By Shanna Katz
I have an academic background; a bachelor’s in Sociology (and German), a Master’s in Human Sexuality Education. I play along and am a members of multiple societies and organizations in my field (thanks to my job helping with the costs) and I am a board certified sexologist. All of these things are great, but there are some days when I just can’t handle the academia, the turning of everything into an intellectual conversation without deferring to the real lives people are living, the real experiences they are have.
The other day, a conversation was start on FetLife about gender roles, identities and how our finding of mates may or may not change over time. From the information put out there, the original poster was in a psychology class, and this had got him thinking. Thinking is good…however, when it was mentioned that the diversity of genders might contribute to the gender roles and identities, that line of thought was shut down. It was said that science says there are two genders; male and female, and possibly intersex. Clearly, everything operates within the binary that science has created for us.
I was angry. Not just about the misuse of terms (science states there are two, possibly three SEXES, not genders), but about the fact that in one paragraph, this person had used science to wipe away the real and lived experience of millions of people who do not live within the two traditional gender roles prescribed by our society. By using science to say that something doesn’t exist, we are telling people that their identities aren’t real, that their lives aren’t real, that the frustrations, and battles they wage daily, and the prejudices against them, aren’t real.
Moreover, I was surprised to see this in a FetLife community. I mean, haven’t we been fighting the DSM and scientists/psychologists perception of us for decades on end? Haven’t many of us had to explain to a friend, loved on, family member, co-worker, etc, that not, the sadism we practice ISN’T going to turn us into a crazed serial killer, or that being a masochist or submissive doesn’t mean that we are depressed or setting ourselves up to be a victim? That enjoying high heels or latex or hair (insert “fetish” here) doesn’t mean that we are weird, or unable to be aroused without such an item?
Looking at things from an academic perspective can sometimes be good. It can help to legitimize or normalize behavior (like the recent study that showed 30% of heterosexual American couples participate in anal sex), it can bring important discussion to the forefront. However, it can also take validation away from individuals and/or groups, it can stigmatize and sometimes criminalize behaviors, it can harm certain people, and it can serve to disempower and oppress communities.
Telling someone that their identity isn’t real or doesn’t exist because it doesn’t exist in the textbook you’re currently reading, or you haven’t heard it discussed yet is showing both ignorance and privilege. Many things we take for granted today were scientifically said to be impossible or non-existent at one time. As societies change, people change, and as people change, societies change. Take a look at my vintage book called “Sex Technique for Husband and Wife” from 1937, where it has a chapter dedicated to the “myth of the female orgasm.” The myth. Clearly, science and academia doesn’t know everything, and as we try to learn more, so that we as a people, we as a society can learn more, it is important that we don’t try to stifle, put down or oppress the very groups and people who are the ones creating change and leading the way through their identities.