In Jennifer Baumgardner’s (2007) work on bisexuality, Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics, the author writes about her own experiences as well as recent pop culture events in an effort to discuss the common misconceptions (and hidden benefits) of bisexuality. One of the public’s biggest misconceptions, Baumgardner explains, is that bisexuals do not really exist. Straight people sometimes regard bisexuals as going through a “phase” while gay people sometimes regard bisexuals as being “part-time” homosexuals who want the best of both worlds. In reality, the author remarks that bisexuality has an interesting and potentially revolutionary position by being located between the entitlements associated with heterosexuality and the predicaments associated with homosexuality. By being able to bridge this gap, Baumgardner (2011:222) contends that bisexuals could be a source for positive transformation since “it takes someone who has known relative freedom, who expects it and loves it, to help ignite social change.” Using her life story to vividly illustrate the very realness of a bisexual identity, the author cites being able to look both ways as an indication that sexuality is fluid and, oftentimes, strongly impacted by one’s environment. Considering such an argument, I will use this post to critique Baumgardner’s book by critically evaluating its strong and weak points. more...
In Tearoom Trade (1970/1975), Laud Humphreys’ writes about the homosexual relations that took place in various “tearooms” (i.e., public bathrooms) in an unidentified American city during the mid- to late 1960s. By pretending to be a simple voyeur, Humphreys explains that he systematically observed these activities and even recorded the license plate numbers of a sample of tearoom participants. While the systematic observation part of his study permitted an understanding of the rules and roles, patterns of collective action, and risks of the game associated with impersonal gay sex in public restrooms, his tracking down and interviewing a handful of the subjects allowed Humphreys to better understand the identity, lives, and rationality of those men involved in the so-called tearoom trade. While the author defended the ethics behind his research early on, he was still stunned by the backlash it received. Yet, even years after Humphreys’ death, the ethical issues that his study provoked continue to reverberate in the social research community. In response to such issues, I will use this post to critically evaluate the strong and weak points of his book. more...
Chatroulette has swept the the nation. I say “swept” because, like many things on the Internet, the novelty and hype surrounding chatroulette is proving ephemeral. That’s not to say that chatroulette is going away any time soon. In fact, we should expect Internet culture to continue to produce new opportunities for the random interactions at the heart of the chatroulette experience. Fellow Sociology Lens commentator Nathan Jurgenson not unfairly described chatroulette as a “downright capricious and aleatory experience.”
Perhaps the most contentious and reported aspect of chatroulette is the regular frequency with which one encounters people engaged in sexually explicit activities, particularly men masturbating. Clearly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Casey Neistat, producer of the video embedded here, divides chatroulette users into three categories: “boys,” “girls,” and “perverts.” While I don’t want to directly criticize this wonderfully made mini-documentary, I think it is good launching point for a discussion about the ways in which the norms and values of Internet culture may be transforming human sexuality. more...
Dress codes in schools have long been a source of intergenerational conflict, control, and increasingly obvious, a way to police gender norms and sexuality. In an article that interrogates these instances of specific gender and sexuality “violations” through clothing and accessories, we can see both an increase in apparel as a means of identity formation and exploration but also a trend that has received little attention. Why is it that anytime a child or teen decides to transgress norms through clothing in particular there is an assumption of gender ambiguity and homosexuality? Certainly when women first began to wear pants in place of skirts they were not necessarily declaring their lesbianism nor a desire to be men. The ability to use clothing as an expression of the exploration of gender, of sexuality, of trans identities is certainly an important aspect of psychological development but so too is using clothing to articulate a sense of individual identity, to challenge parental authority, to mark oneself as part of a collective. This notion that somehow a boy who wears a dress is automatically gay and feminine only reveals what Judith Butler argued in Gender Trouble, that we continue to uphold a binary gender system that is perfectly mapped onto a particular sexual binary. In other words, a girl who wants to wear a tuxedo probably wants to be a boy, and gay. As the saying goes, the clothes make the man (as long as he is attracted to girls and wears pants!)
NYTimes, “Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School?”
For the past few weeks the British media and public have hotly been debating the rights and wrongs of allowing the controversial British National Party [BNP] leader to appear on the BBC’s ‘flagship’ politics programme Question Time. Despite attempts to halt Nick Griffin’s appearance, the programme finally aired on Thursday 22 October 2009, with record viewing figures of 8 million.
Since the broadcast, media analysis has been at fever pitch in an attempt to make sense of the reality. Against the backdrop of debates over freedom of speech and right wing rhetoric, as well as accusations of Holocaust denial and racism, Griffin has announced he will be making a complaint over his treatment by the programme.
In essence, Griffin insists that the format of the programme was changed in order to focus purely on his party’s policies on immigration and race, leaving him facing little more than a ‘lynch mob.’ Although, many commentators have suggested that his appearance has irrevocably tarnished the limited credibility of the BNP, others have argued that he should never have been allowed to appear in the first place. Interestingly, the BNP insist that their membership has increased since Griffin’s appearance. Needless to say the debate will run for some considerable time, dragging the issue of freedom of speech once more into the spotlight.
For all of the talk about sexual expression and deconstructing gender categories, much of the public discussions regarding sexuality continue to reify the very concepts that tend to constrain us. Proponents and members of LGBTQ communities must practice what they preach: to end discrimination and challenge heternormative institutions we have to move beyond hard and fast sexual designations. A recent CNN article (see below) illustrates the pressures faced by bisexual and lesbian women to categorize themselves. But does advocating one strict category of homosexuality defined as female-female or male-male actually pose a challenge to our current social, cultural, and political gender system? The dichotomous categories of male/female, homosexual/heterosexual, masculine/feminine do not undermine power structures simply by placing value on the marginalized side of the coin. In other words, advocating homosexuality as an alternative to heterosexuality simply reinforces the same system of oppression. The logic of such behavior does not follow from the claims and slogans of freedom of expression and queer politics. Like any identity based movement, the goal should focus on both recognition as well as attention to the social system and power structures that support discriminatory practices in any area of identity.
CNN “Bisexual or Lesbian -Please Make up Your Mind”
By Rachael Liberman
Everyone has an opinion on pornography. Some argue that it is a vital contributor to understanding sexuality, some assert that it is a vulgar practice that objectifies women, and some maintain that is a lucrative industry just like any other capitalistic enterprise. Of course, these three positions are not the only ones that pervade the cultural discussion of the pornography industry. For example, during the Value Voters Summit in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told an audience that: “All pornography is homosexual pornography, because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards.” He went on to say that: “And if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants! You know, that’s a good comment, it’s a good point, and it’s a good thing to teach young people.”
Now, taking Schwartz’s ultra-conservative standpoint into account, this statement could be written off as another homophobic, moralistic rant. However, the inaccuracy of this assumption, coupled with its context as part of a panel on “The New Masculinity,” deserves some attention. Schwartz’s statement that “all pornography is homosexual pornography” was taken from a conversation he had with a “very good friend” that was commenting on “the malady that he suffered” due to living the “homosexual lifestyle.” more...
In recent months, software giant Microsoft has come under strong criticism for its censoring of particular “gamertags” on its Xbox Live Service that Microsoft officials consider to contain sexual innuendo. However, as an article on the gaming site Kotaku documents, in practice this has led to the banning of gamertags used by gamers to express their sexual orientation. A recent opinion article by game journalist Mike Fahey on the gaming site Kotaku provides an insightful and engaging account of how Microsoft’s current situation is reflective of the video game industry’s historical struggle with addressing the issue of homosexuality.
In India, Section 377 of the colonial penal code described homosexual acts as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”. Additionally, the penal code decreed that homosexual acts were punishable by a ten year prison sentence. Recently, the Delhi High Court overturned this 148-year-old law, thereby decriminalizing homosexuality.
When learning about inequality in sociology courses, many undergraduate students challenge whether inequality exists. Some argue that once a country’s legal system promotes equality, inequality becomes eradicated. The decriminalization of homosexuality may stimulate a thought-provoking discussion about inequality.
Certainly, the decriminalization of homosexuality promotes equality. This landmark decision may allow individuals to identify as homosexual without facing criminal punishment. Furthermore, some argue that this decision may allow HIV positive individuals to seek medical treatment without fearing persecution.
But, does the promotion of equality indicate the eradication of inequality? Not necessarily. Although the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexual acts, the Indian government may not uphold the court’s ruling. Additionally, its citizens – especially the religious community – may purposefully disregard the ruling, classifying homosexuality as morally indignity.