October 31, 2005

Awareness week

This is person X
Tick off all the conclusions that you would happily agree with

[ ] their favourite colour is orange
[ ] their favourite tv show is Lost
[ ] they dislike red wine
[ ] they have a serious nut allergy
[ ] they blood type is B rh-
[ ] they are a natural brunette
[ ] they're a fan of horror films
[ ] they had a pizza last friday
[ ] they have artistic flair
[ ] they dislike the sound made by filing nails
[ ] they have mild myopia
[ ] they've read Tolkien's LOTR trilogy
[ ] they know the offside rule
[ ] they are attracted to men

How many did you tick? Any at all? Would you stand by them on pain of death?


During the Pride Awareness Week last week, I was fortunate enough to be one of the few people who attended the discussion given by Kath Lambert on the topic of "Sexism and Homophobia". My summary, as best as I can remember it…

The main focus was on the 'missing link' between to two prejudices. Or in other words how an anti-female and anti-homosexual bias arises from an underlying pro-heterosexual prejudice. Heterosexuality is seen as the normal state of being, everything else is seen as deviant and, crucially, as wrong. When the truth is that it's just different, and no more pertainant to how an individual should be treated than their skin colour or eye colour.

In all truth heterosexuality is one of society's biggest memes. Think about it. I wouldn't go so far as to describe it as a cultural virus, but simply through repetition it becomes the accepted norm rather than something that should be questioned and interpreted on ones own personal grounds just as with so many other things. For something that plays such a huge role in your life it's surprising how sexuality is, on the whole, ignored by the masses.

The rights of the individual to express their own personal taste is played on by every branch of modern media and society. From perfumes to music videos, from the colour of the nappies you are potty-trained in the emphasis is on a heterosexual way of life. Why? Because that is what's seen as normal. Imagine the uproar if the girl in the "fruity yoplait" advert kissed another girl, yet kissing a boy is viewed a cute. Since when do small children feel attraction to anyone regardless of sex? The rules of attraction are already laid out for them before they even know what it is and woe betide those "perverse" individuals that don't adhere to society's self-fulfilling prophesy

When it comes to ethnic origin the 2001 UK National Census gave the options of White British/White Irish/Other White/Mixed/Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi/Other Asian/Black Caribbean/Black African/Other Black/Chinese/Other Ethnic Group. These are people living in England yet the freedom is there to express not "who you are because of your geographical location" but "who you feel you are and who you identify with".

I am white with blonde hair and blue eyes. I was born in Islington and raised in Hounslow and then near Staines. I've lived in the UK all my life, been through the British schooling system, Am currently attending a British University and yet would never tick the "White British" box. My mother is Spanish, as are the majority of my living relatives and that's a huge part of how I identify myself. I'm not willing to discard it just so I can fit into the box they provide.

But when it comes to the designated standards "male attracted to females" and "female attracted to males" there is this reluctance to even consider the possibility of an "Other" category even though sexuality is no more phenotypically apparant than your favourite breakfast cereal.

The assumption that heterosexuality is the norm and should therefore be priviledged and promoted in society.

But what does it mean? Sexism and homophobia are active prejudices. They essentially state that:

  • men must act in a manner appropriate to men and women in one appropriate to women; This sets up the bias of "men only" and "women only" behavioural patterns, careers, fashion, music, etcetera.
  • Men are attracted to women and women to men all other combinations are therefore inherantly wrong.

Heterosexism combines the two, yet is somewhat passive. Everyone is heterosexist at some point or another, It's not easy to spot and it's not something you tend to think about. Someone shared how they always ask their youger cousin(male) if they have a girlfriend, even though they themselves are gay. A friend of mine recently explained how things were getting tricky because his best mates girlfriend had fallen for him; I asumed the best mate was male – as it turns out she wasn't… this is also known more specifically as heterocentrism.

Maybe a better way to define woulf be on a scale rather than just the two extremes. Some would argue that the same should apply to gender. But Apart from TFS males and those with similar genetic/developmental issues I think that phenotypical gender is on the whole quite descrete; what does change is what gender we identify with the most, however this itself brings with it heterosexist beliefs as identifying with a gender requires you to first define that gender.

Think about it though? where would you define yourself if given the freedom to stray from the set boundaries and to tick outside the box. It's so ingrained I doubt many people even think of it past the "well I'm not gay" knee-jerk reaction. I am intrigued. If people could leave their "time" (eg 4:30) and gender as anonymous comments It would be interesting to see the results

"Heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common" – Derek Jamon

M xxx

I'm only a biochemist so there's probably a lot of basic stuff that I've missed out or got wrong, that would appear in sociology and psychology degrees. Enlighten the world via the comments section.


Results so far…

Updated 09 Nov 2005, 03:55pm

- 19 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. I've always seen myself as something of a homosceptic.

    31 Oct 2005, 20:53

  2. Female

    Probably 2.45

    31 Oct 2005, 21:12

  3. i am curious, you say that heterosexuality is only considered the norm because we accept it/ we dont question it but on the whole we tend to gain our curiosities from our parents and our surroundings so why would we not see our mum and dad being together the norm. if you grow up in surroundings where you are not exposed to homosexuality why would you not see heterosexuality as the norm. even if you yourself are homosexual you would not see it as being normal at first.
    you are right that maybe the nature of sexuality is not questioned enough in this day and age but that does not necasarily (cant spell) mean that there is pro-predjudice for heterosexuality just because we think it is the norm.
    i myself am quite ok with saying yes i was what you call a homophobe not because i actively disliked homosexuality but more because i didnt understand or want to understand but my predjudices changed because i was able to interact in an environment that was not solely heterosexual. so the fact that it is the norm is not because people pressed heterosexuality onto me but sinmply because i was only exposed to heterosexuality.
    thats me and it maybe different for others idont know but i think tha saying there is intentional pro-predjudice is going too far.

    PS i dont understand the clock thing
    PPS sunflowers

    31 Oct 2005, 21:14

  4. female 2

    ~ 8

    31 Oct 2005, 21:27

  5. Female 3


    01 Nov 2005, 00:08

  6. Have you read Kinsey?

    01 Nov 2005, 00:25

  7. Dave tCB

    The gay couple across the landing from me are great! One of them cleans the stair and does the garden refusing all offers of help. Brill!!!

    It's the old nature/nurture question I suppose.

    Oh 12.27pm.

    01 Nov 2005, 00:30

  8. I can see your point Sukhdeep, I don't think heterosexuality is actively pressed on anybody, but I think the point they are trying to raise is that the unique exposure to it does set up a bias regardless of pressure or not.

    I know of Kinsey and his infamous "10%" conclusion after a lengthy study of American sexuality, but have read very little on the man himself or any of his work.

    Yes nature/nurture does play a role in the question, but it's less "which one is more important" and more "to what extent does nurture repress nature"

    And lastly the clock explained your gender = Male/Memale, your sexuality = time (eg 100% bisexual would be 12:00, 100% heterosexual would be 3:00(M) or 9:00(F)). I hope that clears up any confusion.

    And yes the sunflowers are half way finished...

    01 Nov 2005, 01:01

  9. Dave! You're being blog unfaithful, hehehe.

    And I can't comment too much having not read Kinsey but I can refer to something I have read- since William I the Conqueror there have been 40 monarchs of England/Britain. We have reliable evidence that four were gay (Richard I the Lionheart, Edward II, James I and Anne) so it's funny how history adds up.

    01 Nov 2005, 01:32

  10. With reference to comment 8, does anyone classify themselves as Memale?

    01 Nov 2005, 09:43

  11. i see what you are saying Mia and i think that this bias is something that cannot be overcome as we tend to create our predjudices when we are young and impressionable, before we are educated otherwise. the only way to get around this is to have children educated at a very young age, which as you said at that age they would not really understand the concepts of attraction.
    i am not saying that you should not try to educate people but the fact is that sex is still percieved as something of a taboo and that it is not until sex in general is talked about openly, that you will be able to talk about sexuality.
    I am curious, you dont have to answer, but why do you have such a passion for this topic?
    myself i find that it was the fact that i was so predjudiced before i went to sixth form and uni about a lot of things, these things are real eye openers.

    ps cool….sunflowers…...you LEGEND

    01 Nov 2005, 15:15

  12. nom

    you might call it a prejudice, but i always thought that because gay people cant reproduce; they make up for it in irritability (or excretion; a la will&grace)

    m.. i dunno, 3–5:30 depending on if im busy or not?

    04 Nov 2005, 12:22

  13. Time moves forwards from 10 until 2, then back again.

    Call it 1 for the sake of argument.

    I wonder if anyone is completely 100% straight… doesn't everyone have a non-straight thought at the back of their mind? We may never know – the type to say they are 100% straight are often the kind I would never believe. Still, interesting topic.

    05 Nov 2005, 03:08

  14. nom

    it depends what you mean by a "non-straight" thought; do you define friendlyness with people of the same sex as a sexual thing or not? if you think about something enough you can make anything up; images, feelings, beliefs; especially when people try to put their opinions into something.
    the brain has what.. 90% background static/inefficiency? does that mean we dont think?

    also, have you ever thought about killing someone? even in the back of your mind? (nb, im not saying its right or wrong)

    05 Nov 2005, 09:16

  15. By non-straight thought I was referring to sexual thoughts or fantasies referring to people of the same sex. Friendlyness is different, I can be very friendly with people in a non-sexual way.

    I'm not sure what you mean by being able to make anything up. I have emotional and thoughtful reactions to external actions, and similarly to my own thought processes; but I'm not sure I would voluntarily invent homosexual ideas, or fantasies, if I considered myself "100% straight". I'm just throwing the idea out there that people who are straight may have a homosexual side to them. It doesn't stop them being straight, but in an purely sexual way it's an idea that perhaps people toy with and think about and don't tell anybody. Especially with a lot of men, because they tend not to voice their own sexual feelings.

    I wasn't saying it's true, I can't speak for the "100% straight", but it'd be interesting to find out if someone who is self-proclaimed 100% straight does in fact have any incling to homosexual thoughts. Not as far as experimentation or anything, but the occasional thought process involving a sexual situation with someone of the same.. genital group.

    I have thought about killing someone. As in the above examples, that doesn't make me a killer – but can I now call myself 100% non-murderer?

    I suppose the argument breaks down into the idea that thoughts that betray your personal standpoint are more (or less) in tune with who you really are. Does deviating from your own norm make you less aligned to that normality? We may never know. It's an interesting realm for self-reflection.

    05 Nov 2005, 15:38

  16. I would consider myself 100% straight. I don't think thoughts in themselves make you less than "100% straight" in the same way that thoughts of killing someone make you less than 100% of a non-murderer as you put it. The difference is how you react to those thoughts in your mind. For example, if you watched someone being murdered on TV, you might have a thought about what it would be like to kill someone. If you're totally against these thoughts in your mind, it doesn't mean you have any more murderous intent than beforehand. In the same way, a totally straight guy might watch scenes of a homosexual nature and not at all be turned on or attracted to those thoughts; in fact in my experience quite the opposite. I don't think the thought in itself makes someone less than 100% straight, the difference is whether they enjoy having the thought or not.

    This thread has gotten pretty bizarre…

    05 Nov 2005, 16:30

  17. Lol, I'd never thought of myself as having a passion for this topic but it is something I feel very strongly about. I love the idea of "the individual", and I would hate to be described as "average" infact I'd rather die than be normal, it somehow implies that there's nothing about you that's unique or personal, and that all those quirks in your genes make no difference. In addition to this I was also raised with a very open mind to the world around me (so open my brains fell out some might argue... ;) ) lots of people I know, family and friends are gay. I know them for who they are, not by their sexuality, but it also means I've grown up witnessing the prejudices against them and I wouldn't wish that kind of treatment on anybody. Can you imagine coming out to your parents and being disowned and blanked out for the next 15 years of your life? And all of that for no good reason other than your choice of partner. If by writing this post I manage to get people to just think outside "the box" of accepted norms with regards to sexuality, and consider the bigger picture of possibilities, then it will have been worth the effort I put in. I don't think there will be any epiphanies, but making people think is still a move in the right direction.

    Sexuality isn't what you do it's what you are. Experimenting doesn't make you any more 'gay' than you were before, it merely means you are open to the posibilities. If it's not who you are then no experience will change that. sexuality is not a decision but a discovery; and a very personal one at that. As long as you are comfortable with yourself and true to yourself, what does it matter how you define.

    I think that sometimes the assumption is made that if someone says they art 100% straight then they must be some how lying to themselves and in denial. In truth 100% straight is just as valid as any other point on the 'compass' if that's who you are then that's who you are. I'm sure everyone thinks about it at one point in their lives, but the suggestion that everyone is at least a teeny bit queer could almost be heterophobic – and then we're back at square one :S

    But I agree that friendliness is completely different and shouldn't be confused with attraction. If you're attracted to your friend tho, then that's something a little bit more complex…

    This thread is indeed getting increasingly more and more bizarre. Still, it raises some interesting questions.

    M xxx

    ps "memale"... damn... and nom, m/f?

    09 Nov 2005, 17:48

  18. nom

    male. incidentally im just some random trawler rather than someone who knows you; sorry for commenting if it was eh, wierd.

    10 Nov 2005, 16:52

  19. female

    I dont really get the clock thing but after that whole "can you be 100% straight" thing, I'd say yes, yes you can, and I'd class myself as that. If you're going to argue against people being 100% straight, would that not also mean no-one could be 100% gay…? which means you'd say everyone is bi to some extent. I think I agree with whoever said that saying no-one can be 100% straight was heterophobic. Surely if someone turned around and said it wasnt possible to be 100% gay because it wasnt natural to only have sexual thoughts about people of the same sex would be branded a homophobe?

    17 Nov 2005, 16:36

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