Friday, April 8, 2011

Alley Oops

(Two gay cavemen do the Hokey-Pokey)

Even Andrew Sullivan, nay even Mary Elizabeth Williams, the Salon blogger, occasionally gets it right. I see that I haven't written about Williams's posts as often as I thought I might, but let me give her props today.

It seems that some archaeologists found a 5,000-old-skeleton near Prague, which the English-language media have labeled a "gay caveman." "First homosexual caveman found," the London Daily Telegraph headed their story (via). This will no doubt thrill Andrew Sullivan, who wrote in his first book that "recent scholarship has unearthed examples of it ['homosexual identity'] ... as long ago as the Stone Age" (Virtually Normal [Knopf, 1995], 30). Virtual confirmation!

The reason this burial is touted as gay is that the skeleton was found "with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs, rituals only previously seen in female graves." "[L]ead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova" said that this means that the skeleton "was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual." Vesinova may know her Corded Culture, but as Williams complained, she doesn't know shit about human sexuality: there's reason to be "skeptical about any person who studies human culture for a living -- and any newspaper that writes on it -- who can't differentiate between being gay, transgendered, intersexed or "third gendered." So let me help out here: They're not the same things." Transsexuality is not a sexual orientation: sexual orientation refers to which sex a person is oriented toward erotically. Transsexuals and other transgendered people, like the cisgendered, come in a variety of sexual orientations. (Me, I'd like to know how Vesinova is so sure that the skeleton belonged to a male.)

I can't say I'm surprised, though: the mainstream media are still pretty much in the 1950s where sexuality and gender are concerned. Williams links to the blog of Kristina Killgrove, an "archaeologist, bioanthropologist, and classicist" at UNC, who neatly fillets the misconceptions and misinformation in this media dustdevil:
... "caveman" is generally applied to either Neandertals or Cro-Magnon (the first early modern Homo sapiens). And both of those date to about 35,000 years ago. So, no, this person wasn't a caveman.
And confirms my suspicion about sexing skeletons:
There is, of course, no reporting on how the archaeologists estimated sex - or even a hint at the fact that sex can only be estimated, never determined conclusively without DNA testing.
So, kudos to Mary Elizabeth Williams for getting it right this time. When religion or Bristol Palin comes up, though, she'll probably relapse.