Friday, October 23, 2009

What is Culture?

Today I had a Professional Development workshop and we were asked to define the culture of our school...

Well in order to define the culture of a school, we first have to define what culture is: I wrote down the following notes:

"What is culture?
  • people
  • holidays
  • places
  • moral values (beliefs)
  • celebrations
  • rituals
  • handling crisis 
  • family? or just a connection or oppression? 
And of course I couldn't think of anything else for about 20 minutes. What is culture? (Wikipedia had several definitions if you'd like to check it out.) Is it a group of people who have shared beliefs? The easy answer is yes, one is part of a culture because of how one thinks, or what one thinks is right and moral. Then I started thinking about the "gay culture." And first I had to decide what is the gay culture. And there are very few things that link us together. Unlike a Native American tribe we have no ritualistic dance (although dancing is a stereotype in the "gay culture"). Unlike Jewish people, we have no linking religion that we all share (although Diva's again are that stereotype). We don't have holidays (Maybe a pride march is the closest we get). We don't have a location that we all come from (for instance Lesbos Island). So what keeps us together.

Sex. Oppression. Crisis. That's what I came down to.

The gay culture is a counter culture, while it can easily be found in any other group of people, we are all connected by our lack of fitting into the norm of heterosexual acts (although Bisexual people and Str8, men on the DL and other exceptions are the rule). As a gay man, I have an automatic familial connection to some one who is gay! I route for them in movies (hell if there's a gay character in a bad movie, it automatically makes is a good movie). We are connected by our sex and that's it.

Because that is our strongest connection to our culture, we unite under times of oppression and crisis when our rights to express our culture are denied. When Mathew Sheppard died because he liked to have sex with men, we united. This crisis took great story telling and helped create a stronger awareness of the crisis the gay culture faces all the time.

These crises are because of oppression! We are oppressed because we are gay. Because we are "counter" the heteronormative  culture we are deemed less. We have our rights stripped away and are looked upon as second class citizens because of who we have sex with!

When discussing culture today, my colleagues talked about shared values and a history of likeness and traditions and foods and dance and stories. Not once did they mention sex. Not once did they mention oppression. They looked at the positive aspects of culture, and I can't seem to stop thinking that culture is just one of those social constructs put into place by the old, rich, white men to help give them a sense of superiority and reasons to oppress those who are different.

What is culture? Culture is a social construct used to connect people. So they will be able to check off a little box on some survey. (Photo credit is actually me!)

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