Identifying and Reforming Social norms on sexual orientation and gender identity
In the modern world, while we as a people have evolved and adopted a much more liberal approach in understanding the workings of the universe, a large amount of stigma, prejudice and a general misunderstanding of several communities, namely the LGBTQIA+, still prevails.
(While I admit I am not fully aware of all the aspects and the diversity of this community I will address the parts that I know of to the best of my ability.)
Here’s what we know:
By definition, sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction or the lack of it towards one or more genders. These attractions are generally subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, while asexuality is identified as a fourth category.
There exists a vast variety of orientations besides these four and while some of them may seem similar they are distinct.
Bisexuality is the term used for people who are attracted to more than one gender. A common misconception is that bi means the attraction is only limited to “men and woman”, but that isn’t the case with most people when they declare themselves as bisexual. Nor is it trans-exclusive or non-binary exclusive, although that depends entirely on the person.
Pansexuality refers to being attracted to people regardless of their gender identity.
Omnisexuality means that one is attracted to people of any gender but their gender is a factor in how and why one is attracted to them.
Polysexuality, (not the same as polyamorous) means that people are attracted to two or more genders, say, men and non-binary individuals.
We can see that while these labels may overlap in some ways they certainly possess their own definitions.
There are so many varieties of sexual orientations to talk about that we have barely scratched the surface, the baseline here is that sexuality is a spectrum and the possibilities are endless.
We have come a long way from stoning, burning, persecuting and ruthlessly murdering individuals who were considered to be engaged in “unnatural carnal relations”, sodomy (a distasteful word coined in twelfth-century Europe) but there still remains a lot that needs to change in society in order to make people feel comfortable and safe while embracing their true selves.
The problem as I see it lies in society remaining unaware of how common various sexual orientations are and in turn fearing them.
Historically, many cultures around the world have shown free participation in such relations. Same-sex love has been around in East Asia since the earliest recorded history.
Homosexuality in China, known by various euphemisms like the passions of the cut peach, has been recorded since approximately 600 BCE. It has been mentioned across various popular works of Chinese literature. The instances of same-sex affection and sexual interactions described in the classical novel Dream of the Red Chamber seem as familiar to observers of the present as equivalent stories of romances between heterosexual people during the same period. Confucianism, being primarily a social and political philosophy, focused little on the sexuality of any nature. Ming Dynasty literature, such as Bian Er Chai (弁而釵/弁而钗), portrays homosexual relationships between men as more enjoyable and more "harmonious" than heterosexual relationships. Writings from the Liu Song Dynasty by Wang Shunu claimed that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality in the late 3rd century.
Opposition to homosexuality in China originates in the medieval Tang Dynasty (618–907), attributed to the rising influence of Abrahamic values, but did not become fully established until the Westernization efforts of the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China.
Later, in cultures influenced by Abrahamic religions, the law and the church established sodomy as a transgression against divine law or a crime against nature thus leading to alienation of the gay community.
Homophobia is the culturally produced fear or prejudices against homosexuals that sometimes manifests itself in legal restrictions or, in extreme cases, bullying and even violence against homosexuals (sometimes called “gay-bashing”). The term homophobia was coined in the late 1960s and was used prominently by George Weinberg, an American clinical psychologist, in his book Society and the Healthy Homosexual (1972).
The use of “phobia” is incorrect as most phobias are, actually, psychological in nature with the phobic having no control over them. However "homophobia" is completely voluntary, and if a person still projects a homophobic trait, it only proves that the person is highly intolerant/a full-grown imbecile.
LGBTQIA+ people face tremendous difficulties growing up in a society where heterosexuality is often presented as the only acceptable orientation and homosexuality is regarded as deviant. They continue to face discrimination and exclusion across the globe in all spheres of life. Homophobic violence and abuse targeting the LGBT community still occur on a regular basis.
● Marginalization and social exclusion of LGBTQIA+ community leads to them having relatively little control over their lives and the resources available to them; they become stigmatized and often at the receiving end of negative public attitudes. Their opportunities to make social contributions may be limited and in turn, they may develop low self-confidence, self-esteem and become isolated.
Social policies and practices in place mean they have relatively limited access to valued social resources such as education and health services, housing, income, leisure activities and work. The impacts of marginalization in terms of social exclusion takes a terrible toll on a person’s mental and physical health.
It goes without saying that lack of acceptance leads to social anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse and unhealthy coping methods.
● Harassment in schools: Being a teenager is tough enough without having to fear harassment at a place you‘re supposed to feel safe. All over the nation, LGBTQIA+ students get harassed every day at school. Students who are even merely perceived as part of the LGBT community get harassed. Teaching staff in schools are often homophobic themselves or choose to ignore the issue entirely. THAT IS UNETHICAL. Homosexuality ain’t new people! Try updating yourself with the times.
● Workplace harassment: Discrimination of the LGBTQIA+ community in the workplace is a significant factor in the differences in socioeconomic statuses. These individuals suffer from socioeconomic inequalities in a large part due to the pervasive discrimination at their workplace. This discrimination directly causes job instability and high turnover, resulting in greater unemployment and poverty rates for them.
● Secti0n 377: Although this came into effect only recently, the incidence and the absurdity of the law with regards to homosexuals must be discussed (for the sake of my sanity because can you believe how ludicrous this is?)
For those of you who are unclear about this incident,
Section 377 is a section of the Indian Penal Code introduced in 1861 during the British rule of India. Modelled on the Buggery Act of 1533, it says :
Unnatural offences: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that the application of Section 377 to consensual homosexual sex between adults was “unconstitutional, irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary", but that Section 377 remains in force relating to sex with minors, non-consensual sexual acts, and bestiality.
SC on 377:
“Section 377 was a weapon to harass members of the LGBT community resulting in discrimination.”
This, in fact, rings true as many LGBTQIA+ individuals faced harassment from even the law who deemed them as criminals.
“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”
- Barbara Gittings (American LGBTQIA+ activist)
Also the SC on 377 :
“HOMOSEXUALITY IS NOT A MENTAL DISORDER.”
As we progress towards the current era, we see various movements opposing prejudice against the community and demanding equality. The tragedy that befalls people throughout history simply because of their preferences is quite frankly horrifying. Even today, many countries have criminalized homosexuality, most going so far as to sentence the “offender” to death or imprisonment for life. Note that these punishments are also implemented on people who have been charged with murder, attempted murder, severe child abuse, espionage, high treason, genocide, terrorism and crimes against humanity. Do you see where this is going? To say that loving someone of the same-sex is equal to murder is like saying HIV is a “retrovirus” because it started in the 80s.
The idea of heterosexual relationships being the only acceptable option is a poor societal construct. Here’s an excerpt from Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens’ (amazing book, must-read) that quite beautifully explains this :
“Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature simply cannot exist so it would need no prohibition.”
Evolution has no purpose. A particular phenotypic feature may be used in multiple ways depending entirely on the individual, their requirements and surroundings. Nature has an almost endless intolerance for how living beings evolve.
Over 500 non-human species show homosexual behaviour which helps in strengthening social bonds Although they don’t necessarily stick to one sex so their behaviour could be loosely described as bisexual. Only two species have shown same-sex preference for life even when partners of the opposite sex are available; humans and domestic sheep.
Homosexual behaviour doesn’t challenge Darwin’s ideas.
Recent studies show that homosexuality is genetic. In the words of Andrea Ciani, professor of evolutionary psychology in Italy’s University of Padola “saying homosexuality is unnatural is factually incorrect. It is a behavioural variant like in many other traits”.
Homosexuality is, evidently, a heritable trait although the mechanisms of that inheritance is beyond my understanding. Hence it does not necessarily contradict the theory of natural selection.
Thereby proving the fact that homosexuality is not “an unnatural carnal act” or a “defiance of God’s will”.
God, nature or whatever you choose to believe in created us, our genes. Homosexuality is simply a trait determined by those genes.
Concluding note: Sexuality is fluid and encompasses a spectrum rather than singular defining points. A person’s sexual orientation may change over time or may remain the same but either way, it’s completely normal and does not deserve the hate it gets.
There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding the LGBTQIA+ community and their ideals. One is the expression of gender identity in society.
Gender identity is an unfamiliar and confusing concept to many people. Until recently, people have been taught and conditioned to believe that one’s anatomy and genetics are what determines one’s gender. Acting or dressing like the other gender was considered disgusting and taboo, and people who claimed to be transgender were thought of as severely mentally ill (though some communities view them as blessed). Some would even confuse gender identity with sexual orientation; like believing that all transgender people are gay. However, now that the LGBT community is gaining more popularity and momentum than ever before, these individuals are slowly but surely becoming more understood and treated equally, as the idea of gender identity uncertainty and exploration is becoming more widely accepted. People are finally opening their eyes and ears to be educated about these misunderstood and mistreated people. Has this been effective? Before that question can be answered, one must understand the terminology behind the discussion. To begin, one must understand gender identity.
Gender identity is one's sense of being a man or a woman. It is how you feel about and express your gender. Culture determines gender roles and what is masculine and feminine. Gender identity is defined as a personal conception of oneself as male, female, sometimes both or neither). This concept is intimately related to the concept of gender role, which is defined as the outward manifestations of personality that reflect gender identity. Gender identity, in nearly all instances, is self-identified, as a result of a combination of inherent and extrinsic or environmental factors; gender role, on the other hand, is manifested within society by observable factors such as behaviour and appearance.
That being said, we obviously can’t decide whether we come to this world as male or female which leads me to my next point of discussion. (You still with me? Great.)
Transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their sex assigned at birth. Some transgender people desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another and identify as a transsexual. Transgender, often shortened as trans, is also an umbrella term that also may include non-binary or genderqueer people.
Being transgender is independent of sexual orientation. Transgender people may identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, or may decline to label their sexual orientation. Note that transgender is not that same as intersex, a term that describes people born with physical sex characteristics "that do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies".
Societal constructs and design of what is masculine and feminine and the strict belief that one cann0t deviate from their gender role (often confused with gender identity which as I explained are two different things) has led to severe ostracizing of transgender people, sometimes even within the LGBTQIA+ community.
The reality of living as a transgender person means experiencing prejudice, discrimination, material harm, and even violence. These negative outcomes result from a set of multiple overlapping social forces, which we refer to as :
● Cissexism - the belief or assumption that cis people’s gender identities, expressions and embodiments are more natural and legitimate than those of trans people.
● Transphobia: A range of negative attitudes, feelings or actions towards transgender people or transness in general. It can include fear, anger, aversion or violence towards people who do not conform to social gender expectations.
● Transmisogyny: A combination of transphobia and misogyny that denies a trans woman's femaleness or rather their femininity. Basically it’s saying that a transwoman is “not a real woman”.
Anti-trans sentiment in our country is very much prevalent despite what people may think. The problem is that it doesn’t get much news coverage. Some places are better than others when it comes to accepting diverse people but there is a difference between ignoring something and accepting it. Some are vocal about their hate of transgender people, aggressive too. Others are quieter about their disapproval. But the bystander is as equally guilty (if not more) as the bully.
The base belief of all this hate towards the trans community is that it is against God or nature.
But by definition, what is unnatural simply cannot exist. Another excerpt from ‘Sapiens’ (seriously this book is amazing) explains this :
“How can we distinguish what’s biologically determined from what people merely try to justify through biological myths? A good rule of thumb is ‘Biology enables, culture forbids’. Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities while forbidding others.”
One in five trans people has been homeless, either due to housing discrimination or family rejection. Transgender people are far more likely to live in poverty than cis people due to family rejection, housing discrimination, and employment discrimination. Trans people face discrimination in health care as well – even when insured (which they, who frequently live in poverty and are uninsured, are less likely to be), they face discriminatory policies about health care coverage and discrimination from health care professionals.
Fear of using public bathrooms is particularly prominent among trans people. Fifty-four percent of trans people in the US have reported negative health outcomes, such as urinary tract infections, from avoiding bathroom use; 58% reported avoiding going out in public in order to avoid the problem altogether.
Rates of mental illness among transgender people are very high. The individual is bullied and not accepted by their loved ones and transitioning is not even available in many places. Law and/or financial issues force them into seclusion without the support of their loved ones in a loveless society leading to severe social anxiety, depression, substance abuse and attempted suicide.
We must understand that there is a high level of emotional pain that comes with continuing to live with gender dysmorphia.
People are begrudgingly tolerant or rarely accepting towards transgender people which has led to many people being disowned by their families and forced to make a living in a world where expression of their gender identity narrows their field of work acceptance.
What does your gender expression have anything to do with your efficiency to work? Absolutely nothing.
Now let’s talk about TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists, not the proteins.)
Feminism is a movement that advocates women's rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes. Okay, it’s brilliant. Twist that up a bit by saying trans-women aren’t actually women, exclude them from women’s spaces and oppose transgender rights.
That’s a TERF. Ironically, they fight for equality and liberalism but act like the oppressors they wish to abolish when it comes to trans-women.
“The difference is that we cannot bear legitimate children” said one transwoman from Imphal.
By that logic, humans are a slave to their biology.
Reproduction is what defines a person. That’s just insulting to a big-brain species like us.
“One is not born but rather becomes a woman.”
Simone de Beauvoir
(French writer, intellectual, political activist, existentialist philosopher, feminist and social theorist.)
To say that a trans-woman is not a “real woman” would be severely trivializing us and our intelligence. Humans, as a species claim to be superior in intellect and that is true, otherwise, we wouldn’t have grown and accomplished all that we have. But to surrender ourselves to a primitive construct of “woman” and “man” would be limiting our ability to evolve, in mind and body. By that logic, making babies in test tubes, destroying cancer cells, literally everything we do as humans go against this so-called natural order.
The essence of being a man or a woman or something else entirely, that ideology is what makes humans remarkable. To think out of the box if you will. Biology and by extension nature, clearly allows that and so much more so why not evolve?
Today’s social and cultural norms restrict and ostracize people who display diversity but that obviously needs to change. Big brain people gotta evolve or die. Classic Darwinism.
And for people who think “it’s their opinion”, preferring coffee over tea is an opinion. Racism isn’t an opinion, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, religious discrimination, hate are not opinions.
You don’t get to “disagree” about someone’s human rights.
In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
- Angelina Chankapa