Desire and Deviance, again

A few weeks (months?) ago, David kicked off an interesting discussion on gay culture and sexual orientation. From The Utne Reader, here’s a smart take on the political logic of presenting sexual preferences as biologically predetermined:

Forty years ago, gay activists had a similar view, taking their cues from radical lesbian feminists who believed that heterosexuality and homosexuality were products of culture, not nature. “In the absence of oppression and social control,” writes historian John D’Emilio, gay liberationists believed that “sexuality would be polymorphous”—fluid, in other words. Back then they talked about “sexual preference,” which implies choice, as opposed to “sexual orientation,” which does not.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that the mental health establishment and its gay allies put forth the view that homosexuality is a permanent psychological condition and debunked the notion that it was a mental illness in need of a cure. Then came the 1980s and 1990s and a slew of shoddy and inconclusive scientific research on the biological origins of gayness, reinforcing the belief that sexuality is predestined. Both psychological and medical dis­courses formed today’s dominant paradigm, which insists that sexuality is inborn and immutable.

The LGBT activists who have helped construct this sexual framework are neither lazy nor naive in their thinking, as D’Emilio points out in his essay “Born Gay?,” a crisp case against the politics of biological determinism. As a political strategy, it has helped reap enormous benefits, from antidiscrimination legislation to adoption rights in some states and civil unions in others.

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36 thoughts on “Desire and Deviance, again

  1. Saying “I was born this way” isn’t necessarily an expression of shame or inferiority.

    I was also born predisposed to be tall, green-eyed, intelligent, strong-chinned, and totally lacking (as far as I can tell) in food allergies. I wouldn’t say I’m ashamed of any of those things. Most of them I even like.

    But I do think, at least for me, that the disposition toward being gay was inborn. At any rate, it was certainly unchosen. I know this because at one time in my life I would have taken the straight pill too.

    But not anymore. It would wreck the life I’ve built and hurt the people around me tremendously. If there were a choice, I sure as hell wouldn’t choose it.

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  2. This was a really good piece. However, it still seems a bit disingenuous. The Kinsey scale seems intuitively correct to me. What’s the problem with sticking to it? Homosexuality may be a choice for many but for me (Jason or the author of the linked piece) it’s not. Sexuality, like religion, may be a choice or may feel like a divine directive. It doesn’t really matter and shouldn’t be subject to political pressure.

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  3. I wonder if the issue isn’t about love more than about sexuality. My own life experience has involved a good deal of “playing for both teams” as it were (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Anyway, that was the one thing, and the other thing was romantic love. Thus far, I only fall in love with girls. Hence, I’m straight as an arrow. Except for sex. Of course, the real mentality that gays are fighting against, I suspect, is that love doesn’t enter into the discussion at all.

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