The Relation Between Ethnicity And Sexuality

Research on race, ethnicity, and nationalism in both the social sciences and humanities rests upon a model of ethnicity as a set of socially constructed boundaries in political, economic, cultural, social, and moral time and space. Ethnicity can be a signifier not only of physical differences, but also of differences in language, religion, sexuality, region, or culture.

The power of various actors in ethnic transactions can determine an individual’s ethnic classification as well as the content and worth of that individual’s ethnicity. This power to name ethnically can be formal, where, the state designates criteria for ethnic or racial classification, or even informal, where audiences in social settings attribute ethnic meanings to an individual’s social characteristics. Someone’s whiteness is an official fact in the U. S. as seen in documents like the birth certificate, driver’s license, and eventually on the death certificate. We can observe differences in language, religion, skin color, appearance, cultural practices and beliefs, or national origin. The race, gender, and class link has been the focus of scholarly interest in recent years, and now sexuality has become the subject of studies and attention as well. There is a certain importance of proper gender role and sexual behavior in the ethnic community to hold honor and respect. There are differences in sexual demeanor of group members of both formal and informal rules of sexual conduct.

The production of ethnic differences requires social and often political recognition, definition, and reinforcement as well as individual and collective assertion and acceptance to become socially real. Similarly, male and female bodies do not automatically result in socially meaningful men or women. Rather the gender identities, meanings, cultures, and social divisions between men and women are social constructions, arising out of historical conditions, power relations, and ongoing social processes. Sexual social constructionism did not become a dominant theory in sociology, as social conceptions of ethnicity had. Much sociological work on sexuality has remained in the tradition of sexology. Some of the most interesting contemporary work deconstructing and challenging assumptions about the nature and content of sexuality is by feminist theorists.

The view of women as not men leads to a focus on women’s lack of rights, women’s troubles, women’s marginality, and thus can be seen to be an affirmation, a reinforcement, and even the constitution of hegemonic manhood – men’s dominance, men’s privilege, men’s centrality. It is not only the existence of women that queer theorists’ question. Feminism is not the only target for criticism by queer theorists. Ironically and interestingly, so is the gay and lesbian rights movement and the sexual identity politics it has engendered. They are less successful when it comes to providing ways these core social categories and regimes emerge as stable structures. Butler’s notion of performativity is a step toward a general model of how hegemony comes into being, through a series of repetitive acts that are largely unconscious, affirming, and constitutive. She argues that these replications of heterosexual conventions by nonheterosexuals reveal the utterly constructed status of the so-called heterosexual original. A few years later, Butler expressed some doubts, suggesting that drag may both denaturalize as well as reidealize heterosexual gender norms. Not only is heterosexuality deeply socially embedded and institutionalized, but it is a resilient system capable of absorbing and appropriating challenges on its edges in order to strengthen itself. Thus, sexual deviance from the heterosexual norm can provoke gender and sexual policing that, in the end, strengthen and further naturalize particular forms of heterosexuality.

Conventional heterosexuality seems to be an extremely elastic social fact, capable of enormous staying power even in the face of constant, widespread noncompliance. Take the normal expectation of monogamy in marriage. While there is variation and unreliability in sex surveys, adultery appears to be a fairly common phenomenon in marriages and other monogamous relationships. Although there is historical change in sexual norms and actions, one can find similar discrepancies between ideology and behavior in other forms of contemporary U. S. heteroconventionality, such as the appropriate age and general acceptability of premarital sex, number of acceptable simultaneous sexual partners, types of sexual behavior, locations for sexual activity, nudity, and public attire.

The race and ethnicity of sexual partners is another frequently transgressed, though often quite actively inspected, highly regulated, and potentially volatile sexual norm. At least as familiar a picture from World War II as women sexual collaborators with shaved heads, is the pink triangle homosexuals were forced to wear in Germany and Nazi-occupied territories, and considerably more familiar than either image is the six-sided Star of David forced by the Nazis on Jews. Pink triangles and Stars of David served to distinguish publicly outcast non-Aryans from Aryans, and these symbols communicated potent and degenerate sexual stereotypes about their wearers. Depicting others as feminine is useful in other ways, to delegitimize or trivialize grievances or dissent, to denigrate or dismiss opponents or colonized people, or as a critical discourse act against a dominant group.

In 1992 the Queer Nation, Boston formed the Irish-American Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Pride Community and sought the right to participate in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade, organized by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council. The Veterans Council objected and the case ended up in court. If parading is so important to them, let them raise their own money, organize their own parade, and apply for a permit to march in downtown Boston to express their sexuality. Scholars studying the dispute argue that the resistance to the inclusion of GLIB in the march exposed an assumption about the heterosexuality of Irishness. Stychin characterized the subsequent court battle as a dispute that centered directly on the sexuality of national identities and speaks to both the construction of the sexuality of an Irish American and an American identity. The conquest of the west involved a series of sexualized encounters resulting in a confrontation of sexualities and sexual systems along various ethnosexual frontiers. Scholars question the biases and agendas of many of these because they served as justifications for colonial and later American policies of annihilation, pacification, and assimilation of native populations.

No ethnic boundary is more sexualized, surveilled, and scrutinized in the U. S. society than the line dividing blacks and whites. Looking back to the very earliest days of European settlement in North America, from the early sixteenth century when the first Africans arrived on the continent as indentured servants and later into the seventeenth century when immigrants were formerly enslaved, there were frequent sexualized descriptions of Africans. In the twentieth century black sexuality remained a preoccupation of white. Homophobia in the black community combines with the racism of gay whites to further isolate black homosexuals. Hemphill comments that the contradictions of ‘home’ are amplified and become more complex when black gay men’s relationships with the white gay community are studied. The writings of black, Native Americans, Asian American, and Latino gay men resonate with those of African Americans reporting feelings of exclusion from home communities and from the whites that are gay.

The sexualization of ethnicity is a universal feature of ethnic relations. The study of race, ethnicity, and nationalism holds the same promise to reveal ethnosexual regimes of discipline and punishment, of hegemony and domination, but also of revelation and reinvention. Ethnicity plays a huge role in sexuality across the entire world. It is seen differently depending on race, religion, beliefs, region, and even gender.

10 October 2020
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