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social sciences

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Cultural Identities  
page: 1  2  

Sexual Object-Choice Stratification

Males with "dominant," masculine, insertive roles in the sex/gender hierarchy, as well as "submissive," feminine, receptive females, are less marked as sexually non-normative, even when they engage in same-sex sexual behavior. They may also be more heterodox in their sexual object-choices, partnering with both men and women at the same or at different points in their lives without necessarily being bisexually identified. Of course, many behaviorally bisexual persons do not share these sex/gender role identifications or refuse a bisexual identity.

It is usually more difficult for "submissive" males and "dominant" females to escape being identified as homosexual, except in cases where homosexual behavior is understood to be "situational," perhaps coerced (for example, in institutions such as in military installations, schools, hospitals, and prisons), and not "constitutional." Among sex workers, too, sexual object-choice may also be less consistent, though not necessarily coerced.

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In instances of marked sex/gender role differentiation not necessarily marked by a sexual economy of penetration (leather and S/M being a prime example), participants may be likelier to be less consistent in their object-choices qua persons because sexual encounters revolve around the dramatization of power differentials, painful sensations, or inanimate objects rather than a partner's primary and secondary sexual characteristics. For a sexual masochist, for example, receiving pain at the hands of a man or a woman may make little difference as long as he or she is receiving pain.

Social and Political Implications

The political ideology of gay and lesbian liberation has traditionally required a particular and consistent constellation of sex/gender role and sexual object-choice in order to cultivate gay and lesbian sexual identities. Yet like any other identity (including heterosexual monogamy), this vision of gay and lesbian identity is an ideal that can only ever be approximated.

Given the fundamental role of sexual desires in structuring such identities, as well as the social and material constraints on their cultivation by individuals, a failure to achieve and maintain such an identity in all its particulars over the lifespan is hardly extraordinary. Unfortunately, it has often been viewed as extraordinary--and extraordinarily negative--by persons and institutions responsible for enforcing the changing cultural ideals of lesbian and gay life.

Perhaps the persons most likely to be marginalized in the reification of gay and lesbian identity politics are behaviorally bisexual and transgendered people. For example, behaviorally bisexual African-American men who are circumspect about their sexual contacts with men, or "on the down low," have been frequently accused of covertly (if unwittingly) spreading HIV/AIDS from "homosexual" to "heterosexual" populations. The black community has been excoriated for its presumed homophobia by gay and lesbian organizations and media.

The logic at work here is that if black people were supportive of gay and lesbian identity formation, such duplicity would be unnecessary and these men could choose to live their lives as openly gay or bisexual. This, of course, assumes with very little qualification that black communities are that much more homophobic than white ones, which may say less about homophobia among African-Americans than it does about racism among gay men and lesbians. It also overlooks the fact that these men are assuming an identity that has its own cultural relevance, one which should not be lightly dismissed by gay activists and HIV-prevention workers.

The men described above are understood to be denied an inner, fundamental gay or bisexual identity despite their making no claim of such. Transgendered persons often experience the opposite problem: their claims to gay or lesbian identity are denied by gay men and lesbians who see them as inauthentically male or female and thus also inauthentically gay or lesbian. The exclusive admission of "womyn born womyn" to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival as well as other events and organizations, and the rifts such policies have caused within lesbian communities, are a case in point.

Since gay liberation's inception, sex/gender role differentiation and bisexual behavior have been perceived as either the causes or consequences of everything from patriarchy and homophobia to sexual assault and abuse. Yet there is a tradition and a growing body of scholarly and other work that challenges the "naturalness" (and even the political necessity) of a unitary gay and lesbian identity.

Some scholars, as well as a short-lived political movement, have invoked the term "" to describe inconsistencies in social and sexual identities like those outlined here. They have worked to demonstrate the prevalence of such inconsistencies as well as their inevitability and even their desirability for overturning the very hierarchies that the politics of gay and lesbian liberation have all too often accused alternate conceptions of sexual identity of reinforcing.

Matthew D. Johnson

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social sciences >> Overview:  African Americans

Glbtq African Americans frequently experience racism in predominantly white glbtq communities and homophobia in heterosexual black society, but the multiple oppressions faced by black glbtq people are now being recognized.

social sciences >> Overview:  Anthropology

Anthropology, the first of the social science disciplines to take sexuality--and particularly homosexuality--seriously as a field of intellectual inquiry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has achieved a new impetus in the post-Stonewall era.

social sciences >> Overview:  Bear Movement

The Bear Movement has inspired a number of organizations, events, publications, and resources dedicated to affirming and eroticizing large-bodied, hirsute gay men, known as Bears.

social sciences >> Overview:  Bisexuality

Although until recently rejected by most sexologists as a distinct sexual identity, bisexuality is gradually becoming recognized and studied as such.

social sciences >> Overview:  Butch-Femme

Butch-femme identities are controversial and difficult to define with precision, but both roles subvert prescribed gender and sexual expectations; ultimately, the butch-femme dynamic is a unique way of living and loving.

social sciences >> Overview:  Deaf Culture

Members of the Deaf community, which defines deafness not as a disability but as a separate culture with its own vibrant vernacular, have organized an international support network of glbtq Deaf people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homophobia

Homophobia was originally defined as a "dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals," but it is now sometimes used to describe any form of anti-gay bias.

social sciences >> Overview:  Identity Politics

Not limited to activity in the traditionally conceived political sphere, identity politics refers to activism, politics, theorizing, and other similar activities based on the shared experiences of members of a specific social group, often relying on shared experiences of oppression.

social sciences >> Overview:  Indigenous Cultures

"Indigenous" is a concept important in the history of anthropology, particularly as it regards anthropology's treatment of same-sex sexual relations.

social sciences >> Overview:  Indonesia

A great range of non-normative sexualities and genders can be found in the Indonesian archipelago, but the concepts gay and lesbi are Western terms that have been transformed in the Indonesian context.

social sciences >> Overview:  Leather Culture

"Leather" is a blanket term for a large array of sexual preferences, identities, relationship structures, and social organizations loosely tied together by the thread of what is conventionally understood as sadomasochistic sex.

arts >> Overview:  Music Festivals

A cultural institution among lesbians, women's music festivals are community-based events that celebrate women's space as much as women's music.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Women's

Stylistically diverse and continually evolving, women's music has broadened over time, but it remains committed to lesbian visibility and feminist values.

social sciences >> Overview:  Patriarchy

Patriarchy, literally "the rule of the fathers," is a social system in which men hold positions of power and women are oppressed and glbtq people are treated negatively.

social sciences >> Overview:  Situational Homosexuality

Situational homosexuality is same-sex sexual activity that occurs not as part of a gay life style, but because the participants happen to find themselves in a single-sex environment for a prolonged period.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Activism

Since the late nineteenth century, transgendered people have advocated legal and social reforms that would ameliorate the kinds of oppression and discrimination they suffer.

social sciences >> Altman, Dennis

Australian political scientist and self-described "international activist-academic" Dennis Altman has studied both the glbtq political movement and the globalization of sexual identities.

social sciences >> Genderqueer

Genderqueer is a term for people who feel that their gender identities or gender expression do not correspond to the gender assigned to them at birth, but who do not want to transition to the "opposite" gender.

literature >> White, Edmund

One of the most prominent and highly acclaimed figures of contemporary gay literature, Edmund White works in many distinct categories of fiction and nonfiction.


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    Citation Information
    Author: Johnson, Matthew D.  
    Entry Title: Cultural Identities  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated September 24, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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