Tag Archives: sexual orientation

The New Conventional: Anything Goes

olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now lord knows —
Anything goes.

— Cole Porter, 1934

Poor Richard Cohen, columnist for the Washington Post. He’s being raked over the liberal coals for this recent observation:

Today’s GOP is not racist, as Harry Belafonte alleged about the tea party, but it is deeply troubled – about the expansion of government, about immigration, about secularism, about the mainstreaming of what used to be the avant-garde. People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York – a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts – but not all – of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates points out, gagging at a Black-White couple and their biracial children is, in fact, racist. So let’s focus on the word that Cohen uses to avoid that obvious conclusion – conventional.

Conventional:  conforming or adhering to accepted standards; ordinary rather than different or original.

Matthew Yglesias at Slate seizes on that word and those “people with conventional views.” Yglesias too calls Cohen’s column “racist,” but more to the point, he provides some Gallup-poll evidence that interracial marriage is the new conventional.

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Or as Cole Porter put it in a 1935 production:

When ladies fair who seek affection
Prefer gents of dark complexion
As Romeos —
Anything goes

Porter was bemused; Cohen is troubled. My spider sense tells me that if he’s not actually one of those people with conventional views repressing a gag reflex, he at least feels some strong sympathy for them. But they are on the wrong side of 21st century history, and not only on interracial marriage.  Consider that parenthetical comment:

(Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?)

First, this is a pretty good example of one of my favorite rhetorical devices, paralipsis (or is it apophasis?) – saying something while saying that you’re not saying it. “To keep this discussion one of principle and not personalities, I won’t even mention that my opponent was arrested for wife-beating and has been linked to the Gambino crime family.”

Second, as with interracial marriage, opinion on homosexuality has shifted considerably.  Here’s the GSS data.
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In less than twenty years, the Always Wrong delegation has shrunk from more than three-fourths to less than half.  As Cohen says, this change has “enveloped” only parts of America.  The gag reflex is still strong in the East South Central, which comprises Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky – the most unenveloped (unreconstructed?) of the GSS regions.
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Despite the recent liberalizing trend, the Always Wrongs outnumber the Never Wrongs by more than two  to one.

But wait, Cohen is not from the South or Appalachia. Like Bill deBlasio, he’s a New Yorker born and bred. (DeBlasio is from Manhattan, Cohen from Far Rockaway, Queens.)  But there might be one other demographic source of that gag reflex – age.  Cohen is 72.  Here’s how his peers feel about people who share Cole Porter’s sexual orientation.
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Among septuagenarians and their elders, those gagging at gays have a large 3½-to-1 edge.

Cohen is probably making the mistake that many of us make – projecting our own views as more widely held than they actually are. Journalists may be especially prone to this kind of projection, preferring to write about what “the public” or “the voters” want or think, when simple first-person statements would be more accurate. So when Cohen says, “to cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all,” he may be talking about himself and the country he grew up in — Far Rockaway in the forties and fifties.  But in 2013, that Far Rockaway is far away.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

The Re-Victimization of Homosexual Targets of the Nazi Regime

A hundred thousand men and women identified as homosexuals were imprisoned during the Nazi regime. They were detained under a law known as “paragraph 175,” which made sodomy illegal.  Up to 15,000 were sent to concentration camps instead of prisons.  Nearly 2/3rds would die there.  The last surviving victim is believed to have died in 2011.

These men and women were not only victims of Nazi Germany, surviving torture in concentration camps, they were also denied validation as victims of the Third Reich.  They were classified as criminals upon release and included on lists of sex offenders.  Some were re-captured and imprisoned again.

The world went on to mourn the inhumanity of the Holocaust, but not for them.  Because they were designated as non-victims, and also because they were stigmatized sexual minorities, they were largely excluded from the official history of Hitler’s Germany.

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Seeking to give these men and women a voice, historian Klaus Müller interviewed several gay men and one lesbian around the year 2000.  At the time, there were fewer than 10 left alive.  Not one of the men and women imprisoned for being homosexual — alive or dead — had ever been officially identified as a victim of the Nazi regime.

The documentary, titled Paragraph 175, is one of the most heart-wrenching I’ve ever seen.  For some, it sounds as if this is the first time anyone — even members of their own family — has ever asked them about what happened.  Re-telling the stories of death and torture is obviously incredibly painful, as it would be for any survivor.

On top of this, however, is anger at their extended invisibility and continued oppression.  Many seem opposed to talking about it at all, saying that it’s too painful to re-live, but it is as if they can’t help it; they are at the end of their lives and facing, perhaps, their first and last chance to do so.  In the interviews, the anger, pain, survivor guilt, and relief mix together. It’s excruciating.

I was riveted, even as I desperately wanted to look away so as to avoid the emotions it brought out in me.  I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Heteronormativity in Halloween Costumes

The word “heteronormativity” refers to a persistent privileging of “opposite”-sex couples and the relative invisibility of people who partner with others of their “same” sex.  Halloween costumes are a great example of the phenomenon.  Costumes designed for couples nearly always assume that they need to outfit a man and a woman, not two men or two women.

As an example, here is the main page for couples costumes at Party City.  Notice that all couples represented are heterosexual:

Occasionally the costumes even have heterosexualized themes that metaphorically refer to penile-vaginal intercourse, like this plug and socket costume at Buy Costumes

…and this updated usb and dock costume:

It’s a simple point, but worth observing.  For people who aren’t heterosexual, these Halloween costumes are just one more example of how they aren’t recognized or validated by our society.  We are increasingly accepting of gay people, yet they remain marginal in our collective imagination.

Originally posted in 2012.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Issues, Identities, and Progressive Social Change

In the U.S., we tend to organize politically according to identities.  For example, we have a Gay Liberation Movement, a Women’s Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement, to name three big ones.  All of these are personal characteristics made political.

The cartoon below, by Miriam Dobson, does a great job of showing one of the downsides of fighting for progressive social change in this way.  For one, it can make people who carry multiple marginalized identities (for example, gay black men) feel unwelcome. And, two, it makes it seem like people without the identity can’t be part of the movement.

One solution is to think about oppressions in terms of intersectionality: we are all a mix of identities that resonate with each other in complicated ways.  This is a rich idea, but one lesson that it has taught us is that the strategy of divide-and-conquer has been an effective way to keep multiple groups marginalized.

Instead of emphasizing identities, we could identify issues. And if our issue is oppression, we can join-to-resist.  As the graphic explains: “oppression of one affects us all.”

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Via Sociology SourceAnother Angry Woman, and The Sociological Imagination.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Open Thread: Selling Bras with the Male Body

Screenshot_2Sorry for the spoiler!  The gaze in the Wacoal commercial below, sent in by Kathe L., dances all over the body of a lovely young woman, focusing especially on the curve of her breast alongside the lace of her bra.  She slowly removes her make-up and disrobes, only to reveal a male body underneath.  The message?  A push-up bra so good it can even give men breasts.

I wonder what y’all think.  Does this queer the body?  Is there a transgressive identity behind the gaze?  Or is it just more gimmicky advertising based on normative expectations?  Both?

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Is Marriage Changing?

1Excellent Occidental College student Ryan Metzler made a great 7 minute documentary about the decline of heteronormativity. Interviewing me and several other scholars and activists about the history of marriage and the changing definition of family, he offers a quick and optimistic analysis of what it means for this country to be changing.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Considering the Meaning of Marriage Equality

Without comment, from C-Section Comics:1Discuss.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Global Attitudes toward Homosexuality

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project recently released data on attitudes about homosexuality in 39 countries. Generally, those living in the Middle East and Africa were the least accepting, while those in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia (the Philippines, Australia, and to a lesser extent Japan) were most accepting:

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Generally, the more religious a country, the less accepting its citizens are of homosexuality:

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The proportion of people who support social acceptance of gays and lesbians ranged from a high of 88% in Spain to a low of 1% in Nigeria:

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Attitudes about homosexuality vary widely by age. There is a pretty consistent global pattern of more positive attitudes among younger people, with a few exceptions:

2013-Homosexuality-01

Thus far, legalization of same-sex marriage has been largely confined to the Americas and Europe; New Zealand and South Africa are the two outliers:

FT_13.05.31_gayMarriageMap

The Pew Center points out that of the 15 nations that have fully extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, 8 have done so just since 2010. In the U.S., we’re currently awaiting a Supreme Court’s decision, which should arrive shortly, to know if we’ll be joining the list sooner rather than later.

Thanks to Peter Nardi at Pitzer College for the link!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.