Friday, April 8, 2011

teachable moment (or thanks for the educational opportunity, "gay caveman")

We just finished gender in my cultural anthropology class, so the story about the "gay caveman" was well timed. In class today, we covered the facts, briefly. The individual was neither a "caveman" nor demonstrably "gay". Discuss. We talked about what it means to be "gay", what is "third gender", the difference between "gender role", "sex", and "sexual orientation". This was all good review.

But the best discussion centered on why this story made headlines around the world. After all, we know there are gay men in the modern U.S., why should we be shocked to find there were gay men in the ancient Czech Republic (whether or not this burial represents such an individual)? We talked about what the term "caveman" represents in our society, and agreed the term is used as either a reflection of our mythical "natural" state, or of the "nasty, brutish" side of our species (or both). So what would it mean if we discovered gay cavemen? I pointed out that it's not exactly a newsflash that sexual orientation has both biological and social components, but my students argued that the this story reflects fundamental concerns with whether homosexuality is "natural". My students were reassuringly savvy consumers of the media message, and clearly picked up on the modern political currents swirling around this archaeological find.

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