Homosexuality as a Master Status
What defines a person? Is it something physically and biologically determined? Or is it behavioral and psychological? Perhaps it could be both. In most circumstances, people do not get to choose which of these characteristics define them. People judge other people—that is just part of human nature. Sometimes a person can have one trait or characteristic that tends to overshadow all else. Sociologists have come up with a name for this social phenomenon; it is master status. In order to describe how this works, status must first be defined as the position or role a person occupies in a group (Neubeck, Glasberg 2005: G-10). Then master status can be understood as the one status, among several that each individual has, that overrides all others; thus it dictates how a person is treated (G-6). In United States society, one case where master status frequently stands out is dealing with homosexuality. Although master status’ can either improve or limit a person’s opportunities, homosexuals usually experience only the negative effects. One of the main reasons that homosexuals are given this master status is because heterosexuals have established themselves as the dominant group in society and therefore they control the power. Homosexuality is not limited to males; females are just as often discriminated against because of this one character trait. Inequality is seen and felt by everyone. The master status attached to homosexuality has affected all aspects of their lives, including marriage, employment, friendship and religion; it is seen throughout history and continues to play an equally influential role today. Sexuality should not be described as a drive for pleasure or companionship, but as “an especially dense transfer point for relations of power: between men and women, young people and old people, parents and offspring, teachers and students, priests and laity, an administration and a population” (Foucault 1978:103). Sexuality has had the power to change society in ways such as highly analyzing women’s bodies, focus and contradiction on youth’s sexual activity, social and economic barriers for procreative behavior, and sexual instinct was suppressed (1978:104-105). So if sexuality has had so much power in the past and still continues to be a force of control, why is homosexuality criticized? Sexuality, as was used previously, refers to the dominant heterosexual behavior. Heterosexuality is the norm, and since this norm has so much power, it is even more dominant. Homosexuality then becomes even more distinct and contradictory to this norm. It is contrary to most of the developments that were brought about by homosexuality, such as the focus on procreative behavior and men’s analysis of women’s bodies. Language alone can socially define normality and establish either a positive or negative association with terms. Both males and females are vulnerable to this social phenomenon of having master status. Typically, ‘gay’ refers to a male of homosexual orientation and ‘lesbian’ refers to a female. These terms were once very negatively used, but are becoming more acceptable as more people are coming out as openly being attracted to the same sex. This is not to say that homosexuals have escaped the master status by accepting the term’s used to define them. They have only begun to accept that ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ just describe their orientation—as in a question when dating or trying to find a mate. It is demeaning to use the term to identify someone. A few examples would be identifying a performer as a “gay actor” or a woman on television, such as Ellen DeGeneres, as a “lesbian host.” The first word in each of these examples is a perfect display of a master status. It first states the status of homosexuality and then the profession of the person. The order of the wording in these labels portrays the importance that is put on each term. Clearly, the fact that the person is not heterosexual dominates...
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