Mention homosexuality, and it instantly stirs those of a religious bent to a froth; the more fundamentally religious, the more violent the reaction.
This is interesting and needs some analysis.
Let us start by accepting that those who become incensed, experience a very real disgust at the thought of homosexuality – a physical revulsion as though they’d caught a whiff of an open sewer or seen an open wound running with infection.
But, curiously, this same disgust is not experienced by stable and rational people.
Why is this?
For clues to what’s going on, we can look at another polarizing, yet interestingly connected, issue – inter-racial sex. A racist feels an outrage at the thought of sex across a racial ‘divide’. Again, a very real urge to retch.
By ‘very real’ I mean physically sickening – in the same sense that a psychosomatic pain or illness brings very real symptoms and suffering to its victim.
But, why? Why such a potent reaction to the same (non)issues that the rest of us don’t give a second thought to, and certainly don’t have a reaction to? And why is it that the homosexual and racial revulsion (or indifference) so often goes hand-in-hand, afflicting the same individual?
Well – the answer has deep biblical, and, surprisingly, evolutionary, roots.
For too long we have called these people who have this reaction ‘bigots’ and become intensely angry with them. But perhaps the time has come to get into their heads and understand what it is that they fear, and why they are so confused. If we can do this, perhaps we can bring the intensity of debate down, and begin to educate them out of their primal and superstitious fears.
Let’s start with evolution.
Our ancestor’s peers who failed to be revolted by and retreat from filth, corruption, sewerage, rotting bodies or body parts; did themselves no favours – they heightened their own exposure to microbes, and, as a result, tended to be culled out of the equation, taking their non-concerned genes with them. Even the most dim-witted must recognize this process tends to favour the genes that have a strong reaction to degradation.
(But…. “Shhhhhhh!” – don’t mention that this is Natural Selection at work.)
Once farming had domesticated our ancestors, forcing them to settle; societies formed and citizens became ever-more specialized into tasks; farmers, artisans, administrators, tradesmen, etc. Hierarchies formed; victors in disputes set themselves up as upper classes, with lower structures below them – and, for strategic reasons (to remain on top and divide-to-conquer) they inculcated into these societies strict rules against stepping outside of the rigid class delineations. Through cultural practice and then religion, they instigated the idea of ‘purity’, god-given purity of each stratum. Kings were always appointed by god, to maintain the structures god wanted.
Crossing over the lines set up by god, was infused with the notion of impurity, or creating a festering sore in the minds of the populace.
As trade increased and races came into confrontation, this perception was amplified on the very obvious outward racial differences, and sanction to mixing.
To this day, in India, the caste system remains rigidly enforced within culture.
Of course, this same structure divided along gender lines; with each gender taking on roles reserved for it.
Now – there is a difference between “gender” and “sex”.
> Sex is simple; if you have XX chromosomes (and resulting body parts), you’re female – if you have male paraphernalia, you’re male.
> But, gender is much more complicated matter: gender is tied up in each culture by perceptions of what it is to be “a man” or “a woman”; and these perceptions shift from culture to culture and age to age.
By way of example; for a man today to wear stockings, dress, wig, makeup high-heels, and appear to be ‘dandy’ – the most masculine men of our age would be outraged and say he is “not a real man” – but this is precisely what epitomized a real man in the 1600’s. And, ironically, it is the most religious males of today who would simultaneously hark to the “greater era” that the 1600’s represented as a god-fearing time, but, who, today, would reject the masculine code of that very time if they were confronted with it.
Of course; over the past several thousand years, this prejudice of class and gender was codified; most markedly by the desert tribes that came up with the Abrahamic religions. In and by it, females were subjugated and passed into law as chattel owned by males; first by their fathers and brothers, then by husbands.
Rape was the destruction of a man’s property. Infamously and chillingly – Deuteronomy prescribes that if a man rapes an unmarried woman; he must pay her father and then marry her. This made good utilitarian sense when a female is reduced to an asset: once the rapist has compensated for the irreparable damage of goods, he must take title of the goods. Further to the mindset: no such concept of wife-rape was considered. Raping a wife was simply not a crime. How could it be? Afterall, you cannot steal your own wallet! Up to 2006 this situation still existed in 56 countries around the world. In Germany this was only rectified in law in 1997.
But what biological realities exist in our sexuality that these rules could be deemed ‘natural’?
Clearly a woman can have children, and a man can’t. But consider the difference between “can” and “must”. Sexually speaking, a woman ‘can’ have children – but only the concept of gender within culture imposes a ‘must’ – in some societies a woman ‘must’ have children or she is deemed to be “unnatural”.
Stick with me here – I’m en route to making a point.
And now we’re back to the ‘question’ of homosexuality.
If I, or any of us, had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that homosexuality is “unnatural”, I’d be wealthy.
On what basis is it deemed “unnatural”? Revealing the answer to this will reveal why the ‘revulsion’ against it crept into Abrahamic cultures. The path and reasons for ‘revulsion’ to homosexuality are very similar to why there is real physical revulsion to the perception and sensibilities of ‘defiling’, as discussed further above, “god’s natural order” of classes and races as set up in culture in order to keep order.
Let’s reflect on the shifting culture of gender identity; stocking-wearing, high-healed, wigged males – so aspired to ‘then’, so ‘repulsive’ now.
This is very important, because, in a patriarchal society – and most societies are patriarchal – “real men” get special privileges.
The male who attains, within his culture, ‘real man’ status is showered with untold economic, legal and social advantages. Those who buck that system, are reduced ever closer to feminine status; lower pecking order, defective, quasi-chattel.
Stated more broadly: Attempts to change or undermine a system draws punishment because it reduces reward for those who hold the power – crossing boundaries draws outrage.
So long as the world and its dominant cultures laboured under the misapprehension that we were created by a god, it followed that each of our body parts was purpose ‘designed’. In sex, the results of plugging ‘this’ part, into ‘that’ part and producing offspring is obvious. The notion, then, that this is all that these organs were good for took hold, and any deviation from it was then deemed to be a corruption, violation and insult to the angry-god figure. Outrage and that evolutionary-inspired physical revulsion now crept in as a bedfellow with the other cousin-revulsions to crossing class or colour boundaries. Hence – we tend to see racism, sexism, and homophobia all wrapped up into the same predictable groups and individuals who carry the god-notion in their heads.
But what is the truth behind the natural vs unnatural debate?
Well – we now know that sex is not just for procreation.
Sex is tied in with courtship, which evolved to help determine a potential mate’s fitness. But courtship is applied in nature for countless other tasks besides breeding: Dogs use sex to establish dominance, our cousins the chimpanzees use it to cement political alliances, and bonobos use it to diffuse group tensions.
We are closing in on an answer: Biology allows, it is culture that forbids. What is biologically possible cannot possibly be unnatural. The laws of nature are self-regulating; they need no cultural input to say what is ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’: For instance, there is no biblical or other sanction against humans photosynthesizing from the sun. Why ever not? Well – because, that would truly be unnatural – you cannot photosynthesize, nature doesn’t allow it – and therefore culture need not forbid it.
There are those who would still howl that a body part that is ‘designed’ for one task, should not be used for any other task. As I showed in my article The Fossils Are In Your Head, it is clear that the hands and feet we use every day in so many ways, evolved from the fins in our very distant ancestors. Our lungs were originally swim bladders, our larynx, pharynx and tonsils were originally gills. These are facts and not up for dispute.
So, if homosexuals are mis-using their sex organs, then you are mis-using most of your body parts in the act of being a tetrapod.
Biology gave women the ability to have babies and men the ability to have homosexual sex – whether you use them that way is your business; and any comment to the contrary is purely cultural. The norms, obligations and rights imposed here only reflect the human imagination and not biological reality.
So – let’s end the debate here, once and for all: Biologically – what is possible cannot be unnatural.
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