Monday, April 5, 2010

Cultural Constructions of Sex and Gender

I think I owe my Spanish teacher from Granada an apology. I now understand much better his belief that "lesbians are lesbians because they don't like penetration." I came to this epiphany after a lengthy conversation with two members of my dance team about how sexual orientation and gender identity work in Nicaragua.

The whole conversation really just confirmed the conclusions of Roger Lancaster in his book "Life is Hard: Machismo, Danger, and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua," which I read before going to Nicaragua the first time back in January 2006. Even so, I still had to re-learn the whole cultural construction of sexuality in Nicaragua for myself, and it remains one of the harder cultural differences for me to get my mind around.

Gender identity and sexual orientation are inextricably linked, and both are defined by the act of penetration, which is the ultimate definition of masculinity. There are three major gender categories: Men, women, and "cochones" or homosexuals. One who penetrates is a man, one who is penetrated is a woman. Homosexuals, or "cochones" (possibly from "colchon," which means mattress), think they are women and want to be penetrated. In a sexual act between two men, only the one being penetrated is considered homosexual. A man can penetrate a cochon or a woman and still be a "man," as opposed to a "cochon," although they also can get the label "cochonero" for regularly penetrating cochones.

Women can also be "cochonas" and "cochoneras." It is believed that one is the "man" of the relationship, that is the one who penetrates. This was reiterated when I asked what happens if they both penetrate each other. I also asked what it meant when a woman penetrated a man using something other than a penis, and got the response "That's not done."

To say that lesbians don't like penetration, therefore, is tantamount to saying they don't like men. The second assertion makes much more sense to me than the first.

As this conversation was carried out with two men, I'm interested to get a woman or an out homosexual's take on the whole subject. The subject, I thus conclude, bears further scrutiny.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I just had someone explain this to me yesterday. Interesting. I'm a gay man, a cochon I suppose. I am from Canada and am backpacking in Nicaragua right now. I guess if that's what the Nicas believe we can't really argue, however, I believe that regardless of who is penetrating, if you like the same sex, you are gay no matter what. For cocheneros to be excused from being classified as gay doesn't really fly with me.