Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Will the Future be Gay?

In this article in the UK Guardian, Peter Tachell argues that there won't be gay people in the future. For that matter, there won't be straight people either. Instead, human sexual orientation will be much more fluid and shifting, and people will be attracted to individual persons of either gender. He points to sex surveys today that indicate growing numbers of men and women are having experiences with others of the same gender. As prejudice and bigotry against homosexuals break down, we can expect that more and more people will feel free to express themselves in a variety of ways.

The interesting point he makes is that as the walls of homophobia come apart, so will gay identity. In his view, gay identity has developed in contrast to straight culture, that is, as a reaction in opposition to being marginalized and discriminated against by heterosexuals. As we move toward a more accepting and tolerant society, individuals will be less interested in identifying with gay culture, even though they will be having sex with people of the same sex.

The idea that we might be able to live lives outside of the narrow boundaries imposed by a gay/straight dicotomy is very appealing. Such stark opposites rarely capture the full complexity of how we live our lives and express our uniqueness.

But this book review offers a more troubling vision. The Joy of Sex is now 35 years old! What Julie Szego finds fascinating is how dated parts of it are, but also, what it says about our contemporary attitudes toward sexuality.

She focuses on the question of body hair, particularly pubic hair on women. Some thirty five years ago, it was quite the rage for the famous sex manual to contain drawings of quite hairy women. Nowadays, Szego point out, this would not be considered sexy. The trend now is toward Brazillian waxes and total shaving.

Where did this trend in hair (or lack of) for women come from? Porn.

What Szego finds most troubling is that today so much of our imagery of sexuality comes from pornography (usually through the internet). She cites Robert Jensen's work to show that these stories are starting to influence how many people understand what is sexy, erotic, fun, and fashionable. So while today people may be engaging in more "wild sex", it is not something that expresses intimacy or, more importantly, play and experimentation (exactly what the authors of The Joy of Sex were trying to get us to appreciate more). Instead, influenced by porn, a lot of sexual expression is about power, dominance, and control. As Szego writes:"If you could somehow measure today's bedroom antics against those of, say, 20 years ago, it might in fact reveal that we're more squeamish, more conformist, more self-conscious, more self-loathing and less adventurous now than we were then."

Maybe the future doesn't looks so free and liberated after all.

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At 7:20 PM , Blogger Dennis said...

This is a complicated post.

A few things:

1. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but in the past, what mattered was not people's identities as "straight" or "gay" (and in fact such identities did not exist in the ways we think about them now) but the acts that people partook in. In this sense, our future may very well be our past (which may make our crazy multi-century Victorian period the World's Most Unnecessary Detour).

2. Szego seems right on - but I'm not sure what the implication is for sexual identity. Can you (or perhaps another reader) clarify that for me?

At 11:34 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...


Yes, the identities we now take for granted as gay or straight arose at certain historical junctions (Foucault does a nice job talking about this in his History of Sexuality). Of course, these identities are also different in communities of color. Some have argued that in Latino communities, what matters is not gay or straight but top or bottom/active or passive roles, which corresponds much more to ancient Greek notions. And the phenomenon of the "down low" among African American men seems to be about having same sex intercourse, but rejecting a gay identity.

I think Szergo may be hinting that traditional, patriarchal gender identities are far from being broken down. Instead, they are being reinforced even though we think we are much less prudish than previous generations. We are not freer even if we are more kinky.

At 8:44 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think "The Language of Sex" reinforces Joseph's last comment. Until we humans have some kind of way of thinking/talking/describing sex in terms of mutuality, it looks to me that patriarchal constructs remain. Even top/bottom seems to support this.

As an aside, I suspect that most all communities derive an identity in opposition to others. It also seems odd, at the same time, to say something like this community (LGBT, any group) is created in some sense by oppression. But it's arguably so. Lani

At 10:14 AM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Lani: I tend to agree with you (not quite an astounding revelation ;)

At 10:31 PM , Blogger la mala said...

It seems to me that recent writings on sexuality/sexual identity markers and the blending in those can sometimes be reduced to justification as an attempt to show we are all becoming the same. As we know from communities of color, "normalizing" has adverse effects. Worse, for those who identify as lgbt, their identities are often further reinforced while the "straight" world is given the permission to venture out and experiment without repercussions or loss of status. I say this, of course, as a queer woman of color who identifies with lgbt communities even while liking men who, currently, is without much status.


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