No More Either-Or
THE BINARY IS DEAD BUT DOESN’T KNOW IT YET
Every time I make a presentation about gender-inclusiveness in Thailand the question comes again, “But nature is divided into male and female. How can you deny that?” Of course nature is not divided strictly into male and female, but that’s usually not a satisfying reply. What we need to talk about is, “In what respects is gender and sexuality ‘both-and’ or ‘neither one nor the other’?”
Rather than defining the terms exclusively with words, I would like to present charts and illustrations, as I did in recent presentations at the university.
FIRST, SEXUALITY IS ABOUT PHYSICAL FACTORS
The factors include: chromosomes, hormones, genitalia, and secondary sex characteristics.
In a significant number of individuals these physical factors are misleading, and in others the factors are ambiguous. Most physical factors, of course, are clear and indicative of a birth sex, either male or female, and they become more pronounced when individuals reach sexual maturity.
SECOND, GENDER IS ABOUT MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL FACTORS
The factors include: fantasies, fascinations, self-understanding, preference for sex and romance.
It is commonly misunderstood that these mental and emotional factors are or can be controlled in accordance with social or religious requirements. Notice, please, that none of these factors are describing actions in response to the factors. Depending on circumstances, one can and often must refrain from certain actions. On the other hand, as psychologists know, sometimes when inconsistency between emotional conditions and social-physical action is resolved, obsessions disappear. On the whole emotional health is enhanced by correctly discerning “what is” and being at peace with that reality.
The spectrum is a continuum between Homosexual and Heterosexual. Increments along the continuum include, at the one pole, GAY (exclusively same-sex oriented for sex and romance), QUEER (very clearly same-sex oriented or definitely different in that regard), DARING (willing to explore options in search of excitement and satisfaction), CAUTIOUS (willing to deviate from narrow confines under very limited conditions of safety or anonymity), CURIOUS (open to the ideas that alternatives suggest while regarding those as uncommon), and STRAIGHT (exclusively oriented toward sex and romance with persons of the “opposite” sex).
THIRD, SOCIAL RESISTANCE IMPACTS ONES CHOICES
The spectrum extends from persecution to affirmation
In some societies it is a capital crime to be gay or to act contrary to the sexual mores assigned by society. At the other side of the spectrum are societies that value the unique perspectives and contributions of LGBTQIK members of society.
How we present ourselves depends to some extent on the freedom societies give us to express ourselves as we discern ourselves to be. Dangerous, oppressive societies often foster denial to such an extent that individuals dare not admit, even to themselves, their diversity.
The spectrum goes from PERSECUTION to PENALTIES to TOLERANCE to ACCEPTANCE to INCLUSION to AFFIRMATION
We who are LBBTK in Thailand experience these forms of social reaction as: PERSECUTION is sustained efforts to eliminate us through various sorts of suppression. This is rare and counter-cultural in Thailand, although some religious and ethnic sub-cultures exercise control that could swell into persecution. PENALTIES for being LGBT are imposed in the name of cultural normality. The most frequent are job ceilings in certain professions, or punishment for refusal to fulfill family obligations (such as producing heirs). TOLERANCE of sexual and gender diverse individuals is widespread. It is experienced as “being put up with” while those who put up with us are not pleased to do so. ACCEPTANCE is a milder form of tolerance, meaning in most cases that there has been compromise to achieve the absence of rancor and discord. INCLUSION involves the absence of all barriers to full participation in the social group. AFFIRMATION is active recognition of our unique perspectives and relationships. It is rare in this and most other societies at present.
FOURTH, SOCIAL IDENTITY
Social identity, how people are identified by society, is the conclusion that the majority of casual observers will draw based on two factors: the personal presentation choices the individual has made, and social sensitivity to their conclusions about what they see.
Presentation choices are of two types:
Sex markers (physical): facial features, breast and crotch, voice quality.
Gender markers (behavioral): clothing and accessories, vocabulary, movements / posture / gestures.
The stronger the social resistance to gender nonconformity, the fewer the markers that will arouse hostile reaction.
The more permissive the society, the more radical the markers must be to evoke a reaction.
The goal in establishing one’s gender identity in society is:
Either to pass unnoticed in society OR to elicit responses
A person’s satisfaction with their gender and status in society depends on how much effort (of all kinds) it takes to achieve satisfaction, and how much satisfaction is achieved.
There are four quadrants on the satisfaction grid.
The SOCIAL QUAD includes family, friends, and community primarily, but also the wider society where interactions take place.
The EMOTIONAL QUAD includes one’s internal turmoil or serenity, how one’s needs for appreciation are being met, and general happiness versus stress. One’s gender status is only one set of factors that impact emotion, of course.
The ROLE QUAD includes one’s labor, contributions to society, provision for those for whom one is responsible, and measurable accomplishments. If one’s gender has a negative effect on one’s role it takes more effort to achieve role satisfaction.
The PHYSICAL QUAD includes health and physique, as well as ability to function sexually. In some cultures physical development is a valued accomplishment or even a requirement for a satisfactory status and relationships. Health and freedom from disease and accidents aside, physical satisfaction comes from the ability to do what one wants to do. Therefore, it varies with age and circumstances as well as with such emotional factors as urges and goals.
What I have tried to illustrate is how nothing with regard to one’s gender, sexuality, and functioning in society are fixed or cut and dried. We are all somewhere along a number of spectrums.
[Thanks to Sirisak for providing a constant stream of advocacy for better understanding of gender diversity and ambiguity. Sirisak is the most photographed and recognizable LGBTIQK advocate in Thailand. Thanks also for the pictures above that Sirisak starred in.]
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.