Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Didn't realise I was transgender

Well, according to the way Ottoman Empire used to think about gender, apparently. That's the oddest and most novel thing I learnt from this curiously entitled Aeon article:  What Ottoman erotica teaches us about sexual pluralism.

There's a lot that's not new in there - the Foucault-ian bit about older societies not thinking of homosexuality in the same way we do now, for example.  But this paragraph, explaining what the author concludes after (in his words) "combing through five centuries of Ottoman literary works searching for sexual terminology"* was something new to me:
In particular, it indicates that one can speak of three genders and two sexualities. First, rather than a male/female dichotomy, sources clearly view men, women and boys as three distinct genders. Indeed, boys are not deemed ‘feminine’, nor are they mere substitutes for women; while they do share certain characteristics with them, such as the absence of facial hair, boys are clearly considered a separate gender. Furthermore, since they grow up to be men, gender is fluid and, in a sense, every adult man is ‘transgender’, having once been a boy.   
I don't know: this academic uses "heteronormativity" a bit too much for me to be sure I trust him, and his bio does put one category of interests a bit uncomfortably close to another:
His current research interests are cultural and intellectual history, the arts of the book, gender and sexuality, and human-animal relations, all in the context of Islam and particularly Turkey. 
But if he's right, it seems an odd way for the old Turks to have categorised folk.

* sounds like something a teenager would do if regular porn was not available


John said...

I wouldn't trust anything by Foucault. I read the text that made him famous and it was littered with errors. Others found faulty footnotes galore. He's just another pretentious postmodernist buffoon.

TimT said...

The point seems a banal one. In German little girls are referred to as neither male nor female but neuter: "das Mädchen", or for the older category of Miss, "das Fräulein". That is: grammatical gender sometimes has nothing to do with physical sexuality. We'd have words like this in English, too, had we retained grammatical gender - in fact we DO in at least one case I can think of: people referring to babies as 'it', regardless of their sex.