Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Same Sex Behavior In Indigenous Culture

The differences between the European and Indigenous perspectives on homosexuality have always been glaring.  For the Europeans, it was a gross sin, something to be hidden away and denied with your very dying breath.  The various indigenous tribes around the world not only embraced it, but they often exalted it.

When the Spanish arrived in the "New World" after Christopher Columbus's infamous voyage, they encountered a culture drastically different than their own.  Of all the strange habits that the Spanish encountered in their explorations of this new land, they were least prepared for the wide practiced custom of homosexuality.  Not only was homosexuality widely accepted by every social class, it was also glorified in objects that served as temple art as well as being depicted on jewelry.  Even Montezuma, the Aztec god-king, was said to have sexual relations with the young warriors who were about to be ritually sacrificed.

In his first report to Emperor Charles V, Cortés wrote that the Native Americans of Mexico "are all sodomites and have recourse to that abominable sin."  Another writer, López de Gomara, called the indigenous people "sodomitic like no other generation of men."  A Catholic priest said that sodomy was virtually universal among the Aztecs.  He ran into numerous male prostitutes as well as unmarried temple priests engaging in sodomy while visiting the area in question.

As the European conquerors made their way across the North American Continent, they were continuously horrified by the sexuality they encountered.  La Salle's expedition in the upper Mississippi Valley in the 1690s found Native American men were even more fascinated by young boys more than they were by women, and this fascination engendered an effeminacy in those young boys, which only further inflamed the European hatred.  In 1702, the French explorer Pierre Liette wrote that the Illinois Confederation put all other nations to shame in regards to the "sin of sodomy."  "The young men, Liette continued, didn't seem satisfied by women alone, so 'there are men who are bred for this purpose from their childhood."

Homosexual behavior was not limited to what Europeans considered effeminate males, either.  The Native Americans were so uninhibited about homosexuality, in fact, that a masculine warrior could take the passive role in sex with another warrior without it having any effect whatsoever on his gender identity.

The Institution of what our modern scholars have called "the Two-Spirit" amongst the Native Tribes of the Americas was perhaps the most perplexing piece of Native American sexuality for the Europeans.  The respect that these individuals were shown within Native culture baffled the Europeans.  They were honored socially and given premiere standing within religious ceremonies and institutions.  Because of the spiritual connection that the Native Tribes ascribed to the Two-Spirit individuals among them, there is often a strong connection between Two-Spirits and medicine men and women.  (Due to the robust nature of this institution among the various native tribes, it is better to only skim the surface here and address this topic at another time in its own post.)

Homosexuality was treated in much the same way by other indigenous peoples around the world as it was by the native tribes of the Americas.  For the native peoples of the Pacific, homosexuality was the standard sexual outlet for unmarried men within a large number of tribes.  In the Bangala of the Congo sodomy between men was not only common, it was regarded without shame.  Homosexuality was also reported as being commonplace between men of the Tutsi and Hutu tribes of Rwanda.

Whether you're talking the Americas, Asia, Africa, or anywhere else for that matter, homosexuality appeared in one form or another and served various functions from social regulation and releasing sexual tensions to indications of an individual's calling towards a sacred duty within the spirituality of the tribe.

All quotes and much of the information from this post come from James Neill's book: The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Society.  If you enjoyed the information relayed here, consider purchasing his book for yourself.  It's a wealth of information!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Struggles with Inclusivity

I consider myself a bleeding-heart liberal.  I believe in universal healthcare (I even go so far as to say that healthcare should be both universal and FREE).  Okay, so that might make me Socialist, but I'm so liberal, I'm actually onboard with that label as well.  I believe that taxes should be high enough that the government can afford to roll out the necessary social programs that ensure none of its citizens are going without the basic necessities of life.  I support women having complete control over their own bodies.  I support Transgender people in their fight to be themselves without judgment, fear, or bigotry getting in the way of them living happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives however they as individuals seek to achieve that happiness, health, and fulfillment.  I am a gay man.  I have been college educated.  In nearly every category, I fit the bill of being a liberal, and I am proud to wear that title.

I've even gone so far as to say that all politicians should be "bleeding-heart liberals," themselves, because if you're not willing to bleed for your country (for the least among us, shall we say), how can you lead?  However, I am overwhelmed by the current state of "gender expression" as a political and/or sexual movement.

Let me say that I am overwhelmed not because I disagree with the message behind the movement.  I am actually onboard with the message, and I support it wholeheartedly.  I am overwhelmed because both sides are so damn aggressive.  It's off-putting!

The conservative, Good ol' Boy Club of white men who have controlled everything for the last X number of hundreds (thousands?) of years genuinely doesn't see a problem with the way other people outside of that Good ol' BOY club of WHITE MEN are treated.  In fact, they even go so far as to struggle to keep the status quo just as it was when their great-granddaddy was a boy, you know, back when America was "great," back when trees bore strange fruit and women knew their place: in the kitchen!  You know, back then.

However, when the liberals choose to speak on this topic, it gets to be just as bad.  We have gotten to a point where no one can say anything at all without offending someone else.  For better or worse, English as a language does prioritize the male as a group.  "Hey guys," is a perfect example.  Even if the group only has one man in it and everyone else is female, we tend to ascribe the masculine gender to the whole group.  In truth, we tend to talk about groups composed exclusively of women this way too, but I digress.  Personally, I think that needs to change, but getting mad at individuals who simply fall into convention and creating animosity over what amounts to nothing more than habit (without malice, without forethought) is not the way to bring about that change.  It only creates more animosity and closes people's minds to the idea of progress, which, let me say (as a liberal), I truly believe we desperately need.

Now, as I say this, I am reminded of my own personal misstep last night.  I was scrolling through Netflix with my boyfriend, looking for something to watch.  I came across a horror movie that caught my attention, so I read the description:

"An architect moves her husband and child …"

I stopped reading right there, shocked and appalled that I had made assumptions about the word architect.  The moment I read the job title, I thought the movie's main character would be male.  Then I spent 20 minutes or so, testing myself by saying various professional titles and seeing what the first image was to pop into my head.  Doctor, lawyer, accountant, entrepreneur, etc.  Each time, I was genuinely surprised to see that my mind conjured up images of men in these professions.  This realization took me back.

As I said, I genuinely believe that something needs to change, and I realize that I, personally, have some internal work to do on this subject, but the way we liberals are going about it currently is not the most effective way for implementing that much needed change.  I am one of them (the liberal left), and their behavior and tantrums in defense of principles over people has made me empathize with the conservatives who are at their wit's end.  How is that even possible?

I am a gay male witch with HIV.  By all rights and privileges, I should never see eye-to-eye with the modern-day conservative.  However, the behavior coming from "my side of the aisle" is admittedly alienating.

As a gay male witch, I deal with gender-bias on a very minor level every time I talk about my spirituality.  Today, nearly everyone imagines a woman whenever they hear the word witch.  However, that wasn't always the case.  In fact, if you dive into the etymology (the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history) of the word, you'll notice a surprising lack of gender.  Our modern word witch can trace its roots back to the Middle English word wicche.  Wicche was used to refer to both male and female magical practitioners.  It was only convention and modern usage which ascribed the gender bias.

While I would love to reclaim the power behind that word for men, and, for the record, I do attempt to do that on a daily basis, I do not get mad at women who accidentally fall into the gravitational pull of habit by using the word in a feminine context.  As a male who proudly claims this neutral label for something as intimate and personal as my spirituality, I recognize that I am in the minority and that change is slow to occur.  I recognize that I need to put the information out there in a kind and positive way, and that I need to be patient when people genuinely misspeak without malice or harmful intent.  (When they intentionally mean to be hurtful by sticking to the status quo OUT OF PRINCIPLE or indifference, than that's a different story.)

Back to the point, though.  Today, nearly 24 hours later, I read a comment on a friend's post that crossed my Facebook feed, and I found my head whirling the other way around from last night.  I nearly got whiplash from it all.

He asked:  "Which Greek God or Goddess most fascinates you?"

The response back was:  "Just the Gods?"

At first I thought this commenter was attempting to broaden the discussion by including other spirits into the option, but as the conversation unfolded, her real purpose became clear when she said:  "recommend Divine, God/ess. even though I recognize the reason and respect it (kind of) eliminating the female to be inclusive... What if the broad term was Goddess ?"

What if?  But it's not.  The broad term is "Greek Gods," but here's the thing: my friend didn't use the broad term.  He didn't buy into gender norms.  He didn't "Hey you guys!" a bunch of women and girls.  He said, "Which Greek God or Goddess most fascinates you?"  The commenter took it there just to make a point, and, in the process, alienated a lot of people who should have been on her side.  Elevating the feminine up does not (and cannot) mean demoting the masculine.  They both need to be on the same playing field or it doesn't work.

In this fight for acceptance and tolerance, we, liberals, need all the help we can get.  The Good ol' Boy Club may be dying, but it's roots run deep within our societies, and it will fight hard to stay alive.  More to the point, the system is set up in their favor.  If we are going to make any progress on these really important issues, we need to stop alienating each other over principles.  Principles are wonderful.  They are, but we should never value principles more than people.  If the Good ol' Boy Club is going to go the way of the dinosaurs, then we liberals need to stop resuscitating it by alienating each other and imagining that everyone who disagrees with us is automatically in agreement with them.  Otherwise, we are winning a minor (and, yes, it is minor) battle only to loose the war!