Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nature, Nurture, Bleah

So is sexual orientation (gender identity too) nature or nurture?

In meaning-making and meaning-seeking humanity's pursuit of meaning, we have conveniently conditioned ourselves into seeing the world in all things binary, dichotomous.

I derive great irritation from the nature-nurture discourse, which has been somehow preselected to predetermine something we will already want to know.

It is a leading question to begin with, upholding deep-seated assumptions about how we construct and position natural-ness in our lives, and at the same time, how we determine what is man-made, hence (un)learnable.

As we attempt to legitimise or delegitimise sexual orientation with respective claims of natural-ness or unnatural-ness, we validate the nature-nurture discourse. This discourse circumscribes how we think, how we ask questions and how we answer them - in the process normalising and entrenching itself as a convincingly reasonable and logical approach to making sense of the world.

For the longest time, anthropologists have shown how the processes of meaning-making in tribes and societies employ various dichotomies to consolidate numbers and power - virtue-sin, sacred-profane, natural-unnatural, etc. These dichotomies are further operationalised into taxonomies of behavioural and physiological embodiment, among others.

The lived daily experiences and interaction with the natural environment also help shape dichotomies and how people would police them and continue to incorporate them into their culture.

The age-old ideological battle (can I call it a battle?) between science and religion involves reconciliation of natural-ness - well, namely the origins of natural-ness. Most religions - animistic, polytheistic, monotheistic, etc. - have historically covered the common areas of creation and destruction, never mind the sequences (linear, progressive or cyclical).

An understanding of creation and destruction helps to understand what is believed to be natural process, such as birth and death, and of course weather phenomenon and tectonic activity. As these processes are beyond the reach of human beings, religion offer a means to connect and negotiate with them. Well, so said the Eurocentric white anthropologists when they were "studying" the "uncivilised" tribes...

The history of natural-ness has endured an unstable union of science and religion and now the ongoing battle between the two. And since medico-psychiatric, legal, political and social institutions are in a way based on the idea of natural-ness, society and viewpoints are organised accordingly.

The LGBT-affirming and homophobic folks who are engaging in dialogues structured along the line of (un)natural-ness, both continue to sustain the discourse of natural-ness, which I believe, plays into the hands of the homophobic among the religious.

That is probably why the arguments of sexual dimorphism along the lines of (primarily) sex and procreation are continually used to delegitimise diverse sexual identities.

Conversely, religious framing of non-heterosexuality as a lifestyle and not an identity, is an attempt to consolidate the (religious) distinction between nature and nurture. A "lifestyle" would then be rationalised something that is chosen by the rather imperfect human being (as opposed to the perfect and the divine). Extrapolate that and you can create this flimsy fear-monger of a concept "gay agenda".

When I interact with people, in the capacity of someone who pushes for equality regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, I normally try to steer clear of questions that go along the lines of "Is homosexuality natural?"

One could be snooty and throw back the question, "Do you think masculinity and femininity are natural?" or "That's a leading question. So what type of blunt object did you use to hit your elderly neighbour last night?"

There were previously many occasions when I said, "Yes, sexual identity is natural and unique to different persons" and this invited other parties to invoke religious paradigms I couldn't identify with, and most importantly, the dialogue ended there.

For someone who cares about peace and dialogue, this is failure. People will always ask the types of questions that will have a predefined set of answers to which they would be most receptive.

No many how convenient it is, with all the good intentions, to identify sexual orientation as natural so as to legitimise it as part and parcel of the diverse ecology of sexual and gender identities, it remains complicit in the ultimately homophobic-tinted discourse of nature-nurture. With any limited influence I have, I would prefer to drive the conversation on gender and sexuality equality, rather than be driven and given predefined choices - this is how one can possibly negotiate around/within these discourses.

More often than not, we are quite vain and protective of the abstract concepts which shape our worldview and the way we fight for certain things - in this case, the protection of the nature-nurture discourse which is potentially exclusivist.

That's probably where sociology (mainly grounded theory) will come in. Let's orientate the dialogue towards the lived daily realities of the stakeholder involved. Counter that exclusivist discourse with that of diversity.

For example,
"Nature or nurture?"
"If I picked one, how will your reaction play a role to make the lived daily realities of everyone better, regardless of their orientation or persuasion?"

While complicity is seemingly inescapable, there are opportunities to negotiate within homophobic logic to empower oneself. (Damn, I thought I could get through without using the word "empower")

The paradox is not a state of stasis, but can be repositioned and tilted to produce new insights and perspectives that are favourable to, among many other positions, the championing of diversity regardless of orientation and persuasion.

For instance, ground the dialogue on lived daily realities and the implications of homophobic worldviews. There are homophobes who attempt this "ground" attempt by forwarding ridiculously constructed notions of homosexual conversion and the political conflation of non-heterosexuality into paedophilia, and the reason why this has somehow gained traction is not because it is intrinsically logical (it's not), but rather, activists have concerned themselves too much with the abstract world of feminism, capital G genders and what-not, and have not gained the type of connection their "opponents" have with the masses.

In a way, many positions will produce many perspectives, and that will be troubling for those who crave for singularity and consolidation.

In view of the many political positions out there on sexual orientation, I feel in my position, an opposition need not be formed, but rather, just a little more effort in encouraging the homophobic to attempt the faintest of reflections on the implications of their worldview.

It's not about trying to be the more enlightened party, or proving to be one, which we're probably doing all the time, and in the process coming across as condescending-cum-assholic. We should attempt to ground our dialogue more and encourage others to understand the lived daily realities of the "othered" others, because ignorance, for one, drives homophobia.

For that to happen, the inevitable nature-nurture question has to be confronted and quickly put to one side, so everyone can focus on the more important human issues.

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