When looking at articles online, I usually stumble across Wikipedia. This article caught my eye because living in what is considered the “West” (whatever that means), I am not subject to many other expressions of masculinities, other than the many subcultures that produce American masculinities across many types of sexualities, races, cultures, etc. There are many expressions of masculinity within the United States, though none can compare to other countries.
When I visited India, I saw something that astounded me and I begun to question, but then realized was nothing out of the ordinary. I saw men holding hands. I remember saying “how cute!” and I wanted to take a picture so I could show people I knew at home how “open” Indian people were. The thing is, men holding hands in India is nothing about openness (or maybe it is), but is normal. If two men in the United States were holding hands, their sexuality would be questioned unless it was a father and a son, an elderly person with a helper, etc. It intrigued me and when ever I saw men holding hands in India, I would smile. When in India, I wished I could bring it back to all of the men I knew, tell them immediately to become more comfortable with touching each other, then maybe America wouldn’t be such a prude, but you can’t change that so easily. Men holding hands in India isn’t just simply about being comfortable touching each other, but has a lot to do with culture, possibly tradition, and social phenomena that has been conditioned into people’s heads for decades. This is why I am interested in this article. I hope you are just as intrigued as I am.
What is a Non-Western Concept of Male Sexuality?
“Non-westernized concepts of male sexuality may vary considerably from concepts of sexual orientation prevalent in Western culture Recent scholarship has questioned the applicability of Western concepts of sexual orientation and identity in non-Western cultures.
The Western concept of sexual orientation is relatively recent in origin, coming into being during the last 150 years. In Western (and perhaps other westernized) cultures, a male who experiences sexual attraction to other men may classified as bisexual or homosexual. (The use of such categories places him into the same classification as same-sex attracted men who cross-dress and engage flamboyantly in purportedly effeminate behavior.) In a number of other cultures, a male is defined by his (putatively internal) gender; in such a culture, a masculine gendered male might simply be labeled a man, and males putatively gendered as feminine (tranvestites of any sexual preference, flamboyantly effeminate homosexual males, and transsexuals) would be classified as members of what is sometimes called the third sex.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-westernized_concepts_of_male_sexuality)
Cultural Differences: Male Sexuality
Strong men’s spaces
As evidenced from published references from different parts of the traditional (non-westernised) non-western world (India, Indonesia, and certain countries in the Arab world)), the society is often divided into men’s and women’s spaces.
The men’s spaces are very strong in the sense that it guards against the process of heterosexualisation—which has the effect of isolating and removing male-male sexuality from these spaces into a separate ghetto—and also provides men a lot of relief from pressures of social manhood (such as exaggerating one’s sexual need for women, and suppressing one’s sexual need for men) The strength of men’s spaces can also be seen by the fact that these spaces resist the imposition of the western concept of homosexuality. Men’s spaces refer to spaces which are exclusively for men, and where women are either not allowed or their entry is highly restricted. These spaces are extremely important for men and their manhood and very congenial to bonds between men, including sexual bonds. These sexual bonds are very open if the formal society is accepting, otherwise hidden to various degrees, depending upon how hostile the formal society is.
Perceptions of men’s sexual desires for other men as universal
Some anthropological research has suggested that in Afghanistan (Kandahaar), India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and elsewhere Sri Lanka, men’s sexual desires for other men is understood as universal, and not the characteristic of one or more sexual minorities. According to this research, a man’s display of sexual interest in another man in social environments in which this understanding is shared may not be seen as a sign of difference from the societal mainstream. Belief in the ordinariness of male same-sex desire may be freely acknowledged, as it apparently is in Kandahaar. In other cultural settings, same-sex desire may be openly acknowledged in spaces socially defined as male but denied in mixed gender spaces (e.g., in India).
Role of conception of “third gender” in shaping understanding and practice of male sexuality
In regions including South Asia, South-East Asia, Arab, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, and Polynesia, more than two genders are acknowledged, and usually there are three sexes or genders of humans beings. Apart from the masculine and feminine genders, there is also a third gender which is considered to be both masculine and feminine at the same time (or in some societies neither masculine nor feminine; neutral). It includes feminine gendered males, who are considered to have male “outer” sex but feminine gender. While there is no division on the basis of the Western pattern of “sexual orientation”, there is a strong division of the male population between masculine gendered males and feminine gendered males. While the former are referred to as “men”, the latter are known as members of the third sex, regardless of (what might be referred to in the contemporary West as) sexual orientation. The third sex is considered a separate gender category, and its members are not considered men or women but rather members of a neutral or intermediate gender. Thus, sexual relations between a man and another man are not treated as equivalent to sexual relations between a man and a member of the third gender .” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-westernized_concepts_of_male_sexuality)
“The evening people of India are biological males who choose to live a life in which they dress and otherwise comport themselves in a way intermediate between the ways that typical men and women dress and act. This is similar to a Western definition of transgender and androgyny.
A Lotus of Another Color (ed. Rakesh Ratti, ISBN 1-55583-171-0} gave a general impression of the perception of evening people:
- If you were to wander around a city in India after the sun had gone down and the oppressive heat of July had abated somewhat, you might encounter pairs of guys wandering the streets, sipping juice in juice bars, or drinking tea in the shops of various chai wallahs. They might be holding hands as they walked from place to place. They might dress in somewhat androgynous-looking clothing—something a little too ornamental or too colorful for somebody who wanted to be known as a sober business and a good family man to wear. There is probably an element of “plausible deniability” in their behavior if they are indeed evening people and not old friends seeing each other after months or years of separation—enough to escape unwanted negative attention— but many people would look at them and say to themselves, “I think I know what may be going on between those two people.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evening_people)
Books about Non-Western concepts of Male Sexuality
Here is a book list if you want further resources: http://books.google.com/books?q=cultural+differences:+male+sexuality&source=citation
This is only the beginning of my exploration of Non-Western concepts of Masculinity. I find that even looking at other cultures though creates something of an “Outsider” perspective and that I still maintain my bias of what male sexuality should be or how I have seen it for most of my life. I feel as if this exploration and presentation of this information can lead to uncovering of different types of masculinities and I hope to publish more about this in the future.
What do you think about Non-Western concepts of Sexuality? Have you seen some of these representations? Have you read anything about this topic?
Feel free to comment…