Sexuality and Sexual IdentityIn Social DevianceAlfred C. Kinsey argued in 1948 that “It would encourage clearer thinking on thesematters of labeling homosexuals if persons were not characterized as heterosexual orhomosexual, but as individuals who have had certain amounts of heterosexual experienceand homosexual experience.

Instead of using these terms as substantives (real andapparent entities) which stand for persons, …they may be better used to describe thenature of overt sexual relations, or of the stimuli to which an individual eroticallyHere I shall look at this statement regarding sexuality and gender from a sociologicalperspective on deviance. In this discussion I will address the following questions: Whatrole does sexuality (and gender) play in society? How are these categories constructed? How are they maintained? And what do these categories reveal about importantconfigurations of power in American society?The “social construction” of the category of gender has had its roots firmly plantedsince biblical times: from the creation of the female, Eve for man (so Adam would not belonely) to the 1800s when women were not allowed (by men) the right to vote. It hasbeen prevalent in marriage ceremonies as brides promised to “honor and obey” theirhusbands (although the “obey” part seems to be absent recently). The role of the malebeing dominant or superior to the female is one that insists on transcending time despitemodern day efforts for gender equality in society. We (society) constructed this categorybased on a patriarchal system that places the primacy of masculinity above all else. Gender ensures a distinction between male and female, affirming male dominance overthe weaker female.

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And the dichotomy of the patriarchy over all else that threaten it mustbe maintained through continual reaffirmation and reinforcement.The reinforcement of gender roles and boundaries through societal constructs isshown in Woodhouse’s discussion of transvestites or cross-dressers. Cross-dressingheterosexual men (dressing in women’s clothing) pose a threat to traditional society thatpresents male and female gender categories as immutable categories that have no roomfor malleability. “On a social and cultural level the two groups (male and female) aremutually exclusive…” (Woodhouse, p. 117). This is maintained and strictly enforced inour male-dominant society through approval of masculinity and disapproval offemininity.

“Outside of the closely demarcated boundaries of the drag act or thefancy-dress party, men cannot appear in any item of women’s clothing without immediateloss of the superior status attached to the male and the full imposition of ridicule andcensure” (Woodhouse, p. 119). We see examples of this ridicule from very earlychildhood and adolescence with boys being scorned and called a “sissy” for playing withdolls or expressing feminine traits which are reserved for the secondary, inferior femalerole and “should be eradicated” (Woodhouse, p.

119). There is a vice-grip on the primacyof masculinity which refuses to let go of pointing out that which is not masculine, andgiving it a value. “Any man who is effeminate cannot be heterosexual, there must besomething wrong with him” (Woodhouse, p. 137) and is therefore considered “less than.

” “To deviate from this primacy status is to take a step down; to adopt the trappings of thesecond sex is akin to slumming it or selling out. And those who protect and maintain theprimacy of masculinity cannot allow this to happen or the whole edifice would crumble”(Woodhouse, p. 119). “And identity politics as well as science has an interest in keepingthem “homo” and “hetero” opposite” (Garber, p. 231).

However, the categories of sexuality (homo-, hetero-, and bisexual) and the use ofthe term “homosexual” to characterize the individual as a “real and apparent entity,”rather than describing a behavior, are recent constructs of humans. “Prior to thenineteenth century – or, some will say, the eighteenth – homosexuality in the westernworld was a practice, not an identity” (Garber, p. 213).

The use of the term to describewho a person is, is to attach the negative stigma of an unacceptable behavior to theindividual, thereby making the person unacceptable. This is also done as a means tosanction and prohibit the behavior. Who wants to be called a “homo” or “fag?” Beinglabeled a homosexual is society’s way of determining what type of person you are andhow you should be treated. What is also powerfully realized is that definitions ofdeviance and labels are handed down by those in society who decide “the norm” based onthe current trend and philosophy of the time and their culture. This is important for tworeasons.

First, it affirms the sociological issue of power in constructing deviance. Secondly, it challenges the notion of gender being immutable and invariable over timeand culture. Woodhouse excellently states this in her discussion of sex, gender, andappearance in relation to transvestites (cross-dressers). “The realization that gender is nota fixed entity, that gender roles and expectations can be questioned, attacked andchanged, emphasizes the significance of viewing both gender roles and gender identity associal constructs whose meanings are continually affirmed and reaffirmed, negotiated andrenegotiated through the social process of human communication and interaction”(Woodhouse, p. 119). An example of the idea that gender is fixed is shown here fromNARTH’s School Sex Education Guidelines: “This impression of having always ‘feltdifferent’ is a reflection of childhood gender nonconformity” (NARTH, p. 2), arguing it isnot the case that you were born homosexual.

Here again is the assumption that sex,gender role, and gender identity exhibit a conformity to, and an identity with one of twopossibilities: masculinity (being primary) or femininity (being secondary).The extent to which the “abnormal” is integral to the existence of “normal” isanother important tool in evaluating categories of sexuality and gender identity. Distinguishing between good and bad, normal and abnormal is a human construct and onethat is applied to nearly every facet of our human existence. “Normal” needs to becontinuously reaffirmed in order that we may redefine what is “abnormal.” We callthings “wrong,” “unnatural,” “bad,” “perverse,” “strange,” “odd,” “queer,” “abnormal,””immoral,” and “deviant” to remind and reinforce that what these words describe is notacceptable behavior. We enforce the boundaries of “normal versus “abnormal” incountless ways.

Just walking down the street, we automatically assign a social role tocertain types of people based on “what” and “who” we perceive them to be. And the rulescan change. These boundaries must continually be reestablished based on the currentphilosophy of what is acceptable at the time. “The process of change through whichcertain deviations become labeled as normal or abnormal remains difficult to discern,becoming clear only when historical or social conditions permit…” (Bayer, p. 189).

Aswe shall see, people in positions of power, have the ability to influence “what societypermits” and sometimes we construct negative perceptions in our crusade to influence theThe National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality is a flagshipamong organizations in constructing particular interpretations that serve their particulargroup. The title on their brochure, “Taking A Stand: For Those Seeking Freedom FromHomosexuality,” wouldn’t be implying that homosexuality is negative, would it? Bypromoting negative interpretations of homosexuals, for example, groups like NARTH canhelp to influence and enforce what is considered deviant. NARTH warns that a pro-gay”philosophy usually includes the redefinition of marriage; the disparagement of genderdifferences as arbitrary ‘social constructs’; the undermining of family and religiousauthority with the substitution of a different set of standards; and the idea thathomosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality” (NARTH, p. 9). This statementembodies the tactic of demonizing and vilifying the deviants to enforce traditional genderand sexual constructs by pointing to the many ways in which homosexuality threatens todestroy society. To begin, “the gay philosophy” (which they sat down as a collective andwrote in the spring of 1967) stated here, threatens to “redefine” the institution of(heterosexual) marriage – the pillar establishment that exemplifies approved gender rolesin our society. The undermining of family and religious authority serves to show thathomosexuals are breaking down two of the utmost important institutions in society (thefamily and religion), in addition to going against authority.

It is also sure to affirm the”normal” and enforce boundaries by questioning the idea of variability in humansexuality. NARTH also presents “evidence” against homosexuality by posinghypothetical questions and providing responses supported by “science” as if they are hardirrefutable facts. Even more disturbing though, is this recommendation for teachingabout homosexuality that ties into the following discussion of the psychology field: “Wehaven’t learned from science that ‘homosexuality is as healthy as heterosexuality.’ Viewsabout what constitutes psychological health are always based on some system ofphilosophy and morality. By itself, science cannot distinguish good from bad, right fromwrong, healthy from unhealthy” (NARTH, p.9). This supports a notion that science isobjective and unbiased, has no moral agenda, only reports the facts, and makes nojudgements.

This is an interesting premise – let’s see if it holds true in the scientific fieldThe vote upon the question of whether homosexuality ought to be considered amental disease was put before the American Psychiatric Association in 1973. Thesubsequent decision to remove homosexuality from the DSM-IV list of disorders broughthuge political conflict. “The status of homosexuality is a political question, representinga historically rooted, socially determined choice regarding the ends of human sexuality”(Bayer, 185).

The discussion by Bayer goes on to reveal many more importantsociological issues including how the formulation of homosexuality as a psychological”disorder” forced the APA to look at how social values influence psychiatry. Bayer citesPeter Sedgwick’s essay, “Illness – Mental and otherwise.” He credits the antipsychiatristswith having made it clear that “mental illness is a social construction,” and that”psychiatry is a social institution incorporating the values and demands of its surroundingSome would even go so far as to say that “all concepts of health and disease areinformed by human values” (Bayer, p. 193). These values are what serve to help definethe concepts of disorders and illness.

Bulimia – it’s an eating “disorder.” Or is it society’spressure for women to look like thin and beautiful models? Homosexuality – it’ s amental “disease.” Or is it simply exhibiting another form of sexual behavior? If it is avariant of sexuality, we know from NARTH, it certainly isn’t “normal.

” However,”Normality and health cannot be understood in the abstract, rather they depend on culturalnorms, society’s expectations and values, professional biases, individual differences, andthe political climate of the times” (Bayer, p. 182). This is why tradition has been able toclassify a broad range of behaviors as warranting clinical attention. “Along with otherforms of sexual deviance transvestism has been medicalised, treated as if abnormal andneeding medical care” (Woodhouse p. 136). And in the classification of homosexuality,”the struggle for legitimization therefore entailed a challenge to psychiatry’s authority andpower to classify homosexuality as a disorder” (Bayer, p.

189). All of this makes veryclear the role particular institutions in society have in classifying, constructing, andreinforcing what is deviant in society.An examination of categories of sexuality and gender also reveal close ties withimportant power configurations in American society. Deviance is constructed as a formof social control – to control the way people think, feel, and behave. And what qualitybest possesses the ability to exert this control? Power.

“We engage everyday inextraordinarily powerful, consequential, and often painful interpersonal negotiationsabout what is or is not acceptable and about what our respective places are in a world thatprovides us with less guidance and certainty about such matters…” (Millman, p. 98). This notion of what is or is not acceptable is an essential tool in defining what is deviant.In terms of sexuality and gender in our studies of deviance, feminist theory gives the mostthorough discussion of the dichotomy of power between male and female sexes. Theassignation of gender “establishes a hierarchy whereby a sexual division of labor ensuresan imbalance of power and control weighted heavily in favour of male supremacy”Media is a primary medium where the “powerful perpetuation of dominant powerstructures” (Hantzis ; Lehr, p.

181) is portrayed on a regular basis. In the case of thepopular culture media, they are careful not to show healthy, fully developed, and fullyexpressed homosexual characters so as not to give the idea that homosexuality is”normal.” The sitcom Ellen is a perfect example of this.

Here we have a character whocomes out as lesbian on national television only to be censored into behaving the waysociety deems appropriate. In this episode, the fact that she is a lesbian is announced overthe airport loudspeaker, however, in subsequent episodes this fact is highly downplayed. Here is a parallel example in the discussion of another television character: “She twicestates that she is lesbian, but her character is never permitted to perform as a lesbian. Theabsence of a performance of lesbianism is not simply the absence of lesbian sex, but theabsence of any representation of lesbianism as a factor of Marilyn’s identity. Theinvisibility of Marilyn’s lesbianism not only allows Heartbeat to avoid any substantialportrayal of an experience outlawed by the dominant patriarchal discourse, but to obscurehomophobia…” and “…we suggest that the invisibility of her lesbianism supportspatriarchal values by removing the need to confront the homophobia andheterosexism/sexism that visible lesbianism signifies” (Hantzis ; Lehr, p. 177).

Thissanitization for public consumption is nearly always prevalent with the exception of whenthey do show gay characters, they are usually portrayed in a stereotypical, femininefashion such as Nathan Lane in the movie The Birdcage or with the stigma of the gay manwith AIDS, such as Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. This continued prevalence ofstigmatization and stereotyping of those considered “deviant” serves to maintain statusGovernment is another forum where the role of power is rampant, specifically inlegislating laws to control, restrict, and punish behaviors deemed deviant by society. Thepower of legislation is conveyed many times in this statement regarding the matter ofbiology in homosexuality.

“If homosexuality were found to be an immutable trait, likeskin color, then laws criminalizing homosexual sex might be overturned. Same sexmarriage, job protection, antidiscrimination in housing laws – all these could hinge on theredefinition of homosexuality as biologically caused rather than socially and culturallychosen” (Garber, p. 225). This statement brings up several ways of exerting control overdeviant behavior (linked to a particular group of people): by making the behavior apunishable, criminal act; by discrimination through laws; by not granting protection ofrights; and by prohibiting the recognition of same sex marriage (as if by not recognizingAn example of this social control is demonstrated in the case of Ballot Measure 9. In 1992, an initiative was put on the ballot to amend Oregon’s state constitution toprohibit and revoke laws which protect homosexuals from discrimination.

The Oregonreferendum sponsored by the Oregon Citizen’ Alliance (OCA) further mandated that allgovernment agencies and schools recognize homosexuality as “abnormal, wrong,unnatural, and perverse”; and no government monies could be used to “facilitate”homosexuality. The issue became a campaign to vilify, demonize, and dehumanizehomosexuals. Note, the focus here was not on the behavior, but on the people. Religiousright organizations such as the OCA take the demonic approach with their sole objectiveto seek out, point out, control, and eliminate deviance.An example of this conflict is going on right now, here in San Diego County. People are upset that the Grossmont Union High School District voted to add the words”actual or perceived sexual orientation” to the district’s nondiscrimination andmulticultural policies, which already include protection from discrimination based onrace, religion, gender, and disability.

According to an article in the San Diego UnionTribune on June 4, 1999, those opposing the new policy that would give specialprotection to gay and lesbian students believe it is “enabling this (homosexual) agenda toinfiltrate the schools.” One student remarked, “I think if they give the gay people rights,then they have to give everybody rights.” Another parent remarked, “This isn’t aboutprotecting kids, because adequate protection already exists.

This is about legitimizinghomosexuality, bisexuality, etc., in an attempt to bring it into the curriculum” (UnionTribune, p. B4). Notice the language used here by those in opposition of the newnondiscrimination policy: “homosexual agenda,” “infiltrate,” “legitimizing.” They are allused in a negative context to maintain the boundaries and reaffirm what is deviant. In summary, there are many sociological issues that contribute to the construction ofcategories of sexuality and gender identity in our society. The primacy of masculinityversus femininity, the categorizing of deviants as “abnormal” or needing psychiatric”treatment,” and the role of power in American society all contribute to explaining andunderstanding the role of deviance in our society.

There are also several tools that serveto maintain, enforce and reinforce these categories, but the strongest uniting factor is theimputation of negative status for that which is deviant. Kinsey argued that we shouldavoid applying terms of behavior to individuals. Rather than using terms such asheterosexual and homosexual to describe persons, we should use them “to describe thenature of overt sexual relations.” I think he posed this idea in light of conductingobjective, unbiased research and the realization that the use of these terms was toorestrictive and limiting to characterize a person based on their sexual behavior. From adeeper look, we have seen that there are many factors that determine how society feelsabout sexuality.

Although I agree with Kinsey’s statement, our world is not designed tolook at the issues of sexuality and gender in an unbiased, objective manner. Who knows? Bibliography:REFERENCES(Page numbers from Course Reader Except Union Tribune and NARTH Articles)Bayer, Ronald. Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnosis.1981.Garber, Marjorie.

ViceVersa. 1995.Hantzis, Darlene M. and Lehr, Valerie. “Whose Desire? Lesbian(Non)Sexuality andTelevision’s Perpetuation of Heterosexism.

“(1994).National Association For Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH). “SchoolSex Education Guidelines: Teaching About Homosexuality.”San Diego Union Tribune. p. B4. June 4, 1999.

Woodhouse, Annie, Fantastic Women: Sex, Gender, and Transvestism. 1989.

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