This piece was originally published in Sightings by the The Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion. Last month the New York Times reported that the Trump administration may seek to legally define sex as “a person’s status as male or female…
Since I've begun working on my dissertation, I've not posted much to this site. But I keep receiving questions about the relationship between theology and contemporary understandings of sexuality and gender.
In response to these requests, I've decided to pull some writing out of my archives and post it. Specifically, in this series I will offer some thoughts that are based on the materials I read in preparation for one of my qualifying exams. Because of the nature of the material, it does not contain footnotes. However, I will at least supply links for the works being referenced for further reading.
Michel Foucault is the commonly acknowledged forerunner in the conversation around discourses of sexuality.
In his History of Sexuality Vol. 1 (originally published in French in 1984), Foucault takes to task the "repressive hypothesis." While many believe that we live in a society that thinks of sex as a taboo topic that is not discussed in polite company, Foucault points out that we actually live in a culture in which discourses of sexuality compel individual subjects to speak about their desires and practices.
The result of this dynamic is a fully developed taxonomic system of desires that count as normal and abnormal and an atmosphere in which individuals can be monitored, controlled, isolated, and even cured based on concepts of healthy and pathological sexual desire.
Building on Foucault's work, David Halperin contributes to the exploration of sexuality as a discursive formation in two of his books.
One Hundred Years of Homosexuality deals not with the Greeks who are its historical subject, but rather the rise of the discourse of sexuality itself. In this work, Halperin explores the Greek pederasty more fully than Foucault did in his History of Sexuality, Vol. 2.
Feminism made the first strides in separating out gender and sex as different ideas. When we compare different cultures or even the same culture over a period of time, it is easy to see that the ideals for behavior and gender expectations change in various contexts.
The way a person carries him- or herself, whether it is appropriate to touch others of the same or opposite gender in the course of a conversation, whether one looks another in the eye or looks away–these behaviors are sometimes regulated by gender expectations and vary from culture to culture. A behavior that is considered masculine or feminine in one culture may not map in the same way to another culture.
In this section we'll review two contributions by theorist Judith Butler to the ongoing discussion of gender, sexualities, and biological sex.
It's been a busy few months for anyone paying attention to issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia.
This summer the Russian parliament passed a bill prohibiting the so-called "promotion of nontraditional sexual relations" in the presence of minors, a euphemistic expression replacing language in the initial bill which more explicitly prohibited "the promotion of homosexual relations." The new law gives no explicit definition of "promotion," resulting in an environment where Russia's mass media has curtailed any reporting that might portray LGBT people or their relationships in a positive light.