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By Pierre J. Tremblay in Collaboration with Richard Ramsay
Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary.

The Paper  was Presented by Pierre Tremblay at The 11th Annual Sociological Symposium: "Deconstructing Youth Suicide," San Diego State University - March, 2000 (Cover Page). A part of the present updated paper was presented at the Gay Men's Health Summit in Boulder, Colorado - July, 2000. Now Available: A 2004 Updated Interim Version Of This Paper.

Sexual Orientation: Binaries and Definition Problems

Words used to represent homosexually oriented individuals have been adjectives such as homosexual, bisexual, gay, and queer, preceding words such as man, male, female, adolescent, sexual orientation, etc.. To help the public understand the concept of "sexual orientation," the American Psychological Association (1999) made available an apparently research based definition:
Sexual Orientation is an enduring emotional, romantic, sexual or affectional attraction to another person... Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality. Bisexual persons can experience sexual, emotional and affectional attraction to both their own sex and the opposite sex. Persons with a homosexual orientation are sometimes referred to as gay (both men and women) or as lesbian (women only). Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to feelings and self-concept. Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviors.
This current definition of sexual orientation is based on a biological gender binary which has produced the words "homosexual" for same-sex attractions, "heterosexual" for opposite sex attractions, and "bisexual" for varying degrees of attractions to either gender. As a rule, however, sexual orientation has been perceived in a binary way, but an increasing number of professionals have been challenging this perception (Note 1). One was to be either heterosexual (often meaning "normal") or homosexual ("abnormal"), with bisexuality being ignored or condemned because it apparently should not exist (Note 2). Not long ago, homosexual individuals were also decreed to be "mentally disordered" by organizations such as The American Psychiatric Association and The American Psychological Association. The removal of this politically motivated label occurred in 1973-4 after many protests by the ones perceiving themselves to be defined and targeted for abuse by these organizations of mental health professionals. Many self-identified homosexual individuals did not agree with the "mental disorder" attribute, and neither did a significant number of professionals (Bayer, 1981).

These definitions, categories, and related labels, however, were not always so, as asserted by Michel Foucault (1976) and as strongly emphasized in  "The Invention of  Homosexuality" (Katz, 1995): the words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" were invented at the end of the 19th century, and heterosexuality was perceived to be abnormal until the 1930s. Although bisexuality is often spoken about in terms of "bisexualities," as implied in the above APA definition, the words "homosexualities" (Bell and Weinberg, 1978), "heterosexualities," and "asexualties" should also be used given the diversity of human sexualities documented to have existed over time (Dorais, 1994); Note 2). On the basis of this knowledge of human sexualities, Dorais therefore warned against potentially serious problems stemming from current reductionist definitions for "sexual orientation" generally used to select study samples by researchers exploring genetic associations for homosexuality. One result of this research, according to Dorais, would be the likely production of a bad piece of science fiction.

The "definition" problem in genetic research was highlighted by Billings (1993) in his examination of methodological problems related to various types of genetic research related to homosexuality:

[Although] traditionally genetics has been most successful in explaining dichotomous traits, sexual orientation is a continuous characteristic of human populations. Males and females can be defined as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual or otherwise. The range of behaviours within any two groups created for research purposes will either reflect selection (and thus not be representative), or will overlap substantially... Thus, it may be impossible to conduct research on homosexuality using genetic methods, or to genetically analyze any human characteristic, when the studied traits cannot be reliably ascertained in a large number of individuals, across a broad range of environments (p. 20).
Given this highly problematic situation associated with human sexualities, as well as other problems, Billings' conclusion was prophetic and congruent with Hamer et al.'s 1993 highly publicized results of the so-called "gay gene" supposedly located in the X-linked DNA segment. "This site will likely be eliminated as the location for the 'gay gene' by further experimentation, conducted on different subjects, by other interested researchers" (p. 21). Within two years, information supporting Billings' informed conclusion was reported by Canadian researchers (Rice et al., 1995; Guide, 1995;) at the same time that the Hamer team published a second study apparently replicating earlier results (Hu, et al. 1995). The Canadian study (Rice et al., 1999) was finally published with considerable media coverage given to the results negating the "X-linked DNA segment" hypothesis.

Many reports also emphasized the highly negative implications for the postulated "gay gene" that many gay-identified males believed to exist (Chamberlain, 1999). Over the years, comments such as "I have been gay ever since I can remember" have been endlessly repeated to justify "essential" thinking, but I have also been French Canadian ever since I can remember, none of it being biological, except for having a biological system which made the acquisition of my cultural attributes possible. By 1999, however, papers were still being published such as Rahman (1999) which emphasized that there was considerable evidence that gay males were more like females, all based on unreplicated research results, and that the research results of the Dean Hamer research team offered a good explanation for this phenomenon. No one has noted, however, that if gay males are more like females, would this not imply that two such males in a relationship are therefore more like a third gender and very similar, and that such relationships may not work if the Bem (1996) theory - Exotic becomes erotic:  a developmental theory of sexual orientation - is correct?

A significant problem with the current world view that "100% heterosexuality" is the majority "sexual orientation" is the exceptionally common manifestations of bisexuality in the Ancient World (Cantarella, 1992). In this respect, the Ancient Greek practice of pederasty is of special significance. In a certain social class of boys, all of them were expected to have loving relationships with older males who were available to certainly enjoy their more than "sexual" relationships with boys. However, some commentators have suggested otherwise, indicating that the boys may not have enjoyed these relationships. "In the case of classical Greek practice there is a strong current of scholarship which sees the same-sex relations as pretty well universal in the male population, but limited in time and context: the relic of an initiation rite. (One detects a sense that being an initiation rite somehow makes homosexuality acceptable -- boys will be boys, and moreover, they'll get over it!)" (Thorp, 1992, p. 59).

This highlighted thought was nonetheless contradicted by Thorp's citations indicating that, as a rule, love without a hint of abuse was a major attribute in these relationships, and the well known Sacred Band of Thebes illustrates this fact (Carpenter, 1917) and also challenges the idea that these highly venerated "love" relationships were just an initiation rite. The younger males in these relationships were often ready for battle; thus not being the often assumed highly vulnerable and naive boys, and they certainly were not the equivalent of the modern "feminine" stereotype gay male (containing some truth) reflecting the 20th century professional and social belief that homosexual males are inverts, meaning "like women" (Ellis, 1906; Hekma, 1994). This belief, often propagated at the end of the nineteenth century by influential effeminate homosexual males such as Magnus Hirschfeld and Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (Hekma, 1994), then became the rule in the American military by the early 1940s (Purkiss, 1997), and it continued to be taught well into the 1960s as the title of Judd Marmor's 1965 book indicates: Sexual Inversion: The Multiple Roots of Homosexuality.

The purpose of Thorp's 1992 paper was to argue that, in addition to the universal expression of male homosexuality in the form of pederasty in Ancient Greece, there were apparently some males who preferred other males all their lives, and they were perceived to have accept a role "analog[ous] with the role of women in copulation" (p. 61). Given this perception, it is possible that these men were similar to present day transsexual males and, if this applies given the rarity of these males, they should probably not be called "homosexual." Later, I will address this common perceptual link between modern homosexual males (males sexually attracted to other males) and males having a high degrees of femininity, but an important realization must be made at this point. On the basis of the Ancient Greece fact of life for male citizens, it is apparent that human males have the potential to not only greatly enjoy same-gender sexual activity, but they may also experience great love for another male in association with sexual desires.

Some individuals today also appear to have acquired this knowledge as implied in a report on some individuals by Kenji Yoshino, the author of the paper The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure:

Some people have this really utopian vision of bisexuality: Twenty years from now, we're all just going to wake up and realize that we're all bisexual (Bass, 1999).
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