I love my classes! I felt like shit this morning when I woke, and slept most of the day. Then I dragged my butt to class… Anthropology of Homosexualities. Such a cool class! Today we discussed the bissu, the ritual transvestite priests of Sulawesi. Their tradition goes back over 800 years. Though today they’ve been reduced to a carnival act, they were once mystics of the tribe. The bissu symbolize the mystery that created life, the nexus where masculine and feminine come together. The professor, Matt, showed slides from his trip to Indonesia and his time among the bissu. Really cool.
Then we went on to discuss leatherdyke boys and their daddies. Something about the fluidity of gender opened up for me during that discussion. Gender identity is more than man and woman, it’s gay man, lesbian, daddy, bear, dyke, sissy, cub, etc. Each of these is not merely a slang name, but could be adopted as a gender idenitity, and one could conceivably move between and among them from day to day, one moment a dyke and the next a bear, so long as your context supports it. Our culture really has man and woman tangled with male and female.
If a man is not a male, what qualities make him a man?
If a woman is not a female, what qualities make her a woman?
Is it what they do? How they dress? How they walk? Is it who they fuck?
It makes sense that male and female have been collapsed with woman and man. This phenomenon is possilble because of the relative looseness of our gender roles. Males and females can perform any of the same essential cultural duties… save one. Males cannot bear children. The only thing that separates what is available to men and women is in the realm of childbirth, bringing biology to the front as the defining characteristics of man and woman. However, they are not the same thing.
Other cultures, including Native American tribes, Native Hawaiian tribes, Indonesian tribes, have long histories of biological males living their lives as women and females living as men. In each case, society’s expectations of a given gender were clearly understood. It was an option for a male to choose a woman’s life or a female to choose a man’s life.
In today’s society, it’s not so clear cut. How one contributes is not determined by gender. In fact, it is something that must be created by each individual. Family urgings (and reactions to them) and personal affinity are probably the most powerful factors as people carve their roles in the world. One thing they can carve in this society is sexual identity.