Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Crime and Criminal Law » Homosexuality and Crime - Cross-cultural Conceptions, Western Traditions, Modernity, Anglo-american Law Reform, The Global View

Homosexuality and Crime - Cross-cultural Conceptions

gender relationships pattern societies

Anthropological records tend to be uneven in documenting sexual customs and practices around the world, typically reveal more about male attitudes than female, and show a wide range of social attitudes regarding homosexuality. What emerges from the anthropological record is that at least some indigenous societies on every inhabited continent have socially valued relationships that include a homosexual aspect. These relationships fall into a few major patterns typically defined by life stage, gender, status, kinship, or some combination (Adam, 1985; Greenberg; Trumbach). One major pattern, well documented in the Americas and Polynesia, is the "berdache," "two-spirited," or transgendered form where gender fluidity, gender mixing, or gender migration appears to be possible for some men and a few women. In these societies, homosexual relations are part of a larger pattern where men and women take up some or most of the social roles and symbols typical of the other gender and enter into marital relations with other people with conventional gender attributes ( Jacobs, Thomas, and Lang; Lang and Vantine). A second major pattern takes the form of hierarchical, military, age-graded, and mentor/acolyte relationships, where adult men who presume control over women's bodies also assume sexual rights over younger, subordinate males (Dover; Herdt; Adam; Halperin). Examples of this pattern have been documented in ancient Greece, medieval Japan, precolonial Africa, and Melanesia.

A third pattern, sometimes overlapping with the first two, orders homosexual relationships along the same kinship lines as heterosexuality. Thus, where particular clan members are considered appropriate marital partners—while unions with members of other clans may be prohibited as incestuous—both males and females of the same clan may be considered appropriate and acceptable partners. There are Australian and Melanesian cultures where, for example, one's mother's brother was considered both an appropriate marital partner for girls and an appropriate mentor (including a sexual aspect) for boys (Adam, 1985). Similarly, in some societies where the accumulation of bride-price is the prerequisite to obtaining a wife, occasionally women with wealth are able to avail themselves of this system to acquire wives and men can provide a corresponding gift to the families of youths whom they take into apprenticeship (Amadiume). These kin-governed bonds have been documented in some societies of Australia, Africa, and Amazonia. These major patterns do not exhaust the full range of cross-cultural homoerotic bonding, nor do they explain the gay and lesbian worlds of today. They do point to the fact that there is no unitary idea of homosexuality in different societies, no single role or attitude toward same-sex sexuality, and thus no predominant conception of social approval or disapproval. It is also clear that there is no intrinsic connection between conceptions of homosexuality and crime. Indeed, in kin-based models of homosexual attachment, socially disapproved or "criminal" relationships would refer to relationships formed between persons of inappropriate clans, regardless of gender. Similarly, in age-graded, mentor-acolyte systems, the relationships considered to be odd, ridiculous, or even criminal are those where older men take a sexually receptive role in relation to younger men, in contravention of social expectations that younger men should assume a receptive role. Homosexuality per se would not be at issue. It is against this backdrop that the western preoccupation with homosexuality as criminal sexual conduct must be explained.

Homosexuality and Crime - Western Traditions [next]

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or