Inclusive writing, part 2: Dropping cultural sexual bias

Why “male” and “female” is incredibly relative

Last week I read the wonderful post: “‘Biological sex’ is socially constructed“, which summarizes in a very brief and wonderful way many ideas I support as well. A long quote (enter added by me):

The thing is, in real life, very few people actually match up with all five categories.  There are, of course, genetic differences that account for a decent percentage of human births like XXY, XXX, XO, and XYY (apx 1:500 births though it could easily be more than that since we don’t do genetic testing for all people and even at that ratio if there are over 6 billion people in the world 1:500 means there are a whole lot of genetically intersex people out there) but it goes far beyond that.

There are people out there who have XX chromosomes, a vulva and vagina, ovaries, male secondary sex characteristics and male hormones patterns.  There are people out there who have XY chromosomes, a penis, testes, female secondary sex characteristics and female hormone patterns.  There are even people out there with XY chromosomes, testes, a vulva, a vagina, female secondary sex characteristics, and male hormone patterns and there are even people with BOTH male and female secondary sex characteristics at the same time and people with BOTH male and female hormone patterns at the same time regardless of their genes, gonads, and genitalia

I wrote this following first sentence of a new short story shortly after.

“You need to feel your anger,” she said, looking down at her, scratching the short beard on her chin, scratching her flat chest. “You are not touching it.”

Society and the male stereotype

From a random search find: “Circle of moms” (Corrected the lack of capitals)

Now he is 6 and he only wants to play with girl things… I allowed it a few years ago and thought he would grow out of it… And now that he is in school… He is very well liked by all of the kids in his grade… But his only friends are girls… I asked him if he had any boys that were friends? He said they were all mean to him because he told his class his favorite color was pink!! (He does not act or have the personality of a “normal” boy his age. He’s not rough and just not into what the other little boys…) I try not to say anything to him. I don’t want him to feel uncomfortable or insecure in any way about what he likes…

How wonderful. At least she understands “normal” is not exactly “normal”

Let’s focus on this specific sentence:

He does not act or have the personality of a “normal” boy his age. He’s not rough and just not into what the other little boys…

Boys and men are “rough”. They play with boys toys. They do not cry. They are practical, like to pay with mechanical things, cars. They like manly sports. Soccer. Baseball. Girls are more care-taking, playing with dolls, liking soft colors, gentle things. (And — to cut this short — this is all complete bullshit. Whatever you THINK you see and whatever SHOULD be there is the result of cultural stereotypes. Repeating it: it is bullshit.)

Take a look at this (from the same thread):

My son is almost 12 and is very like your son. He doesn’t play the usual ‘boys’ games and still loves to sort through my wardrobe whilst I play his model and he gets me changing into various outfits! He also still likes to occasionally paint my toenails and every night he brushes my hair whilst we chat. I love that he is like that! It means that when other mums are complaining that they aren’t as close to their sons anymore, I am very close to mine. Don’t get me wrong, he also plays video games that I detest and he doesn’t do the girly things quite as much now, but it still keeps us closer than his friends with their mums!

How can this be wrong? This is a very normal boy as well. And very normal human behavior. Care-taking. Loving. Doing “girly things”. And as a side-note: the sexual bias of this specific boy can be towards male and/or female bodies and is completely unrelated to his other behavior or non-stereotypical preferences.

How and why do we connect behavior so tightly to the body?

If his father is in the picture, see if he could spend some quality dad time with him and show him what it means to be a male or little boy. […stuff about church…] Although, hanging out with girls can be fun, because their cute, he needs to be in balance. He needs to be offered opportunities where he’s able to fun things that boys do.

So, because the boy likes to play with “girl’s stuff” he is “unbalanced”. He “needs to be shown what it means to be a male or little boy”. Penis==”manly stuff”. Vagina/uterus==”girly stuff”. Raising boys and girls is that sick-makingly simple in some places.

This gender-stereotyping is quite normal where I come from as well: the Netherlands. If you — as a person in a male body — behave “too much of a female” it will lead to hostile reactions.

Society and the female stereotype

To be added.

She, he, it

Homosexual males I knew tend to refer to other gays as “he”, “she” and/or “it”. “He” is in most cases a referral to a male who acts according to the local male stereotype. “She” is either a male being mocked or behaving more “feminine”. “It” is again either a mockery or someone who is detested (as in “would not want to touch it“) or considered standing outside the binary sex-roles. Another form of “undefined”.

Homo, bi, hetero and asexuality

On the scale of sexual preferences (towards humans) we can distinguish four to six main types (out of several more):

  1. Homosexual — Or same-sex. This includes both male- and female homosexuality. I consider this “primarily homosexual” as there can be slight variations and light/dormant desires towards people of the other sex
  2. Bi-sexual — In some camps, bi-sexuality does not exist. “You are pretending/not making a choice”. Bi-sexuals are somewhere in the middle of the sexual spectrum. Both male and female bodies are sexually arousing. There is no inner need  “to choose sides” in a binary model where “you are either/or”. “Either/or” is bullshit.
  3. Omnisexual — Or/related to “pansexual“, which is like an extension on bi-sexuality. Where bi might limit itself to male and female bodies / male and female body images, pan- and omni-sexuality says to include all variations; including mixed physical “gender specific” indicators like the penis, the vulva and the breasts.
  4. Sexual fetish — Which includes the sexual attraction to physical objects.
  5. Heterosexual — Heterosexual is on the other side of the spectrum. Heterosexual people prefer predominantly people with bodies of the other sex.
  6. Asexuality — Asexuality has very different shapes and forms. From “I do not feel any sexual arousal from either male or female bodies” to “I don not want to have sex” to “I choose to NOT want or have sex”. Asexuality does not (automatically) exclude physical intimacy like caressing, cuddling, snuggling, kissing or (mutual) masturbation. It simply does not include sex. A very good view can be found, starting with “Platonic love is a problematic term“. Asexual relationships can be within the full spectrum of homo- bi, omni and hetero fields of attraction.

Monogamy and polygamy

In the Euro/American culture, monogamy is considered the “normal”. There might be several reasons for that. One is the aversion of the leading religious streams against everything that is not a man/woman procreational (breeding) unit. The second is economical. Monogamous relationships and marriage have some deeper relationship I have not investigated yet. What I do get is this: “Marriage is an economical agreement”.

Polygamy and polygamous relationships have several nuances which are hardly understood when you look at it from a heterosexual monogamous point of view. Within a monagomous heterosexual world, sexual partners are rare. Once a potential sexual partner is “taken”, he or she “is no longer available”. It is/feels very much like the game of “Musical chairs”. When the music stops, you have to be quick, or all chairs will be taken and you will be the one left out.

The simplest outside/in way to look at polygamy is that of “friends with benefits”. You meet someone you like. Maybe you feel sexually attracted. And maybe you will have sex. When these friendships become more close, “extended families” or “constellations” start to form. Good friends within your close circles are and can be (ex) sexual partners. People you can trust. People who will stand up for you when you are in trouble and people who will be there when most other people will abandon you.

Good friends are not exclusively limited to polygamous people.

The idea of “taken” is relative in polygamous constellations. When you are “my” partner, you are not exclusively “mine”. If and when you feel attracted to someone else, it is not my position to withold you from having an intimate relationship.

It is again Samual Delany who explores (as one of the few in the field of SF/F) polygamous relationships. “The Star Pit”  (hardly any reviews online) and “Heavenly breakfast” are maybe the most clear examples that come to my mind. In these two stories, the “family unit” is formed by the polygamous constellation / the extended family. In these two stories, there is always someone available (or SHOULD be as is the case in “The Star Pit”) to take care of the children. To bring them to school. To help them with homework or problems. The “burden” of child-raising is spread over multiple adults, instead of just two: the biological father and mother.

Including other species

As this post is on “dropping cultural sexual bias”,  inter-species relationships is a factor not to ignore in this conversation.

Our human sexuality and our human feelings for tenderness (not to be confused with each other)  are not limited to inter-human sexual relationships. Any other species CAN be sexually attractive. While the idea is strange to our culture, it is not uncommon for humans to have sexual relationships to and with dogs, sheep, pigs, goats, donkeys and horses.

As this is an unknown area to me (my main question is “what about mutual consent?” but that is probably a completely rediculous one.)

Do some googling and you will enter some of the less and maybe least acknowledged parts of human sexuality.

Questioning the sexual attraction to children

The human brain apparently is done developing around the age of 21, 22, as — according to my memory — that is when the human frontal lobe is done developing. That frontal lobe is able to project current actions to future consequences. “What if?” and if I understand properly, that is one of the last stages in the development.

The question is: when is something “consent” if you can not oversee the consequences AND when you are still very gullible to manipulation by someone else. When is something rape? When is something “manipulated consent” and thus still rape? When is something truly consent?

The issue with pedophilia is cultural and complex. “Should we involve children in sexual acts?”. The Greek of old days, apparently, considered the age of 12 appropriate to start sexual relationships between boys and older men (see Wikipedia: Pedastry) and they were probably not the only and first or last culture to do that.

It seems the human brain is wired to develop a strong preference for people of minor age. Strong enough to ignore common sense and to risk imprisonment. To exclude this group due to its current and partly demonized status — directly associated in European culture to non-consensual sex/rape and murder of children — is ignoring a part of human sexuality that IS there as well.

The next series of stories: including more of the ignored

Next to picking up rather widely ignored topics like mother/daughter, mother/son, brother/sister/sister/brother relationships, polygamy, polyamory and using countries and cultures deliberately NOT American I also decided to deliberately drop gender bias.

You can say: “yes, but it has already been done by…” I think Joanna Russ and for sure Samuel Delany (in “Triton” and for sure in “Stars like grains of sand”). –This limited list shows I am very behind on reading by the way.

And I say: show me 100 other books and 100 other writers who do so as well within the genre of SF and Fantasy. The majority of what you can read and find is dominantly Christian / based on European/American culture / promoting and defending monogamy / heterosexual / male dominated. And that stuff has nothing to add to me and bores me to death.

I deliberately use “ignored” here. There are several “reasons” you can give to explain why — as a male, female or whatever author — you are not going beyond the known and trodden paths. One can be your own specific bias. Either cultural or sexual. I accept that.

It might also be laziness. “Everyone is doing it and I never considered anything else”. That is OK as well.

End

While it started, around 10 years ago as: “why is almost every story I read male centric, heterosexual and reflecting views on inter-human relationships that are very limited and anything BUT absolute?” now — to break that mold in any way possible and constantly push those borders into new territories — has turned out to be an incredible source of inspiration.

It forces me to re-align my opinions and break out of my own pre-conceptions from a very binary male/female, male-centric and human-centric social construct I grew up with, within my own culture in the Netherlands.

One thought on “Inclusive writing, part 2: Dropping cultural sexual bias

  1. Thank you for the read, I have XYY syndrom and quite frankly nearly ruined my life, my neck is broken and I’ve spent 23 years of my life hiding behind video games because of public opinion.

    I implore more open mindedness in people.

    Nicholas.

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