The Frontal Cortex

Homosexuality, Iran and Identity

In light of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s recent comment about there being no gay people in Iran, Matthew Yglesias links to this really interesting article about homosexuals in Saudi Arabia:

What seems more startling, at least from a Western perspective, is that some of the men having sex with other men don’t consider themselves gay. For many Saudis, the fact that a man has sex with another man has little to do with “gayness.” The act may fulfill a desire or a need, but it doesn’t constitute an identity. Nor does it strip a man of his masculinity, as long as he is in the “top,” or active, role. This attitude gives Saudi men who engage in homosexual behavior a degree of freedom.

It’s easy to mock such self-definitions as self-delusional, much like Larry Craig was widely ridiculed for insisting that he was “absolutely not gay in any way.” But I think it’s also easy to forget that the modern Western definition of homosexuality as an orientation is an extremely recent cultural phenomenon. (An extremely welcome phenomenon, but a recent one nonetheless.) As Kinsey first pointed out, a plurality of men in the 1950’s experimented with same-sex sexual behavior but didn’t consider themselves gay. The tragedy, of course, is that many of this men were gay, and lived sadly closeted lives. The strictures of culture led people to deny human nature.

Because it’s scientifically obvious that homosexuality is a big part of nature. See, for example, my old article on the Gay Animal Kingdom:

Having homosexual sex is the biological equivalent of apple pie: Everybody likes it. At last count, over 450 different vertebrate species could be beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

The article goes on to discuss the possible evolutionary logic for same-sex sexuality being so prevalent. Joan Roughgarden is a Stanford biologist who has contributed much to the debate. She argues that many species (including humans) are naturally bi-sexual, at least in the sense that we use sexuality and sexual interactions to form and cement social bonds.

“In our culture,” Roughgarden says, “we assume that there is a straight-gay binary, and that you are either one or the other. But if you look at vertebrates, that just isn’t the case. You will almost never find animals or primates that are exclusively gay. Other human cultures show the same thing.” Since Roughgarden believes that the hetero/homo distinction is a purely cultural creation, and not a fact of biology, she thinks it is only a matter of time before we return to the standard primate model. “I’m convinced that in 50 years, the gay-straight dichotomy will dissolve. I think it just takes too much social energy to preserve. All this campy, flamboyant behavior: It’s just such hard work.”

To be honest, I don’t know enough to know what I think. Disentangling sexual identity from culture is damn near impossible. My own hunch is that different people have different tendencies, and that sexual identity is a sliding scale, not a clear dichotomy. But I do know that homosexuality is natural biological phenomena, and that denying the presence of homosexuality within a country is about as meaningful as saying that there are no left-handed people in Iran.

Comments

  1. #1 joltvotla
    September 28, 2007

    This post bring up points that I haven’t thought of before. Such as hetero/homo distinction being a cultural creation. That it isn’t as simple as a “gay/strait binary”.
    It would be interesting to see more studies of social-sexual activities of animals and how it relates to current social identities.

  2. #2 Pazuzu
    September 28, 2007

    LoL, yes it was a ridiculous thing to say that there were no homosexuals in Iran. But to tackle the other point you have talked about I agree with you. If you ever hang out with homosexuals in their own environment you’d notice that yes many “straight” guys have sex with other men, ask any gay and he can give you a list of straight men that he slept with, going from the average homophobic to the extremely religious fateh al Islam kind of dudes, you can induce 90% of straight men into sleeping with other men (if given the right skills). The same goes with women too with some variations of course.
    In general a straight guy is always the top as you have mentioned, so by default gay men are those who would in fact tolerate being the bottom, not just men who tolerate sleeping with men. This is even reflected in our legislation, in Lebanon where the homosexual community is relatively protected, gay men can only be locked up if they are caught “in action” and in that case only the bottom is charged, the top is released (yes they test the content of the rectum!).
    In the case of women it’s a bit different, the straight woman that engages in some sort of sex with a girl would be the bottom while the lesbian she is sleeping with would adopt the “dominant” role… Well I guess there is little difference between the two groups after all, straight people preserve their social role and the homosexual would be flipping to the other side lol. The Lebanese law btw does not punish lesbians as it doesn’t admit sex in the absence of any penis (women are considered unsexual by default).
    My point is: you are right about your analysis, it is a natural thing, sex is a physical thing, assuming roles in sex is mental give a guy any whole he can fuck it, as long as his own insecurities are not scratched, and a woman is the same as long as she can find someone to “take care of her”.
    This is in fact a source of annoyance for us as we try to aspire to the Western example so we try to find definitions and stuff, you’d notice for example that most lesbian women, when questioned, would define themselves as “bisexual closer to lesbian” because they did in the past experience with men. And that’s probably the origin of the “purity” idol where the activism homosexual community would try to be as purely homosexual as possible (yes the biphobia thing) while in fact life is more plastic than that.

  3. #3 Pazuzu
    September 28, 2007

    LoL, yes it was a ridiculous thing to say that there were no homosexuals in Iran. But to tackle the other point you have talked about I agree with you. If you ever hang out with homosexuals in their own environment you’d notice that yes many “straight” guys have sex with other men, ask any gay and he can give you a list of straight men that he slept with, going from the average homophobic to the extremely religious fateh al Islam kind of dudes, you can induce 90% of straight men into sleeping with other men (if given the right skills). The same goes with women too with some variations of course.
    In general a straight guy is always the top as you have mentioned, so by default gay men are those who would in fact tolerate being the bottom, not just men who tolerate sleeping with men. This is even reflected in our legislation, in Lebanon where the homosexual community is relatively protected, gay men can only be locked up if they are caught “in action” and in that case only the bottom is charged, the top is released (yes they test the content of the rectum!).
    In the case of women it’s a bit different, the straight woman that engages in some sort of sex with a girl would be the bottom while the lesbian she is sleeping with would adopt the “dominant” role… Well I guess there is little difference between the two groups after all, straight people preserve their social role and the homosexual would be flipping to the other side lol. The Lebanese law btw does not punish lesbians as it doesn’t admit sex in the absence of any penis (women are considered unsexual by default).
    My point is: you are right about your analysis, it is a natural thing, sex is a physical thing, assuming roles in sex is mental give a guy any whole he can fuck it, as long as his own insecurities are not scratched, and a woman is the same as long as she can find someone to “take care of her”.
    This is in fact a source of annoyance for us as we try to aspire to the Western example so we try to find definitions and stuff, you’d notice for example that most lesbian women, when questioned, would define themselves as “bisexual closer to lesbian” because they did in the past experience with men. And that’s probably the origin of the “purity” idol where the activism homosexual community would try to be as purely homosexual as possible (yes the biphobia thing) while in fact life is more plastic than that.

  4. #4 Watt de Fawke
    September 28, 2007

    I think I understand his point. There are no homosexuals in Iran because men who ‘top’ other men are not homosexuals. Only the ‘bottoms’ are homosexual, and they, of course, don’t exist, because everyone in Iran is a virgin until marriage, and no one cheats on their spouse. It’s a perfect society, which explains the draconian nature of their morals police. Got it now?

  5. #5 David
    September 28, 2007

    Another interesting paper related to this topic was in the journal of the Association for Psychological Science a couple of months ago. The author, Lisa Diamond, proposed a dynamical systems approach for same-sex sexuality (in females at least) that would permit fluidity in attraction within certain modes of stability. It’s an interesting hypothesis to balance the observed “stable” dichotomy and the intuitive sense of a continuous spectrum of sexuality.

    The paper is available as a preview (at least for now) here: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/toc/ppsc/2/2 – third article down.

  6. #6 Steven Saus
    September 30, 2007

    In the late nineties, I wrote a response to a position paper against gay marriage. (If you’re sorting out the negatives, that means that I was arguing for gay marriage.)

    One of the things that I came across was that it wasn’t necessarily closeted behavior or self-denial in early history, but that the conceptual category wasn’t labeled prior to 1869. Prior to that, (Western) people tended to talk about the act, but not as an orientation.

    That doesn’t strike me as horribly strange – the concepts of ser and estar in Spanish were something that my wife and I didn’t really think about prior to learning the language, and now have embedded themselves in our mental framework.

  7. #7 oyunlar1
    December 3, 2007

    birzamanlar?n en iyisi
    Beatiful

  8. #8 Sean
    May 26, 2010

    Human beings like sex a lot. We also make it way more complicated than perhaps it should be. Rules, norms, expectations, shame, secrecy, self-indulgence, self-doubt, self-loathing. On top of that we have this “romantic” or notion that our most important relationships should be built around sex. Perhaps we can have many types of relationships, which can overlap (friend, life-partner, sexual companion) but need not be exclusive or necessarily co-mingled at all?

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