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Towards a brief history of homosexuality

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DWill

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Nothing to contribute at this point, just following along. Wanted to compliment you guys for conducting a fabulous discussion.
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Towards a brief history of homosexuality

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Since we are on the History of H. What did our Forbears call it before the Silly Greek words and the ,almost as silly, 'gay' ?
darryl dickey

Towards a Brief History of Homosexuality

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I have combed the Bible for every possible reference to homosexuality. I then delved into the dusty archives of the Old and New Testament scholars, those who read the texts in their original language, to see how they interpret those references and how their analyses fared under aggressive peer review. Their answer to what the Bible actually says about homosexuality is far different from what you generally hear from those who know only the English translations. For example, ancient Hebrew has two different words to describe homosexuality, one word for the male temple prostitutes of the Canaanites. which he abhors, and another word for other homosexuality. When the original Hebrew was translated into Greek and English, which only have one word to describe all types of homosexuality, the word inadvertently took on a new meaning. Also, the words that were written in the ancient languages often have completely different meanings in those same languages today.

This analysis is far to long for this space, it is 16 pages long, but I would be happy to send it to anyone who wishes a copy or to post it someplace if anyone has any suggestion of where I could do that. It is an excerpt from a book that will be published in about January on the history of the Bible.
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I've come into this discussion late so I can't respond to everything I'd like, but I would like to make a few comments. One thing I'd like to point out is that there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the Bible's influence on modern perceptions of homosexuality. While this is true, perhaps an even greater influence was Aristotle. Aristotle commented at length on the "nature" of males and females, and their sexuality, and popularized the view that they are intrinsically and categorically different.

Thomas Aquinas and Augustine later fused Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology to promote the idea that sex between members of the same sex is unnatural, and this view has been widely accepted within modern Christianity.

While the term "homosexuality" is a modern word, there have been many examples throughout history of males who live as lovers. Male with male sexuality has been accepted in many societies. Of course, it wouldn't be fair to evaluate their relationships within the context of our modern understanding of the word. The ancient Greeks, for example, commonly engaged in male with male love and sex, but it was often male teachers having relationships with their students. Once the pupil was old enough to grow facial hair, they were often considered too old for the relationship, so many of these relationships were with boys. Teachers considered it part of their education, and for the students it would often benefit their social/political standing. There have also been some examples of male couples, like Saint Serge and Saint Bacchus, being united in marriage-like ceremonies within the pre-modern Christian Church. Clearly these aren't relationships that our society approves of, so the social context has to be considered when evaluating a behavior or identity.

There have been a few examples of female lovers, but the recognition of female sexuality is a relatively new concept in Western society. Female sexuality has traditionally been disregarded and denied. "Lesbians" didn't exist until just recently, at least not as we think of them. Women were known to live together and love each other, but the idea that they could have sex with each other was almost unheard of to the majority of people.

MA stated:
It also seems doomed to entail greater and greater degrees of categorization and compartmentalization, which makes it difficult to arrive at any sort of understanding of the social responses that are expected. That's so pragmattic a point that it might seem rather crass, but I think that's one aspect of the question. The almost silly, quasi-practical example that leaps to mind is, which public restroom ought a transsexual to use? Another is, which pronoun do you use when a person identifies themselves as a variation of trans-identity that you're not terribly familiar with? And the more variations on transsexuality that crop up, the more complicated that question becomes. Social behavior requires some ingrained sense of propriety, and the more complicated we make our categories of identity, the more difficult it becomes to sort out what, in any given scenario, is the proper response.
Perhaps the reason it's difficult is because we pigeonhole ourselves into such black and white terms. Male/female, man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual. Aristotle believed that males were the perfect form of humans, while females were defective, misbegotten men. Females were defined only in relation to men, as the opposite. Homosexuality is defined in relation to heterosexuality.

In a later post you raised the point of sexual fluidity, and that's where my thinking trends. Most humans possess some sort of sexual identity, even if it's asexuality, which is defined in relation to sexuality. If we could somehow extract social beliefs about homosexuality, and remove the heterosexism that dominates our society, I think that most people would be much more fluid in their sexual exploration and willingness to experience relationships with others.

On the subject of identity, modern theories in gender studies point to a fluid identity rather than a fixed identity. A single individual might identify with a variety of sexual identities at different points in their life. To suggest that a person is either homosexual or heterosexual, is to box them into a set of only two possibilities, which exist as opposites. Recognizing all possible sexual identities tends to make the dominant culture majority uncomfortable, not queers.

MA stated:
I'd say that in terms of self-identification, gay and straight are just the tip of the ice-berg. And adding TS and TG doesn't get us much further down the ice-berg. Just breaking down gay a little bit, there have been divisions in the gay community that complicate the question, the most obvious being the cultural and social division of gay male to lesbian. The more politically inclined they become, the more those two groups are discovering that they don't have everything in common, and thus are looking for some standing as their own, distinct categories. And then those two groups break down into sub-groups on their own. And so on, and so forth.

So I think the point that Federika and I are getting at is that there is at least one blatant social drawback to the insistence upon sexuality as a form of identity. But realizing that doesn't really account for the history of that idea. It seems obvious that there must have been some advantage to making homosexuality a kind of identity. I'm just not sure what it is. Any suggestions?
I'm failing to see the drawback of sexuality as a form of identity. We all hold many identities, and identities intersect. A gay, white male may share some commonality in identity with a black, lesbian female, but will clearly differ in many aspects of identity. They will share discrimination based on their sexuality, but the gay male will experience privilege based upon his sex and race (in the U.S. anyway). The black, female lesbian may experience oppression based on her race, sex, and sexuality. Whether she identifies more strongly with the black community, women, or other LGBT will probably depend on her experiences in life, but likely she'll identify with all to at least some degree. She can't separate herself from her experiences. Her identities intersect within her experience of life.

MA stated:
I don't want to downplay the significance of that particular difference between sexuality and race or gender. Of course it makes a difference that we're able to make certain judgements about a person based on color or gender within the first split second of meeting a person. But I don't think that necessarily discredits the analogy between race/gender and sexuality that's apparantly contributed to the modern notion of sexuality as identity.
How valid are the judgments we make about race and gender? Aren't they often merely assumptions? Trans individuals often "fool" people because they don't follow society's norms about what they're supposed to look like. And how often do we know a person's race? The whole concept that a biracial child or a Latino would benefit by being able to "pass" as white challenges the notion that race and gender are clearly identifiable. That "white" guy you share a dorm with might actually be a biracial female.

Asana Bodhitharta:
It really doesn't matter how or why someone is homosexual the point is it need not be a socially acceptable behaviour.
MA replied:
For that matter, overt heterosexuality need not be deemed socially acceptable behavior.
Good point.

Frederika said:
Great ideas...I think this is fascinating stuff! It would be interesting to find out about the sexual habits of married peoples before the idea of marrying for love took root. There must be some information about homosexual behavior during, say, the slavery era? That's not very far back.
I read a really good text book on the history of LGBT, but I don't remember the name of it. There are a lot of examples of same sex relationships throughout history and cultures. There are also a lot of examples of trans individuals, often referred to as the "third sex." In Native American societies, there were men and women who lived as the "opposite sex," and rather than being ostracized for it, they were embraced and held up as spiritual leaders, valued for their knowledge of both sexes. There are also many intersexed people who don't fit nicely into our male/female dichotomy. It's easier to say that there's something wrong with them, even to the point of presuming to surgically alter their bodies, than to acknowledge potential problems with how we define sexuality.
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Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry

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Here is an organization doing important work in healing the wounds of religious homophobia and biblical heterosexism...and offering a radical alternative of ministry and love.
Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry http://www.clgs.org/4/4_0.html

The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) is a recently established center of Pacific School of Religion Berkeley, California.

The Center serves three distinct but overlapping constituencies: the world of academic religious scholarship; faith communities; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people and organizations.

CLGS is purposed toward developing programming in each of four major areas: Research, Resourcing, Education for Leadership, and Community-Building/Advocacy. All programming works to carry out the Center's fundamental mission:

To advance the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people and to transform faith communities and the wider society by taking a leading role in shaping a new public discourse on religion and sexuality through education, research, community building and advocacy.
Here is a link to their quarterly Journal, Open Hands http://www.clgs.org/5/open_hands.html
The quarterly journal, Open Hands was published by the Reconciling Ministries Network (formerly, the Reconciling Congregation Program / United Methodist) from 1986 to 2002.

Initially seeking to serve as "a resource for congregations and individuals seeking to be in ministry with lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons", the latter issues reflect an expanded mission, namely, to serve as the quarterly magazine of the Welcoming Church movement in the United States and Canada.
Here is an excellent article written by one of the founders of the organization, New Testament scholar and Professor, Mary Tolbert:

Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: Biblical Texts in Historical Contexts http://www.clgs.org/5/5_4_4.html
So much more could be said about the construction of gender roles and sexuality in Mediterranean antiquity, but even the little we have reviewed today places the few biblical texts that deal with homoeroticism in a quite different light from what most modern debates about the "Bible and homosexuality" seem to assume. The biblical writers knew nothing of sexual orientations, mutual erotic relationships, or sexuality as the expression of a passion for equality. Our world is not their world; and theirs is not ours
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