By Michael Dean Benton
“Why should an artist’s way of looking at the world have any meaning for us? Why does it give us pleasure? Because, I believe, it increases our awareness of our own potentiality.” — John Berger, Permanent Red: Essays in Seeing (1960)
“There are in fact no masses; there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” — Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (1958)
Gender and sexuality are important contemporary political concepts for understanding the constitution of our selves. They are important because they are a key to the production of our sense of self and identity as social beings, because they are experienced by every human being, because all societies seek to regulate what is acceptable in regards to gender and sexuality, and, because myths about gender and sexuality are tools for the control, demonization and oppression of groups of people. My claim for the importance of gender and sexuality as political concepts does not discount class or race, rather it recognizes that even within the hierarchical divisions of classes and races, there are further inequalities built upon perceived gender and sexuality differences (and vice versa). The discriminatory, power-based inequalities of gender and sexuality are even built into our everyday language.
While the construction of gender and sexuality is a serious subject for us to address, it is also a joyous, surprising, creative, and challenging project. Of all the personal illusions I continuously work to dispel, the myths of gender and sexuality are the most difficult; but, for that reason, also the most rewarding and enriching. The difficulty lies in my training from the earliest age to think of myself as a certain gender construct—a tough, heterosexual, working-class male—that must perform a certain rigid sexual role, and adapt the attitudes/poses necessary to be accepted in my early social environments. Continue reading »