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.