Sacred Paths - Labels for Sexuality Seem Oppressive, Not Liberating

The recent discussion in Camp?s pages about the word ?queer? among Stephanie Bottoms, Jamie Tyroler and Don Charles ?Stuffed Animal? attracted the attention of an international scholar at the national Interfaith Academies for Religious Professionals and Emerging Religious Leaders held in Kansas City last month.
The scholar was particularly impressed with the brilliant way Jamie negotiated the terminology and the problem of language for someone who wants to be honest in describing oneself but feels the inadequacy of the labels now in use.
I feel the same way. I?ll explain, but first let me note the editorial policy of this paper, which provides a rich variety of views. I mention this because what I am about to say is politically incorrect. Few editors or readers of LGBT publications will agree with me.
I have no problem saying, ?I like guys.? What is not said is just as important as
what is.
I will not say, ?I am gay.? This expression implies sexual orientation, and I do not agree with the notion of orientation that most people hold.
Study of world religions has convinced me that orientation is a social construct, not a biological condition, just as gender roles are largely learned, not inherent. The West characterizes the male as active, the female passive; in Tibetan Buddhism, amid others, it is the woman who is often considered active.
Most cultures have simply assumed that everyone is capable of both same- and opposite-sex behavior and had no conception of ?orientation.? Thus Caesar, who missed few sexual opportunities, was known as ?the husband to every wife and the wife to every husband.?
Religions prohibiting homosexual behavior usually did so because producing children was more important than pleasure ? the same reason masturbation and coitus interruptus were condemned. The ancient Hebrews exemplify this perspective. The Talmud condemns celibacy. But the concern is behavior, with no conception of orientation involved.
Religions favoring same-sex relationships often did so as part of a conservative, age-structured educational process, as in the military system of ancient Sparta. There, same-sex relationships and heterosexual marriage supplemented each other. The later Celtic warriors also were expected to engage in same-sex love. Some traditions expect all young men to practice same-sex behavior as preparation for heterosexual marriage.
The Romans honored same-sex marriages, and the Japanese samurai institutionalized same-sex unions. The Chinese in the Ming dynasty, many Native American and African tribes, and other European, Asian and South American cultures accepted such relationships. But they did so because of respect for choice, not because of orientation.
Entire cultures, like the ancient Greeks, could make same-sex behavior normative because human sexuality is plastic, rather than fixed, which ?orientation? implies. By the way, the term ?homosexual? was invented by a German penologist in 1869. I think terms such as ?homosexual,? ?gay,? and ?queer? can be oppressive rather than liberating.
Sexual choice seems to be influenced by at least four factors: genes, imprinting, conditioning and situations.
In recent times, a genetic explanation has been favored, particularly by liberal religious groups, while conservatives have often argued that same-sex behavior is simply a choice.
Imprinting is an explanation derived from zoology that suggests that at a crucial age before one can remember, one profoundly notices someone of the same or opposite gender at the point of developing a sense of sexual identity or attraction or aversion.
Conditioning refers to social expectations. The universal male participation in same-sex relationships in ancient Sparta, for example, can be explained this way.
Situational sex includes experimentation and behavior by cowboys, soldiers, inmates and others temporarily deprived of opportunities with those of the opposite sex.
With few exceptions, religious history does not weigh these factors. It does suggest that human sexuality is far more individual than any categories can capture.
The Rev. Vern Barnet, DMn., does consulting, teaching and writing for religious and educational organizations here. His Kansas City Star column appears each

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