Tag Archives: Human sexual activity

Queer Gods, Demigods and Their Priests: The Middle East

(For a proper understanding of the place of homeroticism in Jewish and Christian history, it is instructive to contrast it with its place in other religions. I have described previously how many religions not only accept a recognized and important place for same sex love, but even identifyspecific patrons of homosexual love. I now propose to consider the many other gods and goddesses who either took same sex lovers themselves, or were served by sexually or gender non-conforming priests  and priestesses. I begin, as any account of the development of civilization must do, in the Middle East.)
Same sex love is a common theme in world religion and its literature, and is even present at the very beginning of literary history. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the world’s oldest work of literature – and includes a central theme of love between two men. The hero Giligamesh was the king of Uruk, described as two thirds god and one third man, and a giant in size and strength, with a prodigious sexual appetite. He routinely used his strength and royal power to take advantage of both young men, taking them from their fathers, and young women, taking them from their husbands. To protect their sons and wives from the kings lust, the people turn to their gods, and in particular the creator goddess Aruru, pleading with her to send Gilgamesh a companion on whom he can expend his energies. Aruru responds, and sends to Gilgamesh a man, Enkidu, who is massive in size, inspiring in physique, hairy like an animal, and with luxuriant tresses of hair “like a woman”.
Gilgamesh’s Grief at Enkidu’s Death
The subsequent relationship between the two, their adventures together,  Gilgamesh’s grief after Enkidu’s death and their subsequent reunion in the afterworld with Enkidu’s ghost form the meat of the epic. The content is not explicitly homoerotic, but there are clear erotic undertones. Enkidu was created to divert the king’s sexual appetite from his subjects, and there is no indication that such a prodigious sexual energy suddenly evaporated. At one point, Gilgamesh even declines a direct sexual invitation from the goddess Ishtar – preferring his male companion Enkidu. Recalling the words of  the biblical prophet David about Jonathan, it is said that Gilgamesh loved Enkidu “like a wife”.
Discussing the erotic element in their relationship, the biblical scholar Marti Nissinen (“Homoeroticism in the Biblical World“) makes an interesting point, one that will be familiar to many gay men in the modern West, and should give pause to those who insist that sex between men may be permitted in a committed, permanent relationship, but not before:
At first, the Epic of Gilgamesh can be described as a characterization of love between two men, with a homoerotic aspect that expresses their deep friendship……At the beginning, there is plenty of sex in the lives of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but this lifestyle is presented as primitive and reckless. ….As the story proceeds, the relationship deepens and, simultaneously, the sexual passions seem to subside to the point that one can speak of a “spiritual” friendship between the two men. The erotic tension between Gilgamesh and Enkidu is not lost, but is transformed in the way that the same – sex interaction of the two men finally is characterized by love, with little if any sexual activity. Eroticism is important first and foremost as the impetus to the transformation which leads first from savage sexual behaviour to mutual love, and finally away from physical sex.
This process will be familiar to many modern gay men. In place of the romantic stereotype of a slowly blossoming chaste courtship, followed by a grand wedding and only then by sexual consummation, the pattern is more usually reversed.  Possibly influenced by the absence in practice of opportunities for more conventional courtships between men to develop, possibly by the more frankly sexual interests in relationships of men compared with women, the majority of gay male relationships begin with sexual encounters on or soon after a first date. Some of these develop into lasting friendships, and then some into lasting, committed unions.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, it is not the gods who were queer, but their priests and priestesses. There is a wealth of material on this, but two extracts from de la Huerta make the point in summary:
In ancient Mesopotamia, the Goddess Innana (also known as Ishtar) was considered the patron of the sinnisat zikrum, a class of gender-variant and possibly lesbian princesses. Likewise, she was also honoured and served by the kulbu, gender-variant male priests, which included the assinu and the kurgarru. Both male and female functionaries wore androgynous attire combined with sacd vestments and were considered to hold special powers. It was believed, for example, that the simple act of touching an assinu’s head would lead to victory in battle, while the mere sighting of a kurgarru was thought to bring good luck.
The Canaanite Goddess Ashtar was also served by a class of gender-variant priests, called qedeshim (the “holy ones”) who were responsible for the upkeep of the temple grounds and the creation of ritual objects. They were said to engage in sacred temple prostitution and may have used sexual practices as a way to induce enhanced states of consciousness.
-De la Huerta, p 32 (after Conner, Blossom of Bone)
In Egyptian mythology, there is an important reminder that sex (whether between men or between a man and woman) was not always an expression of love, but was frequently an expression of power and aggression. Seth, the murderer of his brother Osiris, summons Osiris’ nephew Horus, ostensibly to achieve some reconciliation. Instead, he attempts to rape him while Horus is asleep, thus putting him into a sexually subordinate position, which would leave him unfit for kingship. Instead, the younger man turns the tables by getting some of Seth’s sperm in his hand, which he later mixes with his (Seth’s) food. By taking male sperm, into his body, it is Seth who becomes unfit for kingship.
Recommended Books
De la Huerta, Christian: Coming Out Spiritually: The Next Step
Related Posts:
Some Gods of Homosexual Love (Queer Saints and Martyrs) 
Chin, Mayan Gay God (It’s a Queer World)
The Chinese Rabbit God (It’s a Queer World)

The Real Mama Grizzlies: Lesbian Moms?

Sarah Palin, With Bear
Sarah Palin’s understanding of wildlife appears to be no better than her tenuous grasp of social history.  Mrs Palin has been very much in the news over her enthusiastic promotion of a band of crazies  thoughtful, conservative candidates who agree with her own views on education and “traditional family values”.   The women in this band she likes to describe as “mamma grizzlies”, most recntly Christina O’Donnell in Delaware.
The problem with the conservative view of the “traditional” family and its values is that has little relation to history, and is in fact a relatively modern invention. The problem with her adoption of mamma grizzlies as her model is that they too scarcely embody the “family values” she claims to support.  Real life mamma grizzlies do not live or mate in the nuclear families she so admires. Rather, they mate in promiscuous, polygamous groups, then raise their young as single mothers – or in collaboration with other females, as family units headed by two women.  The closest human counterparts to real-life “mamma grizzlies” are lesbian couples, with kids – not exactly Christian O’Donnell.
Bruce Bagemihl in Biological Exuberance describes the family structure of grizzly bears, based on an analysis of 18 published, peer-reviewed academic papers. He notes that while grizzlies (and Black bears) are largely solitary creatures, they do sometimes form short-term social groups around specific food sources. Mating is indiscriminate and polygamous, with both males and females mating with multiple opposite sex partners for conception. After mating, the males have no further part in child-rearing.
Consequently, many grizzly mammas raise their young as single parents – unless (as many do) they team up with another female for co-operative parenting.

The two mothers become inseparable companions, travelling and feeding together throughout the summer and fall seasons as they share in the parenting of their cubs.. ……. A bonded pair jointly defends their food, and the two females also protect one another and their offspring (including protecting them from attack by grizzly males). The cubs regard both females as their parents, following and responding to either mother equally; bonded females occasionally also nurse each other’s cubs. If one female dies, her companion usually adopts her cubs and rears them as her own.

Sexual activity is not always exclusively for procreation and not always between opposite-sex partners; the partners in procreation are usually opposite-sex (not always – some lizards reproduce from female pairs), but the parties in biological parenting and child-rearing are not always the same; and there are instances where same-sex parents have clear advantages over the alternatives, especially where the alternative is not “one mom and one pop”, but a single mother, as in the case of the Grizzlies.
 
There are thousands of animal species that are known to have homosexual relationships, some even more frequently than heterosexual relationships (for example bighorn rams, female bonobo chimps and male giraffe). Many other animal species, especially birds, form same-sex parenting couples, by adoption or surrogacy. In human societies, there are likewise numerous examples where standard practices include same-sex relationships in addition to opposite sex-marriage – and the evidence from research is that just as in the animal kingdom, same-sex couples are at least as capable of good parenting, and sometimes even better, than opposite – sex couples.

 

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Books:

Bagemihl, BruceBiological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Crompton, Louis: Homosexuality and Civilization

Naphy, William GBorn to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History)

Roughgarden, JoanEvolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

What Irish Catholics Believe

This is getting monotonous, but it must be stated again. What Catholics believe and practice on matters of sexual ethics, as a matter of empirical fact, is simply not what the (nominally) celibate bishops in their ivory towers would like us to believe, or falsely proclaim as “Catholic” belief, when it is in fact no more than Vatican doctrine.
The latest evidence, in a long line of similar research, comes from Ireland. This makes it all the more notable, given that country’s long reputation until recently as a “priest-ridden country”, where the dictates of the clergy meant that even contraception was forbidden by law, and people would journey across the island to Belfast just to buy condoms.
In a marked turnaround, the Irish people do not simply tolerate pre-marital sex, they believe it is desirable for young couples to spend time living together before committing to marriage. The bishops, on the other hand, maintain that all sex outside of marriage and not “ordered to procreation” is sinful, and presumably support their American colleagues’ pronouncement that cohabitation before marriage, like homosexuality, is gravely disordered.
The Irish politicians have come a long way in standing up to moral bullying by the church officials, notably over the investigations into clerical sexual abuse, but have some way yet to go. They have succeeded in passing civil partnership legislation, which will come into effect early;next year, but lag well behind their voters. Fully two thirds would support full marriage equality.
From the Irish Times:

Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

JUST OVER two-thirds of people (67 per cent) believe gay couples should be allowed to marry, according to an Irish Times /Behaviour Attitudes social poll.
It is one of a series of findings in a poll on “sex, sin and society” that indicates Irish people have adopted a more liberal attitude towards personal relationships and sexual behaviour.
In addition showing strong support for gay marriage, a significant majority (60 per cent) also believe civil partnerships for gay couples will not undermine the institution of marriage. A large majority (91 per cent) also say they would not think less of a person if they revealed they were gay or lesbian.
These numbers are consistently high across most age groups, as well as in urban and rural areas.
People are divided, however, on whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt children. Some 46 per cent support such a move, while more than a third (38 per cent) are opposed. Younger people, urban dwellers and women are more likely to be supportive of the idea.
The findings also indicate there is a growing consensus that living together before marriage is likely to result in a more stable marriage. A majority (57 per cent) believe cohabitation is a positive development. This view is reflected consistently across most age groups.
Even higher numbers (79 per cent) do not regard sex before marriage as immoral. When broken down by religion, most Catholics – again, 79 per cent – did not see anything wrong with the practice.
Just 15 per cent, mostly older people or those living in rural areas, see it as immoral.
There are also significant differences across the generations in attitudes towards issues such as celibacy and virginity. In total, just under half (48 per cent) of people admire those who choose to be celibate for moral or religious reasons.
A majority of older people (62 per cent) aged 65 or more are much more likely to admire celibacy, while this falls to well under half among younger and middle-aged people.
Even among Catholics, respondents are just as divided. While 51 per cent of Catholics admire celibacy, the remainder either do not (33 per cent), or say they do not know (16 per cent).
Not all the poll findings point to increasingly liberal attitudes, however. The average age most people feel teenagers should begin to have sex at is 18 years, above the current age of consent which is 17.

Also:
Survey reveals more relaxed attitude to sex
Two-thirds support gay marriage, poll finds

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Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

“I don’t know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual”
– Zurich Zoo tour guide, Myriam Schärz.
The argument that same -sex relationships are supposedly “unnatural” is so fundamental to the homophobes’ case, that it needs to be countered at every opportunity. At Bilerico Project, Jesses Monteagudo has a good rundown of just how widespread same sex behaviour is in the animal kingdom. Here are some extracts:

 

In 1999 the standard work on the topic, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) by Bruce Bagemihl, was published.

“On every continent, animals of the same sex seek each other out and have probably been doing it for millions of years,” Bagemihl wrote. …….According to Bagemihl, “Homosexual behavior occurs in more than 450 different kinds of animals worldwide, and is found in every major geographic region and every major animal group.”
But we don’t need Bagemihl for anecdotal evidence. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear stories about same-sex oriented otters or rabbits. You don’t have to go to the Zurich Zoo to learn about “the indiscriminate and almost insatiable sexuality of bonobo apes” or “how gay male dolphins use their lovers’ blowholes for sexual gratification.” Just last year a review paper by Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk of the Department of Biology at the University of California in Riverside concluded that “same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds.”
“Female western gulls sometimes pair off for several years and mount each other while incubating eggs,” Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson wrote in Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. “Similar behaviors have been documented among female sage grouse, male mallard ducks, and female and male greylag geese and turkeys.” According to the authors of Out in All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America, same-sex behavior has been documented in all kinds of animal species, including antelope, bugs, butterflies, cats, cattle, cockroaches, crickets, dogs, donkeys, elephants, flies, geckos, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses, hyenas, lions, martens, mice, moths, octopuses, orcas, porcupines, raccoons, rats and wasps.

Gay animal behavior seems to alarm religious conservatives almost as much as the human variety, and they have tried their best to deny it. Those who do admit that same-sex behavior exists in the animal kingdom try to explain it away as being playful antics or dominance behavior to assert hierarchy.

“Some conservatives and religious groups now admit that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, but many of them have also put forward theories to explain the phenomenon,” said Myriam Schärz of the Zurich Zoo. “Some argue that homosexuality only occurs when animal populations become too large, or that animals only turn to homosexuality when they have no other alternative, but there is no evidence to back up the population theory, and there is plenty of proof against the harem argument. Dominant silver-back gorillas, for instance, have frequently been seen engaging in homosexual activity and deliberately shunning available females.”
“Humans seem to be the only species where homosexuals are not readily accepted in society,” Schärz said
I have just one problem with Ms Schärz’s conclusion: it is not true that among humans as a species homosexuals are not accepted. The evidence from history and anthropology is that across all periods, and in all major regions of the world, many humans societies (possibly most) have been tolerant or even encouraging of same sex relationships. (In some societies, homosexual activity has even been compulsory for boys or young men.) Compulsory, exclusive heterosexuality for humans, as demanded by the religious right, may be just as unnatural for humans as it is for animals.

Books:

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