If my title sounds bizarrely intriguing, that wasn’t intentional. I just couldn’t think of a more interesting or appropriate title for this week’s word study.
Recently, via Sanne at Adventures in Keeping House, I had the occasion to read a 2012 article from The Atlantic which outlined the marital and family dynamics of two African tribes where homosexuality and masturbation do not exist. They -literally- have no words for the two concepts, don’t practice them at all, and had to be explained what possible purpose such activity could serve. Their approach to sexuality is contained totally within the framework of marriage and procreation.
It got me to thinking about the fact that the west has an entire–and relatively new- vocabulary dedicated to all things sexual and every possible variation and school of sexual thought. We’ll take a look at a few of the words in our lexicon in a moment.
I’m sure you know that I have thoughts and opinions about our sexual vocabulary compared to these tribes’ lack of the same, but this isn’t a morality discussion. This is about how this discovery made me think, as most postmodern discussion does, about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
It occurs to me that this is why the Aka and Ngandu people of Central Africa have no concept of sexuality outside of its natural use of reproduction in marriage. They’re about the business of family survival and carrying on their lineages, and we’ve abandoned those things as primary directives.
Our way of processing the world is relatively new; untested for longevity or fruitfulness. This new and untried system demands that we develop a vocabulary through which discussions can take place, so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve talked a lot here about linguistic evolution, but this is probably the area where the evolution has progressed most swiftly. So, let’s look at our novel vocabulary.
- Cisgendered: of relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth. It’s a combination of the Latin “cis” meaning on the same side, combined with the word gender. In other words, you identify with what biology clearly reveals as true. It can be traced back to 2011, according to etymology online.
- Heteronormative: of, relating to, or based on the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality. Based on the understanding that being attracted to the opposite sex is the normal course for most people, yet infers that it shouldn’t be.
- Nonbinary: There is, of course, a definition of nonbinary that is related to mathematics and numerical theory. However, there is a more prevalent, mainstream definition which is relating to or being a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that is neither entirely male nor entirely female.
- Queer: This used to mean odd or eccentric, and still does according to Merriam-Webster’s first entry. I suspect that few people will refer to themselves or anyone else as queer anymore unless they are referring to the newly minted and commonly understood definition which is in Webster’s third entry: of, relating to, or characterized by sexual or romantic attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation.
I am intrigued by the difference between our understanding of this basic facet of life and the understanding of an isolated group of people whose understanding is more akin to my grandparent’s generation than ours. Make of what you will. I won’t offer an opinion here because to do so would be like trying to explaining wetness to a fish.