The article ?The Social Construction of Social Identity? by Ruth Hubbard begins with the simple statement ?There is no ?natural human sexuality.? This is the basis for the entire article which outlines how society has constructed a ?right? sexual orientation, and a wrong one. To understand how this is done, we must first understand the concept of sexuality and sexual identity. Sexuality can be defined as one?s sexual preferences, or, the manner in which people experience sexual arousal and sexual pleasure. This is clearly different from what we refer to as sexual identity, which is one?s sexual object of choice and is bound up in a web of cultural attitudes and rules. Sexual identity, according to the social construction theory, was simply a feeling that one had for another person. Western Christian values then shaped this into something else, by imposing upon society that sex is only acceptable for procreation and thus heterosexuality is the only acceptable way. Although sex is not considered to be only for procreation in modern times, the concept that heterosexuality is the only acceptable sexual orientation has been objectified over the years into its own reality. Now, the idea has been internalized that heterosexuality is the ?right? way, and therefore homosexuality is bad. Over generations, prejudice against homosexuality perpetuates itself as parents teach their children that it is wrong to explore their sexuality until they ?are old enough to make babies,? (Hubbard 52). Even then, exploration of the opposite sex is taught to be dirty and wrong. Homosexuals who violate these social rules experience much discrimination, and it is in this way that the situations we define as real become real in their consequences.
As discussed in many of the readings, being homosexual is associated with various stigmas. We saw in ?Personal Politics : A Lesson in Straight Talk? by Lindsay Van Gelder, that homosexuals are alienated in much the same way as race minorities and the disabled. For many of these groups, they hear the world being described by society and they are not part of it ? as if they ?looked into a mirror and saw nothing,?(Van Gelder 99). Homosexuals are not accepted as a normal part of society, and for this reason, the first thought in the minds of many is to find an excuse for their ?problem.? In recent years, we have done so by ?biologizing? homosexuality ? or diagnosing it as innate. In doing so, we categorized homosexuals as people who are ?different by nature and therefore [they] should not be made responsible for [their] own so-called deviance,?(Hubbard 54). This makes homosexuality into more of a medical problem and allows society to view these people as a kind of victim, making their sexual orientation more acceptable.
Along these same lines, the assumption that sexual preference is biologically based makes it easier for many people to deal with the shock of finding out that someone is homosexual. One can look back into the past of the homosexual and retrospectively label them as ?different? from childhood. According to Ruth Hubbard, some gay men and lesbians feel that they were born different, however, what most people never talk about is the fact that many men and women who consider themselves to be heterosexual have in fact had strong feelings for a member or members of the same sex. The reason that homosexuality remains taboo in our culture is just that ? people deny their in order not to be ?deviant? in a world that has internalized such a lifestyle as unacceptable.
Because of the general inability to accept any sexual orientation besides heterosexuality, many people feel the need to change homosexuals into something that is acceptable. We saw an example of this in the article ?The Triangular Tube of Pink Lipstick,? by Gail Watnick. In the article, the author lays in bed, describing the heartache and emotional turmoil she faces after confronting her parents with her homosexuality. Her parents, in complete misunderstanding, feel that they must try to change their daughter into a heterosexual by buying her makeup, fancy shoes, and flowered sheets, as if making her appear more feminine would cause her to be attracted to men again. These attempts to change their daughter were done not only to try to convince her that she would be missing out on so much if she were gay, but they also expressed their fear of being discriminated against for having a homosexual daughter. In the end, we saw the parents objects as unrealistic: ?Women or men, pink lipstick or not,? (Watnick 339).
Regardless of how open minded many of us feel we are today, heterosexuals? perceptions of others do change when they find out someone is gay. A few years ago, a family friend (Michael) died of cancer from complications with AIDS. At the time I was too young to make the connection between the disease and its association with the gay community. It was not until a short time ago that many of us were told that Michael had been gay. Sadly, even though he was not even alive, my perception of Michael changed a great deal. It was as if his sexual orientation almost justified, or clarified his death ? this sounds horrible, but it is heartbreakingly true. Regardless of his sexual identity, Michael had been an incredible man and a close family friend. It was amazing, however, to see people?s reactions when they had found out that he had been homosexual. Friends suddenly exchanged knowing glances and began countless sentences with ?I always thought?? and ?He always seemed?? as the stereotypes suddenly appeared. People who had been around Randy for years began to suddenly look down upon him when they realized the cause of his sickness.
As I discussed earlier, the reason for a lot of the discrimination against homosexuals is the traditional Christian values which society is finally starting to separate itself from. The institution that has been impacting people?s opinions of homosexuality more and more in recent years is the media. Shows like Ellen, although not always true to life, at least expose more people to an untraditional way of life. In the movie My Best Friend?s Wedding (with George) we saw the media come away from the traditional silly, feminine gay man we normally see in movies. The increased exposur3e of society to the gay lifestyle has, I believe, slowly begun to make people more comfortable with the topic. A good example of a recent event illustrated how social institutions are responding differently to the visibility of homosexuals and bisexuals was when Ellen Degeneres ?came out? on national television. Both she and her character made a public statement of their sexuality, and this showed that the media felt that society was ready to begin to accept homosexuals. Apparently society was ready, as Ellen has remained on the air and is still widely watched. Twenty years ago, this could never have been possible as too many people would be shocked and the show would have been ridiculed.
This example shows how sexual identity is socially constructed because, as homosexuals and bisexuals have been increasingly coming out in the media and fighting for their rights, more people have been able to come to terms with their own sexuality. According to Ruth Hubbard in her article, none of our individual sexual ?scripts? is biological, rather, ?we construct it out of our diverse life situations, limited by what we are taught or what we can imagine to be permissible and correct,?(Hubbard 53). As the media, and eventually other social institutions, begin to accept homosexuality as just another choice a person makes, more people will inevitably be less afraid to act on their feelings. As it stands, most ?teenagers are assumed to be heterosexual, [so] it is common to feel that [ones] sexuality just ?happened? without any sense of active participation in sexual choices and behavior,?(Bannerji 62). This is an incorrect assumption, because people do not make their decisions based upon their own range of experiences. In order to better understand this group, like any minority, we must realize that people are people regardless of their way of life. Their sexual identity, like our own , has been socially constructed. According to Heyl, in his article, sexual identity is a social construction because we are all products of the experiences we have been through. Whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, we must realize that ?people become sexual in the same way they become everything else. Without much reflection, they pick up directions from their social environment,? (Heyl 103). It is what we make of these directions that determine who we will be.
Unfortunately, many people in our society are stuck on the idea that homosexuality is deviant, and the only solution is to change the way people are. I think the most important thing we can do is accept the different sexual orientations. We make our own decisions about our lives every day ? why a should this issue be any different? Who is to say that we must only love members of the opposite sex? While the majority does end up attracted to the opposite sex, there is nothing ?wrong? with people who do not. Fear of their own sexuality and of being deviant because of socially unaccepted sexual orientations make people reject homosexuals in today?s society. I think the best way to understand all sexual identities was summed up by Hubbard : ?People fall in love with individuals, not with a sex,? (Hubbard 55). That?s something to think about.