Re: Homophobia-- human universal?

Susan (
19 Aug 1996 17:05:38 GMT (Bryant) wrote:
>In article <4uvqj3$>, Susan <> wrote:
>[Bryant asked for refs on homophobia in other cultures]
>[Bryant feels compelled to assert his heterosexuality, but hesitates
>because he recently mentioned a study showing that homophobes are
>often closet homosexuals :)]

Ah, the eternal tension-- I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where
Jerry was "outed", and the constant reiterations of "not that there's
anything wrong with that!"

>I had assumed that part of the reason I couldn't find much mention of
>homosexuality in the HRAF microfiche was that ethnographers' informants
>weren't mentioning it because of negative cultural views. Maybe?

Probably. I've never worked directly with HRAF, but I do know that those
who study Native American berdache have difficulty with the historical
sources because the subject is either not mentioned directly, or is
couched in terms like "the abominable sin", not particularly useful
(especially if you don't think it is!). Another book you might look at
is Will Roscoe's Zuni Man-Woman. It's a very specific case study (and
makes for fascinating reading), but it does give you some idea about how
people immersed in a particular culture framework (in this case, European
American) can completely miss something that is right in front of them--
in this case, a Zuni berdache who participated in female high society in
19th century Washington D.C., without anyone knowing that s/he (I'm not
sure what the proper form of address is in this case) was not
biologically female. Matilda Coxe Stevenson, an anthropologist who also
became this person's personal friend, did not know of his gender status
for many years

On the same subject of bias in the sources, Walter Williams' book The
Spirit and the Flesh gives some good information. He is explicitly
focussing on cultures who see berdache as positive (or neutral), but he
does talk extensively about the historical sources and the problems with
using them.

>>Try Serena Nanda's book "Neither Man Nor Woman", about the
>>ambivalent reaction of Indian society to homosexuality,
>You mean east Indian (India) Indians? Or groups in the Americas?

The former. They are a religious group which has a kind of caste status,
devoted to an aspect of the Mother Goddess called Bahuchara Mata. Most
of them seem to be homosexual, though there are other homosexuals in
Indian society who do not belong to this group. Nanda discusses the
issue of how the two are seen somewhat differently, and how the former
are seen in somewhat ambiguous terms, as their increasing participation
in prostitution (an economic necessity in some cases) is eroding their
religious status (which is generally positive).

I generally use Native American when referring to the first inhabitants
of this continent, particularly in more "formal" contexts (as opposed to
conversation-- I know some Native Americans who do not object to the term
"Indian", but I usually wait for some indication of what people want to
be called before I plunge ahead-- as someone who thinks the term "man" is
anything but inclusive, I am a big fan of people being called what they
want to be called, not what I think they should be called).

>Thanks for the references, Susan. 'Appreciated.


No charge! It's the teacher in me...




"Some mornings, it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps."
-- Emo Phillips