Saturday, December 8, 2012

Two books

Late last night, I finished reading The End of Sexual Identity, a slim volume by cultural anthropologist Jennell Williams Paris which taught me the history of the concepts homosexual and heterosexual, and argued that the concepts in themselves are deeply problematic. We have made sexual desire into a primary identity marker, thereby consigning ourselves and each other to categories based on feelings. Paris suggests that we leave behind the categories of heterosexual/homosexual and ground ourselves more deeply in the identity of being beloved (of God).
Today, I started reading Ursula K. LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness, the account of a alien male ambassador on a planet where all the humans are androgynous hermaphrodites five-sixths of the time, only becoming male or female during estrus for reproductive purposes. Here there are no homosexuals or heterosexuals or even men and women, because sexuality does not enter into identity at all. It is strictly compartmentalized into the brief period of kemmer (estrus), rather than influencing every aspect of life and social interactions as it does for us.

Quite the juxtaposition. Paris speaks of settling into being a woman or being a man, regardless of particular desires. LeGuin describes the what-if of not having a man/woman distinction in the first place. The ideas are strikingly similar in some ways but at the same time deeply opposed to each other.

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