It’s sad that we think we own our bodies: the bodies we love, the bodies we hate, the bodies we carry, the bodies that carry us. We saunter into this body believing it’s ours; that it has always been our vessel, pregnant with our gender identity, our sexuality, our ‘being’, ready to change ever and anon with the many sociocultural values that surround us. In Palestine, like many other Middle Eastern countries, religion/religiosity, politics, and culture/traditions provide values that one cannot challenge easily, and which operate zymotically in maintaining a specific social image.
These main values, and the taboos that arise from these, play a role in steering individuals in many aspects, including the things we think we own: our bodies. I might run the risk of generalizing when I mention this but trust me, these social values stay in our subconscious and shape the image we see of ourselves while we carry around our body and our identity. We grow up as kids hearing phrases like “Don’t let anyone touch you,” “your body is yours,” “down there is a flower of a secret garden”, from which we start forming a perception of the body, and we learn that whenever we say body, we are saying gender, sex and sexuality, and an idea of an object body.
To speak of the ‘bodification’ of sexuality, that is to speak of sexuality as an embodied identity, biologists theorised the effect of hormones on sexuality as an orientation or a practice, the latter determined by whether you have an ‘erecting stick’, or ‘a flower’ down there. Whatsoever the reason, ‘bodification’ of sexuality seems to be inevitable even before we are made in our mothers’ womb. A theory of the hormonal effect on sexuality in foetal life suggests that the exposure of the male brain to different levels of testosterone in the uterus would affect sexual orientation in males, and this might be the case for estrogen in females (Breedlove, 1992). Here the mother’s body is considered responsible for constructing a sexual orientation, because while an embryo is developing, theoretically a part of his/her body, the amygdala in the brain is being affected by hormones that would ‘homosexualize’, ‘intersexualize’, or ‘heterosexualize’ the embryo. If the hormonal theory is to be believed, a person conflicted by his sexuality can in a very Freudian sense blame his or her mother. A study (Blanchard and Bogaert 2004) found that in 15% of male homosexuals, the demographics showed that the more older brothers one has, the greater possibility of a homosexual orientation. Here one would consider that sexuality is bred by many bodies impacting the way they develop and that there is more than one body entangled in the construction of a sexuality that may not ultimately be acceptable.
As sexual practices are bio-socially defined and limited to male and female bodies as we know them, the emergence of an intersex body, will disturb the socio-political gender division. Fausto-Sterling (2000) puts it this way “To maintain gender divisions, we must control those bodies that are so unruly as to blur the border. Since intersexuals quite literally embody both sexes, they weaken the claim about sexual difference.” Here the body emerges as the main definer of sexual practices. Since the discourse on ownership over the body is created using a gender binary, it becomes very difficult for a person who is intersex or might grow up to develop a non-heterosexual identity to feel like they own their body. When a doctor upon delivering a baby announces, “It’s a girl” the cis-gendering of the baby is defined by her physical equipment which enables her to have sex with men. If this girl becomes homosexual and falls outside of this label given to her at birth, then the body becomes ‘useless’ as it cannot be channelled towards heterosexual practice. In another scenario, this girl might be a boy entrapped in a girl’s body, and hardly anyone but this girl would be able to explain that she is in fact heterosexual when she is attracted to girls, because her body is gendered differently and is expected to push her sexually towards boys.
It’s sad that we think we own our bodies that we adore and despise it not once, not twice, not thrice, but even more, once we start imbibing ‘beauty standards’ that are being determined around us, and when such standards can sometimes even push us towards eating disorders like anorexia. Additionally, a discourse on ‘haram’ bodies influences women’s accessibility to their own body, their ignorance about simple sensations like their right to have an orgasm when they have sex with their husbands, to feel like more than a ‘pleasure-giver to the penis,’ to understand that they can desire and want as much as they give, and that they are not merely a body with ‘a hole’ between their thighs. Since the family’s — nay the whole society’s — honour revolves around women, they grow up being told, “You have a body to keep, to cover, to guard, to beautify, to standardize, and, alas! you have this body that is meant only to be your husband’s one day”. They develop the idea that they are sexual objects, a body on a marital bed, and no more than another body’s bearer one day in the future! And of course, then begins another body’s birth into this discourse on sexuality.
Now in the case of a homosexual man in a place clouded by masculinized heteropatriarchy, the bodification of sexuality and the sexualisation of body unite to victimise his essence. To conceal his sexual identity, and to fit in, a homosexual man would have to butch up, add muscles, and Shid Hankak (tighten your jaws). Don’t ask me why, because there is no anatomical evidence to suggest that all men have tight jaws with a gruff or a deep voice. But social evidence relates this with manhood. Here the fear of exposing one’s sexuality has altered the body image and it indeed makes one run out of one’s own body, and take refuge in a body that may not be shaped after one’s desire. Bodification of sexuality works a little differently. It becomes the tool which metro-homosexuals use to identify not only people like themselves but also the position they use during sex. A masculine homosexual would be assumed to be a dominant ‘top’, and, on the other hand, a skinny ‘twink’ homosexual is assumed to be a submissive ‘bottom’. In this case, the body type not only determines the spatial configuration of the body itself, but also sexuality in terms of practice. A heterosexual man or woman is also subjected to this discourse on dominant and submissive sexual partners:,it’s already a norm in phallocentric society that women are submissive bottoms, and the males are the dominant tops because of an endless need to assert their masculinity and dominance even in a private place like the bedroom. Then it’s sad that we think we own our bodies, since our bodies are coerced by social norms to act in a way that might not align with our sense of control over them or our desires.
When we discover that many biological, political, and social bodies are entangled in the formation of one’s sexual orientation and interaction and vice versa, we might lament for we have always thought that we owned our body, that it is exclusively ours. In the shadow of discovering who we are, sexually, in terms of our gender, and socially, our bodies are apt to many runs, in which ‘He’ will run out of ‘Her’ body and ‘She’ will run out of ‘His’. Run if you can, but you will run nowhere!
Breedlove, SM. 1992. Sexually dimorphism in the vertebrate nervous system. The Journal of Neuroscience. Vol 12, no. 11, 4133-4142
Hamer D, Copeland P. 1994. The Science of Desire: The Search for the Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Blanchard R, Bogaert. AF. 2004. Proportion of homosexual men who owe their sexual orientation to fraternal birth order: An estimate based on two national probability samples. Journal of Human Biology. Vol 16 No. 2, 151-7.
Anne Fausto-Sterling. 2000. Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. Basic Books.
Pic Source: Demeter Clarc Art