Saturday, January 12, 2013

Man-i-Fest Exhibit: FTM Mentorship in San Francisco from 1976 - 2009


Lou Sullivan was a brave soul to document the transition process in order to help other transgender individuals. Transitioning is an arduous and difficult process, but the stoicism needed to document that process is remarkable. Taking the alarming and unsettling statistics regarding anti-trans violence, I am in awe of the bravery of those who do take a public stand, even if it is in the simple form of documenting the transition in photographs.
The fact that Sullivan established the LGBT Historical Society and that his photos, letters, and documents are archived within the society is all the more touching. Saving such information and photographs for posterity was a wise and tremendously useful legacy to leave behind.
I found the letters to David of particular interest. One of the letters mentions that Sullivan was given the green light from Wardell Pomeroy to go ahead with hormones. Kinsey, Gebhard, and Pomeroy continued conducting research and collecting data on transvestitism and transexualism into the 1950s. Kinsey had intended to publish more data concerning research in human sexuality. Sadly, Kinsey died in 1956, just two years after J. Edgar Hoover and the Red Scare forced the Rockefeller Foundation to cut funding for Kinsey’s research. Later, in 1976, Pomeroy became dean to the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and continued researching and assisting transsexuals. Pomeroy died fairly recently, in 2001.
Another letter to David addresses the fact that FTMs are sparse, and that one should “beat the bushes” in order to bring new FTM members to the bi-monthly meetings. Having grown up in the transsexual community, I have to agree that FTMs are definitely in the minority. The transexual community I was in always said that this was due to higher numbers of MTF, yet the statement by a classmate in our class that FTM simply blend/pass better, thus hiding better in the general population makes me re-think the former opinion.
It is interesting to note that Dr John Money was mentioned in the 1979 “Family Circle” article about a male-to-female transexual. Dr Money was an early pioneer in sexual re-assignment surgery, despite his notorious downfall regarding the John-Joan case. He was one of the first American doctors to conduct the sex re-assignment surgery. It is ironic that he pioneered the field of pediatric endocrinology, the same field which, in the end gave rise to the notorious John-Joan case, which in turn, lead to his discredit within the transexual and intersex communities. Despite Dr Money’s obvious major mistake of his career, his research in the field of sexology was tremendous; for example, he coined the term “lovemap” which refers to the psycho-sexual unique blueprint/script of an individual’s behaviour, feelings, and fears based on their sexual history, cultural and familial background. It is what makes each person’s sexuality distinctly different, thus requiring a specialized approach to both couple and single therapy, as well as a more intricate study of the psychology of pair-bond relationships.
The exhibit demonstrated the usefulness of a magazine for a minority group which suffers from societal discrimination. It brings to mind a conversation I had with a transexual who is an activist in the bisexual movement. She told me that she suffers more discrimination as a bisexual than as a transsexual. She was also speaking about starting a newsletter for the bisexual community for many of the same reasons that Gateway was created for the trans community. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


 Sources

Francoeur, Robert T (ed), A Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology, Greenwood Press, New York, 1991

Jones, James S, Alfred Kinsey: A Public/Private Life, Norton, 1997

Money, John, Lovemaps: Clinical Concepts of Sexual/Erotic Health and Pathology, Paraphilia, and Gender Transpostion in Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity, Irvington Publishers, New York, 1993

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sexual Mythbusting: Coca-Cola is NOT an Effective form of Contraception: Any Kind of Douching is Unhealthy


The rumor that Coca-Cola can be used as a douche has been around since the 1950s. Although sperm is alkaline and cola is acidic, this is not recommended, in fact it’s even dangerous. Any kind of douching is unhealthy. The vaginal environment naturally flushes out the system on a regular basis. Douching only upsets the natural balance of the chemical environment within the vagina, thus increasing the likihood of infections such as PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease). The vaginal environment is naturally acidic during the non-fertile phase of the menstrual cycle, thus creating its own spermicide. During the fertile phase (ovulation) vaginal fluid changes viscosity; it becomes whitish, thicker, and stringy in order to facilitate sperm mobility. The pH level also under goes a change; it becomes more alkaline (i.e. hospitable to sperm). Cola only dilutes ejaculate (in lab conditions) but doesn’t kill the sperm. Besides, by the time you reach for the bottle, sperm has already traveled through the cervical os and is well out of reach of any spermicide. That is why spermicide is applied only before intercourse.

Alternative forms of birth control would be the natural methods such as the Basal Body Temperature (BBT) and the Cervical Mucus Method. A lesser known male birth control method is Male Multiple Orgasm, which is non-ejaculatory. It’s always best to use multiple forms of birth control, since no known birth control method is 100% effective.

Sources: Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, PID facts, http://www.cdcnpin.org/stdawareness/the-facts/english/06_PID_revd.pdf

Chica, M, The Multi-Orgasmic Man, HarperOne, New York, 1997


                Mythbusters: Cola as Spermicide, Youtube,                                       

“Believe Six Impossible Things before Breakfast”: Absurdity and Twisted Sexual Logic in "Winkie" (Clifford Chase)


Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the White Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

(Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, p. 251).

 

 

I found Winkie to be an intriguing and thought-provoking book with a lovable and, best of all, odd main character. The story has great depth and it certainly warrants a second reading due to its intricacy and openness to interpretation. As a member of the Chicago Surrealist Group, I have always been a great admirer of books which contain a healthy dose of weirdness and absurdity. Having enjoyed many books, short stories, and poems which dealt with twisted logic, dreamlike imagery, parallel universes, automatic writing, and truly bizarre characters, and I must say, I think that Winkie is well on its way to becoming a classic in that genre.

            Absurdity in literature is a very useful tool in interpreting our surrounding environment. By the act of turning events and behavior on their heads, absurdity teaches us to view such things from multiple angles and asses the true logic behind them. Absurdity strips away the smoke and mirrors in our society and can show us exactly how bizarre societal norms, the status quo, and human behavior can be.

            Winkie uses absurdity in a very unique and creative manner. By making the main character an animated stuffed teddy bear come to life, the book presents us with a truly innocent victim of circumstance. It is obvious that he is innocent of all the outlandish accusations that are attributed to him (Chase, p. 85). If Winkie had been a human being, the absurdity of the accusations and the hostility of his jailers, the judicial system, and the public at large may not have come across in such an obvious manner. If a human being were the main character of the book, he/she would have gender, race, age, economic background, political belief system, sexual orientation, social network of friends, etc, and thus wouldn’t have the “blank slate” nature which Winkie possesses. Many attributes, such as gender and sexual activity, as well as political and religious associations were all projected onto him by the people around him (Chase, p. 61). For example, the chief detective interrogates Francoise, stating, “We know for a fact that the two of you had sex, that Miss Winkie seduced you, and that’s how you were drawn into this conspiracy” (Chase, p. 59). Since Winkie has no gender, he (and I use the word ‘he’ lightly in this instance) has no sex organs to use for intercourse. Being a teddy bear, Winkie comes across as an innocent child who doesn’t understand his surroundings and is confused by the behavior of the humans around him.

            I found many interesting parallels between Winkie and Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, classics in literature of the absurd. The Alice books have been a great inspiration to me as an artist. As Penelope Rosemont, the doyenne of American surrealism, stated, “Surrealists like Alice in Wonderland: it fits the surrealist idea perfectly” (Telephone interview, 1 April 2009). Both Alice and Winkie are transplanted from their familiar domestic surroundings to a realm where twisted logic reigns supreme, most of the characters they encounter are rude and even hostile, and they have few resources, save for a handful of understanding individuals who help them navigate their way through a world gone mad.

            Winkie begins his journey to this new existence by smashing a bedroom window and jumping out into the garden (Chase. p. 120). Alice begins her trip by falling down a rabbit hole (Carroll, p.26) and walking through a mirror into a looking-glass house where backwards logic prevails (Carroll, p. 184). Winkie arrives in this new world and he finds himself alone in a strange environment which bears little resemblance to the world he once knew.

            Winkie’s defense attorney, Charles Unwin, appears discombobulated as he stutters and stammers throughout Winkie’s trial, yet he proves to be of great value at the end of the trial, when the prosecutor’s favorite assistant, Judy, reveals that the office of the prosecution withheld important evidence, thus enabling Unwin to discover the hermit’s notebooks which exonerate Winkie (Chase, p. 225). Unwin holds some similarities to the White Knight in Through the Looking-Glass. Alice, who is a pawn, is protected by the White Knight from any attacking chess pieces. The White Knight is a rather clumsy character who falls off his horse after every move he makes (just as a knight in an actual game of chess moves two squares, then one square to the side). In the end, he does succeed in giving her guidance and safeguarding her from attack (Carroll, p. 314).

            The political climate in which Winkie finds himself is very hostile and the authorities are aiming for a speedy guilty verdict and possibly a sentence for Winkie’s execution: in essence, a kangaroo court (Chase, p. 195). Alice also finds herself at an insane trial in which the King’s messenger, the Mad Hatter, is accused of stealing the tarts. This trial is also a kangaroo court because the Queen of Hearts says, “Sentence first, verdict afterwards”, and yells, “Off with his head” throughout the trial (Carroll, p. 161). The White Queen tells Alice that the King’s messenger “is in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all” (Carroll, p. 248). Similar backwards logic takes place in Winkie, in which Winkie is being punished by many of his captors before the trial even started. One example is when the prosecutor addresses the entire courtroom and says, “The people move that this trial be ended now and the defendant be executed immediately” (Chase, p. 194.) He is already seen as being guilty before there was any verdict.

            The authorities have a tough time believing that Winkie is indeed a stuffed teddy bear. Instead they keep insisting that he is a master of disguise, despite the testimony of the teddy bear expect, Penelope Brackle, who reveals that Winkie is in fact, a stuffed bear manufactured in London in 1921 (Chase, p. 200). Haigha, the King’s Anglo-Saxon Messenger, says, “This is a child”, as he introduces Alice to the Unicorn. To which the Unicorn replies, “I always thought they were fabulous monsters! Is it alive?” Alice responds, “I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too! I never saw one alive before!” “Well, now since we have seen each other, “says the Unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you. Is that a bargain?” (Carroll, p. 287) If only Winkie had had such an easy time making the authorities believe that he was just a teddy bear!

            Winkie contains numerous references to figures and events in history, most notably, the trials of Socrates, Oscar Wilde, and Galileo (Chase, p. 85). One absurd historical reference pertains to the Afflicted Girls: Ann Putnam, Abigail Williams, and Elizabeth Hubbard. These are three girls who testified in the Salem Witch Trials, which started in the winter of 1692 (Nash, p. 84). The instant Winkie gazes upon the three girls as they sit in the witness box, the girls all fall to the floor and display bizarre theatrics. For example, Putnam says, “I won’t, I won’t, I won’t sign the devil’s book” (Chase, p. 187). The prosecutor then states, “Judge, if the accused be allowed to look upon them no longer, and if he should only then touch them but once, their fits surely will cease.” With Winkie’s touch, their hysterics come to an abrupt end (Chase, p. 188).

            In Through the Looking-Glass, the Lion and the Unicorn fighting for the crown refers to the dissatisfaction of many of Scotland’s citizens after the Act of Union in 1707, during which the Scottish and English governments joined to form the United Kingdom. (Carroll, p. 283) The British coat of arms consists of a shield in the center, a golden crowned Lion on the left representing England and the Crown, while on the right is an uncrowned Unicorn, representing Scotland. In the coat of arms used by the Scottish Office, a crowned Unicorn is on the left, with the crowned Lion on the right (Willcox, p. 35).

Absurdity has also been used in a very creative way in Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics. In the book, Alice shrinks to the size of a nuclear particle and encounters various strange individuals who each take turns demonstrating different aspects of quantum physics to her. Quantum physics is rather quirky and full of paradoxes to begin with, thus using bizarre and twisted logic to illustrate these theories is a brilliant idea. Just as Winkie wishes himself into existence (Chase, p. 119), there is a theory in quantum physics which postulates that one can wish things into existence. With the use of mind over matter, an Emperor can utilize his conscious mind to make his new clothes real. The Emperor illustrates this thesis to Alice by asserting that, “The whole world is indeed governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, but the human mind is outside the material world and not so restricted. We have the ability to see things uniquely. We cannot choose what we see, but what we do see becomes reality in the world, at least for the time we observe it. When we have finished our observation, then of course the world can once again begin to enter its customary set of mixed states.” (Gilmore, p. 58)

Lastly, I would like to touch upon how Winkie and Alice both use the blurred line between dream and reality to question what has truly transpired and what may have been a dream. After Winkie wishes himself into existence and jumps out the window, he falls asleep in the garden. Upon awakening, he finds himself on the shelf in his room again, as if he had never escaped. He again wishes himself into existence and finds himself outside again. Winkie “seemed to be traveling in time” (Chase, p. 122), and felt that “perhaps time itself had stopped” (Chase, p. 121). These feelings are sometimes encountered in a dream-like state. It isn’t really clear whether Winkie dreams all his adventures as he continues to sit on the bookshelf, or whether everything is real. Alice, in turn, wakes up at the end of her adventures down the rabbit hole, only to find herself sitting next to her sister in the garden. Alice in Wonderland ends with Alice’s sister dreaming of Alice in her wonderland (Carroll, p. 162). In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice encounters the sleeping Red King, and she is told that the King is dreaming of her, and he should not be awoken, otherwise Alice would cease existing. Tweedledum tells Alice, “If the King was to wake, you’d go out -- bang! – just like a candle!” (Carroll, p. 238) Since Alice is dreaming of the King, and the King is dreaming of Alice, and so on, it creates a truly peculiar state of being, like two mirrors facing each other.

 

A Dream Within A Dream     

 

Take this kiss upon the brow!

And, in parting from you now,

Thus much let me avow –

You are not wrong, who deem

That my days have been a dream:

Yet if hope has flown away

In a night, or in a day,

In a vision, or in none,

Is it therefore the less gone?

All that we see or seem

Is but a dream within a dream.

 

I stand amid the roar

Of a surf-tormented shore,

And I hold within my hand

Grains of the golden sand –

How few! Yet how they creep

Through my fingers to the deep,

While I weep – while I weep!

O God! Can I not grasp

Them with a tighter clasp?

O God! Can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

 

Edgar Allen Poe, 1849

 

 

 

Bibliography

Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through

The Looking-Glass. New York: Wing Books, 1998.

 

Chase, Clifford. Winkie. New York: Grove Press, 2006.

 

Gilmore, Robert. Alice in Quantumland: An Allegory of Quantum Physics. New York:

            Copernicus Books, 1995.

 

Nash, Gary B., Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R. Howe, Peter J. Frederick, Allen F. Davis, and

Allen M. Winkler. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society. New

York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986

 

Rosemont, Penelope. Telephone Interview. 1 April 2009

 

Willcox, William B., Walter L. Armstein. The Age of Aristocracy: 1688 – 1830.

Lexington, MA, D.C. Heath and Company, 1988.

Alfred Kinsey (part 7/7): Works Cited from parts 1 - 5

Works Cited
American Experience: Kinsey. Narr. Campbell Scott. PBS Television. Dvd. 2005
Billy Graham Takes on Sex Researcher Alfred Kinsey. Billyspot: The Unofficial Billy
Graham Blog. 15 April 2009. http://www.billyspot.com/
Biography: Alfred Kinsey: Pioneer of the Sexual Revolution. Narr. Jack Perkins.
Biography Channel. BBC/Arts & Entertainment
Corporation. Videocassette recording. 1996.
Bullough, Vern. Science in the Bedroom: A history of Sex Research. New York: Basic
Books, 1994.
Bullough, Vern.“The Kinsey Scale in Historical Perspective.” The Kinsey Institute
Series: Homosexuality/Heterosexuality: Concepts in Sexual Orientation. ed.
David P. Whirter. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. 3-14
Chaplin, Charles, Dir. The Kid Perf. Chaplin and Jackie Coogan. Chaplin – First
National, 1921.
Cocks, H.G., Matt Houlbrook, ed. Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of
Sexuality. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
“Dr. Kinsey of Bloomington.” Time Online 24 August 1953. 12 April 2009
Haeberle, Erwin J. “The Rebirth of the Homosexual in the Modern Gay Movement.”
Bisexuality: History and Dimensions of a Modern Scientific Problem. 12 April 2009

http://www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/GESUND/ARCHIV/SEXOR4.HTM
 
 
 
Inside the Kinsey Institute Library. 21 November 2008. You Tube. Video. 12 April 2009
Jones, James H. Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 1997.
Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the
Human Male. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1948.
Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, Paul Gebhard. Sexual Behavior
in the Human Female. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1953.
Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction website. 10 March 2009.
 
Link, Arthur S., Richard L. McCormick. Progressivism. Arlington Heights: Harlen
Davidson, Inc, 1983.
Reinisch, June M. ed. The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex: What You Must Know to
be Sexually Literate. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
Riis, Jacob. How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York. The
Authentic History Center. 12 April 2009 http://www.authentichistory.com/
Steinem, Gloria.”Margaret Sanger: Her Crusade to Legalize Birth Control Spurred the
Movement for Women’s Liberation.” Time 13 April 1998. 10 April 2009
Weber, Lois, Dir. Where Are My Children? Perf. Tyrone Power, Sr, Juan de la Cruz.
Universal Film, 1916.

Alfred Kinsey (part 1/7): Early Biography


Kinsey’s Childhood

 

Alfred Charles Kinsey was born June 23, 1894 in the industrial, poverty stricken town of Hoboken, New Jersey. He was the eldest of three children. His father was an engineering professor and a self-ordained Methodist preacher. His parents strictly prohibited any discussion of sexuality at home and forbade Alfred from speaking to girls outside of school. His family was poor for most of his childhood and lived in an overcrowded cold-water tenement building. He was a sickly child, suffering from rheumatic fever, typhoid fever, and rickets which resulted in a minor curvature of his spine which prevented him from getting drafted during WW I (Jones, 27).

 

Kinsey and the Age of Reform

 

It is important to understand the face of poverty in turn of the century America. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, large waves of immigrants and the working-class lived in over-crowded neighborhoods. Housing conditions were rough, disease was rampant. Entire families would live in a ramshackle one-room apartment with no hot water and no electricity. Due to the governmental and religious prohibition of birth control and any information pertaining to birth control, families often had many children and not enough resources to take care of them. There was a high incidence of infant and child mortality, as well as high maternal mortality rates. The dismal squalor of these neighborhoods is documented by Jacob Riis (1849 Р1914) in his photojournalistic expos̩ How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York published in 1891 (Riis).

Many kinds of activists arose from poverty-stricken backgrounds. One example is Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966) who spearheaded the grassroots birth control movement. She was a nurse in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (just across the river from Hoboken). She had witnessed the spread of preventable diseases due to malnutrition and poor living conditions, as well as watching women die from self-induced abortions. She published pamphlets with information on birth control methods and, as a result, was arrested and charged with violating postal obscenity laws. Sanger coined the term “birth control” and founded the American Birth Control League (which became Planned Parenthood in 1942) (Steinem).

The Rockefeller Foundation was instrumental in early sex research. In 1921, it funded the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex, which sponsored studies spanning such diverse topics as illegitimacy, prostitution, abortion, and sexual practice of regular citizens (Cocks 48). The foundation also helped Sanger fund the first birth control clinic in America, as well as funding research into the chemical composition of spermacides (Bullough, Science 135).

As Kinsey was growing up, America was the midst of social reform. The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century had brought about exploitation of labor and the working class. Progressivism of the early 1900s was a social reform movement which came from both the grassroots activists and the President, Theodore Roosevelt (1888 – 1919, President from 1901 – 1909), who instituted many new laws and policies during his administration. There were reforms in labor and worker’s rights, child labor laws, women’s suffrage, and birth control rights, all of which left a lasting mark on America. Riis brought about housing reform thus improving the lives of immigrant families. Sanger fought the system and won the right to distribute birth control (Link, 118).

Even early cinema played its part in educating the public. Lois Weber (1881 – 1939), one of the few female directors of that era, directed Where Are My Children?, a film which candidly discusses abortion and birth control (Weber). Charlie Chaplin (1889 -1977) created his Tramp character, which embodied the poverty he grew up in as a child in London. His portrayal of living conditions in The Kid is a realistic depiction of the poverty in that era (Chaplin). It comes across as a moving picture version of Riis’ book.

 

Kinsey’s Early Work

 

Kinsey rebelled against his father, who wanted him to study engineering, by studying Biology instead. He graduated from Bowdoin College and got his graduate degree from Harvard in 1919. His doctoral thesis was on gall wasps, in which he took 26 detailed measurements on the physical variations of hundreds of thousands of specimens. Eventually, he collected about five million gall wasps, which are now housed in the American Museum of Natural History in New York. His classmates called him “the next Darwin” (Biography).

In 1920, Kinsey moved to Bloomington, Indiana and worked as an assistant professor of entomology. That same year he met Clara Bracken McMillan, whom he married the following year. Kinsey wrote many books before he went into sex research: first was a high school textbook, An Introduction to Biology, in which he spoke out strongly in favor of Darwin’s theory of natural selection (1926, one year after the Scopes Monkey Trial). Then Kinsey published his magnum opus on gall wasps, The Gall Wasp Genus Cynips: A Study in The Origin of Species (1929). Kinsey’s second work on gall wasps, The Origin of Higher Categories in Cynips was published in 1935. That same year Kinsey wrote his first paper on sex, Biological Aspects of Some Social Problems, for an Indiana University faculty discussion group (American Experience).

Gender Roles in “Fun Home” and in Society


I found “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” (Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston and New York: Mariner Books, 2006) to be an intriguing book on many different levels, including issues concerning conformity in a small town environment, marriage and family, perceptions regarding life and death, parent-child relationships, and gender roles in our society. Of these multi-faceted issues, the one that caught my attention was how gender roles were addressed in the book.

American society has a rather strict set of prescribed gender roles amongst the countries in the industrialized world. Although there are still quite a few countries in the world that have even more rigid codes of dress and behavior for men and women than

our country (many countries in Latin America, Africa, and the Arabic world), America has stricter codes compared to the Germanic and Nordic countries of Europe (Germany, Sweden, Norway, Iceland). It is interesting to note that the Latin American countries have their own brand of “machismo” ingrained in their culture, and that it is a different type of machismo than what is found in Arabic nations, or even that which is seen in the English-speaking world (United States, Canada, Australia, Britain). Historically, the English-speaking world was founded by colonial Britain and grew to prominence under a “frontiersman” mentality that prevails in the gender stereotypes and behavioral expectations of both genders to this day (perceptions that men are stronger and braver than women, whereas women are seen as being more domestic and passive). The fact that America has been a warring society since the 1800’s has only helped to perpetuate this dichotomy in gender roles. Since many females oppose warfare and the devastation wrought by it, warring societies belittle women and their roles in an attempt to dominate the agenda.

“Fun Home” focuses on societal expectations of gender appearance as well as that of gender roles and hobbies. Bechdel states, “I hate pink! I hate flowers.”(Ibid. p. 7) “I developed contempt for useless ornament. If anything, they obscured function. They were embellishments in the worst sense.”(Ibid. p. 16) Was Bechdel rejecting the differential socialization of gender roles that put forth the notion that females should “adorn” themselves in order to attract a man? This demonstrates a common trait by LGBT individuals of rejecting (or at least revising) gender standards that are bestowed upon them by family and society at large.

            “Of all his domestic inclinations, my father’s decided bend for gardening was the most redolent to me of the other, more deeply disturbing bend. What kind of a man but a sissy could possibly love flowers this ardently?” What is meant by the word ‘sissy’? Why would a man who loved flowers and gardening be perceived in such a way? It may not be a “macho” hobby (like hunting, or football), but one should keep in mind the fact that many hobbies and professions that were once thought to be the exclusive domain of one gender or the other have since shifted in our society. In the 1800’s, it was unthinkable to have a woman work as a secretary (Dr. Watson was Sherlock Holmes’ secretary). Women writers had to publish their works under male pseudonyms because no one would publish a woman’s work otherwise. Amelia Earhart had to battle discrimination when she decided to become a pilot. Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna, didn’t get the commissions and recognition that he received because she was female, despite the fact that she was a talented pianist and harpsichord player, as well as composing her own music. After 1769, she was no longer permitted to show her artistic abilities once she reached marriageable age. (http://en.wikipedia.org/Marie_Anna_Mozart) How many countless men and women in history did not reach their full potential because the society in which they lived in discouraged their talent and abilities solely based on which gender they were born as? To call a man a sissy for his taste and choices only serves to reinforce nonsensical gender codes and discourages more individuals of both genders from freely choosing their hobbies, interests, professions, and behavior in their lives. The entire spectrum of human possibilities should be available to both genders. Those who break free from societal expectations of gender and carve their own path in life shouldn’t be viewed as sissies but rather as brave individuals. The real sissies are men who hide behind crew cuts, macho attitudes, drab, ill-fitting clothes, and a dilapidated appearance.

            I remember feeling a surge of hope in the 1990’s when many young men I knew grew their hair long and brought color & texture into their wardrobe. I thought, “Wow! Men are finally breaking free from the boring old mold.” That, sadly, was short-lived because next came grunge with its lame colors and the “rockstar who still milks Bessie in the barn” look. Men’s hair styles got short, color and texture disappeared again, tattoos were in and style was out. Now, both businessmen and “avant-garde” artists & musicians alike shave their heads under the mistaken impression that that constitutes masculine beauty.

            The shifting norms of gender roles are important to LGBT individuals because first of all, it affects how these individuals view themselves, secondly, how the LGBT community perceives those within the community, and thirdly, how society at large views the LGBT community and those individuals within it.

            Media and popular culture depicts gender roles as being based on nature (“that’s just the way man/women are”). In fact, gender roles are based more on nurture than on nature. Boys and girls are taught in our society to play with different toys (toy soldiers vs. dolls), play different ways (rough-housing vs. dress up), and are encouraged to pursue different hobbies (skateboarding vs. making beaded jewelry). This sort of dichotomy is actually counter-productive for individuals as well as counter-productive for society at large. For example, when boys are taught how to fight and defend themselves against attack and girls aren’t, then many girls grow up not knowing how to defend themselves in a domestic violence situation or against a would-be rapist. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and, as a result, was able to fight. That ability has helped me on more than one occasion in which I was confronted with would-be rapists (on one occasion, I successfully fought off two males who tried to gang-rape me). This is an important skill that every woman must have, it makes no difference that society views fighting as un-ladylike. By the same token, when girls are given baby dolls and taught how to change nappies, feed hungry babies, and rock them to sleep, yet boys are not taught these skills, some males grow up conditioned to believe that taking care of babies is a woman’s job. This sort of conditioning only serves to perpetuate the epidemic of dead-beat-dads that plagues our society. That, in turn, contributes to poverty (since dead-beat-dads rarely contribute economically to their children’s standard of living), over-population (dead-beat-dads often irresponsibly and haphazardly ejaculate without concern for the consequences of their actions – they rarely use birth-control, again, viewing that as a solely woman’s responsibility), violence (since boys with no father-figure often are filled with anger at their father’s rejection of them). If society were to teach young boys parental skills, like what is being taught to young girls, perhaps the major societal woe of dead-beat-dads would wane.

            It is important that we, as a society, re-assess gender roles. Many of these codes of dress, behavioral expectations, hobbies and interests are clearly arbitrary and not based on any innate differences between the genders. What our society sees as effeminate, other cultures may view as masculine (skirts vs. Scottish kilts, for example). Why shouldn’t girls skateboard? Females have better sense of balance, lower center of gravity (hips instead of upper torso in males), and smaller stature. From a physics standpoint, these attributes could only help females become talented skateboarders. Why shouldn’t girls play chess? Females can assess different positions on the board and think moves out in advance as well as any male chess players can. The Polgar sisters (Susan, Judith, and Zsofia) have won numerous Chess Championships and are rated as some of the highest ranking players in the world. Susan Polgar is a 4-time World Chess Champion, 5-time Olympic Champion, and the first women to break the gender barrier in Chess. Judith ranked #8 in the world in 2005. Zsofia ranked #6 in the world. Why shouldn’t women be successful pilots? All we need do is look at Amelia Earhart successfully breaking numerous world records in aviation. Why shouldn’t men be interior decorators or gardeners (As Bechdel’s father was)? Why shouldn’t men sew or knit or be stay-at-home-dads? Some stricter individuals in our society may view such “gender-benders” as gay or lesbian. Rather, let us view these individuals who are open to broader possibilities as being more rounded people. I am proud to say that I know straight men that either wear earrings, or have long hair, or wear eyeliner, or love being stay-home-dads, or love to cook, or dress well and groom themselves.

            After all, what is gender, anyway? Technically, gender is what role one plays in sexual reproduction, that being either the producer of spermatozoa in the testes or the producer of eggs in the ovary. Although society views gender in black & white (male & female), gender in reality has huge gray areas. There are transsexuals, transvestites, hermaphrodites, hijra (third gender in Indian society) (Kelly, Gary. Sexuality Today: The Human Perspective. Guilford, Connecticut: Dushkin Publishing Group, 1994 p. 97) , and berdache (third gender in numerous North American societies) (Ibid. p. 97) just to name a few. Where would these individuals fit in if we were to have a black & white view of gender? What would their roles in society be? What hobbies would be “permissible”? These are all complex questions requiring complex assessments of the question of gender and gender roles.

            What is gender determined by? From a Psychosexual Development standpoint, gender is determined by 1) Chromosomal Gender at fertilization, 2) Gonadal Gender in utero in the first trimester, 3) Hormonal Gender third month onward in utero, 4) Internal Sexual anatomy, 5) External Sexual Anatomy (4 and 5 during second and third month of life).(Francoeur, Robert T., ed. A Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991 p. 748, see attachment)

            It is commonly viewed that testosterone is the “male” hormone and estrogen is the “female” hormone. Yet, males need estrogen in order to have healthy spermatogenesis. Estrogen in males is produced in small amounts in the Leydig cells in the testes. (Ibid. p. 341) Females, in turn, produce small amounts of testosterone in the ovaries and adrenal glands. (Ibid. p. 659) This only illustrates that we are all a mixture of the both genders. It would be healthy for us as individuals to embrace that fact of nature.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. New York: Mariner Books, 2006.

 

Francoeur, Robert T. (ed.). A Decriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.

 

Kelly, Gary. Sexuality Today: The Human Perspective. 4th edition. Guilford, CT: Dushkin Publishing Group, 1994.

 

“Mozart, Marie Anna.” Wikipedia.org. 1 March 2009. <http://wikipedia.org/Marie_Anna-Mozart.

The Medicalization of Intersex Bodies in the 19th Century



With the advent of the 19th century came an unprecedented period of advancement. The Industrial Age, along with advancements in chemistry, biology, medicine and various other sciences ushered in a new world. But with great advancements come great responsibilities. The human race certainly progresses at an alarming rate thanks to various discoveries and innovations, yet ethics, unfortunately, seems to progress at a much slower rate. This was certainly the case regarding medicine in the 19th century.

The medical establishment was male dominated in the 19th century. Women were barred from attending medical school and it was a long, hard fight for the few women who managed to break into medicine. The advent of Feminism and research on the issue of Homosexuality gave rise to the reactionary response of the male dominated medical community, to clearly define the essential differences between males and females. Homosexuality was deemed perverted at that time, and went under the term “inverse.” The medical establishment focused its energy on politicizing sexual ‘innate’ differences and wished to eliminate Hermaphroditism, which had no place in the binary view of the sexes which, in turn, kept everyone ‘in their place.’ Therefore, Herculine Barbin’s sexuality, for example, ‘had to be remedied’ as to ensure it wasn’t inverted, thus explaining hir attraction to women as heterosexual in nature.

Anne Fausto-Sterling presents a prime example of an intersex individual, Levi Suydam, who was examined in 1843 by a physician and deemed to be male, this allowing him to vote. Since voting rights, inheritance rights, wages, and numerous other rights were not equal between men and women, a change in sex status made a world of difference to the standard of living as well as the space (male space vs. female space) that an individual occupied. This constituted significant difference in the 19th century than it does now, due in great part to various equal rights laws which have since been passed although much work still lays ahead in order to truly level the playing field in sex/gender rights and dynamics.

           

            It is interesting to note that the medical establishment of that era placed a great deal of importance on the reproductive organs in determining the sex of an individual. Women were seen as having to bear children, thus needed a functioning uterus and fully formed vagina. Males, in turn, had to have a penis and ejaculatory discharge in order to be identified as male. The physicians, who administered Herculine’s autopsy, noted that zie had a penis, a vagina which ended in a cul de sac (i.e. no cervix and no uterus), and ejaculatory discharge, therefore, they concluded that zie was male (Foucault, 128). No mention was made as to whether hir ejaculatory fluid was found to contain spermatozoa or not. It is quite plausible that hir ejaculate contained no sperm, since sperm only makes up about 5% of ejaculatory fluid; it would require closer examination to detect sperm (Davis, 1947).

            The medical authorities stamping ‘female’ or ‘male’ on the identities of intersex individuals continues to this day, although not as fervently as in the 1800s. The continuation of this medical practice throughout the 20th century was due in large part to the strict division of sex-roles in post WWII suburbia. Common medical practice was to assign a sex onto a newborn infant with ambiguous genitalia. Genital surgery was routinely performed on such infants, often without the knowledge of the parents. This was done to protect the parents and the child from the ‘anguish’ of having to be a ‘sexual freak’ (Fausto-Sterling, 23).

The operative question is whether this ‘anguish’ is that of the individual, or the anguish of society at large coming face-to-face with the fact that sexes exist on a continuum, as opposed to existing on a black and white binary with no variation. Intersex individuals have been documented in various societies worldwide; including numerous Native American societies, known as Two-Spirit individuals, as well as Hijras in India, for example. These societies allow intersex individuals to play an active role in their societies, a role which is also useful to the society at large. The derogatory term ‘berdache’ has been bestowed onto the intersex Native Americans, but each nation has a different term for them in their own language. The Navajo nation, for example, uses the term ‘nadleeche’ which translates into “someone in a constant process of change” (Jacobs, 103). 

 There is currently a movement to cease the needless medical practice of sex assignment at birth. This out-dated and cruel practice is slowly being phased out across America. The United States is currently in flux regarding sex roles. With the rise in stay-at-home-dads, male unemployment rates higher than that of women, and fathers finally being allowed into the traditional woman space of the birthing chamber, sex roles are being reinvented and reconsidered as we speak. The current scientific view is that these children can decide their sex once they are older based on how they feel and how they identify.

 

Work Cited:

Taber’s Encyclopedic Medical Dictionary (Ed. 19), Venes, Donald, ed, F.A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, PA, 2001

Catalina de Erauso: Was she Asexual? Conundrum from the Past



Catalina de Erauso stands out in the history of the New World as a brave individual who overcame societal restrictions imposed on women at that time. The fact that she spent her entire adult live dressed in men’s garb and most of that life gallivanting in the male sphere of conquest and battle, speaks of her adventurous soul and fierce independence. Yet, including her in the list of notable LGBTQ individuals in history presents complexities of sexual orientation and gender identity which require thoughtful consideration.

From her account, she wasn’t at any point sexually attracted or sexually involved with anybody; therefore, to the best of our knowledge, she may have been asexual. She mentioned visiting her brother’s mistress without him present, and how he, “imagining the worst”, hit her as she left the mistress’s home (de Erauso, 19). The fact that her brother suspected possible sexual activity is not indicative of the existence of any sexual activity. Catalina did flirt with women on numerous occasions, but it is not clear as to whether she did so as a result of her own feelings and attractions, or because flirting was part of her ‘performing’ a socially prescribed male gender role.

Since different individuals define sexual terminology differently, it would be important to first establish a definition of sexual orientation. According to the “Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology,” Sexual Orientation is defined as “a pattern of sexual attraction and limerence (i.e. sexuoerotic longing for) based on the gender of one’s partners” (Francoeur, ed). Therefore, since Catalina had no partners that we know of, and expressed no limerence for any person we know of, it would be difficult to assess her sexual orientation. There is no mention in her memoirs of a sex act with, or even a sexual attraction to either women or men, she would not sit comfortably in any sexual orientation group, be it homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. We can neither rule in nor rule out any sort of sexual activity based on her memoirs. It is plausible that she paid off the old women who inspected her hymen and reported to the Bishop that she was “an intact virgin” (de Erauso, 66). It is just as easy to come to the conclusion that she was asexual, with no sexual attraction to anyone. If asexual individuals were to be included in the spectrum of queer identity, than she could be included as such. Yet, even that would be a modern-day projection onto her.
 

Why did Catalina dress in men’s clothing? She speaks in a very ‘matter of fact’ tone throughout her book, yet reveals precious little about her feelings and motivations. After she ran away from the convent, she simply states that she cut her clothing, re-fashioned men’s attire, and “cut my hair and threw it away” (Ibid, 4). It is impossible to tell from these comments how she felt about the fact that she was leaving her existence as a female behind. The only clue we have is her comment about “planning and re-planning” as she cut her clothes (Ibid, 4). What exactly was she planning? Was travel and life dressed as a man premeditated or did that develop more from circumstance? It certainly was more convenient to travel about as a man since that enabled her to gain employment and avoid the difficulty of travelling alone as a female.

Although she did choose to continue dressing in men’s clothing after she ‘came out’ as a woman, in no part of her memoirs did she mention feeling ‘trapped in a woman’s body’ or wishing to be a man. Therefore, it would be problematic to categorize her as a transgendered person. What were her reasons for continuing to dress as a man? Again, Catalina is vague.  The rest of the book is a series of statements with no expression of feelings. She met with the Pope in Rome and told him of her life, that she was a woman and had “kept” her virginity (Ibid, 78). Therewith, the Pope allowed her to dress as a man for the rest of her life. What would she have done had she not been granted this Papal permission and how would she have felt about that? She doesn’t discuss that possibility and thus, we shall never know.

 

Work Cited:

A Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology, Francoeur, Robert, ed, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1991

Alfred Kinsey (part 6/7): The Kinsey Institute Today

In 1982, The Kinsey Institute officially changed its name to The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. The Kinsey Institute continues to conduct research in various aspects of human sexuality. Alfred Kinsey’s research asked what humans do, the Institute now asks why humans do it. Current questions regarding human sexuality pertain to neurochemistry, hormones, mood, psychology of relationships and pairbonding, what effects partner choices, etc. KinseyConfidential.org is a site for information on sexual health and contains podcasts, newsblogs, and an on-line Question & Answer section. The Kinsey Institute hosts sexology conferences, art exhibits, courses on various aspects of human sexuality, and an extensive library (Kinsey Institute website).



The Kinsey Institute library houses 150,000 volumes on everything from scientific articles, journals, and magazines, to erotica, pulp fiction, and pamphlets, to early erotic photography, films and documentaries. Su Wo Pien (The Lady of the Moon) is an illustrated Chinese sex book published in 1610, and as the only complete surviving copy in existence, it is one of the gems in their collection. The library also contains a collection of Alfred Kinsey’s correspondences in its archive. The library is open to scholars and students of sexuality (Inside).

The Kinsey Institute continues publishing books on various aspects of human sexuality. One book worth mentioning is The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex: What You Must Know to be Sexually Literate, published in 1990. It is written for the layperson with helpful information on everything from physiology, sexual functioning, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sex and aging, sexual health, and contraception (Reinisch). Despite the prevalence of sexual data in the age of the internet, the amount of sexual illiteracy among laypeople continues to be substantial. Therefore, it would be useful for the Kinsey Institute to revise the book, especially in the sections pertaining to birth control, the Grafenburg Spot, the medical treatment of intersex infants, recent data on the study of orgasmic response in both men and women, and other recent developments in sexology.

Alfred Kinsey once said, with a straight face, “Frankly, I should think the public would be extremely tired of the subject” (Dr. Kinsey). Little did he know!

Kinsey even left his mark on popular music. Tin Pan Alley came up with some catchy tunes like “The Kinsey Boogie”and “Thank You, Mr. Kinsey” (Jones 570). Martha Raye, the wacky singer/comedienne, recorded the jazzy tune “Ooh, Dr. Kinsey.” Take it away, Martha!!

Ooh, ooh Dr. Kinsey (2 x)

I just read your essay

On men’s behavior today

And men are great…

Like a hole in the head!


I used to get such comfort

Wrapped in the arms of males

But now I find that less than 60%

Go for us frails.

I used to think my lover

Could do some fine, fancy tricks

But according to Kinsey’s data,

He’s strictly from the sticks!


Ooh, ooh Dr. Kinsey

Look what you’ve done to me!

Since I’ve read your report,

I’m disillusioned as can be!


Now, if he’s timid around the girls,

But around the boys, he’s soo sporty,

His history is no mystery,

It’s on page 240!


No wonder Bill was so estranged

And kissed me with such poise!

When I asked him where he’d been,

He’d say “oh – out with the boys.”


Hey, hey Dr. Kinsey, here’s thanks to you from me.

Now you’ve taught me what a fool I used to be.
(American Experience)
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