Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-First Century / Same Sex, Different Cultures: Gays and Lesbians across Cultures

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The New Lesbian Studies: Into the Twenty-First Century / Same Sex, Different Cultures: Gays and Lesbians across Cultures

Article excerpt

Zimmerman, Bonnie, & McNaron, Toni A. H. (Eds.). 1996. The new lesbian studies: Into the twenty-first century. New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, ISBN 1-55861-136-3, $17.95 paperback, 295 pp.

Same sex, Different cultures: Gays and lesbians across cultures. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 0-8133-3163-3, $26.00 cloth cover, 204 pp.

Caution! These books should be read with an open mind. The material and information contained in these books will make visible the invisible, challenge and deepen your understanding of human sexuality, gender roles, and heterosexism, and bring forth ideas and questions about social and cultural responses to same sex relationships in contemporary and future cultures.

While both books address aspects of sexual diversity, they approach the subject matter using conflicting theoretical perspectives and address two different sets of issues in different cultural contexts. Gilbert Herdt (1997), drawing on cultural and historical material, discussed the existence of same sex relationships in a diversity of cultures ranging from Ancient Greece to contemporary societies. Bonnie Zimmerman and Toni McNaron (1996) focused on one specific culture, academia, in their collection of writings that provide a historical and reflective insight into the growth and development of lesbian scholarship.

Same sex, different cultures: Gays and lesbians across cultures is divided into seven chapters. In the first chapter, Herdt addresses a few of the more significant problems anthropologists experience in studying sexuality; his theoretical position, and anthropological concepts central to understanding further discussion. Herdt raises two primary challenges to studying sexuality. Anthropologists struggle over how one understands sexual behavior and practices without relating it to one's own sexuality. The second challenge relates to cultures that "simply lack categories or concepts that cover the meanings of the contemporary notion of homosexual" (p. 7). Herdt responds to these problems by approaching this book from a queer theory perspective. Queer theory "argues that history and cultural descriptions are never distinguishable from the authors and assumptions of normality through which subjects or objects are described" (p. 9). In doing so, he challenges the use of all categorical and classification systems and all notions of what is "normal." Queer theorists view concepts such as `sexual identity' and `the body' as "illusions in language and power relationships" (p. 10). Herdt argued that we cannot understand one's sexual lifeway outside of the context of their sexual culture.

Herdt stated that "the most important lesson to learn from the cross-- cultural and historical study of homosexuality is that there is room for many at the table of humankind in societies around the world" (p. 27). While there may be room for all at this table of humankind, Herdt suggests that in some countries, the cultural myths associated with homosexuality have contributed to their not being welcomed or invited. In this second chapter, Herdt provides insight into the dominant myths that permeate the United States and other western cultures, revealing the social and historical prerogatives of power from which they have been constructed.

Chapter three focuses on the existence of same sex relationships in non-- western cultures. Drawing on ethnographic reports and existent literature, Herdt suggested that these relationships were based on age, gender transformations, and specialized social roles or practices. Age structured homoerotic relationships are reported to be more frequent amongst men than women. It was believed that these relationships contributed to young men's training as warriors (i.e. ancient Greece, feudal Japan); the development of their masculinity (i.e. Australian aboriginals, Sambia) and as responses to cultural taboos and restrictions (i.e. Africa). Gender transformed roles or third gender roles were related to cultural requirements requiring one of the partners to take on the behaviors, role, and dress of the other gender (i. …

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