The No-Nonsense Guide to Sexual Diversity (No-Nonsense Guides) Vanessa Baird

(We have not discussed this in the group so this review is in a personal capacity.)

I only purchased this book to support a new bookshop (Hydra on Old Market – worth a visit and they do great coffee), and to support The New Internationalist (which I ought to read regularly, given my views, but find heavy-going and then feel guilty about it! –  the No-Nonsense series is a handy digest of archived articles) thinking that I was already well-read in this area. However, I learnt a lot.

There is a global overview of attitudes towards what some would see as ‘perversions’ or ‘deviations’,  the hidden history of those who, over the centuries and across the continents, have hidden their true sexual identities and loves.

Globalisation is seen as a mixed blessing. With increasing international communication, not least through the internet, minority groups living under oppressive regimes have been able to join hands and network with those who have won many struggles towards inequality and who can advise on strategy. On the other hand, capitalism cop modifies everything and whilst it targets minorities as sources of income it also inculcates images of what is ‘normal and religious right-wingers bankroll churches and other groups in the third world who then lobby politicians and law makers in an attempt, highly successful in Nigeria and Uganda, to hold back progress and further oppress people. Globalisation has helped many people to have the courage to come out but their very visibility has led to increased persecution and violence.

Straight people and societies seem highly threatened by sexual diversity. ‘Family values’ and the core of a nation’s social cohesion are seen as being at risk so religious teachings are co-opted to inculcate guilt, science to explain causes and discover medical ‘cures’ and the legal system to punish difference.

A spokesman for the US Family Research Institute has claimed that homosexuality is too powerful to resist because it provides better orgasm than heterosexual marital sex, which ‘tends towards the boring end.’ One wonders how he knows this.

I was challenged by the topic of trans people. I thought that I was liberal in believing that if gender roles and behaviour weren’t so fixed, people would not need a ‘sex-change’ operation but could simply be themselves without society’s opprobrium. That is not how trans people see the issue. There is something very strong about the way that people inhabit their bodies.

Intersex people challenge our binary assumptions. If God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, how do the ‘moral majority’ view God when he made Adam and Eve in one body?  And do those who crusade against female genital mutilation ever think to challenge those parents who seek ‘gender realignment’ operations for their ambiguous-looking children? Interestingly Columbia is one of the few countries where this is illegal, in recognition of the child’s right to self-designation.

There may be some surprises for some, for example that Muslim societies have historically been far more tolerant of diversity than Christian ones. Also, Judaism is not monolithic. Some Cabbalists have seen homosexuality as an attempt top restore the original androgyny of Adam and, thus, the image of God in human beings. One of my heroes, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, prophetically, that by oppressing sexual minorities, ‘We make them doubt that they too are children of God – and that must nearly be the ultimate blasphemy.’ Puritans who make a fuss about their right to wear a cross at work, who feel they are being persecuted, who tut tut at swear words, take note.

This is a matter of life and death for many, not just a fashionable cause, and the book includes a useful list of political and campaigning groups and an up to date guide to laws around the world about the age of consent and the laws which affect sexual minorities.

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