What Does The History Of Homosexuality Reveal?
That Homosexuality Is Natural In Human Beings
But Heterosexuality Is Not
Homosexuality. There is perhaps not a single word that generates more opinion, more discussion, and more controversy today. It is a contentious contemporary issue. We are living in a time in which individuals who are exclusively homosexual have legal rights and acceptance by society that is unprecedented in history. In some countries homosexual couples have legal status, can marry and adopt children, collect spousal benefits, join the army, and do a whole number of things they were previously denied. Not surprisingly, this climate of acceptance has been opposed by some religious groups, and also by those who fear that the institution of the family is being dangerously threatened. Such groups have a fear that homosexuality is contagious – that children seeing it around them may be tempted to try it, and trying it, may like it. In other words, that homosexuality is a matter of choice. The issue is becoming increasingly divisive and the public’s interest in knowing the truth about human sexuality is greater than ever. All this has only fuelled research into human sexuality even more. The age-old debate of nature versus nurture with respect to human sexual orientation development, and behavior in general, remains unresolved despite plenty of research. The research has not only focused on biological and genetic variables, but has also examined social, familial, and cultural factors. Still, we seem no closer to consensus on this issue.
One of the arguments frequently employed by people opposed to homosexuality is that it is not natural. Collins Dictionary defines natural as “normal; of, according to, existing in, or produced by nature; not created by human beings.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines it as, “4a. Pertaining to or resulting from inherent nature; not acquired 5. Free from affectation or artificiality; spontaneous.” Although we live in a world that has come a long way in making homosexuality more acceptable, who would not agree that there largely still exists a significant social disgrace and prejudice associated with being homosexual? Who would also not agree that there are many elements supported by our societies encouraging us to be heterosexual, while there are none encouraging a homosexual orientation development? There is no general acknowledgement of the strong influence that being born into a predominantly heterosexual world may have on a growing infant, one that becomes quickly aware that the world is divided into families, usually with a mother and father, and who consequently grows up viewing heterosexuality as an accepted, normal, and expected sexual orientation.
The social roles a society assigns to each sex reflect the concept of gender that society wishes to endorse:
In light of this, how can we really know what natural human sexual behavior is – that which would tend to occur on its own, without the effects of society? Based on the dictionary definition, it is homosexuality that may be viewed as natural because it, unlike heterosexuality, is certainly not created or encouraged by our societies.
There is however, something extraneous to this definition which most people incorrectly believe is synonymous with ‘natural’, and which contributes to the moral assault on homosexuality – the conviction that nature only engages in purposive design, and that something which does not demonstrate a clear goal or purpose is unnatural. The fact that only a male and female union can result in sexual reproduction, that this occurs effortlessly with great consistency in nature, and that it is essential for the perpetuation of species, are all taken as proof that homosexuality is a perversion against nature. In other words, there is an unquestionable biological compatibility between the sexes – an end result that is interpreted as justifying and legitimizing the means, while providing physical evidence that homosexuality was never intended by nature. And yet, how often do we in the same manner question the absurdity of nature having provided an ostrich with wings that are incapable of flight and which therefore serve no well-defined purpose?
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What gives rise to this teleological error? Our judgements have the potential to be reflective of the social institutions within which we live and conduct our thinking. Because material ‘success’ in a constantly competitive world is somewhat dependent on finding a purpose and benefit in daily activities, being goal-oriented, and developing and exploiting skills – with physical, emotional, or psychological consequences for failure – I believe there is a tendency to project this societal demand for efficiency and functionality onto the rest of nature. Evolutionary theory often proceeds in a way that follows the formula: “because it exists, it must have a function, having a function gives a life a purpose, and that purpose must always be linked, somehow, to the perpetuation of life.” In the case of sexuality, reproductive sex fits in nicely with society’s procreative imperative and hence, heterosexuality, unlike homosexuality, is argued to be a part of nature’s design. Whatever doesn’t fit is conveniently explained away. “When animals do something that we like, we call it “natural”. When they do something we don’t like, we call it “animalistic” (2).
There is an interesting difference in what people believe to be the cause of homosexuality versus what we believe causes heterosexuality. A survey was conducted in four diverse regions of the world concerning causes for homosexuality. In all samples, only a minority of people thought gays and lesbians were born that way. The highest percentage (44%) attributing homosexuality to biology was in the Philippines. In Sweden, 29% favored biology, in Arizona, 27%, and in Hawaii, 15% (3). These percentages are consistent with opinions within the scientific community. A 1992 study of sociologists asked each respondent to estimate the percentage of variation in homosexuality that they felt was attributable to biology as opposed to the environment (4). The average sociologist attributed 27% of same-sex tendencies to biology, the rest to the environment. A study of English physicians reported that 23% of general practitioners attributed homosexuality to biology, while only 13% of psychiatrists did so (5). Thus, the scientific community is in agreement with the average person in attributing homosexuality primarily to social experiences and environment rather than to biology (6).
Prejudiced attitudes against homosexuality also stem to some extent from a misconception that it is not readily witnessed in other animal species, and hence must not be natural. There is a general belief that we must be just like other creatures in the most basic ways and that we do not occupy a privileged or unique place in nature. Perhaps no other scientific discovery has been more responsible for shaping and reinforcing such views than Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin’s suggestion that we descended from apes through the same processes responsible for the evolution of all other life forms went a long way in decisively obliterating the distinction between humans and other living creatures. Yet, there is nothing in the theory of evolution itself that rules out the possibility humans may be unique in all of nature. We are clearly unique in many respects. What other animal has the supreme degree of control over its environment that we humans display? Has another species been able to use its ingenuity to go to the moon, or design a computer, or invent the calculus? Is there anything in the animal kingdom that even remotely compares with out abstract appreciation of music, art, literature? Or our capacity to plan not just for tomorrow, or the coming season, but for an event that may be 50 years ahead? And with respect to our biology, which other animal can decide to postpone having offspring, in some cases indefinitely, based on nothing more than a whim, and then perhaps change its mind tomorrow for yet another reason? Are we different only in degrees, or are we instead very, very different? I suggest it is long overdue that we forsake the perception of complete parallelism between other animals and ourselves. True, there are ways in which we are alike, but there are also ways in which we are clearly incomparable.
It is interesting to note that although homosexual behavior in animals was not generally reported by zoologists until relatively recently, perhaps because it was considered too controversial and obscene a subject for scientific study and reporting, it is now well established that both male and female homosexual activity is commonplace in more than 200 species of mammals (including our primate relatives), birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and insects, although exclusive homosexual subgroups do not occur (7). In species where the female does not need the male other than for procreation, the males are highly dispensable. When this occurs, male bonding, which may include homosexuality of some variety, is almost certain to exist (8).
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What gives rise to this homosexual behavior? Is it genetic? Is the heterosexual behavior of animals genetic? For a sexually reproducing species to survive, one of the things that must happen is that heterosexual copulation must occur – and it must occur at times and frequencies warranted by environmental conditions. When sexual reproduction first evolved, natural selection long ago favored the evolution of a heterosexual instinct consistent with anatomical sex so that it would be ensured that males would reliably be drawn to mate with females, and vice versa. But that is the instinctive side of sexual behavior. At times when the sexual instinct is not operating (i.e. when the stimuli necessary to trigger the instinct into operation are absent,) sexual behavior arising from conscious, experience-based motivations is possible. As far as experience-driven sexual behavior is concerned, the target of the sexual desire may be highly variable. Experience-driven sexual behavior may be aimed at attaining physical pleasure, or alternatively in some species, notably primates, weaker individuals of both sexes sometimes show their submission to more dominant individuals (usually males) by presenting their rears and allowing themselves to be sexually mounted by them. Mountain sheep, for example, express dominance through such sexual behavior (9). In cases where physical pleasure is the goal, the sex of the partner has the potential to be unimportant, depending on the anatomy of the species and the nature of the sexual stimulation possible.
Hence, to the extent that an animal’s experiences are unique to itself, there may be variability in non-instinctive sexual behavior, both between members of a given species, and also between species. For example, in species such as polar bears where individuals exhibit strong territorial behaviors, homosexual behavior is unlikely to occur, whereas in primates (being highly social and intelligent creatures) one would expect to find a range of sexual behavior, not only heterosexual. In general though, however variable an animal’s sexual behavior may be, it will almost invariably possess an instinct to engage in heterosexual intercourse. It is nature’s way of ensuring a species’ perpetuity, because animals do not understand what causes reproduction, and do not personally benefit from producing offspring. The fact that natural selection uses the competition between genes to direct the course of evolution should not be interpreted as suggesting that animals partake in the reproductive cycle because they somehow care about the perpetuity of their genes. Animals do not know what genes are. They reproduce only because they possess instinctive, irrepressible urges that compel them to do so, without the need of any conscious motive.
How does our sexuality differ from that of other animals? A brief review of animal sexuality will hint at one important sexual difference between all other animals and ourselves. The chimpanzee is our closest evolutionary relative, but it is the bonobo chimpanzee in particular that is considered the most intelligent of all nonhuman animals, and the ape most resembling our earliest hominid ancestors, the Australopithecines of 4 million years ago. Bonobos have sex nearly all the time, in a practically endless variety. There is both homosexual and heterosexual sex involving both sexes. Mutual masturbation, anal sex, and oral sex are commonly observed in both homosexual and heterosexual encounters. Some sexual activity is between two adults, some involves juveniles, and frequently there is sex between an adult and a juvenile. It appears that sex is engaged in a lot of the time because it is pleasurable, and the gender of the partner is immaterial in this context. Homosexual activity is generally also a common feature in the rest of the primate world. Sexual activity between two males is often initiated as a peaceful resolution to the rivalry between young and mature males. When the dominant male has laid claim to all the females, the younger males form alliances with such high-ranking adult males to obtain protection from them; they do this by adopting a feminine posture, thus indicating submission. The lesser males are at such times symbolically mounted, and sometimes even sexually assaulted (10). Homosexual activity also frequently develops between younger males if they become isolated in a group after the dominant males have laid claim to eligible females. Female homosexual behavior is common as well in monkeys and other primates. Partners embrace in coital positions and on occasion show marked interest in one another’s genitalia in which one will take the partner’s labia and manipulate them gently between the teeth (11).
Yet despite the ample observational evidence for homosexual behavior in mammals, especially primates, there are no exclusively homosexual groups of organisms of any species, and individuals displaying homosexual behavior are not exclusively homosexual, but instead bisexual (12). As such, we can say that although homosexual behavior is found in other animal species, exclusively homosexual behavior is not¹. Humans are the only species in which exclusively homosexual individuals are possible. Having found a
¹ From time to time, the media popularizes reports of supposedly exclusively homosexual animals in captivity, but these claims are almost invariably proved to be invalid when an individual of the opposite sex in introduced into the fold, and is able to disrupt the homosexual bond. In some cases, such observed exclusively homosexual bonds persist for years, inspite of efforts to introduce an individual of the opposite sex. Eventually though, such efforts most often succeed. What is the explanation here? One cannot dismiss the posssibility that the stress of being confined, may in some cases, induce changes in circulating hormone levels that are capable of disrupting the proper functioning of the sexual instinct in these rare individuals. Under natural conditions – those outside the artificially designed settings of controlled experiments, or captivity – exclusive homosexuality has never been witnessed. In the extremely rare cases however, where exclusively homosexual individuals might be found to exist in natural settings either of the following explanations may apply:
1. Something went wrong during fetal development with such individuals and the neurological programs that normally encode for a heterosexual sex drive are missing. These individuals do not have an instinctive heterosexual sex drive, and at all times such individual’s sexual behavior is completely experience-based. Of course, the absence of a sexual instinct only means that such individuals have the potential to become sexually oriented in a range of ways, as dictated by their unique set of experiences – the could turn out to be homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. In this case they turned out to be exclusively homosexual.
2. The sexual instinct exists, but it is reversed; a mutation of some sort produced an anatomical female, for example, with the male version of the heterosexual instinct encoded in its brain. (There is a difference between anatomical sexual differentiation and brain sexual differentiation, and in this case they became mismatched due to a developmental flaw.) Such a female would be instinctively sexually responsive to the sexual cues emitted by other females. Of course, the non-instinctive sexual behavior of such a female (i.e. when its sexual instinct is not operating) could potentially also cause it to engage in heterosexual copulation if it became conditioned to do so based on its life experiences. But there is also the possibility that it could remain exclusively homosexual. It will become evident in the next section why this mechanism cannot explain homosexuality in humans.
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difference between other animals and us, perhaps other differences exist. For too long we have not entertained this possibility. In wanting to free human intellect from the grip of religious dogma that had dominated Western thought for over 1000 years, Renaissance man began to challenge the most fundamental beliefs of man and his place in the universe. In time, this indomitable free-thinking spirit gave birth to the contrarian view that man was not above or different from other animals, but instead similar in the most basic ways. Ironically, with respect to human sexuality at least, it will be shown that religion was right all along in championing the uniqueness of man, even though it was based on egotism and nothing else.
If homosexuals are defined as individuals who have frequent or ongoing homosexual encounters, then 9% of men and 5% of women in the United States may be considered homosexual (13). A fallacy that must be shattered before I outline my theory of human sexual orientation development is the notion that this is a relatively invariable statistic that has characterized the prevalence of homosexuality² in every society that has ever existed. Most lay people are unaware of how widespread and acceptable homosexual activity has been in many vibrant societies that have existed since the dawn of recorded history, and undoubtedly before that as well. It is this erroneous assumption which in part allows the average person to believe that homosexuality is not normal. If we review the history of homosexuality in various cultures through the ages, and also examine the prevalence of homosexual behavior in some ancient tribes in existence today, we find that there have always been many cultures in which, at various times, the prevalence of homosexuality has far exceeded the current figures for homosexuality in America. It will be seen that a lot can be deduced about the nature of human sexuality by knowing how very prevalent homosexual behavior has been at times, and also by examining the universal attitudes and conditions that have always accompanied a tolerance for homosexual behavior.
In reviewing ancient tribes in existence today, it is worth noting that in some cases customs and sexual practices still survive today that have been unchanged for millennia, whereas in other cases, the original cultural signatures and sexual practices have become fragmented and modified by the ‘civilizing’ influences of more industrialized societies. In the latter cases, anthropologists have relied on historical evidence in terms of written accounts by early explorers who came upon such cultures and wrote freely, often in bewilderment, about the customs, beliefs, and sexual practices of the peoples they encountered. Overt and widespread homosexual practices were revealed among many of the tribal peoples indigenous to Papua New Guinea and the Melanesian islands (such as Fiji and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean) (15). With the knowledge that the lives of these people had likely remained unchanged for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Westerners in the 19th century, an examination of their rites and customs gives us an invaluable glimpse into the past. Based on linguistics and immigration patterns it is inferred that tribes practicing some forms of homosexual ritual in Melanesia first settled the lands around 10,000 years ago. Transvestism and initiation rituals between young and old were practiced by many of the tribes. Only in tribes which did not favor the homosexual initiation of young boys is there some evidence of equal adult homosexual partnerships. Studies by cultural anthropologists, notably Gilbert Herdt, also showed that each tribe had their own views on the role of women in their society, and invariably, these views determined the licenses and forms of homosexual expression.
Many of the tribes studied practiced ritualized homosexual insemination of young boys. Within the Marind and the Kiman tribes every boy past infancy was taken away from his mother and the women’s house to sleep with his father in the men’s house. Upon showing signs of puberty, his maternal uncle was appointed to penetrate the boy anally, thus nourishing him with the sperm that would make him strong. The boy’s sexual relationship with his uncle continued for about 3 years. The Marind tribe had the all-male Sosom ritual that culminated with an orgy where for the first time any man could penetrate any boy-initiate. Their culture regarded homosexuality more highly than heterosexuality. The homosexual practices of the Marind male continued even after marriage, for he would likely be called upon to be his nephew’s pederast for 3 or 4 years. Of course, he would also continue to take part in the annual Sosom ritual orgy. Although the Marind and Kiman both inseminated their youths and glorified homosexual practices, they also both ritually acknowledged the power of heterosexually derived substances – the semen and vaginal fluids.
² The term homosexual will be used with some license in the ensuing discussion; it will be used with the acknowledgement that in many cultures, “sexuality was a part of the social and cosmological fabric, involving kinship, rituals, concepts of the whole person (the rights, obligations and duties of a social position), religious worship, and images of the sacred. Often, these areas indicated a deeper reality, a cultural lifeway that involved the whole person, gender, and concepts of the local theory of human nature, as part of the package of sexuality. In many cultures it would not have been possible to talk about ‘sex’ as a noun or freestanding category of meaning or behavior separate from the actors and relationships that involved sexuality” (14). Hence, in principle it is erroneous to apply our Western definitions of homosexuals, heterosexuals, or gay men to other cultures. By using the term homosexual so liberally however, I intend only to highlight the common thread of homoerotic activity that has figured so prominently in many cultures throughout history, irrespective of the differing values and social context within which it existed.
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The Big Nambas on the highlands of the island of Malekula also had widespread homosexual practices when first encountered by Western explorers. Bernard Deacon, an early ethnologist on the scene commented, “every chief has a number of boy-lovers, and it is said that some men are so completely homosexual in their affections, that they seldom have intercourse with their wives, preferring to go with their boys” (16). They, too, had homosexual initiation rituals with boys. Each boy was assigned a ‘husband’. The explanation the natives gave for their homosexual practices was that “a boy-lover’s male organ is caused to grow strong and large by the homosexual acts of his husband”.
Of all the tribes studied, the Sambia revered semen more highly than any other. Their villages were segregated by sex, with males and females living in separate quarters. There was a strict division of labour. Their male-dominated society subjugated women and tolerated them only for their procreative ability. Believing that prepubertal boys had to be fed with semen because they did not produce it themselves – yet needed it to become strong men and hunters – Sambian boys from the age of seven were separated from their mothers and lived in the men’s house, where they were shielded from even the sight of women during their growing years. During this phase the boys were subjected to sex initiation rituals. In the first, they were taught to perform fellatio upon the older boys or men and swallow the prized semen. By the third stage of initiation, the boys began to fellate the new, younger initiates. Upon showing signs of sexual maturity, a boy was indoctrinated through a ceremony into the fraternity of men and became a hunter. Discussions among the Sambia regarding the amount of semen they could produce as well as its taste and quality were common. Lifelong erotic and affectionate relationships formed between the young men and their ‘husbands’, though they tended not to remain sexual partners all their lives. An important point to note about all the tribes studied is that no matter how highly they valued homosexual relationships, no matter how deeply homoerotic activity was ingrained in their myths, customs, and rites of passage, they imposed restrictions on exclusive homosexuality.
One might wonder what significance such accounts ought to have for most of us. The usual lay opinion on hearing such accounts is that they pertain to small, isolated, ‘primitive’ tribes whose societies are ruled by superstition and ignorance. Their comparative lack of technologies and their reliance on what some would consider archaic beliefs allows most of us to conveniently overlook such cultures, particularly their sexual practices, as being able to teach us something about our own natures. What we should question is how entire cultures can be based on such widespread homosexual practices, irrespective of how few such cultures there are relatively speaking. Significantly, in 49 (64%) of the 76 societies other than our own, homosexual activities of one sort or another are considered normal and socially acceptable for certain members of the community (17). Prominent civilizations around the globe in many periods of history, however, have also shown the same propensity for homosexual behavior, even revered civilizations such as ancient Greece and Rome upon which much of Western thinking and culture is based.
Although statistics for sexual orientation are a thing of the 20th century, the surviving archaeological evidence in terms of written text, paintings, relief on pottery and buildings, and statues from each civilization gives us a reasonably good account of the prevailing sexual morality, and the sexual customs and practices that permeated each society. From such sources we know that in Mesopotamia homosexuality flourished, while in Egypt male bisexuality was considered normal (18). So too, was bisexuality in China in the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 BC) (1, p. 103; 19).
In the golden age of Greece, pederasty was extremely pervasive (8). Pederasty, which has been a feature of many societies throughout history, is a socially endorsed relationship in which a young boy is under the tutelage of an adult male, sometimes a close relative, for the purposes of social and moral instruction, and which almost invariably involved a sexual relationship between the two in which the older male always acted as the dominant partner. The pederastic conventions in ancient Crete were initially recorded by the Greek historian Ephorus (405-330 BC). Though this original work was lost, Strabo of Amaseia, a writer who lived 200 years later, preserved much of the original account in his own books. Strabo recounts the erotic conventions of abduction, which began with the lover informing the friends and family of the desired boy that he was planning to abduct him. If the would-be lover was of a suitable rank and honor, the boy’s family and friends feigned pursuit of the abductor in a highly ceremonial and feeble show of resistance. If not, the abduction was forcibly prevented by family and friends. However, if the boy had no lover and no one attempted to abduct him, then social shame befell the family (8). This gives one an amazing view of how socially condoned homosexual activity was in Crete. The lover gave the boy presents and took him into the forests and mountains (along with the boy’s friends and relations) where they hunted and feasted together for about 2 months. In this time the lover taught the boy how to hunt, how to live in the wild, and how to be an honorable man. The text is very clear in revealing that he made love to the boy and penetrated him anally. After 2 months the boy was sent home with presents and the whole community celebrated the boy’s first steps toward manhood.
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In the sixth century BC, Greece witnessed a flourishing of lyrical homosexual poetry. Solon was a great legislator and wrote much verse in praise of boys, so here we have the first clear indication that such love was not only approved of, but had become an integral part of the whole social structure (8). In fact, there is much evidence to indicate that homosexual love was considered to be superior to heterosexual love, although once again, exclusive homosexuality was socially frowned upon (1, pp. 158-159). The social norm in Athens was undoubtedly bisexuality. There were however, strict conditions and controls under which it was allowed. Normal and acceptable behavior was one where a citizen was married, was in love with a boy, and was also seen to go with courtesans or had a mistress. The expectations were placed on each man to marry once he reached the age of 25 and to produce a small family. Social disapproval met the man who became exclusively a lover of boys, and the literature is replete with warnings against men who hang about the gymnasia ogling beautiful youths (20).
Plato’s Symposium links the love of boys with a path to acquiring wisdom. Although there were no laws against it, it was socially unacceptable if the boy who was seduced was under 12. By the age of 15 however, boys were expected to have found a male lover. Although the accepted norm was for the boy to remain the passive partner until he was around 17 or 18, there are many references to youths remaining passive much longer. There are also references to boys wanting to be active with boys of the same age. A youth became a man at the age of 25 and thereafter took the active role, first choosing a boy, and then getting married.
Rome celebrated male bisexuality from its very beginnings, much in keeping with the tradition of other ancient civilizations (except that of the Hebrews). In the 4th century BC, Theopompus wrote, “They certainly have commerce with women, but they always enjoy themselves much better with boys and young men.” Although the Lex Scatina was passed in 226 BC forbidding the love of free-born Roman boys, the love of slave boys was allowed and was widespread (21). There are many written references that young slaves were imported specially for their sexual talents and charms. Polybius, a Greek historian who visited Rome in the 2nd century BC commented that most young men had lovers. By the end of the 2nd century BC, the love of boys was in fashion. The contemporary literature celebrated the practice of a Roman choosing a wife if he wanted secure love, respect, and loyalty, and a youth when he desired sexual passion. But in Rome too, exclusive homosexuality was discouraged - especially in an empire that not only experienced loss of life due to earthquakes, fires, plagues, famines, and floods, but also due to the incessant warfare on its borders. In summary there was nearly universal male-to-male lovemaking among the citizen classes in some periods of ancient Greece and Rome (8, p. 47, 71; 1, pp. 157-159, 164).
During the age of exploration following the Middle Ages, explorers and Christian missionaries were discovering to their horror that homosexual behavior appeared to be everywhere they went. In 1542, Bertolome de las Casas wrote than Mayan parents supplied their adolescent sons with boys to use for sexual pleasure before marriage (18). They also had the custom, common in the ancient world, of sodomizing their prisoners to indicate that the men were effeminate in defeat. The Spanish also found that sodomy was almost universal among the Aztecs, involving children as young as 6. The Yauyos, a people that became part of the Inca Empire, had public houses filled with men with painted faces dressed in women’s clothes. Elsewhere in the Inca world, boys were dedicated to the temple to be raised as girls, and were subjected to ritual sex with the chiefs on certain festival days. It is nonetheless ironic that although there was so much blatant homosexuality throughout the empires of the Aztecs and Incas, laws forbidding homosexual acts existed, though there appears to have been little enforcement of them.
That homosexuality is a pervasive human trait can be seen in the fact that male and female transvestites, known as “two-spirit people”, were common to all the kinship-based Indian groups of North, Central, and South America. Such individuals adopted the lifestyle and labour of the opposite sex, which typically included sexual favors.
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The same “horrific” homosexual customs discovered in the West and the Americas were uncovered as Christian missionaries journeyed east. Upon visiting a Zen monastery in Kyoto in 1541, Francis Xavier was shocked to discover “abominable vice against nature so popular that they practice it without any feeling of shame. They have many young boys with whom they commit wicked deeds” (22). The Jesuits also found that sodomy was widespread among the Samurai; indeed it was prominent everywhere they went (8, p. 143). Shudo, like the concept of the love of boys in classical Greece, was a philosophy that was popular in medieval Japan. As recently as the 17th century, a Korean ambassador to Japan wrote, “King, noble, or rich merchant, there is no one who does not keep beautiful young men".
Taking into account the sexual mores encircling the breadth of human cultures in recorded history, Randolph Trumbach made the point that in all human societies, other than those under the influence of the Christian religion, it has been legitimate for two males to have sexual relations with each other (23). There were two notable conditions: that they also married and produced families, and that the adult male was always the penetrator. In cultures where the subordinate males were mere boys, this custom often became a rite-of-passage ritual. Such cultures existed worldwide and lasted for many thousands of years.
The expression of homosexual activity throughout history has by no means been restricted to males: “despite powerful constraints on female activities, the expression of lesbian behavior has been documented cross-culturally” (1, p. 107). Additionally, “women in every culture and throughout history have undertaken the task of independent, non-heterosexual, woman-connected existence, to the extent made possible by their context” (24). The expression of female homosexuality has always depended on the degree of independence, both economic and social, that females have had over their lives. “Because most societies structure the roles of females differently from those of males, the expression and meaning of homosexuality for women often differs. By and large, there has been a greater accumulation of knowledge of male homosexuality because it is usually more visible, and because most cultures placed more emphasis and value on male sexuality in general. In addition, most anthropologists have traditionally been men” (1, p. 107). Blackwood has written, “Where women have more control over their productive activities, and status, both formal and informal relations may occur. Where women lack power, particularly in class societies, they maintain only informal lesbian ties or build institutions outside the dominant culture” (25). In Blackwood’s view, formal lesbian relations are “part of a network or social structure extending beyond a pair or immediate love relationship, and occur within such social relationships as bond friendships, sisterhoods, initiations schools, the cross-gender role, or woman marriage” (25).
Sappho’s school for women on the island of Lesbos in the 7th century BC is a well-known example of lesbian existence in antiquity. As was stated earlier, formal lesbian relationships also existed in the essentially egalitarian Indian cultures of North and South America, where gender roles were complementary and where female transvestites often performed hunting duties, fought in battles, and wore traditional male clothing. Many of them married other women and set up households in which they often raised children. Within the Azande society of Africa, after a woman fulfilled her duties as a wife, some established formal lesbian relationships. These relationships were often with another of her husband’s wives, and sometimes even included maintaining their own residences (1, pp. 107-108). An example of a sisterhood arrangement was evident in Hong Kong from approximately 1865 to 1935 in three districts of the Pearl River Delta. At its height, nearly 100,000 women, having no interest in marrying men, formed a marriage-resistance movement. The members of this community moved away from their parents and formed sisterhood bonds in a series of houses. Each residence contained five or six women and at times sexual relations formed between two or three of the “sisters” (26).
Blackwood characterizes informal relations as being non-institutionalized and not extending outside the immediate social setting. Included in this category are adolescent sex-play and experimentation, as well as relationships involving women in harems or other polygynous household arrangements.
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If, according to Adrienne Rich – with the knowledge that the freedoms, options, and potentials of women have historically been oppressed by the male-dominated cultures in which they have lived – we expand our definition of lesbianism beyond lesbian existence (where a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman) to include a lesbian continuum (which would encompass many more forms of primary intensity between and among women, including the sharing of a rich inner life, the bonding against male tyranny, the giving and receiving of practical and political support, and, if we can also hear it in such associations as marriage resistance), then “we begin to grasp breadths of female history and psychology which have lain out of reach as a consequence of limited, mostly clinical, definitions of “lesbianism” (24, p. 648). Rich goes on to suggest that,
With this extended definition, we can see lesbianism either overtly or in subconsciously suppressed forms in contemporary societies, and throughout history. This lesbian continuum allows us to connect
It allows us to connect these women to the more direct examples of lesbianism that have been cited.
Two important overall observations can be made: first, there have existed cultures where, at times, large segments of the populations have engaged in homosexual activities, and second, such societies have always discouraged or forbidden exclusive homosexuality. Putting our prejudices aside, we must admit that people of all races and cultural backgrounds are relatively homogeneous genetically. What has happened to our roughly 10% statistic for homosexuality in all these cases? In the case of the ancient tribes, as well as the pederastic conventions of ancient Greece, one could say that for varying reasons, these cultures imposed homosexual practices on all males, thereby explaining the absence of this 10% statistic. But why then must they impose a restriction on exclusive homosexuality and allow homosexual behavior only under the umbrella of a socially sanctioned bisexuality? If it is true that we have no choice in our sexual orientation and are complete slaves to our genetic inheritance, and if it is also true that most of us are inherently born heterosexual (as current statistics would have us believe,) then logically there would not be a need to enforce heterosexuality – no matter how strongly a level of homosexual activity were imposed, there would be a natural tendency toward heterosexuality that ought to have made the restriction on exclusive homosexuality unnecessary. In cultures where bisexuality was not societally imposed however, we are still left with the problem of explaining how practically entire male populations have at times been bisexual - as was the case in ancient Rome (8, pp. 71-72)- given that statistics indicate the majority of human beings are heterosexual.
It should be evident that attitudes toward homosexuality both in the past and present reveal a dark secret about our true sexual natures. There is no evidence that a single culture has ever existed that has approved of exclusive homosexuality for the masses. Why has this always been necessary? What have societies been protecting themselves from for millennia upon millennia? Given that homosexuality has always required societal restrictions to control its prevalence and expression, whereas heterosexuality has always needed enforcement through the creation of laws, acceptable morals, and sexual codes of conduct, it must ironically be the case that homosexuality is natural to our species, and heterosexuality is not. The broad cultural spectrum, geographical range, and time period over which the aforementioned observations on human sexual expression extend clearly indicate that human beings as a species do indeed have a bias for homosexuality, and that heterosexuality is societally propagated.
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As absolutely inconceivable as this may appear, only this hypothesis can explain how at various periods in history very large segments of populations have engaged in homosexual activities, and also why exclusive homosexuality has always been opposed by society: given that it is the sexual orientation most likely to develop in human beings, most people would develop exclusively homosexual preferences and this would result in a given society not being able to maintain its population. Hence, a compromise between the interests of the individual and the collective interests of society has always determined acceptable human sexual behavior. Accordingly, at times homosexual behavior has been allowed, but exclusive homosexuality has always been suppressed due to its rather inevitable dominance as the most likely sexual orientation to develop in human beings when societal restrictions and influences are absent. The bias for homosexuality so evident in the highlighted cultures remains well masked in our own societies by rules and views dictated by different political, religious, and economic factors. Even during those times when a society’s demands for population increase or maintenance relaxed somewhat, individuals themselves generally always saw benefit in producing children, thus giving rise to a conflicting agenda that struggled to balance the need to ensure future well-being by producing offspring, with the inclination to yield to a natural, exclusive homosexual tendency.
In her classic paper “Compulsive heterosexuality” (24) Adrienne Rich drew the same conclusion two decades ago regarding the unnaturalness of heterosexuality. She argued convincingly that heterosexuality, like motherhood, needs to be recognized and studied as a political institution, on that served to assure male right of physical, economical, and emotional access. Eight power-characteristics, previously outlined by Gough as tools used to produce sexual inequality (27), were viewed by Rich to also be methods by which female heterosexuality was, and still is, enforced:
Rich goes on to conclude that “what surely impresses itself is the fact that we are confronting not a simple maintenance of inequality and property possession, but a pervasive cluster of forces, ranging from physical brutality to control of consciousness, which suggests that an enormous potential counterforce is having to be restrained.“
The theory that will be outlined in subsequent sections will show that as a consequence of the tremendous rise in intelligence as we evolved, we lost our instinct to engage in heterosexual intercourse as well as all other instincts. By virtue of our supreme intelligence we are unique in all of nature in not possessing a sexual instinct. There is neither a genetic determinism nor a genetic link behind human sexual orientation, whether it is heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or any other sexual orientation – all are fully determined by environment alone. Although we are born without any predetermined sexual orientation and have the potentiality to become sexually oriented in any way imaginable as dictated by our unique life experiences, there are rather universal tendencies children possess to engage in certain behaviors (which are not genetic, but simply a result of inevitable learning and exploration phases in childhood) that have the strong potential to bias a homosexual orientation development consistent with a child’s own perceived gender identity – if strong societal factors that selectively induce heterosexuality and discourage homosexuality are absent. Societies however, either restrict the expression of these behaviors completely and strongly promote heterosexuality, or in other cases, allow a highly regulated bisexuality while strongly discouraging exclusive homosexuality. The vast majority of societies today strongly promote heterosexuality. As a result, most human beings today live heterosexual lives. Paradoxically then, although we number more than 6 billion, we human beings are - and have been - ‘sexually unstable’ as a species since our evolutionary origins.
All material copyright 1991-2010 / Christopher Gomes