, yet  we can still assume that most people would have thought of exactly this image. Even if a person prefers other possible sexual interactions, other sex where no penis or vibrator needs to be part of the game. Among others Oralsex. Or for instance Cybersex.

Although there is such a beautiful variety of sex, our cultural understanding of sex prescribes a simplified idea of it as it being The question we should ask ourselves is how our construction of sex as the notion of intercourse – and nothing more or less – had the chance to become such a normalised script up to now. Why does it remain so unchallenged?

The intuitive understanding of sex as intercourse gains support on different levels. A very strong and powerful underlying concept is that of naturalization. Heterosexual penetrative sex is mostly considered to be sex because it is in fact the only one leading to procreation of the human species. An in-depth qualitative study with heterosexual males and females in Newzealand they got closer to the question, what makes penetrative sex so natural. A lot of them described intercourse as a „natural“ notion to want  In this sense, male- female sex relations were depicted as fitting to each other. In other words, a lot of people tended to interpret it as a natural drive which is biologically rooted by the need of reproduction. These strong naturalization is then proven by their own desire and lust they feel. Even though it was hard for some of them to describe, why (apart from biology oring and desire) people perform intercourse.

One the one hand, such naturalistic and reproductive reasoning implies strong heteronormativity and at the same time legitimizes penetrative penis-vagina sex to be the ideal sex. Forgetting that all other sexual interaction as well as masturbation could also be seen as “real“ sex. Moreover, it is a social imperative. People just have Sex. We just know that people- in a certain age- do intercourse. Normalization of intercourse is linked to expectations to fulfill the norm to be normal. At this point it can pose pressure. Women tend twice as much as men to engage in intercourse eventough they do not really feel like it. ₃

Thus, sex as a heterosexual intercourse is socially normalized. This means that this concept is so deeply entrenched in our culture that we do not really come to the point to question it. That heterosexuality is still highly normative is no secret, bearing in mind it is that gay marriage and linked to it the right to adopt became officially legal in Germany literally today. It is surprising how narrow and restricted our sex seems nowadays, contrary to our perceptions of being a fully liberated society.

 

 

References and further information

₁  Baban, A. and David, H. P. (1994) ‘Romanian Women’s Perceptions of Sexuality, Partner Relations, and Reproductive Behaviour during the Ceausescu Era’

₂ Gavey, McPhillips & Braun (1999)` Interruptus Coitus: Heterosexual Accountings for intercours.´

₃ Sprecher et al., 1994; O’Sullivan & Allgeier, 1998

 

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Analysis

Throughout my observations, of which I did many more than I recorded here, I noticed that sexuality is not something I can simply sense. It is a judgement I make based on the gender-appropriate behaviour of a person. The observation was meant to look at how I “knew” what sexuality a person had, not at what gender. Observing sex and gender, to me, was too vague since I knew that people who had transitioned in their young age were almost unrecognisable.
I also believed that guessing a person’s sex/gender was simply impossible as I rejected heteronormative judgement of strangers – who am I to decide what gender a person is? Why would it make a difference anyway? Should I not just treat everyone the same way? If I cannot treat two sexes the same, how can I demand from myself to treat people out of the norm equally?
But through my observations of stranger’s sexualities, I realised that I was still judging the person’s performance of gender: if a person was identifiable as “male” or “female” and did not behave or dress accordingly, I did not conclude their “trans” or “inter” identity, but their “queer” sexuality.

When judging people on a scale of female to male, we look for culturally negotiated signs of femininity or masculinity. The conclusion of a person’s gender can either be heteronormative or not, meaning everything in between, every identity that does not strictly fit into either extreme. Important to note is that there is more tolerance towards a woman behaving less stereotypically feminine and less of a man not behaving stereotypically masculine. This is because the man’s role is the defining part of the binary. You can be a man, for which you need to fulfil the norm, or you are not a man. A woman has more room to play with her gender performativity before she is considered not a woman.

bild blog

A trans person, can also be either seen as heteronormative or not, as the transition is sometimes impossible to see from a stranger’s point of view. If it is possible to see, then the trans person is considered non-heteronormative, without the viewer having to have an understanding of the concept “trans”. The viewer simply sees that the person is somewhere outside of the norm.
With sexuality, the same process goes through my mind, even though I try to overcome this biased thinking. Without seeing a person kissing someone of the same sex, I can “see” his sexuality which is usually associated with a non-heteronormative looks or behaviour.

The persons I observed were usually out of the norm in one way or the other. Women with pixie-cut short hair and no makeup, men with a high voice and pink phones. The key thing here is the word “norm”. “Normal” is culturally constructed. For me, as someone coming from a middle European background, normal means something different to the normal of a Muslim man from the Middle East.
When looking at gender or sexuality, normal in both scenarios means cisheteronormative: a man who wears jeans or trousers, not skirts and definitely no makeup. But it depends on the lens one is looking through during their observation: while the sport sciences student from my first observation might have seemed “trans” to someone looking for gender-identity during their observation, for me it meant “gay” in my observation of sexualities. But for both of us, the culturally constructed “normal” is the guideline of how we judged people.

For the scale used above this means: heteronormative is normal is gender conforming, non-heteronormative is abnormal is non-conforming.
This fits into the binary opposition of concepts in the world according to Jaques Derrida.

Normal ↔ Abnormal

Cis ↔ Trans

Heterosexual ↔ Homosexual

 

Even though I did not aim to look at the gender of my subjects, I still used it as a tool to determine whether they fit into the cultural construct of “normal” or “abnormal”, meaning gay or straight.

 

This observation was an uncomfortable experience for me, as it showed me how biased my own thought process can be if I really focus on a stranger’s appearance to determine their sexuality. I aim to treat everyone the same and not judge people based on their norm-conformativity. But the observation made it clear that I still work with the cultural definitions of “normal” when it comes to gender performance and sexuality.
Maybe once the sexes and sexualities become both “normal” in our world, I will no longer categorise people or at least I will not feel bad for putting them into the category “homosexual” (which suggests that I subscribe to the construction of homosexual as “abnormal”).
But as I said in my first blog post, it’s important what I do with those judgements: if I still treat the person the right way and think no less of them, then maybe it’s not a sign of me being a horrible sexist but just someone who was raised in a heteronormative world trying to be a decent human being anyway.

 

Part II – The woman on the train

I’m on a train on my way back home from Berlin, somewhere between Potsdamer Platz and Südkreuz.
I notice a young woman, probably between 20 and 25, with a black mid-length bob haircut, black denim jacket, black jeans, really pale skin. Her legs are crossed, her posture is really good, her right arm draped over the handle of her suitcase, clasping it loosely. She wears a bit of makeup, cat-eye line, no lipstick or anything colourful. It seems like she is stressed or impatient. Maybe because she will get off the train soon: she has a big suitcase and will probably change trains in Südkreuz.
I don’t know why but she seems like she’s really cool, her style a mixture of grunge and chique. Somehow, the grunge makes her seem a bit different, out of the norm. Like she’s not walking the usual path in life, whatever that is. Her rebellious look makes me think she might not be straight, maybe gay but at least bi-curious. She keeps looking out of the window, tapping her left foot.
I can imagine her sitting at the table with her morning coffee, laughing with her girlfriend but not a boyfriend. It’s funny that an “edgy” style makes me think she might be outside of heteronormativity.
Actually, it seems like a horrible stereotype: gay people must look different, never normal like a baker or electrician. Maybe that stereotype comes from the media, where the homosexual friends are either camp or strange like a tropical bird or rebellious. Even in progressive shows like Sense8, the gay characters are associated with crazy pride parties, like Nomi and her girlfriend.
The girl on the train is pretty normal compared to those characters. I begin to feel bad watching her. It seems like she’s noticed me. I try to be more subtle and now she is getting up, walking to the next exit. She moves in a gender-neutral way, no sway of the hips or strut. She just looks professional, in a hurry. I feel strange watching her, intrusive and judging, something I’ve tried to stop myself from doing for years. In the end, I will not know her sexuality. I can only cling onto “straight” or “gay” coded accessoirs or clothes that I can add up to make her straight or gay in my mind. I wonder what my accessoirs tell about me.

Part I – The guy at the café

During my lunchbreak, I sit down in the cafeteria in the Golm library and watch people. Next to me sit a young man and a young woman, both dressed in gym clothes. He is wearing a white vintage looking jacket with blue seams, and a white simple shirt underneath. I can’t see his shorts or shoes. All in all, I like his looks, he stands out from most other people in the café wearing gym clothes. He looks very comfortable with his look and in this situation. He and his friend are both probably sport science students, considering they are on the Golm campus and dressed in all gym wear.
He has dark brown hair, almost black, and a short but unkempt beard. His figure is strong but not too muscly. The way he behaves with his female friend is very comfortable and close, they sit opposite each other but both lean in to watch a video on her phone. I cannot really put him into a category, he gives me a lot of mixed codes. The both of them are very close, the sides of their faces are almost touching and they give me the impression that they are together but somehow not. Maybe they are in the flirting stage? Or maybe he’s openly gay and they’re just very close friends.
Then I notice his phone: it’s a rose golden iPhone. This seems like a very girlish colour to me. I think about whether the colour of the phone tells something about the sexuality of the owner. Most people want to express themselves with their accessories, and he especially seems like he puts a lot of thought into his outfit: why else would he be wearing fashionable vintage gym clothes? So did he chose the phone colour intentionally because he’s gay or because he likes pink and doesn’t believe in gendered colours, or was that colour the only available in the shop? I decide that I cannot really be sure and should not care so much about it.
I now begin to notice other “gay” coded things about him: the way he talks with his friend is very melodical. His voice is very expressive, more than most men’s. I like the way he talks, he seems to be a really fun person to be around. The both of them talk about something they know and he says something along the lines of “I really LOVE those!” while rolling his eyes upwards to make a point, almost like the stereotypical effeminate gay man in a soap opera would do.
Other girls join, they are all friends. I notice there is no flirtatious behaviour, no sexual tension between them. Is that a sign for him being gay? Or am I now falling into the trope of “men and women can’t be friends?”
I realise that I have fully categorised him as gay: usually I feel a bit reprehensive when interacting with men or looking at them because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m flirting. But I have no problem looking at him because I feel like it would not be interpreted as flirting. He seems like a person I’d want to be friends with. Does that say more about me or him?

Autoethnography

Hello, my name is Jennifer but most people call me Phoebe. I was asked to write a short series on this blog about categorisation of people’s sexualities. It seems pretty strange at first. I’ve always felt a bit uneasy assuming things about other people based on their looks because I wouldn’t want someone else to judge me based on how I look. It’s just something I’ve always considered respectful, not staring at people and definitely not thinking about who they could like sleeping with! But for this assignment, I and my classmates were asked to do so anyway. And I went with it and realised that you cannot really stop categorising people. It’s something we all do every time we see someone, even if it only takes place within a few seconds and only subconsciously.
After looking at a lot, and I mean a lot! of people whilst thinking about their preferred sex partners, I’ve realised that I too subscribe to the cultural stereotypes of “the gay man” or “the lesbian” and those stereotypes are like a checklist that I tick off in a matter of a few miliseconds. It’s often not that simple because not everyone is a walking stereotype. But these codes are what helped me categorise people. All throughout the research I did feel bad for judging people.

When I finished the assignment, I thought about this quote I read online once: the first thought we have is what has been socialised into us. That thought cannot be prevented. What matters is the second thought, the decision we make on what to do with the first thought. In the end, I cannot change what I subconsciously assume about people, but I can change my behaviour and consequent thought process.

What I’m saying is, I tried to be more aware of the biases I use to categorise people in order to then maybe change my actions. Awareness is always the first step towards change. So maybe I can become even more empathetic and respectful in case I was not as good at that before.
I will upload three posts where I go through my process of categorising people’s sexualities, and an attempt on a well thought-out analysis. I hope it can enlighten someone about their own biases or about how they too would ascribe a certain sexuality to those people I wrote about. At the very least, it might be interesting to see how a millennial still falls for oldschool gender biases.

The Portrayal of Asexuals in Media

My last article will be dedicated to asexual representation in media. I would like to focus on the depiction of a/sexuality in media and the roles that asexual characters usually perform. Furthermore, I would like to draw attention on depictions of asexual individuals in the media.

Giving us a broad overview, the youtuber LatinAlice discusses asexual characters and the depiction of asexuality in fictional media. Some characters, like Sherlock Holmes (series: Sherlock) or Sheldon Cooper(Series: Big Bang Theory) are assumed to be asexual (by the queer community at least) but will sometimes have romantic and/or sexual partners throughout the show. This implicitly communicates how sexuality is considered a natural, basic need, an instinct and drive without which a person cannot be complete. Following this assumption, the dehumanizing nature of it becomes clearer, asexuality makes you less human, which is as LatinAlice points out ‘the ultimate form of othering’. They also discuss an episode of Dr. House, where one doctor has an asexual patient and Dr. House bets that he will find a medical explanation for it. By the end of the episode, Dr. House is proven right and can alleviate the ‘symptoms’ for the patient, yet his problematic assumption stays in tact. His approach is somewhat violent toward people who identify as asexual since he basically invalidates such identity in communicating that asexuality means there’s something going very wrong.

Similarly, the talkshow ‘The View’ invited the founder of AVEN, an informative website on asexuality, to discuss what asexuality entails. But instead of properly listening to the interviewee’s statements, most of the participants prefer to insult him or ask indecent questions. A very striking moment is when another panelist inquires if he ‘had sex with himself’, a question so personal and public it would generally understood to be impolite and rude. Worsely even that when he answers, said panelist persists with their question. Here, two things become apparent: firstly, he is not taken seriously at all and the existence of asexuality is constantly contested by the other panelists, secondly, the way he’s being talked about is sheer sensationalism, a dehumanising public humiliation. The debate is therefore more of a freak show than an actual interest into the lives and desires of asexuals.

On January 6th 2017 Vice published an article, headlined by ‘We asked Asexuals for their sex fantasies’. You may wonder why the title is self-contradictory. It seems to remain unimaginable to not have any sexual desires, and a societal way of processing is questioning the existence completely. Surprisingly, many asexuals report that they experience no sexual fantasies whatsoever and explain how they fantasise about their career, future pets or children and other goals that they have.

Here the societal quest for residual sexuality seems to be a prominent one when discussing and exploring the field of asexuality. The allonormative and also medical/sychological assumption that everyone has to have a sexuality and sexual desires comes into play.

Apart from these unfortunate representations of asexuality in the media, there is really not much talk about due to underrepresentation or rather invisibility. Rarely a character will identify as asexual, especially when there deemed to beautiful and attractive. There is much to be changed if society wants to be inclusive of all genders and orientations in media.

Further information and sources:

http://www.zeit.de/community/2015-05/asexualitaet-beziehung-erfahrung

https://www.vice.com/de/article/kbwda3/wir-haben-asexuelle-nach-ihren-sexfantasien-gefragt

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLn4ob_5_ttEaA_vc8F3fjzE62esf9yP61

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikoIEUBY00Y

http://asexuality.org/?q=video.html

https://youtu.be/6kPfLYuQlL8

* the asterisk implies that ‘woman’ is a social role that some people identify with. Some people will be read as female but do not identify as such, these may or may not want to be included in this social category. The asterisk indicates that being a woman is not a biological fact but a social category that one can assume for themselves.

The Medicalisation of Asexuality

It wasn’t long before medical scholars discovered human behaviour as new field of interest next to the various kinds of sicknesses. Non-normative behaviour has a long history of being sanctioned and disapproved of according to a societal understanding of modesty and reputable behaviour.

In medical terms, asexuality was conceptualised relatively recently as ’Hypoactive sexual desire disorder’ (HSDD) or ‘Inhibited Sexual Desire (ISD)’. Medicalisation of human differences occurred in many aspects of life for example in questions of abortion. The discovery of asexuality or as it is called the lack of sexual desire as field for medical intervention is much younger. When Masters and Johnson published their book ‘Human Sexual Inadequacy’  in 1970 a debate was stimulated about sexual dysfunctions, among them also the lack of sexual desire. It was argued at that time that having sex is part of a healthy and good lifestyle, so suddenly there arose a new norm regarding people’s sex lives.

Apart from these ‘cultural trends’ in lifestyle, there is also an underlying scientific assumption that sexuality is pre-social; much like breathing, digestion and the like it is supposedly involuntary and instinctive. This stance then leads to the problematising of sexualities that fall short of complying with unspoken norms. ‘Deviating’ forms of sexuality have been thus of interest in modern psychology and medicine, e.g. homosexuality, masochistic and sadistic sex practices have been pathologised and it has been tried to find cures and antidotes for many of these. Some of these are still intact today, a prominent example is the so-called conversion therapy for homosexuality. In fact, some forms of sexual expression existed for a long time (e.g. homosexuality was a common, normal practice in ancient Greece) and only attained their new moral condemnation in modern times. In the case of asexuality, it has been linked to sexual dysfunction or abstinence, as opposed to a lack of sexual attraction. A sexual dysfunction is present when an individual experiences psychological strain because of their inability to perform sexual practices. In the case of asexuality there is nothing to be cured since there is no psychological strain in the first place.

In the asexual community these assumptions are largely referred to as allonormativity, which describes the notion that each and everyone has to have romantic and sexual desires and attraction. Many describe their youth as a time when they thought, something was wrong with them, which points to the structuring element allonormativity is for modern societies. Allonormativity is omnipresent in everyday life, as we will see when we talk about asexuality and aromanticism in media.

Sources:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypoactive_sexual_desire_disorder

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/asexuality-dysfunction-or-sexual-orientation-2161-038X-1000185.php?aid=76817

http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/03/23/reviews/bright-inadequacy.html?mcubz=0

Asexuality and Aromanticism

Have you ever heard of Asexuality? Chances are pretty high that you have not, since it  is nothing that mainstream media or school curricula cover. Asexuality is at best ignored, else it is stigmatised, denied or pathologised. So it seems about time to educate ourselves about different forms of sexuality and the absence of sexual (and romantic) desire, too.

Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction to other people. Some asexual people do have relationships with other people, some will even perform sexual acts with others, some do masturbate and many others won’t do any of those. Some are asexual, but still consider themselves hetero/homo/bi/pan/_-asexual, meaning they do experience romantic feelings and attraction toward others. Some define themselves as aromantic, meaning that they do not desire romantic relationships. Some people will experience demisexuality or grey asexuality, which usually refers to only experiencing sexual desire for people when there is a very strong emotional bond.

The youtuber Amelia Ace talks in her demisexuality video about a survey she’s done and concluded, very few demisexuals experienced sexual desire more than once or twice in their life. Asexuality is a spectrum, there are no clear criteria one has to tick off a list in order to define as asexual. That being said, there are characteristics many asexuals will agree on being true for them. Nonetheless it remains important to always bear in mind that it is foremost a label people use to explain themselves to others. These labels can change across the lifespan and are not rigid. Usually people come up with their own definition and personal meaning when they choose (or reject to choose) labels for themselves.

The AVEN network (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) is the biggest platform worldwide where asexual and other people exchange and discuss asexuality and aromanticism. Its aim is to „ creating public acceptance and discussion of asexuality and facilitating the growth of an asexual community“ ( more on http://www.asexuality.org/?q=about.html).  There is quite an overlap between Aromanticism and Asexuality, for short Aro/Ace. Romantic desires are usually distinguished from friendship and parent- child relationships but are not occurring for everyone.

Aromanticism does in no way mean that these individuals will not want to create meaningful and deep connections with others, they merely are not interested in romantic connections. Wanting a tight net of friends and a need to bond with others are not only part of romantic relationships but rather a basic human need that occurs across a spectrum. In fact, there are different forms of attraction, that might make it easier to imagine how aromantic people could feel like.

For attraction there are different forms the AVEN website names and distinguishes form each other: aesthetic attraction that refers to attraction on grounds of appearance, romantic attraction as the wish to engage with another romantically, whereas sensual attraction is defined as the desire to have non-sexual physical contact.

further information can be found here:

http://www.aven-info.de/asexualitaet/asex.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO3ZNw_Eqo4

https://www.pinterest.com/kurougaru/aroace/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTBLsaLMi5k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFWgt9m-Mjs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1TqLRd5x9M

Photo by Levi Saunders on Unsplash

Queer Animals: Make Love Not War

The following post is going to be the last one dealing with sexuality of animals from my side. For that reason this time I chose a species that really does not seem to care about gender at all when it comes to pick a partner for sex. This is one of the reasons why they are considered as hippies, another reason is that they seem to use sexual practice to avoid or to solve conflicts. Therefore they are also called make-love-not-war-apes. The species I talk about is the Bonobo, one of the smaller representatives of the great apes. Bonobos break all rules about sexuality that were ever made. They do not only ignore gender, they also seem to ignore age, because even the young ones participate in sexual activities. Moreover they use different positions and practices like for example oral sex. Scientists often observed that bonobos started to have sex when conflicts arise. For example when two bonobos see something to eat, the conflict that they both want it for themselves is followed by sex between them and afterwards they share the food peacefully. In fact this can not be the only reason for them to have sex as they do it very often during the day. My first reaction to this theory was to think that it is another way to negate sexual activities among animals that are not heterosexual. But I think the difference is that in this theory the interaction is still seen as sexual even if it is said that it has another reason than reproduction. Bonobos seem to make clear that there are different reasons and different ways to have sex. German media seems to be kind of excited about the bonobos’ strategy to organise their social live. Us humans, we live in a reality that is totally different and seems to be not as good as the peaceful way of life bonobos share. For many of us it is an utopia to live that way instead of leading wars and exploit each other and the most exciting thing is that bonobos are one of the two species that are related the closest to humans. But coming back to reality it is obvious that we cannot just all start to have sex every time we have a conflict like bonobos do. Again we come to the border of seeking our natural behaviour by watching animals. We have our culture, our social rules which we should try to question and to improve as much as we can, but not by looking for the most natural thing because this is neither interesting from a moral point of view, nor even possible for us to discover. It is inviting to look at the bonobos and draw the conclusion that we are all born to have sex all day and be peaceful, but the second species that is as close related to us as the bonobos, the chimpanzees, is a very aggressive species that has a totally different social structure. We can surely choose one of the two for a role-model but we should be aware that this can only be for inspiration and does not reveal a deeper truth about our own nature.

 

References

 

http://sz-magazin.sueddeutsche.de/texte/anzeigen/44135/Das-Liebesdiktat-der-Hippie-Affen

 

https://www.welt.de/lifestyle/article5679413/Bonobos-sind-Meister-der-sexuellen-Versoehnung.html

 

http://www.focus.de/wissen/natur/forschung-und-technik-sex-fuer-den-frieden_aid_168490.html

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