Sunday, May 14, 2006

Directionality [II, 18]

An awareness of direction is an important human attribute, probably inherited from prehistoric times when this capacity was a major element in personal survival. Directionality allowed individual human beings to escape from potentially dangerous situations, as well as to migrate effectively. From this skill to sexuality is something of a stretch, but the transition has been significant.

In every day life we shun shifty dealings, preferring straight ones. However, homosexuals are held to be bent, the antonym of straight. Since in most cases no physical deformity is discernible, this ascription must be a metaphor. This family of terms is extensive, including kinky , crooked, and twisted. The term kinky sex covers all sorts of unconventional behavior in that realm. It is interesting that both bent and kinky can mean "stolen." The word crooked refers mainly to business dealings. The term twisted connotes mental instability or perversity. During the 1920s H.L. Mencken introduced a witty euphemism for a homosexual encounter, non-Euclidean sex, referring to an innovative nineteenth-century geometry in which a straight line is not necessarily the shortest distance between two points (or so it seems). That the quest for straightness may be ultimately vain is suggested by Immanuel Kant' maxim: "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing ever was made."

Shifting from the realm of individual bodies and dealings, a broader sense of directionality is implicated in such terms as orientation (value neutral), deviation, from the Latin idea of straying from the road, and perversion (a pejorative term stemming from the idea of false turning). The term orientation, not common in the sexual sense until the 1950s, may stem from German sexuelle Richtung. Ultimately, the idea is architectural, as churches are oriented towards the east. German also supplies sexuelle Neigung, which may rendered as (sexual) inclination. Similarly, proclivity stems from a Latin term for a downward slope. Homosexuals are sometimes said to be decadent. Although decadence is a term of vast scope, implying the downfall of whole civilizations, it ultimately depends on this idea of a fall or decline. A transformation that is reversed backwards to forwards or upside down is implied in the term inversion. Both perversion and inversion are variations on the Latin verb vertere, to turn.

Descent figures in the expression go down on (perform fellatio.) A current term among African Americans is on the down low (DL); this ploy implies “walk on the wild side,” perhaps temporary.

More generally, this general sense of inappropriate directionality is implicit the notion of going wrong. Dwelling on the “wrong side of the tracks” is to live in an undesirable neighborhood. The expression “she done him wrong” connotes sexual betrayal.

The Latin prefix trans- means “across.” Transpeople are thought to cross a boundary. The word Transvestismus was invented by Magnus Hirschfeld in 1910. Transsexual appeared several decades later. Some distinguish between pre-op and post-op transsexuals, though this pair presumes that those in this situation are destined to follow the trajectory to its conclusion, which may not be the case. Those who do not intend to have the operation are called non-ops. The current vogue expression trannie covers both transvestites and transsexuals.

Cruising (walking about in search of sexual partner) may appear to be aimless, but in fact the cruisers direct their steps to paths which are likely to be productive. They proceed in several directions, but not in any and all directions.


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