Sexual Orientation Lecture Notes
The following is a brief summary of notes taken during a series of lectures on sexual orientation given by Lois McDermott, PhD, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington.
Her working definition of sexual orientation is mate selection based on the sex, gender and sexual roles of partners. It pertains to loving attachment, erotic fantasy, sexual behavior, a sense of self, social roles, lifestyle and legal status. This terminology pertains to humans only.
Evolution of thinking on the subject: Ranges from modes of dichotomy of heterosexual and homosexual to the Kinsey continuum covering a range from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual, with most people falling in a bell curve in between, to the orthogonal vectors model (ranking same sex with cross sex, high to low, with four fields: Heterosexual, asexual, bisexual, and homosexual, to the current model of the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, which talks of heterosexualities, homosexualities, bisexualities, based on past, present and 'ideal' experience with seven factors. It's like a slolum race down a ski slope with moguls based on various factors, with the final possible orientations based on which of these factors were encountered on the way down.
The search for a cause (sexual attraction to same sex, erotic fantasy about own gender, emotional attachment to own gender, sense of self as gay, lesbian, sexual behavior with same sex partner, social role as a 'gay or lesbian', a lifestyle), common assumptions about sexual behavior (that species are dichotomous, male/female, that anatomical sex is fixed or determined by genetics, that sexual behavior = reproductive behavior, that females gestate and rear young, and that males are necessary for sexual reproduction), natural variants (more than two sexes, fluidity, determined by environment, sexual behavior as social behavior, males gestating and rearing young and sexual reproduction by one sex) were discussed.
Subsequent lectures covered the biological basis of sexual orientation:
interpretation of brain differences LeVay 1991; the sociobiology of sexual orientation; is same sex behavior a 'natural' biological variant?; and genetics and genetic expression.
Finally, the cultural aspects of sexual orientation were explored. In the final lecture, the lecturer completed the formal perfection of her clear unfolding of notions of sexual orientation and gender by sharing a number of non-American perspectives on both. These cross-cultural views were gleaned from anthropological data reflecting 200 odd cultures. In around 60% of these cultures sexual minorities are fully accepted and integrated and may even perform vital social roles. Examples include the irreplaceable role of a Greek solder's male lover during battle (in curious contrast to the presumptions of the Pentagon today), or the role of shaman played by the Two Spirits of some native American tribes. Comparable roles, as in blessing business dealings, new buildings, and newborns, are played by the Hijras in India and by the Acault in Myanmar.
She also noted how so-called gay behavior is accepted or even expected in some cultures. Examples include, again, the Greeks, as well as the Japanese Samurai, and between boys in European boarding schools. Azande women in South African, meanwhile, commonly take a young girl into their household for sex and emotional support while their husbands are away for long periods.
If she had not by now already knocked out from under our feet the premises upon which to rest any lingering claims that common American views on matters of gender and sexual orientation are TRUTH, she noted that a majority of western armies accept gay people serving, and she displayed a state by state map showing the swath of the so-called anti-sodomy laws in the US. She concluded the lecture by turning American right-wing rhetoric upside down, speaking of a "heterosexual agenda" against gay people.
General thoughts taken away from the lecture:
The idea of sexualities and the fluidity of human sexual experience, shown by her figure of a total of as many as 400 homosexualities, hetersexualities, and bisexualities. This theory has unfolded in order to capture not only the well-established and clear-cut distinctions like gay and straight, but also newer distinctions, like transsexuality and transvestism, in order to distinguish more of the variety within the broader rubric of sexual orientation.
How strong and limited our assumptions are of what is 'natural'.
The more we learn about an area, the more aspects it takes on, making it much more complicated and involved than we ever expected at first.
Thanks to Joe T. Terteling, Seattle, for contributing to this summary.
Indiana University Office of Overseas Study
Copyright 2000, The Trustees of Indiana University
site url: http://www.indiana.edu/~overseas/lesbigay
Comments: NAFSA: Rainbow SIG