Notes for the Book: Hierarchy of Attitudes about Gender and Sex

I’m rethinking a lot of matters, about epistemology, about culture and politics, as ranges of attitudes, from the intuitive and simplistic, to the informed and complex. Are some of these spectra, rather than hierarchies? A hierarchy implies that the top level is the superior one, and I would defend that take on the subjects outlined so far. Including this one, for now.

Here’s a hierarchy about sex and gender.

1. The simplest take is that sex, between male and female humans, is for the purpose of reproduction, period. It’s not about anything else, and therefore all occasions of such relations must be open to the possibility of reproduction. (Since obviously *every* instance of human sex doesn’t result in pregnancy. If this take was true, why wouldn’t it? Why didn’t God arrange for human pairs to have sex only a few times in their lives, each time resulting in a child? There are some animal species like this.) This is the Catholic Church’s position, as I understand it; thus its opposition to birth control, and to sexual relationships other than heterosexual ones (as “evil”).

2. The next level is recognizing that sexual relations between men and women have another –not purpose, that’s teleological– but function. Which is to bond two people together, simply to continue to enjoy the pleasures of sex (and daily living) together; the unconscious function is that they therefore stay together long enough to raise the children some of those encounters result in. (Very primitive human tribes, some of them in existence today in isolated parts of the world, do not actually understand the relationship between sex and children.) Still, this understanding can entail the stricture that sex should only be between one male and one female. Because that’s what’s “natural.”

3. The next level is recognizing what’s actually “natural.” Homosexuality isn’t some weird perversion of human beings; in fact, many animal species other than humans exhibit homosexual behavior. Here’s a list on Wikipedia: Years ago on Locus Online, back when I posted pages of “Aether Vibrations” (i.e. links and quotes about nonfiction articles and books of presumed interest to science fiction readers) I listed a a book about homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom. (Can’t find it just now, but will pursue.) Now, the question of *why* humans and other animals exhibit homosexual behavior is still open, I think; part of it is due the pair-bonding effect noted above. Sexual behavior has different functions among many species. See: bonobo, a pygmy chimpanzee closely related to humans.

4. And the next level is to recognize that human sexual behavior is about what’s possible. Humans are the most inventive animals on Earth. We are not constricted by pure biological functions. The identification of sex and gender is extremely fluid. (Imagine the opposite: if reality were like take 1, above, every male would be equally attracted and responsive to every female, and vice versa. But that obviously isn’t the case. Why does any one person, seeing the range of potential mates, click on *that* one, or *this* one, as opposed to all the others? I think to some extent it’s about childhood upbringing and experience, to contingency, and to an inherent exogamous instinct that drives attraction to the *other*, to people from other towns, to people from other cultures — because this instinct is built into the human race — no, again, that’s teleological — has evolved in the human race to increase diversity in the species, which works for long-term survival. …This fluidity of gender identification and sexual attraction is real, there’s further evidence of this every year, every decade. And this freaks out the fundamentalist adherents of level 1.

Of course it’s worth understanding context. The Biblical strictures of level 1 were set down thousands of years ago by desert tribes in an age before refrigeration or sanitation, in a violent age when tribes fought for resources, and arguably the survival of the tribe trumped any issues of personal choice or autonomy. Also, infant mortality has been high across history until the past century. Thus, all those barbaric rules from Leviticus might have made some kind of sense, even the ones about the handling of food, given the circumstances. But that was then, this is now. The Catholic church still behaves as if it’s humanity’s mission to fill up the planet as quickly as possible. That, of course, has led to the Sixth Extinction and the ongoing climate crisis that could well bring humanity to extinction. Circumstances have changed. But flexibility of thought is not a fundamentalist hallmark.

Years ago, back in 2014, I posted, as a footnote, some comments about the Christian opposition to homosexuality. It’s at the bottom of this post. I’ll reproduce those comments here.

You wouldn’t necessarily think there’s a connection between antipathy toward homosexuality and with being Christian (*footnote below), and I have no particular animosity against Christianity any more than other religions (all of which I find unpersuasive and obsolete, if not oppressive), yet again and again the hostility toward gays, especially in recent weeks and months, turns out to be religiously inspired –- by Christianity. It is hard for me to find much respect for a religion whose most outspoken representatives devote their lives (they have nothing better to do?) to marginalizing if not criminalizing people like me.


*There are two or three other general reasons people seem to object to homosexuality. One, a (rather childish) squeamishness about people who do things one finds personally distasteful. Many people get past this reflexive attitude that people who are different from them are therefore inferior by the time they become adults, but not everyone.

Two, an existential panic on the part of parents that their kids being gay would preclude them having grandchildren. This is an attitude honed by the elementary logic of natural selection, of course; members of a population indifferent to having offspring, and their offspring having offspring, would not, to the extent this attitude is genetic, last long in the population.

A third would be the deep-seated biological protocols of species survival, which homosexuality would seem to (but in practice does not always) violate. This too, ironically, is an instinct built by evolution, a concept those who express this objection most strongly no doubt don’t “believe” in.

(So evolutionary speaking, why does homosexuality exist? An unsolved question, though with several potential explanations. Humans are not simple reproductive machines, optimized to generate offspring above all else, would be the general answer.)

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