Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Pink Triangle

Once I read graffiti on the toilet wall at campus and its content shocked me in disgust. The graffiti said that homosexual is fashion. Did he understand that throughout history, homosexual had been harshly treated? Because of this writing on the toilet wall about gay, I decided to write up one grim story of gay during the Nazi.

For popular belief, most of the Nazi victims were Jewish. This argument was not entirely wrong as most Jewish indeed received harsh treatment from the Nazi. Apart from Jewish, Gypsies were also amongst of the Nazi victims (later I’ve learnt that the term Gypsies actually has a derogatory meaning. Sinti or Roma are perceived to be appropriate term. Europeans thought that these nomad people were from Egypt and Gypsie is a modification of that word Egypt). The lives of massive number of Sinti people ended up in the hand of the Nazi and its collaborators.

Since the stories of Sinti and Jewish came to surface, only little did people know about the murder of gay people during the Nazi occupation. Even though, some stories of survivors may have mentioned the life of gay people in concentration camps or elsewhere, it may have been only a fragment of that personal narrative. The hidden story of gay people during the Nazi came out only in the eighties following the gay and lesbian movement. As a result of this more liberated atmosphere, one survivor published his personal account on homosexuals during the Nazi era. From that moment, the stories of gay people in the camps began to unfold.

It was puzzling as well as challenging to see the prosecution of gay during the Nazi era. Hitler as many may understand it was not madly preoccupied with gay as he was with Jewish. We all know that Euthanasia was carried out for elderly and others because they were unfit within the society. Is it because this ideology that was based on politicised body conception so the gay were haunted and sent off to the camps? Isn’t it strange to know that homosexual was pilloried while the Nazi party itself was masculine and homosocial in nature? Isn’t it possible homoerotism appears within homosocial organisation? How did the Nazi characterise gay people as gestures and official records did not give clues at all? Why female homosexuals were not widely targeted as the males? What is also interesting is that we can’t simply put victims and perpetrators paradigm as these gay people were sent to the frontier in order to defend the German military.

What is surely known is that the Nazi used one article in the penal code to proscribe homosexuality. It was known as the article 175 of the German Penal Code. The Nazi did not create this article. Nor did the Nazi insert homophobic passage into it. The article was a legacy of 19th and it was only modified in 1930s.

Prior to the amendment of Article 175, Nazis had already started to purge homosexuals soon after they seized power in 1933. Nazis raided gay pubs and bars as well as Magnus Hirschfeld’s Sexual Science Institute in May 1933. Two years later, the executions of Ernst Röhm and others members of Sturmabteilung (SA), a paramilitary organisation, took place. Ernst Röhm was close to Hitler and helped him a lot in the development of SA. This has been noted as marking the turning point in Nazi policy against homosexuals. The amendment of Article 175 two years later provided a legal basis for continued persecution, and the establishment of The Reich Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion as part of the Criminal Police reorganisation functioned to register and compile records of homosexuals.

Some Nazi scientists thought that homosexual is sort of disease which could spread and contaminate society. They also maintained that homosexual behaviour is curable and some attempts were therefore carried out to sort this problem out. One of them is castration, which was common within the military. It was believed that after being castrated the deviant sexual urge would decline. At that time, within scientist circle, there was a raging debate over the nature of homosexuality as to whether it was nature or nurture. The nurture paradigm held more sway, nevertheless.

The number of gay held in the camp is difficult to know. One scholar, Lautmann, estimated that around 10.000 alleged homosexuals were found in the camps. While it is widely known how atrocious prisoner conditions were in the camps, for homosexual inmates’ treatment was even worse, from guards as well as other inmates[1]. This is, of course, not suggesting that there is a hierarchy of anguish within the camps or amongst victims of Nazi atrocities. Rather, this discriminatory treatment against homosexual inmates can be seen as reflecting society’s attitudes towards homosexuals outside the camp or in a normal situation. Homosexual inmates were marked with pink triangle to identify them within the camp.

This discrimination stemmed from the view that homosexual men were weak and effeminate, which could undermine the strength of the state. As homosexual men were not contributing to the reproduction process, their non-procreative sexual practice meant an inevitable decrease in the population[2]. Moreover, the Nazi movement was the ultimate manifestation of the Männerbund. Stemming from the eighteen century view, Männerbund prioritises male friendship over other relationships, stressing solidarity and dedication created through male bonding. Yet tension arose from the homosocial concept of Männerbund and the tendency towards homoeroticism. According to Harry Oostehuis, this tension was pushed to extremes during the Nazi anti-gay crusade[3]. George Mosse has an interesting analysis of this tension and its relation to the vilification of homosexuals, suggesting that the ‘otherness’ was necessary to construct Nazi masculinity[4]. In this sense, criminalisation through legal definition of homosexuality enabled a concurrent definition Nazi masculinity by denigrating ‘the other’.

Following the downfall of the Nazi party, the persecution of homosexuals remained a largely untold story, and Article 175 has not yet been repealed until after the reunification of Germany. Even when some survivors of the Nazi campaign began to share their horrific experiences, homosexual survivors remained largely silent due to social and legal stigma. In the post-war period, even within gay and lesbian circles there was a reluctance to talk about experiences of persecution, with majority indicating that they wished to forget about the Nazi period[5]. As the gay and lesbian liberation movement created a more tolerant atmosphere, some attempts were made to bring the hidden effects of Nazi atrocities into the public.

The anti-gay crusade during the Nazi period tells us much about how issues of sexuality are crucial in enriching our understanding of violence. In the case Nazi Germany, discourses on the homosexual experience, whether it be a legal, medical or historical discourse, often function to categorise homosexuals as what we consider ‘the other’. However ambiguous the definition of Article 175, it enabled the Nazi party to significantly impact on homosexual community in Germany, which was perceived as a menace to the social hygiene of Aryan Germany, and as undermining the foundations of masculinity upon which the Männerbund was laid.

[1] Rudiger Lautmann, ‘The Pink Triangle: Homosexuals as “Enemies of The State”, in Michael Berenbaum and Abraham J. Pech (eds), The Holocaust and History: The Known, The Unknown, The Disputed, and The Reexamined, Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1998, p. 348.
[2] The argument of population growth and procreative sex re-emerged in the Nazi propaganda against homosexuals. Heinrich Himmler was particularly concerned with the imbalance between the number of homosexuals and the number of those who died during the First World War. He estimated in a speech, that there were two millions homosexuals and two millions deaths of soldiers during World War I which meant, according to Himmler, that four million men were unable to contribute to the population growth. Stümke and Finkler in Michael Burleigh and Wolfgang Wippermann, The Racial State Germany 1933-1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp. 192-193. See also, Robert G Moller, ‘The Homosexual Man Is a 'Man,' the Homosexual Woman Is a 'Woman'": Sex, Society, and the Law in Postwar West Germany’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 4, No. 3, Special Issue, Part 2: Lesbian and Gay, Histories. (Jan., 1994), p. 403.
[3] Harry Oosterhuis, ‘Medicine, Male Bonding and Homosexuality in Nazi Germany’, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 32, No. 2. (Apr., 1997), p. 205.
[4] Elizabeth D. Heineman, ‘Sexuality and Nazism: The Double Unspeakable?’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 11, Nos. 1/2, (January/April 2002), p. 38.
[5] Erik N. Jensen, ‘The Pink Triangle and Political Consciousness: Gays, Lesbians, and the Memory of Nazi Persecution’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 11, No. 1/2, (January/April 2002), p. 321.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reog: sexuality in Indonesia

As this blog is dedicated to history of sexuality, I feel bad that I haven’t written anything about sexuality in Indonesia. Only here and there, I alluded to sexual mores in the archipelago.

There is one particular topic that I’d like to post here. It’s about Reog, cultural practice in a small town of eastern part of Java, Ponorogo. Reog is a traditional dance which involves a number of people. In Reog, there is a man wearing a massive demonic looking mask which is weight approximately 50 kg and held between his teeth. This dancer is called the Lion King. Another performance is called Warok. Usually this warok is dressed in black and is believed to have a magical prowess.

Traditionally, warok engaged in same-sex relationship because they fear of loosing their supernatural power if they have sexual encounter with females. Warok’s partner is called gemblak who is having effeminate gestures. For our modern conception of sexuality, this same sex companionship between two males has homosexual tendency. But for people in Ponorogo where this tradition is proudly practices, the same sex desire between warok and his partner is not homosexual matter.

Warok’s partner is normally younger and is chosen around the neighbourhood area. The procedure of choosing gemblak is very interesting as it has similarity to wedding ceremony. Delegation is sent by warok to the home of the boy and put forward the proposal to the parents’ boy. As Ian Wilson noted, there is economic benefit of being a partner for warok. Once the boy is chosen and agreed to the proposal, the warok is responsible for his needs including education. For the boys and their poor families, being a companion of warok is giving them social prestige as well as protection since warok is considered as strong man the village. Of course any proposal can be rejected by parents if they don’t concur.

Interestingly, although gemblak engaged in same-sex relationship with another man, it does not mean his sexuality is doomed to be homosexual. Later when gemblak is entering a more mature stage, warok will actively involve in finding a future wife for him. Likewise, marriage for warok is not entirely out of question. Yet a step to marriage would be taken when the power of warok is fully developed and this usually happens around forties.

At the moment, I am reading a book called The Gay Archipelago by an American anthropologist, Tom Boellstorff. According to him, it is difficult to trace history of sexuality in Indonesia as written documents are scarce. Even in colonial government archives, homosexuality in the archipelago was not recorded. It is interesting why the Dutch authority did not impose Victorian values upon the society. Although banning was imposed but it wasn’t on the ground of breaching a normative sexual mores, it was because of its potentially political threat as the dance could attract many people.

It is interesting why these people do not consider this same-sex relationship as homosexual. Homosexuality as a sexual category is a modern invention, coined in the late 19th century. Prior to that invention, there were terms reffered to homosexuality but only denoted the sexual practice rather than sexual identity. Only after the trial of Oscar Wilde, there was a growing awareness amongst gay people about their social position and identity.

I think it is understandable if these people do not perceive the same-sex relationship as homosexual. How could they reconcile traditional and modern concepts of sexuality? Once they accept this categorisation then the next thing would be shifting the sexual mores that underpins that categorisation.

*pictures are taken from the web of Petra University in Surabaya and wikipedia.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pretty Little Thing

I received an email about NYT coverage of female circumcision (FC) in Indonesia. I heard this practice before. But I heard this from small talks with my neighbours or friends in Indonesia. It might have been written in media but unfortunately this news may have been out of my knowledge.

After I read the whole story from NYT, curiosity pushed in and dragged me into google search engine and found several reports on female circumcision in Indonesia. It’s bewildering me to read the story of this cutting-off female genital practice and the reasons why there is a need to take a bit of female organ. As we may have known, female circumcision can be found in African countries, Malaysia and Indonesia.

With the growing awareness of human rights and women’s issues, female circumcision is now becoming a huge concern and is able to draw attention from many parts of society and responded to the matter differently. As alarming as it appears, the global health organisation, WHO and UNICEF put female genital mutilation into their campaign programmes. Likewise, foreign aid organisations such USAID supported topic-related researches in the countries where this practice take place. Academics also show their interests in this discourse and the topic is soon becoming the main theme in the journals of various disciplines.

From what I researched so far, female circumcision in Indonesia fits into type IV within WHO categorisation as it shows below:

Unclassified, which includes: pricking, piercing or incising of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching of the clitoris and/or labia; cauterization by burning of the clitoris and the surrounding tissue; scraping of tissue surrounding the vaginal orifice ('angurya' cuts) or cutting of the vagina ('gishiri cuts'); introduction of corrosive substances or herbs into the vagina to cause bleeding or for the purposes of tightening or narrowing it; and any other procedure that falls under the definition of FGM given above.

A research by Population Council suggests that FC in Indonesia falls into type IV and it is done for religious and traditional belief purposes. Their work, which was aided by USAID and gained support from the minister of health and academics, is very interesting. Its conclusion is contesting the popular belief, which may be suggesting the pivotal role of the Islam doctrines in the practice, arguing that tradition is the rationale behind this practice.

“Parents and religious leaders alike were found to have no significant knowledge on the formal links between FC and Islam. We can conclude that the practice of FC in Indonesia is essentially a tradition which has been passed from one generation to the next with little questioning about its meaning or its basis in Islamic history or law. Many adhere to, and pass down, this tradition simply because elders and grandparents wish to preserve this practice in the younger generations".

If it is generally said that ‘cutting-off’ female clitoris is part of religious duty. However, people will differ in their opinions about female circumcision and would be more likely to broadly interpret the Islamic doctrines that rule this matter.

Similarly, clerics could disagree amongst themselves as to whether FC is obligatory or commendable. Yet, the more likely scenario is that nodding gesture is given when these clerics are asked if female circumcision is harmless. The practices itself differ from one another. Some will involve piercing or incising of the clitoris and some will do it symbolically such as rubbing turmeric on to it.

It is also important to note that this practice typically occurs in the village rather than in the cities. In this respect, it is, therefore, very inviting to take this discussion into modern versus traditional framework. Yet, I don’t subscribe this sort of theorisation as it only allows me to see this in very patronising way. Even if the pace of modernisation quickened in the villages, particularly in the field of medicine and health, it does not necessarily lead to shifting cultural values and practices. As the reports strikingly found, the practices are medicalised, involving more health care practitioners with modern knowledge. Medicalisation presupposes that such practice is more justifiable if it is done by more knowledge of hygienic standards.

Having read this, we might think that this practice is typically non-western tradition. In fact, female genital mutilation occurred during 19th century. According to an archivist and historian,
Lesley Hall, an English doctor Isaac Baker Brown carried out ‘unknown number of clitoridectomies’ in order to cure a prevalent masturbation. In modern days America, a surgery is conducted on girls who have large clitoris. The reason behind this operation is to ‘normalise’ the gender. Large clitoris could be similar to penis and having it reduced means that the girls’ genitals are appropriated with their gender.

However dissimilar in its forms, female circumcision in Indonesia and African countries as well as clitoropasty in the US suggest that women’s bodies are a site of battles for society and its culture upon which dominant values can be imposed.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Birthday is not an Asian thing!

Q: What you are gonna do on your birthday?
A: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be having BBQ at my place.

Q: What are doing on your birthday?
A: I have no idea really. I am thinking of having a nice dinner at the restaurant

Q: Do you have any plan for your birthday?
A: Shite! My birthday was a week ago.

Birthday never used to be a big thing when I was living in Jakarta. As cultural practice, celebrating birthday in Asia is associated with middle classes who embrace modern culture, or western culture. In contrast, lower classes can’t afford to have a party and might put aside the idea of making one particular day special. For them, there are too many things that are far more important than spending sometime with family and friends on birthday. Having spent seven or six days a week at work, leisure time is hardly available for them.

When I was a kid, I was rarely invited by friends who celebrated birthday. I remember when I was in high school, only affluent people circulated cutely decorated birthday invitation in the class or close friends. Sometimes my friends and I did not come as we didn’t have any idea of appropriate presents for the birthday boy or girl. As a kid, it is nothing worse than turning up at birthday party without any presents.

Likewise, within the family, no one would get offended if every one forgets about the birthday of one family member. I’ve never received any birthday card from my uncle or aunties. My parents often did not remember even if they did, we never expected any gifts. More than once, I got up in the morning and realised that I missed my own birthday but it didn’t sadden me.

When i was nearly twenty, usually the birthday girl/boy had to shout everyone. It could be food or drinks, or even both. The birthday person can go to a restaurant or buy some take away food then eating them up at home with friends and families.

Birthday as part of festivity in our culture derived from Dutch settlers who occupied the country for more than three hundred years. Not only did colonisers bring their cultural practices but they also changed the calendar system, replacing traditional and Arabic with the Gregorian. These two calendars do not entirely disappear in modern days but they are put together with Gregorian one for those who still practice tradition.

There is one celebration related to birth in Indonesia but as far as my recollection is correct. But it is based on Javanese calendar rather than Gregorian. Usually, my grandma would prepare a plate of fruit and traditional cakes and put it in her room. I didn’t really know what was the purpose. She just told me that she did it for someone’s birthday.

Since I’ve been living in Australia birthday party becomes part of my ritual of modern culture. I get number of birthday invitations from friends. In return, they want me to make 10th of February is special for me. I do like this sort of celebration and appreciate any efforts they made to cheer me up on my birthday. However, sometimes I feel like going out somewhere on my own, wandering around the city and doing nothing special. I thought people were born in this world alone and birthday could be a perfect moment to contemplate about life.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay or Spew-it-all perhaps?

Never did i think cooking become so popular tv show. Before it was only few cooking shows on the television and all the prime time was taken over by soapies. But now, cooking shows begin to outnumber soapies and its popularity seems to emulate reality tv. Popularity does not equate to quality. Audience can freely choose which cooking shows that magically force them to skip dinner time.

Nigella Lawson is one of them. She looks great as a person: sexy, charming and stunning. Yet, the message of the show does not seem to get passed on. It is obviously cooking show where food, sauce pan, frying pan, and whisk should be on the shot. But why is it, the camera is always shooting at her boobs rather than mashed potato? Dolly Parton in the kitchen? Not sure if this will work. We can't blame all on the dirty perve cameraman. She also likes to give an erotic gesture. The way she talks and moves are sort of like sexy ads screened during non-kids-presence time. "Call me" as if she tries to say.

With his sweet and gentle gestures, Jamie Oliver, who is having an affair with his veggie patches, is one of favourite chef for many. His show is representing a great image of a father-should-be or perhaps a boyfriend-should-be. His food is always simple yet its simplicity seems to promise you a pleasant experience for your tastebud. It is perfect for making your home kitchen vibrant and warm. I found him a bit overrated. The images of Jamie's kitchen seems to be far from reality. Kitchen is not always like that, even at home.

A highly qualified and three Michelin starred chef, Gordon Ramsay show is an antipode to sweetness of Jamie and Nigella's kitchens. Kitchen is a hell to be. Swearing, bullying, and crying are scenes that you are more likely to see in his show. Ramsay is an interesting character. His precious experience requires him to set up the standard very high. His distinguished record does not seem to impact on his communication skills, however.

Iron Chef is very entertaining. Three professional chefs with their different expertise have to accept the challenge from other chefs. To see how these chefs competing to create food out of the chosen theme is amazing. The show reveals more about culinary art and every time i watch it, i feel like watching if three realist artists abandoned their canvases, paints and brushes and ended up working with tongs and knife in the kitchen.

Spew-it-all. He is not like all these people, not even the slightest thing. He has no boobs like Nigella. Nor is he sweet like Jamie. Only his frequent swearing is perhaps the similiarity you can get from comparing him and Ramsay. He won't look good in Iron Chef's outfits. Although very avarage in most aspects, he has passion for food, nevertheless. Once he made this pan seared trout with orange based salsa for his girl. It worked well. The size is the only criticism that he received (i thought i was not cooking for inmate!).