Jun 26

What Causes Heterosexuality? Hanne Blank Takes It On

What causes heterosexuality? If you’re going to ask what causes homosexuality, isn’t this a fair question too?

“We don’t know much about heterosexuality. No one knows whether heterosexuality is the result of nature or nurture, caused by inaccessible subconscious developments, or just what happens when impressionable young people come under the influence of older heterosexuals.”

The author of the above tongue-in-cheek quote and the new book Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, is Hanne Blank. About the book, the publisher has this to say:

In this surprising chronicle, historian Hanne Blank digs deep into the past of sexual orientation, while simultaneously exploring its contemporary psyche. Illuminating the hidden patterns in centuries of events and trends, Blank shows how culture creates and manipulates the ways we think about and experience desire, love, and relationships between men and women. Ranging from Henry VIII to testicle transplants, from Disneyland to sodomy laws, and from Moby Dick to artificial insemination, the history of heterosexuality turns out to be anything but straight or narrow.

First, a little something about Blank’s credentials. Besides being a historian as well as an activist regarding fat acceptance and sexuality issues, there’s her more personal life. Thomas Rogers, Salon:

If you met Hanne Blank and her partner on the street, you might have a lot of trouble classifying them. While Blank looks like a feminine woman, her partner is extremely androgynous, with little to no facial hair and a fine smooth complexion. Hanne’s partner is neither fully male, nor fully female; he was born with an unconventional set of chromosomes, XXY, that provide him with both male genitalia and feminine characteristics. As a result, Blank’s partner has been mistaken for a gay woman, a straight man, a transman — and their relationship has been classified as gay, straight and everything in between.

Central to Blank’s history of heterosexuality is how the terms for both homo- and hetero- sexuality were originally coined. As Troy Patterson points out in Slate, Blank “puts a spin on the hip-hop catchphrase ‘no homo,’ explaining that there was no hetero until social science and pseudo-science invented a need in the middle of the 19th century.”

Blank’s recent article on The Huffington Post regarding 10 “surprising facts about heterosexuality” contained the following examples:

  • Never mind the question of whether there’s such a thing as distinctively “gay genes” or “gay brains”; we don’t even know if there’s such a thing as straight ones. Physical and biomedical science have yet to define or even confirm the empirical existence of heterosexuality…no one’s ever even tried.
  • The ideal that men and women should have mutually orgasmic sex developed during the same time period as the idea of “heterosexuality” did, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This novel notion helped establish the new notion of distinctively “heterosexual” desire and pleasure as scientific and medically proper.
  • Though men and women have engaged in various forms of non-intercourse sexual activity since time immemorial, the idea that there was a necessary opening act to sexual intercourse called “foreplay” is something we owe to Sigmund Freud and a handful of other psychologists and medical types around the turn of the 20th century.

If you’re interested in more such info, getting through Blank’s “short history” should be a breeze. As stated by Dr. Abigail Zuger, on comparing this book to the almost 1000-page DSM (psychiatry’s reference book) : “Hanne Blank gets a pat on the back for dispatching the equally murky entity of heterosexuality in fewer than 200, plus back matter.”

Jun 21

Fat Acceptance: Lesley Kinzel’s “Two Whole Cakes”

In a recent article on The Huffington Post, therapist Jean Fain introduces us to a new book by Lesley Kinzel entitled Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body. Fain describes it as a book about fat acceptance and not only calls it “the first book on the subject that’s funny, fascinating and life-changing” but says that it—in addition to Kinzel’s blog—has been a major factor in positively influencing her own perceptions of the fat acceptance movement. States the book’s publisher:

…Lesley Kinzel tells stories, gives advice, and challenges stereotypes about being and feeling fat. Kinzel says no to diet fads and pills, shows by example how to stop hating your body, celebrates self-acceptance at any size, and urges you to finally accept the truth: your body is not a tragedy!

A review found on the blog Feministing:

Her book challenges popular opinion around fatness and obesity, including critiques of The Biggest Loser and Michelle Obama’s childhood obesity campaign. Without a doubt, Kinzel forces readers to unpack lifelong-held beliefs about self-identity, acceptance and, most importantly, the size of jeans you own or the number on the scale. This is an issue that plagues everyone universally– no matter where you lie on the size spectrum. Kinzel’s book is absolutely relatable to anyone that has ever felt insecure about their body or the way they look– so, pretty much everyone.

Hanne Blank, author of Big Big Love:

Two Whole Cakes is a vulnerable, funny, whip-smart, incendiary book that offers a delightfully readable way out of our culture’s unrealistic expectations of body size and appearance.

The fat acceptance movement is described by Fain as being “all about treating fat people with dignity and respect. Activists argue that the disrespect and discrimination that fat people face day in, day out is hazardous to their physical and mental health.” In an interview Fain conducted with Kinzel, the latter defines fat acceptance as “basically the idea that fat people should have the option not to hate themselves and their bodies. Not to say that everyone has to like it, but that people should feel as enabled to take a path of self-acceptance and contentment at the size they are.”

“Fat,” by the way, in the parlance of fat activists, is meant to be a relatively neutral word. It replaces such words as “overweight,” which carries more judgment.

One of the myths that fat activists face is that they disapprove of people trying to lose weight. On the contrary, Kinzel, for example, just wants people’s decisions, whatever they are, “to come from a place of self-love, and not self-loathing.” Similarly, as noted in a Time article, NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) doesn’t “encourage anyone to lead an unhealthy lifestyle but recognizes that for some people weight loss isn’t possible.”

Adds Katherine Bowers, writing for Women’s Health:

…(T)he fat-acceptance movement pushes another key point: Extra weight may not be ideal, but it sure beats dieting. Research shows extreme yo-yo dieting can, over time, slow metabolism and cause cardiac stress; it can even lead to long-term weight increases.

Just ask fat-acceptance activist Kate Harding, coauthor of Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body, who twice lost more than 20 percent of her weight only to regain it. It left her wondering, What if trying so hard not to be fat is actually a bigger health problem than being fat?