The question is how we react to this great prejudice against women. The rule of law and social activism certainly are crucial. But no matter how...”
A few weeks ago my column highlighted how the state criminalises certain types of sexuality. In his column Kevin Baldeosingh took me to task for claiming that the identity categories of homosexuality and heterosexuality did not exist prior to the mid-19th century. I believe somehow he thought I was implying homosexuality is a simple choice rather than implicated in genetic and uterine hormonal factors.
What’s more, from that one taken-out-of-context paragraph, he praised me for “scientific ignorance” and then extended it to the entire Social Science Faculty at UWI.
His misinterpretation of my position may have been a failure in the clarity of my own writing. Although that he chose to ignore every other paragraph of the article whose central point isn’t in dispute—some human beings are afforded less rights and protections than others—made me feel the attack was a cheap shot to discredit the central message of the article. Maybe I’m too sensitive.
The accusation of “scientific ignorance,” however, is a good opportunity to discuss our understanding of the cultures and lived realities of people who practise same-sex relations, and to clarify how homophobia works.
According to the scientific literature—and not the social science literature but the natural sciences—there is much on-going research into the relationship between biology and the development of sexual orientation. This research suggests that biological factors such as prenatal hormones, brain structure, and genes are implicated in heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual orientation.
Among this peer-reviewed literature, the majority of studies conclude that while there are certainly biological factors implicated in one’s sexual orientation, no study has conclusively shown that there is only one single factor for sexual orientation. Rather there is a combination of genetic, hormonal and environmental factors.
Sexual orientation and sexuality are not identical. What biology cannot articulate or understand are the nuances of people’s everyday experiences of their sexuality—that is what anthropologists do. We describe and document people’s lives. We attempt not to make moral or judgment calls on the different lives we all live and instead try to narrate those differences.
For an anthropologist to say the identity category “homosexual” did not exist prior to mid-19th century is not to say homosexual behaviour and orientation did not exist. As has been documented from the beginning of written history, same sex-relations can be found in most societies and at most times. From ritual behaviour in ancient Greece and the Etero rite of passage in Papua New Guinea to the berdache of Native American culture and the hijras and kothis of South Asia.
Homosexual behaviour and orientation among Homo sapiens, much like among other non-human species, had always existed as an extension of or adjunct to heterosexuality. To say the western identity category of homosexuality only appears in the mid-19th century—and there is a lot of evidence out there that supports such a claim—is simply to say that prior to this era sex was tied to procreation and not identity.
Today, for some people, homosexuality has become a bounded, monolithic identity. This is simplistic and a similar prejudice to saying all black people are the same because they are black, or all women belong in the kitchen; it denies the cultural differences among human beings and stereotypes a wide breadth of experiences into a singularity.
This lets stereotypes flourish and stand in for the real experience of individuals. These experiences include trangressive sexualities that do not fit neat sexual orientation categories. Homosexual orientation is biologically determined but to reduce all people who practise same-sex relations to a singular homosexual identity and fix a group of people with identical traits (often ridiculous prejudices) is not a reflection of real experiences. It is the same with any group identity.
Another interesting point is how homophobia actually works. Homophobia is not always visible and blatant. It can also be subtle and unobtrusive. In this sense, homophobia is structural. It is built into our mental categories, our science, laws, and the attitudes and values that shape our language and world views.
In homophobia there is a self-assured feeling on the part of the dominant heterosexual group of being naturally superior or better. This perhaps connects to the importance of procreation for the survival of Homo sapiens. Yet, as Mr Baldeosingh reminds us, the scientific evidence supports the link between biology and sexual orientation. And, as has been said before elsewhere, that means homosexual orientation is natural, while homophobia is a social construct built on misleading, group stereotypes.
• Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
Beyond even corruption, of which there is no shortage, the system itself is crap. It is not fit for any positive social purpose. It enriches the few while systematically endangering and then impoverishing the many. It concentrates power in a few hands who then insist that democratic power should be taken out of the hands of the many and given instead to technocrats drawn from the ranks of the few.
Our financial system would have collapsed simply because IT DOESN’T WORK, not as an open and equitable system. Sure it makes profits… for some. But so does riding around in a Mongol Hoard sacking cities. The present financial system is NOT a fair and open system where by dint of hard work, insight, research and expertese anyone can have a reasonable chance of prospering. It has not and will not NOT work as a repository for hard earned savings and pensions. Both are being systemaitcally pillaged for the ‘good’ of the major banks.
Whether one believes the capitalist system is a good thing or not, or even a potentially good thing, what we can perhaps all agree on is that it – our financial system – is NOT at the moment good for the many, and will not be in the future, if left in the hands of the repulsive elite who presently run it, defend it, facilitate it and profit by it.
One of the key tasks of anthropology is to make visible how power mechanisms like state practices, such as legislation and language, fix and construct what populations come to see and understand as “natural.” This sense of naturalness is often tied to a nation’s history and culture. And a state often uses criminal law to police and punish deviations from the dominant ideas of morality and religion that exist in any society.
In the case of sexuality, criminal law in T&T has been and is currently deployed to determine what is “normal” sexual behaviour—heterosexuality—and what is “deviant” sexual behaviour—homosexuality, or more correctly same-sex desire. Far more punitively than the cultural codes of morality and religion, the law labels, sterotypes and polices particular sexual identities as unnatural. This construction of our social reality by the State makes invisible certain facts about the history of sex and sexuality.
For example, sexuality studies has shown the actual categories of “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” do not exist in nature or in ancient sources, and were invented by western society in the mid-19th century. The scientific reality is that all consenting human beings desire and can engage in a wide variety of sexual behaviour. Put most bluntly, we are all bodies with physical functions and desires.
It is culture and the law, among other things, that police our understandings of which of these functions and desires are somehow more “natural” and acceptable than others. In a 1994 article called Not Just (Any) Body Can Be A Citizen, Jacqui Alexander pointed out that T&T and some other nation states use the law to make sexual inscriptions on all our bodies.
A national through birth, she was not an equal citizen because, since she identified as a lesbian, the justice system labelled her a criminal, an outlaw in her own country. Such outlawing is achieved in many ways, the most blatant is through legislative gestures such as criminalising forms of non-procreative sex. In this way, the State can police people’s intimate behaviours and criminalise consensual acts between adults in private.
This raises the question: should the State even be allowed into the bedrooms of consenting adults? Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act, written in 1986 and amended in 1994 and 2000, is an obvious example of this state over-reach. It outlaws, criminalises and makes punishable by imprisonment of 25 years, private sexual acts between consenting male adults. It also criminalises anal sex between consenting male and female adults.Another more subtle law is Article 8 (18/1) of the Immigration Act, which states “homosexual” men and women are not allowed to enter the country, as if they aren’t equally men and women. Successive governments have also reinforced these laws by passing strong verbal criticisms of any organisation or person who supports the repeal of laws criminalising consensual gay relations. For example, in 2000 the then Attorney General suggested that the existence of such a law was not a human rights issue.
Simply put, criminalisation is a technique of power owned by the State. In T&T and elsewhere, it is used to imagine a nation and reconstruct a self, so that citizens are specifically heterosexual, or at least view heterosexuality as “natural.” Another justice system technique connected to sexuality and used by the State is discriminatory policing, involving the selective enforcement of certain laws to target members of the gay community.
Connected to this discrimination is the way police officers routinely fail to take seriously, to make reports on and to investigate crimes reported by the LGBT community, including allegations of homophobic attacks. Another discriminatory practice is the exemption clauses of legislation like the one contained in the 1999 Equal Opportunities Bill. Designed to legally enforce the right to non-discrimination, the bill contains a clause designed to exclude non-heterosexual individuals from its protections.
For example, according to the act, kissing or holding hands in public between members of the same sex can be deemed offensive behaviour toward other groups and people in society. We don’t individually criminalise sexuality; the State does. And the State is always a collection of actors with particular historical interests.
We think we make up our own minds about who is allowed equal citizenship in society but law and morality discipline us too, meaning that the State naturalises inequality between citizens, ensuring some humans have more rights and respect than others.
• Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
- First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
- Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
- Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
- Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
- Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
- Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
- Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
- Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
- Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
- Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
- Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.
(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)