Thursday, June 6, 2013

Democratic Sex

By Gary Tedman

If, in fact, it is possible for there to be homosexual men, a sexual male who is attracted to a male, which it obviously is, then the possibility must also be accepted that a male can be gendered as a female, yet still be attracted to a female. If gender is constructed, then there can be no exclusions to the construction (considered ideally). This means that the female gendered as a man who loves women may also be gendered as a man but loves men, so in a sense we have a parallel to the male lesbian, but we have no name for it, perhaps tom-boy is the old label. The tom-boy is not necessarily a woman who does not 'like' men, and likewise the 'camp' man is not necessarily the gay man who is attracted to men. Yet the male lesbian is a character which is usually ruled out by even radical accounts of sexuality. This may indicate the justified suspicion of the 'reformed' male, but it appears to go further than this and be a kind of prohibition or taboo, amongst 'men' and 'women' and 'gays' and 'lesbians'. This fourfold structure in fact appears to make a neat package that tends not to admit other entries, for example bisexuality. Why?

It is perhaps the way in which these interact as false dialectics to shore each other up as differences, in some senses the notion of an original structure 'man and woman' is reconfirmed and recuperated by the alternative gay and lesbian, and the loop is closed. It is closed doubly if it is inverted and the alternative is seen to be the 'straight', as happens sometimes in inverted gender snobbery (that the 'alternative' lifestyle is a massive industry hardly needs proving these days). The feminine male or the male lesbian must be gay, says the male-male, or he is in some senses even more of a pervert in the standard narrative of sex, if he shows those positive/negative virtues/drawbacks of 'femininity'. The male lesbian, let us conjecture, might be no good for war, for he is a coward, obviously, and has no excuse for this, since he 'is a male'. The gay male may go to war proudly, since he may love the 'masculine attributes', likewise the lesbian.

It has famously been said that sex between two people is really an activity between four persons (Freud), but here we seem to have grown eight, two of which are the same, bisexual, the rest: the pair of straights, lesbian and gay, male-lesbian and tom-boy (for want of better names). There are two for bisexual because really one can never be completely balanced, we are always sided, and there is chirality at work in sexual practice, but theoretically they stand for zero. This structure renders sexuality democratic, because every approach to gender performance is taken into account, and so is freed from the illusion which polices subjects within the strict boundaries of the either/or false dialectics of sex: i.e. the notion that the sexes are dialectical opposites with an essential nature, one which may be, then subverted, but only in a prescribed manner that acts to reconfirm the authenticity of the false dialectic, in other words: either side of the two dualities may be the nice or nasty policeman.

Of course, in saying all this, I am aware that in practice the dominating side of the sexuality/gender problem is the 'straight' side, and that still in many ways homosexuality is oppressed as 'deviating' away from the authentic.

In the article Is Monogamy Essential to Democracy? (Salon interview, 24 May 2012) staff writer Tracy Clark Flory sets out the argument against polygamy developed by the psychologist Joseph Henrich, whose expertise was called for during a Canadian Supreme Court's reconsideration of the state ban on plural marriage. In a 64-page affidavit, the professor (from the University of British Columbia) used his areas of expertise — psychology, anthropology and economics — to make obvious the social harm associated with men taking multiple wives. Implicit in his argument was, apart from that it would be wives in this position of multiplicity, an endorsement of monogamy, which, he wrote: "seems to redirect male motivations in ways that generate lower crime rates, greater GDP per capita, and better outcomes for children." His interest, she explained, was not in the individual, emotional experience of sexual and romantic exclusivity, so much as the evolution of cultural norms and how they impact society. The connection is established between monogamy and democracy in the following manner: that it has been argued by historians that monogamy precedes and then goes along with, the emergence of democratic ideals, so that in the named 'Western tradition', the earliest we can trace laws about monogamy is to Athens, when democracy began to be instituted. His argument is that monogamy here is set-up to create equality among citizens so that, essentially, there will be wives available to all Athenian men, rather than having all the rich men take many wives, although (!) men were still allowed to have slave concubines, as long as they were non-Athenian women; he says therefore, that we may think of this as a first effort to try to level the playing field by saying that both the king and the peasant can only have one wife each: the first step toward saying that all men were created equal.

He does discuss, nevertheless possible exceptions to this case: in many small-scale societies, he discloses that there is an institution that appears similar to Western marriage, where people 'pair bond', but, he says, there is unfortunately 'philandering on the side' by both men and women, saying that they will often just cycle to another 'pair bond', it not being uncommon for hunter gatherers to have three, four or five pair bonds in the course of their life while having children from each union. This seems to be put in a negative light for no apparent rational reason, but still: there are these groups in South America where Henrich explains that people believe that the fetus is formed by ejaculations from multiple males, so the kids can have multiple fathers and you improve the survival of your child by getting him or her a second father, so when women first get pregnant, they will seek sexual liaisons with other men because then those men believe they have a fatherly responsibility to the child. What he describes as social norms in this case decide that the husband, the primary father, is not to be upset about this, that it is perfectly allright for the woman to go out and seek these other mates—but, and this is telling, he notes that the 'ethnography suggests' that these 'guys are really grumpy about it' as if they secretly share our more 'natural' Western ideals and taboos, that you have an innate jealous reaction that is stamped down by local social norms.

His democratic argument in favor of outlawing polygamy runs as a result: that polygamy (when men marry multiple wives, here) takes up all the women and creates an underclass of men that have no access to partners, and these men cause trouble: i.e. they commit crimes and 'engage in substance abuse'. And what is more there is also seen to be less equality for women and more strife in the home because women are in short supply, which 'increases male competition', and so 'men use violence against women to control the household'. Also, he goes on (in this, what is becoming an astonishing excuse for what is) if you have one male with lots of wives, there are "all sorts of stepmothers and unrelated adults in the same household as children, and that increases the likelihood of violence". The biggest risk factor, he says, for spouses killing each other is a large age difference, and in polygamous households you inevitably end up with a large age difference between at least some of the spouses.

The one-child policy in China is referred to: which is seen to create the same kind of surplus of men because of the preference for sons and the use of sex-selective abortion, he says: "You can see 18 years after you implement the one-child policy, you get extra men and that predicts extra crime." The same thing is posited as happening in India too. All this is against the rule of economics because "…There is a Stanford economist who argues that when men can't invest in getting another wife, they then invest more in their own production." The theory is that rather than basically saving up in order to get a second wife or a third wife, they invest more in the children of the one wife they have, and in other types of economic production, so marriage here is seen as functioning as a form of social control. This is even figured as a medical fact concerned with hormonal mechanisms: Henrich refers to research that studies men before and after they get married and before and after they have children; the early evidence, he says, suggests that males have two testosterone reductions during those periods, and it is high testosterone levels that lead to a high level of mate-seeking and so 'risk-taking'. He refers to one study that was performed

"…in a polygynous society that found males don’t suffer the same testosterone drop. That makes good sense because if you get married in a polygynous society, you’re still on the mating market. Think of testosterone as a mating hormone: It doesn’t go down because you’re still looking around—or you’re looking less than you would be otherwise, if for no other reason than people are watching and expecting you to not be looking."

This takes us back to the element of social control: one of the apparent keys to understanding marriage is third parties; marriage is not only a contract between two people, because there are all these outside parties with 'expectations' ('rational expectations'?) about how two married people are supposed to 'behave'; failure to live up to that has reputational consequences, and, it seems that there are comparisons to be made here between, on the one hand, human marriage and infidelity and, on the other hand, socially monogamous, pair-bonding animals that sexually stray: the crucial difference being there is no evidence that he knows of, of animals policing each other; i.e. in voles, he says, the uninvolved third parties do not get upset at the vole who strays; well, he is not a vole so how would he know, but anyway... We now move onto the steamy topic of mistresses: there seems to be for him 'at least' anecdotal evidence that wealthy, high-status males not only marry serially but also have mistresses that they divert large funds to, which he says would be an interesting question to investigate but he does not actually know of empirical data on the subject. But, nevertheless he asserts that, clearly, our system of monogamous marriage is supported by particular romantic ideals, and therefore asks how such concepts of romantic love differ in polygamous societies.

The best he says that anthropology can tell us is that there is romantic love all over the place and that it is not some strange Western cultural notion, it is the idea that it should be linked to marriage which is the more unusual part. Marriage, according to Henrich is about 'building households', and this involves linking up kinship groups, so by the process he defines as 'cultural evolution' lots of societies have simply decided to take away the responsibility from the young couple in deciding who should mate because there are bigger things at play, while in the smaller scale human societies, it still seems to him that 'pair bonds' are created by romantic love, but these pair bonds are in his view 'not that durable'. It is social norms that are actually what makes the 'pair bond' more durable.

What appears very plainly in this anthropological ideology is that the family is an aesthetic state apparatus and as such has a history related to economic history and that in this paean to the state apparatus of modern monogamous marriage certain kinds of pair bonding are to be ruled out and others ruled in, and indeed we quickly lose sight of the democratic component that is supposed to be intrinsic to this family structure, which becomes subordinate to its utility as an economically functioning unit, the 'household'. The underlying lack of democracy in the basic assumption of female inferiority here needs no comment, it is obvious, so what appears as a constant is the necessity, within the 'law of the family' to subordinate a particular sex, and that this will and must be the female, though the reasons remain unstated and taken for granted. There is no understanding of the role that the family plays in reproducing the subject in society, which would inevitably lead us to question the production value of the female as the one who labors to reproduce the human subject.

But we also see in this account the general taboo over polygamy, and concomitant with this, the restriction of available gender types that we may perform by the policing (we may credit this understanding that there is indeed policing going on here though). It is as if the eight performances of gender that we have seen as underpinning all sexual performances need to be first restricted (to the four, two prescribed and two proscribed), before any sexism may operate 'properly'. And this is key because if we were to realize that the conditions of our sexuality were democratic (in our sense), then it is the opening of Pandora's Box, and not to a sea of 'anything goes' 'free sex' etc (which always worked out to extra freedom for the men anyway), but a wider and more subtle grasp of our sensual possibilities as true democratic sex. 

Extract from research for a book roughly entitled "Lenin and Democracy"

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