Monday, April 25, 2011

GSA Mondays: The "Gay" Caveman... How Queer People Were Not Just Around 5,000 Years Ago, We Were RESPECTED

So there's been this flurry of news reports of a "Gay Caveman" discovered recently.

And I think it reveals a lot about our culture and media... and the biases still going on.

Here's the scoop. Archeologists found the "Gay Caveman" among these 5,000 year old graves in the Czech Republic.

"During that period, men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with the head pointing towards the west; women on their left side with the head facing east.

In this case, the man was on his left side with his head facing west. Another clue is that men tended to be interred with weapons, hammers and flint knives as well as several portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other side.

Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as domestic jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.

The ‘gay caveman’ was buried with household jugs, and no weapons."

It's hit a number of news outlets, and when CNN's article came out, it thankfully included this quote:

"Dudes! I could be wrong, but I think that to have a 'gay caveman,' you need a skeleton that is both gay and a caveman. And this ain't either!" John Hawks, an associate professor of anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote on his blog in bold type.

So it's 5,000 year old skeleton of a man buried in the style close to that honoring a woman. What the rash of media seems to have missed is that a man who lives his life as a woman is not "gay" but rather transgendered. And in fact, as we're trying to show in our conversations about Gender here with our Gender 101 series, Gender is more varied than our current two box system of thought encompasses.

There are so many possibilities of why this genetic man was buried in the style of a woman, but what leaps out at me is that this burial was done with great respect. (Look at that photo.) Their culture all those years ago embraced a gender non-conforming individual, and gave them the burial rite that fit - a little of the ritual for a man, and some of the ritual for a woman.

The media outlets that equate gayness with gender non-conformity are just spreading a stereotype - one of the same stereotypes that made it so hard for me to come out as a gay teen. After all, my logic went, I didn't want to be a woman, so I couldn't be gay. But I was attracted to guys...

In many ways, our society is more advanced than we were 5,000 years ago. After all, we have all this cool technology.

But in burying this member of their community in a manner that respected their gender non-conformity and difference, the culture 5,000 years ago in what is the present-day Czech Republic was a lot more civilized.

What do you think?



Jonathon Arntson said...

A few weeks ago, we had The Race Machine at our college. You sit in it like a photobooth and it transforms you between races, genders, and ages. We had a discussion about our results in one of my classes and a woman spoke up and said, "Seeing myself as a man was weird, but I couldn't help wondering what it would feel like for a lesbian or gay guy to see themselves as the opposite gender. Would they see a difference?" My professor didn't really know what to do with that and neither did I. Part of the reason is because this woman is learning English and it was hard to tell if her assumption was merely caused by a language barrier.

But what you have said here made me think of what she said. Some people actually think a gay man wants to be a No offense to my lady counterparts, but I do not want to be a woman. Nor do I think there's anything wrong about being transgendered, but that woman doesn't seem to see the difference. And neither does the media. I did not know this misconception existed until two weeks ago.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Hi Jonathon, thanks for your comment. I hadn't heard of The Race Machine - it sounds like a neat way to open up the discussion. And I think the best way to deal with moments where people equate sexual orientation and gender identity is to explain the difference. Since this is rarely taught in schools or discussed in families when kids are growing up, there's little more than stereotypes for people to go on... And that's why we need to have these kinds of discussions!

ivanova said...

I was thinking the same thing when one of my friends posted this article on Facebook. These highly-educated anthropologists have mixed up gender identity with sexual orientation!

I was especially interested in this story because in my debut novel I have an immortal character who is 5,000 years old, and I made it so that in his original tribe gender is rather fluid. Throughout history, people have thought about gender in a lot of different ways. It hasn't always been as binary as it happens to be right now in this society.

CL said...

So interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Gale Haut said...

I started reading the post and thought you were going to make the same assumptions. I sit here pleasantly surprised.

*follows blog*

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Thanks Nora and CL - and Gale, delighted to have you join us!