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social sciences

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Sexual Orientation  
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For example, Balinese society was classified by Ford and Beach as among the 36 percent minority where homosexual activity was rare, absent, or carried only in secret. Yet the crossing of sex roles is common among the Balinese, and their religious beliefs place a high valuation on the figure of Syng Hyan Toengaal, also known as the Solitary or Tjinitja. Tjinitja existed before the division of the sexes and is regarded as both husband and wife. Are the transvestite ceremonies connected with this god a form of homosexuality? Ford and Beach classified the cross-dressing of the Native American berdache as homosexuality, but not here. Why not?

Identification and Coming Out

Probably the best solution to determining one's sexual orientation is to ask how he or she identifies himself or herself. Such a question was not possible in most cases until recently since homosexuals and bisexuals were regarded as "sick" and their "illness" was also illegal. It was not until 1974 that members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) adopted a resolution to the effect that being "homosexual did not imply any impairment in judgment, stability, reliability or general social or vocational capabilities."

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Such a conclusion was based on research dating from at least the beginning of the twentieth century that had challenged the illness conclusion. But change in psychiatric opinion was slow and did not take place in isolation. Activists in the gay and lesbian community had organized themselves and agitated for change since 1950, and they had confronted the APA and demonstrated for a change to be made in its policies.

Challenges were also made to the legal system that regarded homosexual acts as a crime because it was an "unnatural act." Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Law Institute began agitating for change in the 1950s and early 1960s, as did a growing number in the gay community, an agitation that culminated in the 2003 decision of the U. S. Supreme court declaring laws unconstitutional.

Increasingly, lesbians and gay men themselves organized and developed communities and institutions. As the medical, legal, and social barriers fell, increasing numbers of gay men and lesbians came out of the closet, proclaiming their sexual orientation.

Acquiring a gay identity is an extremely important but not always easy process, even though most gay men and lesbians indicate that they felt that somehow they were "different in childhood and adolescence" from others. Only gradually in their teens did they begin to identify themselves as homosexual.

Identification probably comes more easily if individuals are able to identify with other gay men or lesbian women. As they do so they have to decide whether to come out of the closet, to acknowledge their gay identity to others. For many this decision is a complex and somewhat difficult problem; for others it is not. In any case, once gay men and lesbians express their identity, they tend to be culturally defined by society as a class. Definitions, whether by self or others, influence how one is viewed and accepted by others. However, as society adjusts to changing attitudes, this expression of identity is less limiting than it was ten or twenty years ago.

Characteristics of Homosexuals as a Mixed Collectivity of Individuals

Gay men and lesbians, either as individuals or in groups, are a very mixed collectivity of individuals, with a wide ranging variety of behaviors, although most seem to be gender atypical in some traits. Gay men in general describe themselves as less masculine in a range of traits than do straight men, and lesbians in general describe themselves as less feminine than do straight women.

Both sexes also seem more willing to disregard gender norms in their choice of occupations. Lesbians are more interested than heterosexual women in visual stimuli, and less concerned than straight women in their partner's social status. Gay men are less prone than straight men to sexual jealousy, and are also somewhat less focused on their partner's youth as a criterion for attraction. The differences between gay and straight people are generally more marked for men than for women.

Theories to Explain Sexual Orientation

These similarities and others have resulted in diverse theories to explain sexual orientation. Most theories fall into one of two categories: psycho-social dynamic or biological, sometimes simplified as elements in the nurture vs. nature debate.

Psychodynamic theories attempt to explain development of a person's sexual orientation in terms of internal mental processes, and the interaction of these with reward and punishment. Examples of these include Freud's psychoanalytic theory and Ira Reiss's socialization theory. The latter holds that the greater the rigidity of gender role in male-dominant societies, the higher the likelihood of male homosexual behavior. This is so, Reiss argued, because the rigidity of the gender role could lead a male child who did not conform to find conformity with other nonconformists, that is, male homosexuals.

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