March 17, 2009
Happily Gay Me
This is the post I've really wanted to write in this series because I'm gay. And because I'm gay, most of the energy I've directed toward thinking about masculinity and femininity is from within that context. Nevertheless, as I've been pondering this topic of late, I've had lots of little personal insights that have been very exciting to me.
But before I get going on this I do want to make a few items clear.
First of all, I do subscribe to the "nurture" side of the nature v. nurture argument. I do not think one chooses to be gay, but I don't believe that biology plays a role in developing a person's sexuality in any meaningful way. I think that as a person's identity comes together from infancy as one integrates concepts and values and sexual identity is part of that.
I do not think there is or ever will be an effective means of changing an adult person from gay to straight or gay while also retaining their whole identity as an individual. Can you imagine your life if your own sense of gender and sex were removed or altered in some significant way? I can't. Sexual identity is just one manifestation of an individual's consciousness in a particular regard or context.
I am going to disclose a lot about my personal sense of my sexual identity with this post. This is not an invitation to speculate about my sexual proclivities. If you are interested in finding out about that sort of thing you are invited to submit an application to find out about such things first hand.
I am happy with who I am and I am gay. Certain people seem to leap to the conclusion that my ideas about masculinity and femininity make me miserable with myself.
There's a hint of sexism in the conclusion that simply because I think homosexual men aren't "properly masculine" (You'll see.) that I'm self-loathing. I wonder if those people think women just cry themselves to sleep every night for not being men. That would require me evaluating my life as if I were someone else and I'm not and I don't want to be.
One final note: I am going to focus on masculinity and gay men because I'm a gay man and I don't feel like constantly writing "gay and lesbian" and constantly making references to both men and women, but the general principles here can be said to apply to lesbians as well.
Homosexual is Not Normal
"Normal" is such a loaded term and people often assume that it includes an evaluation. Here, I am not suggesting that it is either morally right or wrong. I only mean to say that it is a minority disposition and it is at odds with the concept of masculinity/femininity as derived from the physical reality of men and woman.
See? Doesn't it feel better when I just drop the bomb right at the front?
Picture the characteristics, both physical and psychological, that allow us to form the concepts of masculinity and femininity.
I know they're hard to identify consistently -- particularly in the case of the psychological traits -- because people often think that if a woman is seen with one of those masculine traits then either it's not a masculine trait or she's not feminine. While I think that's a valid question to ask when testing out the concept, I think people make an emotional decision about it because they're unwilling to tell a woman that they're unfeminine in some way.
These sets of characteristics also represent sexual values. They are what one seeks sexually. If the psychological characteristics of masculinity are developed based on the the physical characteristics of what is male and together these traits allow us to build the concept of masculinity (allowing the same sort of logic for the formation of femininity), and because in humans the only options sexually are male and female, then in order to be "properly" one or the other, one must also sexually value the opposite.
It should be noted that there are otherwise masculine gay men and effeminate straight men in the world. There are also effeminate lesbians and butch straight women out there. And people of any sexual orientation may value any combination of masculine and feminine traits in a partner and still be perfectly moral, admirable people.
Nevertheless, deviation from the norm where the properly masculine man is attracted to the properly feminine woman, necessarily means there is some compromise somewhere in those values. This causes many people a lot of conflict and turmoil.
Evaluating Masculinity and Femininity
You can't just change your mind about what you like in a sexual partner. It incredibly hard to identify all of the factors and aspects that go into choices like that, so I don't even know that I would bother trying to change if, for some reason, you think you'd like to like something else.
When I was coming to terms with my homosexuality, I had a big problem reconciling being gay with how I saw myself as a man and what I wanted from life as a man. It was difficult for me to imagine being taken to dinner. Hell, it was initially difficult for me to imagine having any feelings for another man other than sex. Interestingly, though, in many ways I think I've actually become more masculine as I've embraced my homosexuality and stopped treating it as something separate from who I am.
Although there is an element of the is-ought in sexual identity (one is male, therefore one ought to be sexually attracted to females) changing is simply not an option if you're gay and there is no point at all in fretting over whether or not you should be gay. You ARE gay, therefore you ought to be sexually attracted to virtuous gays.
Similarly, one might be tempted to think, "Well, if I am to be a masculine man, then I ought to be attracted to feminine women, but I am sad because I often like when a woman is assertive and that makes me think I am less of a man." Listen. Nothing can make you less of a man or less of a woman. And in terms of moral values one should seek in romance, a particular style of genitalia isn't even on the map.
I believe this element of is-ought is the source of Rand's uglier remarks about homosexuality as when she stated that she believed that it "involves psychological flaws, corruptions, errors, or unfortunate premises." Errors, perhaps, but it's impossible for me to view my identity -- least of all my sexual identity -- as corrupt or unfortunate. You should be so lucky to be like me!
You can be moral, happy, healthy regardless of whether or not you're gay, straight, masculine, or feminine. But you might have to work harder at it than if you had grown up more in line with the sexual identity and sexuality that is the norm for your own genitals.
I, personally, am attracted to more masculine men. I find body hair, broad shoulders, and large hands attractive. I like men who are comfortable and unpretentious in their personal space, frank and direct in their interactions, but I dislike masculine pretentions and posturing because they strike me as actually un-masculine and unauthentic.
In considering all of this over the past few weeks, I've come to realize that I am rather feminine. I wouldn't say I'm especially flamboyant unless I'm being silly, but my relationship toward other men in romance tends to be more submissive.
On the other hand, I've long thought that in order to attract the particular type of gay man that I want, I need to be as much like the type of gay man I want as I can be. I think that's very true in terms of moral values, but in terms of sexual values it can actually be a bit of a challenge.
For instance, I have both a desire to have a man court me and a discomfort with constantly accepting those attempts from another. Sometimes I like to make the reservations and pick up the check. I definitely think the desire to "bring home the kill" is a rather masculine trait and I certainly feel a strong desire to impress my mate with my ability to provide for him.
It's common for gay people to simply balance their roles in the relationship, rather than one person constantly being "the man" and the other being "the woman." I'm sure there are people out there who do try to adopt typically straight gender roles in a romantic relationship, but every gay guy I've ever met would not be comfortable in their relationship if things were done that way.
So, there is a tension in gay relationships that has to be moderated by both parties carefully. I think the two men or women have to work together to make sure that neither feels oppressed in the relationship. That is surely the emotional experience one would have if one consistently deferred the expression of one's sexual identity in a relationship.
Obviously, I don't believe this tension is insurmountable, but it can be trouble, just like some heterosexual couples have a little trouble when roles reverse in some way, like if the wife finds herself supporting the family. But when you realize that having small hands doesn't make you an effeminate man, specific issues like the size of hands or income become somewhat inconsequential. After all there was some time when Dominique made more money than Roark and he didn't mind.
Ok, so did you catch all that?
Masculinity and femininity are concepts associated with sexual identity, derived from the the physical differences from men and women and the way in which one experiences those differences in the formation of one's individual psychology as a man or woman.
These differences in psychology affect the optional values that men and women pursue in their lives both in romance and in other areas such as their choice of career.
These concepts translate into values for sex and keeping that direct line to the concrete reality of men and women, we have to conclude that deviations from the essentials of these paradigms create a certain amount of tension in relationships (platonic as well as romantic) for those individuals. This tension may or may not inhibit any particular relationship. A particularly masculine man may not even be comfortable being friends with an effeminate man even if they're both heterosexual, for example.
But I think it is only in relationships where deviations from these archetypes really matter at all and even within relationships such deviations can be overcome and balanced so that one can lead a perfectly moral and happy existence.
So, if you're gay, be gay and use reason as your guide to thrive, prosper and build a happy life for you and your husband or wife. And the same is true for heterosexual couples as well no matter how masculine or feminine they may be.
March 03, 2009
I've been thinking about this so much for so long that I feel like I'm just saying the same things over and over again! But I really do have somewhere I'm trying to go with this.
Before I proceed on to the question of sexual identity in everyday contexts, I'd like to look back at the question of sexual assertiveness. When one thinks of women in sex as portrayed by Ayn Rand, people usually leap to the "rape" of Dominique Francon or Hank and Dagny's rough sex in which she is pinned and bruised during the sex act. In the majority of these cases, the man is the initiator of sex. But she does give a fair amount of time to Dominique and Howard's affair.
We can be sure that Dominique does initiate sex at times and was sometimes the "one one top" but in these descriptions we see that due to their sexual identities, Dominique remains the feminine partner.
[Dominique] tried to demonstrate her power over [Roark]. She stayed away from his house; she waited for him to come to her. He spoiled it by coming too soon; by refusing her the satisfaction of knowing he had waited and struggled against his desire; by surrendering at once. She would say: "Kiss my hand, Roark." He would kneel and kiss her ankle. He defeated her by admitting her power; she could not have the gratification of enforcing it. He would lie at her feet, he would say: "Of course I need you. I go insane when I see you. You can do almost anything you wish with me. Is that what you want to hear? Almost, Dominique. And things you couldn't make me do -- you could put me through hell if you demanded them and I had to refuse you, as I would. Through utter hell, Dominique. Does that please you? Why do you want to know whether you own me? It's so simple. Of course you do. All of me that can be owned. You'll never demand anything else. But you want to know if you could make me suffer. You could. What of it?" The words did not sound like surrender, because they were not torn out of him, but admitted simply and willingly. She felt no thrill of conquest; she felt herself owned more than ever, by a man who could say these things, know them to be true, and still remain controlled and controlling -- as she wanted him to remainI hope that my posts help to elucidate some of what she meant here.
Back Tracking a Bit
At the NY Objectivists meeting yesterday evening, several comments were made that I found useful and illuminating.
One comment that was made was the description of how one forms one's sexual identity primarily without thought to sex -- the fundamental relationship between males and females -- but with an eye to the basic physical reality of one's own existence. This means that boys and girls grow into men and women first through their direct experiences with their own bodies and reality (including the people in reality) with it.
Sex comes later, but by the time it does, how one relates to others of the same and opposite sex have already been colored by those experiences. I think this actually reinforces the argument that masculinity and femininity does also manifest in non-sexual contexts
A masculine sexual identity being defined by a desire to pursue (and the more consistently rational his values, the more valuable and heroic the object of his pursuit) is augmented and reinforced by his biologically fueled aggression, physical strength, spacial reckoning skills, etc.
Similarly, the desire to worship and submit to a man sexually comes to a woman by way of her evolved characteristics which allow her to accept his seed, carry, and nurture his child.
And in sex, the masculine valuer admires the feminine and the feminine valuer values the masculine. But masculinity does not appeal to the masculine because as a pursuer, a fighter, hunter this leads to competition. I'll talk about this tension in gay relationships in the next post.
Of course, we are a special sort of animal and with our rational capacity we develop our concepts and abstractions and our values. It is these values which form the foundation of romance.
It is false to suggest that men and women who love one another do not deeply treasure and admire one another. They certainly do. They hold each other in such high esteem that they would do nearly anything including die for one another.
So, the question here isn't whether or not a properly masculine man may "worship" a properly feminine woman. He can and does in a sense. It also doesn't mean that he cannot submit to her sexually in some specific instance or another. As we've seen in the quotation from The Fountainhead even Ayn Rand thought that he may.
The question is what the feminine values in the masculine and what the masculine values in the feminine. The feminine manifests her female appreciation for masculinity, his strength and "maleness" with worship and submission. The masculine demonstrates his male desire for her woman-ness, her femininity by taking her.
Sex as the Omnipresent Elephant in the Room
Regardless of whether or not you begin with the integration step (seeing how your body is like that of others of your same gender) or the differentiation step (seeing how your body is different from people of the opposite sex) you still end up developing a sense of sex, sexuality, and sexual identity that is different for the masculine man and the feminine woman. Even as one's attitude toward life is colored by one's gender and we call this a man's masculinity or a woman's femininity, it is also colors how one relates to other people.
In responding to the question about a woman president, Rand remarked:
This does not mean that a feminine woman feels or projects hero-worship for any and every individual man; as human beings, many of them may, in fact, be her inferiors. Her worship is an abstract emotion for the metaphysical concept of masculinity as such—which she experiences fully and concretely only for the man she loves, but which colors her attitude toward all men.This makes a lot of sense to me because even though one might not think about sex directly every moment of the day, one does have a sense of one's sexual identity as it relates to everyone else one meets, particularly when the ones one meets are of the sex one desires.
But even without thinking about sex, you still have this subconscious stance that you've developed as you grew and experienced your body as a man or woman.
And based on your experience, you know what male is and therefore masculinity, female and therefore femininity. And as you are aware of your own sexual identity, you know how you relate to those concepts of masculine and feminine.
I have to add in the same qualification that Rand did when she points this out.
This doesn't mean that every time you meet someone of the sex you prefer you think about having sex with them or even that there's a chance that you'll have sex with them. It just means that your subconscious mind assesses them according to the standard of your own sexual identity. If you have a feminine sexual identity and you encounter someone with a masculine sexual identity your sexual-emotional response to them will be one of submission to some degree.
This sexual-emotional response to others will manifest itself in varying degrees, primarily as a "stance" or attitude that you adopt with them. I like how Rand describes it as a "color" because it isn't right that a feminine woman just submits to all men or that a masculine man pursues all women.
Emotions come from one evaluating reality in light of one's values.
Those values might be very simple or optional things, but the most
important values one has are broad-level abstractions, like justice and
independence. Sexually, masculinity and femininity are this sort of
When one encounters another who embodies one's most deeply held values, one experiences emotions of admiration, respect, benevolence, and even a certain type of love. When that same person also embodies one's sexual values that emotion can turn into romantic love.
You can't simply stop valuing even part of what you hold dear. The idea of not valuing something as wonderful as sex, even for a moment, is just so alien and wrong. It's antithetical to the notion of living a life oriented toward happiness and a person's well-being.
So, it's in this way that sex is constantly a part of one's consciousness in every context in which one operates.
How does this emotion manifest itself in attitude and action? Well, consider how other emotions manifest themselves in life, particularly those emotions related to one's general disposition toward life. People who believe the universe is a malevolent place behave differently than people who see existence as a boon. People who are honest with themselves behave differently than those who repress and evade.
During our discussion this evening, we gave lots of examples of men and women behaving differently toward one another. I pointed out that one of the ways I identify other gay men is just by seeing how they relate to other men. Straight men, "properly masculine" men seem to be largely oblivious to other men. Women seem to pay attention to everyone. Men generally like playing and watching sports. Women spend a lot of time on interpersonal relationships.
These are generalities, of course, and there are ready individual exceptions to these things, but when we use expressions like "properly masculine" we're referring not to specific behaviors but how an individual incorporates the essential aspect of his or her sexual identity into his behavior, that being men as hunter and women as "high priestess."
On a Woman President
Ayn Rand held a deep and abiding love for her adopted country. The United States was (is?) the freest country in the world and she saw the presidency as the highest office in the land. The occupant of that office would stand as the leader of the greatest country in the history of human civilization.
I believe that in Ayn Rand's eyes a woman could be morally and intellectually capable of holding the office of president. The challenge for any woman in that role would be that it would stand dissonant with her sexual identity.
During our discussion last Monday, one objection posed to this is that the President isn't actually the boss of everyone in the US. Barak Obama cannot legally walk up to a private citizen and compel him to do his bidding. Nonetheless, the office of the President is the highest political office the political organization to which all US citizens belong: the United States of America. And even though he can't boss us around, he's still our leader.
In discussing Ayn Rand's remarks about a woman president, I believe too many
people get preoccupied with the rather inessential and specific
question of that particular position. This is not about the United States in particular or even politics in particular. It's about projecting a woman's identity qua woman into a position where she would have to behave toward men as if she were a man.
I think Ayn Rand would have had similar concerns for a woman CEO or Board Chairman in business. It would, of course, be up to that particular woman to make that determination for herself, whereas we as citizens vote for the president of our country, which is why Ayn Rand was asked to comment at all.
The determining factor in making the decision about pursuing such positions of power, requires that a woman consider how her sexual identity would mesh with her public identity. How will she maintain her integrity as a woman knowing that she has no peers; knowing that she does, in fact, wield power over all other men even if in that limited range and context?
And, really, the same question is posed to any woman who would take a position of leadership over men. Can she relate to the men she encounters as a woman? Could she fulfill her duties in the position, be fulfilled in her career, and also find sexual satisfaction in her relationship?
So, given our acknowledgment of the fact of there being differences between men and women, physically, psychologically, sexually and everything in between to varying degrees, I think these are legitimate questions. I don't know that I agree with Rand on the specific question of the presidency, but I do agree with the general idea behind her argument here.
Men and Women in Other Contexts
Ayn Rand listed some other roles that she found inappropriate for women in their relationship with men. "It means that a properly feminine woman does not treat men as if she were their pal, sister, mother." The common theme between these relationships is that they also seek to contradict her sexual values.
It's also important to not here that these are generalizations and individuals have to assess their relationships for themselves just as we discussed above in the specific question of leadership roles. I have many lady-friends whom I would consider properly feminine, but I would not say that I am "properly masculine" so there's one ready exception. Other cases may also exist.
Similarly, properly masculine men would not seek to relate to women as friend, brother, or father, either.
I think platonic relationships such as those listed above between heterosexual men and women are problematic. The closer the friendship the more likely that it will bridge into romance. I have the same issue with male friendships where one or both of the men are gay. (I have mostly female friends. I enjoy the company of men, but the deeper my admiration for a man the more troubled I become about being "not allowed" to begin moving the relationship into romance.)
OK! I've already started talking about gay people and how they monkey with the masculine and feminine paradigms, so I am going to just close this long post down.
Next up: Gays! WOOWOOOOO!
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