Sexual health

by V. Paul

Gender is not biologically determined; it is performed on the body. Society acts on gender by enforcing its binary preferences rather than reflecting gender’s multifaceted nature.
These were the topics of discussion in “The Fire Within: Gender, Sexuality and Desire,” a forum hosted Wednesday by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office through its Schochet Center for GLBT Studies at Intermedia Arts.
It was the fourth in a GLBT Community Forum Series intended to introduce GLBT studies to an audience outside of the University, said Beth Zemsky, GLBT Programs Office director.
“For GLBT studies to stay relevant, it’s really got to stay in a reciprocal relationship with its communities,” Zemsky said.
Four panelists, whose works reflect each of their specialties in GLBT issues, opened the event with an hour-long discussion. They traced the concepts of gender, sexuality and desire from their biological and sociological roots to individual expression of gender identity and sexual orientation to their treatment in society.
Attraction is not solely a chemical reaction in the body, but is a product of biological, sociological, intellectual and emotional factors, said Dr. Meg Striepe, a psychologist in the University’s Program on Human Sexuality.
She addressed the crowd of 70 from her perspective of helping people with sexual health issues, explaining that desire is interpreted as some sign of arousal with meaning attached to it.
“We really have to use a contextualized approach to understand (the relationship between gender and attraction),” Striepe said. “Understanding how the context in which we live influences how we know our sexual identity and how we express it.”
College of Liberal Arts senior Andy Gehrz presented her theories on gender, which stemmed from her senior paper discussing the relationship between sexual identity and desire in the case of drag kings — women who dress and perform as men.
Gehrz said that gender is determined through an individual’s interaction with others, with objects and in the moment. Cultural indicators, such as dress and behavior, envelop a person in gender more than physical attributes.
“If I am with someone who is more masculine than I am, then I am considered feminine,” Gehrz said. “My interaction with a motorcycle would be creating gender.”
The way society regards gender and sexuality was addressed by Reema Bazzy, an attorney and domestic violence advocate, who said that, legally, gender is biologically based.
Sodomy laws in Minnesota make anal or oral knowledge of another person illegal; but the law is more often applied to instances of gay sex rather than straight sex, she said. In effect, she said, the laws are used as a political tool to persecute gays.
“The assumption is that probably the people that signed this law and codified it do (participate in anal or oral sex),” Bazzy said. “The way that a society chooses to enforce a particular law can reflect its views of (the GLBT community) and of our values, just as much as putting a law into writings and into words.”
The issues of perceiving sexual orientation and gender as inseparable and as concepts that cannot be concretely defined rounded out the discussion with Victor Raymond, a bisexual activist. He identified the problem as a Western European, heterosexual society not looking beyond its cultural boundaries and trying to define bisexuality in its own terms.
“(To be bisexual), you must be involved with a man and a woman at the same time,” Raymond said. “So if I’m not involved with anyone right now, does that make me asexual?”