I’m so excited to write about January’s Book Club Book, Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us. (I’ll just call it Perv from now on.) I’m especially excited because I’m taking a course called “The Sociology of Deviancy” right now, so this is going to tie in great with the lectures and readings from that course.
If you haven’t started reading the book this month and you want to join in, there’s still time! Check the sidebar (I don’t believe it’s viewable on mobile) to view the reading schedule.
It seems like several books about gender and sexuality begin their preface with a short history on the perception of homosexuality. If you’re unfamiliar with the history of homosexuality this can be really helpful to see how society has made gay men and women deviant over time.
Bering talks in some depth about condemnation and the idea that understanding does not mean condemning. That’s going to be an important point in this book. Let’s use it for something that we still consider deviant as an example. This was also an example given in the book. If I were to come on to my blog and say that I understood why people were pedophiles it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that I sympathized with pedophiles or even felt that pedophilia wasn’t that serious. On the contrary, I think it’s important that we are able to separate understanding from our own personal judgements to clearly look at an issue with as little bias as possible.
I enjoyed the discussion on keeping secrets and how secret-keeping can develop deviance. Bering asked the reader to pick one sexual fact that might be embarrassing about themselves. They then imagined telling someone about that, and how they would feel about sharing that fact. That feeling is not “deviance” – it is human. Something that we all share, but do not confess to sharing. How much different would the world look if we were honest about our likes and dislikes and didn’t feel as though we were so different from one another?
There was also a portion that I clicked onto about nature. The idea that what is natural is good and what is unnatural is bad. When we viewed homosexuality as unnatural it was bad. Homosexuals purposefully went out and committed unnatural acts of behavior because they were bad. As we began to view homosexuality as something that was natural or normal, something that was not a choice but a part of who someone was, we began to view homosexuality as natural. Then, even if the behaviors were still looked down upon, we could say that they weren’t doing it because they chose to, they were doing it because they know no other way. It is in their nature. See the difference? This also allowed homosexuality to change from a criminal behavior (choosing to do something illegal) to a mental behavior (they are different from us.)
I enjoyed the reference to Sex at Dawn. Bering talks about being lost in the “ethical wilderness” – so lost, in fact, that we have to look at other species for clues about what we should think is right or wrong. Can we judge our nature by the nature of animals? Should we?
Two final points to make, and these are some fun ones.
White Bear Effect: Forcing someone to repress thoughts will cause them to think about it even more. An excellent game to play with your friends. Also a favorite explanation of many as to why some republicans are so preoccupied with “the homosexual agenda.”
(tw: real talk about conversion therapy)
On a less fun note, this also plays a role in why conversion therapy won’t make a gay boy a straight boy. One might think “I am gay, this is who I am.” Then they decide on their own, through societal pressures, or at the hand of family, to become heterosexual because “being gay is wrong.” Attempting to change a fundamental part of who you are can bring on depression. Many people who did conversion therapy became depressed or suicidal. If you are heterosexual, imagine being placed into therapy to “become gay” and having it repeated daily that being heterosexual was wrong, or immoral, or deviant, and that you were bad. Then imagine the overwhelming depression when you realized that you couldn’t change or, of course, that you had changed and you were increasingly unhappy with your life.
Moral Dumbfounding: (2001, Jonathan Haidt)
That moment when you struggle to explain why something is immoral but can’t quite do it. I love this term. So often people explain why something is immoral by saying it is wrong, or bad, gross, or against the laws of nature. Consider what it means if your answer strongly resonates with social disapproval. “Well, people know that that’s bad, isn’t that enough?” Nope.
Which leads us back to the beginning. Understanding something doesn’t mean condemning it. Do your best to understand the things that you think and feel because they will make you a stronger person.
Thoughts? Feelings? Questions?