Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Worst Tomboy in the Village

I finished reading Two-Spirit People Thursday night, and I'll have more to say about it soon.  But I noticed something interesting when I came to the final section, which is the transcription of a conversation among several of the academic contributors to the volume and several mostly non-academic two-spirit Indians.

One of the academic participants was Sabine Lang, whose paper I wrote about a couple of days ago.  She wrote, you'll remember, that "In Western culture, a homosexual relationship is defined as being between ... two individuals who are of the same sex and the same gender." I objected that there is no single definition of homosexuality "in Western culture," and argued that the idea of homosexuality as a relationship between two individuals of the same sex but different genders is prevalent in the West, as in much of the world.

At one point in the conversation, Sabine Lang says:
I am what my culture defines as a lesbian.  I do not think I ever had to cope with a lot of internalized homophobia; growing up as a child who was different from other kids in a number of ways.  When I was ten I read scientific books on human evolution and dinosaurs long before dinosaurs became popular; I was the worst tomboy in the village; when all the other teenagers were having wild parties, I devoted my evenings to the creation of watercolors and oil paintings and my weekends to the composition of short stories.  The discovery that I was a lesbian did not really come as a shock to me. It was just another aspect of being myself.  As it turned out, it was also no surprise to those close to me [305; boldface added].
Now, maybe I'm making too much of the words I put into bold type.  It might be that Lang meant to say that being a "tomboy" is merely one of the ways she "was different from other kids", and didn't mean to emphasize that one aspect of her difference as relevant to being a lesbian.  But it still seems to me that she thinks of gender difference as playing some role in her homosexuality, as many gay people do, no matter what their politics.  When Chastity Bono came out as lesbian and published her book Family Outing she wrote, "[A]s a child, I always felt there was something different about me. I'd look at other girls my age and feel perplexed by their obvious interest in the latest fashion, which boy in class was the cutest, and who looked the most like cover girl Christie Brinkley. When I was 13, I finally found a name for exactly how I was different. I realized I was gay."  (Later, of course, Bono came out as transgendered.)  The strongly feminist lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel, in her memoir Fun Home, wrote about her coming to recognize her lesbianism mostly in gendered terms: she was always a tomboy, in conflict with her feminine, closeted gay father, who wanted her to be the little girl he wanted to be himself.  Her boyishness is described in detail; her desire for other girls is simply there.

Once again: I have no idea what relation gender actually has to sexual orientation, partly because I don't know what "gender" is.  I'm just objecting when Western academics pretend that our culture defines homosexuality apart from gender, when in fact it mostly does not -- and their personal experience conforms to a gendered model.