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Critical Theories of Bodies, Genders, Sexualities and Identities Essay

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Updated: Mar 20th, 2019

Introduction

Modern society is very complex and dynamic in that, perception of body, gender, sexuality, and identity is becoming very subjective depending on various schools of thoughts and theories. Critical theories have emerged to elucidate and explain changing trends of societal perceptions regarding body, gender, sexuality and identity of persons.

Same sex marriage is one of the issues related to the changing trends of societal perceptions on body, gender, sexuality and identity. The issue has come to haunt modern society and compel social theorists to formulate new theories in a bid to explain conclusively the cause of aberrant sexual orientations in the society.

The emergence of same-sex marriages has complicated conventional and religious teachings since both view it as an immoral issue in the society that should never happen at all. Despite the denial and renunciation of the same sex marriage in the society, gays and lesbians continue to exist in the society while their numbers are increasing alarmingly.

According to Glen, high rates of divorce and marriage abuses have left many young people wondering and questioning whether marriage has any significant importance in life with regard to happiness and achievements (2009, p.3). Such and many other fears compel young people to get involved in aberrant sexual behaviours of gay and lesbianism in order to avoid problems associated with heterosexual marriages. Therefore, changing perceptions of body, gender, sexuality and identity have led to emergence aberrant sexual orientations resulting into same sex marriages in modern society.

Same Sex Marriage

Same sex marriage is an emerging social and religious issue that is gradually finding its way into legal systems as constitutions of many countries recognize heterosexual marriage only. Conventional and religious ethics view marriage as a union of opposite sexes with the prime objective of bearing children and companionship. Same-sex marriage is an outright immoral association of two people against natural and divine morals.

In spite of the fact that the society continues to deny existence of same-sex marriage, gays and lesbians continue to practice their ‘marriages’ behind the scenes as evident in legislations adopted by various countries signifying their recognition in the society. Proponents of the same sex marriage argue that denial of same-sex marriage in the society is discrimination of people based on their sexual orientations and thus unacceptable in the modern world of freedom and democracy.

Gay-rights proponents are advocating for legal recognition of aberrant sexual orientations and same sex marriages so that they can enjoy equal rights as heterosexual marriages (Jost 2003, p.723). Gays and lesbians hold that, it is their inalienable right to enjoy same-sex marriage as their counterparts in heterosexual marriages.

The emergence of same-sex unions in the society threatens marriage as a divine and social institution that forms basic unit of the society. The opponents of the same sex marriage categorically perceive same-sex marriage as an immoral union intended not only to destroy the foundations of the family, but also the entire society.

Family in the modern society is surviving amidst great challenges such as high divorce rates, unfaithfulness, late marriages, cohabitations and polygamy. Thus, the acceptance of the same-sex marriage in the society is a deadly blow to an already fragile marriage and family institutions. Somerville (2003) argues that, marriage is a critical social and divine institution of procreation that has stood the test of time in upholding cultural and societal values of morality (p.3).

The uniqueness of the heterosexual marriage institution is that it functions in the procreation and perpetuation of human life in the world. In contrast, same-sex marriage demands equals rights as heterosexual marriage yet it has no function of procreation. If union of same-sex is a marriage, what makes it qualify as a marriage with equal legal and social rights as heterosexual marriage? Terming same-sex union as a marriage begs many questions concerning posterity of marriage.

Modern marriage and family values contradicts with the values of the same-sex marriage because conventional and religious morals maintain that, same-sex marriages pose a great threat to the heterosexual marriage in the society. Proponents of same sex marriage argue that basic importance of marriage is societal and social recognition of intimate relationship between any two people and thus it is discriminative to exclude same sex unions (Murphy 2001, p.4).

Gays and lesbians perceive intimacy as the primary role of marriage while procreation is a secondary role that has no significant importance to them. From the perspective of same-sex marriage, the society has no need of procreation anymore since the world is already overpopulated and therefore, intimacy takes precedence over procreation. The proponents further assert that the society should recognize and accept diversity of sexual orientations as natural occurrence that is morally right.

In contrast, the opponents of the same-sex marriage perceive the primary role of marriage as procreation and intimacy. They argue that marriage and family are social and divine institutions that have stood the test of time and need no amendment whatsoever to gather for emerging immoral behaviours in the society.

Esplen and Jolly assert that, definition of marriage in the context of heterosexual unions emanate from perception of marriage as procreative union and family as source of morals, but not an attempt to exclude or discriminate against homosexuals in the society (2006, p.11).

Gays and lesbians see the struggles of the heterosexual marriage to fulfil its role of procreation as efforts of discrimination directed against their inability to raise children. Therefore, due to the inability of the same-sex marriage to procreate, gays and lesbians resort to other means of getting children contrary to the societal and religious conventional morals.

The proponents of the same-sex marriage are using legal, political, and social forces to ensure that the conservative society and religious doctrines recognize their rights. They passionately believe that heterosexual marriages are undermining their efforts of advocating their rights and they can only champion for their rights using legal, social and political means.

In a case of gay marriage presented in the court, an American lawyer, Evan Wolfson argues that, marriage needs legal support and recognition for couples to enjoy immense benefits of marriage such as social recognition, intimacy, love and protection, which enhances assurance of life and happiness to couples (Jost 2003, p.724).

The lawyer cited same-sex marriage as a union that does not access such benefits due to discrimination by the mainstream society. The legal gateway is the only way that can offer equal opportunities to both same-sex and heterosexual marriages in the society. On the other hand, opponents of the same sex marriage assert their position that legalization of the issue will not change ethical perception of such marriage.

Critical theories, Same Sex Marriages and Homosexuality

Changing trends in perception of body, gender, sexuality, and identity in modern society have led to the acceptance of homosexuality and same sex marriages as inherent components of the society. Various critical theories elucidate and explain perceptions of body, gender, sexuality, and identity relative to the emergence of homosexuality and same sex marriages in the contemporary society.

Over the course of history, many people practiced same-sex marriages but they did it behind the scenes because the social fabric that holds values and morals in the society was very strong. Currently, the increased democratic space and adoption of more laws such as affirmative action have empowered gays and lesbians to speak openly while championing for their rights.

In the society, there are varied sexual orientations such as bisexuals, gays, and lesbians that make it difficult to define marriage as heterosexual union only. Blackwell and Bynner argue that, aberrant sexual orientations are inherent attributes of modern society that can never change and thus require acceptance (2002, p.22). The inherent nature of the sexual orientation in the society compels people to satisfy their respective sexual drives. Thus, sexual orientation is the prime cause of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the society.

Since sexual orientation is the prime cause of homosexuality and same sex marriage in the society, critical theories such as essentialism, social constructionism, modernism, and queer theory give different perceptions of body, gender, sexuality and identities in modern society. According to the essentialism theory, sex and gender are biological attributes that differentiate men and women in the society (Ruberg 2005, p. 5).

Opponents of homosexuality and same sex marriages view identities of human bodies from the perspective of biology. Since bodies of men and women have different physical and physiological structures, it follows that they have different gender, sex and identities. In this perspective, heterosexual marriage is the union of distinct bodies while homosexual marriage is the union of similar bodies.

From essentialism perspective, same sex marriage is abnormal since couples have similar physical and physiological structures. According to the opponents of same sex marriage, the cause of homosexuality is the aberrant sexual orientations coupled with troubles in heterosexual marriage, which has made many to opt for alternative means of sexual satisfaction.

Many youths have experienced great ordeal in their families forcing them to question the importance of marriage in the modern world. Although conventional view of marriage depicts it as a union of happiness, procreation, and companionship, the reality portrays otherwise. Due to the increasing rates of divorce, unfaithfulness, violence and lack of sexual interests, many youths are devising alternative means of achieving happiness and satisfaction in life.

Given an instance that there is no meaning in marriage, existence of varied sexual orientation provides an opportunity for gays and lesbians to explore their sexual interests (Hernandez 2002, p.26). If one has aberrant sexual orientation and individuation attitude, heterosexual marriage loses importance because its primary role is procreation, which is contrary to the selfish interests of individual.

Social constructionism theory elucidates how societal perception of body, gender, sexuality and identity changes owing social constructs. According to this theory, gender is a dynamic social identity, which undergoes constitution and construction through ages by the acts and performances, hence, gender depiction is arbitrary and biased depending on cultural, political, and theatrical perceptions.

Butler views sex and gender as quite different entities of self that have been constructed to relate with one another in a subversive way, as one is not born as a woman or a man but through cultural, political and social acts and performances, one attains the status of a woman or a man respectively (1988, p.522). This implies that aberrant sexual orientation, homosexuality and same sex marriages are the product of social, political, and cultural constructs that have shaped the societal perceptions.

Since change in societal perception of body, gender, sexuality and identity is due to dynamic social constructions, same sex marriages are constructs of homosexuals and proponents of same sex marriages who are changing conventional perception of marriage. Change in conventional perception of marriage and family is to blame for the increasing cases of same-sex marriage. Modern society has neglected ancient values and norms that guarded social institutions of marriage and have adopted new norms.

The new norms in the society are not stringent as the old ones, thus increasing freedom of exercising individual rights relative to morals in the society. Aberrant sexual orientation, fragile heterosexual marriage, and liberal social norms are factors that contribute to positive social construction of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the society. Marshall and Sawhill explain that, modern social norms are precarious social constructs that are subject to volatile conventions and thus cannot absolutely define ethical values in the society (2002, p. 27).

In this case, media and internet has contributed greatly in the adoption of varied social values that promote same-sex marriage because its proponents use them in stating their sexual orientations explicitly. The media and internet also provides networks of socialization and pornography that encourage and enhance positive construction of same-sex marriages in the society.

Social constructionists further argue that body, gender, sexuality and identities are not natural or inherent attributes of an individual but they are social constructs. According to the perspective of constructionists, homosexuality is a social construct, thus comprehensive understanding of homosexuals and same sex marriages lies in historical social context.

For instance, during the course of history, perception of abnormal sexual behaviours has changed from sodomy to homosexuals and eventual sexual orientation. Modern society hardly perceives aberrant sexual orientations as abnormal or sinful but it has transformed and stylised them as normal sexual orientations. The transformation is due to overwhelming influence of social constructs that has shaped societal perceptions of body, gender, sexuality, and identities.

Since youths are very inquisitive in exploring their sexual orientations and socialization, technology has enabled them to satisfy their curiosity at the click of the button. Internet has provided immense knowledge regarding sexuality and immoral behaviours such as pornography.

Smith argues that sexual orientation in children is very flexible and exposure to pornographic material at their tender ages can significantly alter their sexual orientations making them become gays and lesbians (2006, p. 33). This argument suggests that families play a great role in bringing up children well by protecting them from unnecessary influence of pornographic materials and even bad company in order to enable them identify their sexual orientation.

Queer theory postulates that body, gender, sexuality and identity are not inherent attributes of an individual but dynamic attributes of society that result from social constructs. Proponents of this theory argue that it is inappropriate to classify individuals based on their actions and not their own identities. Hence, classifying people into different categories due to different sexual orientations does not give the identity of an individual.

Sexual orientations such as lesbianism, gay, transsexual, and heterosexual are not individual attributes but class attributes. Halperin (2007) argues that gender and sexuality are neither fixed nor natural identities of the people but they are social constructs that depend on social, cultural, religious, and political factors within a given society (p.341).

Thus, emergence of homosexuality and same sex marriages is due to the influence of social constructs that are changing perceptions of sexual orientation. Modern society has embraced and accepted the presence of aberrant sexual orientations that have clouded the definition of marriage.

Conclusion

Changing trends of marriage in modern society is due to the transforming perceptions of body, gender, sexuality and identities of people. Although marriage and family are basic institutions of the society, they have experienced overwhelming problems such as polygamy, divorce, early marriage, late marriage, unfaithfulness and cohabitation, same sex marriage threatens the existence of heterosexual marriage because the society is undergoing tremendous social changes.

Critical theories predict that the society is undergoing great social construction of new identities and deconstruction of old identities in terms of body, gender and sexuality. Currently, homosexuals are increasing exponentially in the society because heterosexual marriage is experiencing problems, presence of aberrant sexual orientations, conventional change of marriage as institution, and legalization of same-sex marriage, all of which are forces of social constructs that are reshaping social perception of marriage.

Critical theories of essentialism, social constructionism and queer theory explicitly elucidate how aberrant sexual orientations are emerging, and becoming integral part of marriage in the modern society. Hence, critical theories of body, gender, sexuality and identity are critical in the understanding of homosexuals and same sex marriages in the current society. From the insights in this paper, I have now changed my perception of aberrant sexual orientations; I now understand that it depends on the school of thought that one belongs and I should not be quick to judge or condemn same sex unions.

Reference List

Blackwell, L., & Bynner, J., 2002. Learning, Family Formation and Dissolution. Centre For Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, 4, pp. 1-42.

Butler, J., 1988. Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), pp. 519-531.

Esplen, E., & Jolly, S., 2006. Gender and Sex. Bridge Institute of Development Studies, pp. 1-13.

Glen, T., 2009. Family Formation Trends and Analysis: United States Overview. Focus on the Family, pp.1-24.

Halperin, D., 2007. The Normalizing of Queer Theory. Journal of Homosexuality, 45 (6), pp. 339–343

Hernandez, L., 2002. Sexualities, Identities and Bodies: The Framing of Pagkatao Among Establishment-Based Male Sex Workers in the Philippines. Journal of Sociology, 45(4), pp. 1-91.

Jost, K., 2003. Gay Marriage. The Congressional Quarterly Research, 13(30), pp. 723-747.

Marshall, W., & Sawhill, I., 2002. Progressive Family Policy in the 21st Century. Marriage and Legislation Journal, 16(5), pp. 1-49.

Murphy, M., 2001. Marriage in the Modern World. Family and Society Studies, pp. 1-17. Ruberg, W., 2005. Theory and History of the Body and Sexuality in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Sociology, I4 (6), pp.1-32.

Smith, R., 2006. Sexual Orientation in Children. Childhood Growth and Development, pp. 26-39.

Somerville, M., (2003). The Case against ‘Same-Sex Marriage’. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, 1-11.

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