Pushing back against “born this way”

Pushing back against “born this way” July 11, 2011

Postmodernists are opposed to “essentialism,” the notion that ANYTHING is innate or predetermined.  Thus I have found it interesting that when it comes to homosexuality, the prevailing argument is that this condition IS innate and predetermined.   I have been waiting for signs that postmodernism is on its way out, and this seemed to be a significant development.  But now it seems that postmodernists are pushing back against Lady Gaga’s assertion that we can all say “I was born this way.”  Instead we are seeing a revival of the notion that identity, including sexual identity, is “fluid.”  Thanks to Tim Challies for his comment alerting me to this from Gender Studies professor Suzanna Danuta Walters:

If marriage and military access are conjured as the Oz of queer liberation, then biological and genetic arguments are the yellow brick road, providing the route and the rationale for civil rights. The medicalization of sexual identity – and the search for a cause if not a cure – has a long and infamous history. This history includes well-meaning attempts by social activists to create a safe life for same-sex desire through the designation of homosexuality as biologically predetermined but also, more ominously, includes the sordid history of incarceration, medication, electroshock “therapy” and numerous other attempts to rid the body (and mind) of its desires.

Notions of homosexuality as “inbred,” innate and immutable were endorsed by a wide variety of thinkers and activists, including progressive reformers such as Havelock Ellis and not so progressive conservatives, eager to assert same-sex love as nature’s mistake. Richard von Krafft-Ebing in the 1880s and Magnus Hirschfeld in the 1903s – both pioneer sexologists and generally advocates of “toleration”– came to believe in some notion of “innate” homosexuality, whether through theories of a kind of brain inversion or through vague references to hormonal imbalances. These theories mostly had little traction, and no evidence whatsoever, and were further undermined during the heyday of the early gay movement which included a deep commitment to the depathologization and demedicalization of homosexuality, manifested in a long-term attempt to remove “homosexuality” as a disease category in the DSM.

Theories of biological origins of “gayness” have ebbed and flowed during different historical and social moments, most obviously intersecting with the rise of eugenics and other determinist frameworks in the early part of the last century. There is no question that the romance with biological and/or genetic explanations for sexual “orientation” has ratcheted up in recent years, due in no small part to the combined force of the gay marriage debates and the increasing “medicalization” and “geneticization” of behavior and identity, spurred on by the initiation of the human genome project in 1989 which furthered the already booming interest in genetic bases for behavior, personality, disease, etc. . . .

In our present political context, gay volition is like Voldemort – dangerous even to be uttered. This “born with it” ideology encompasses gay marriage, gay genes, gayness as “trait” and is used by both gay rights activists and anti-gay activists to make arguments for equality (or against it). This is bad science (mistaking the possibility of biological factors with wholesale causation) and bad politics (hinging rights on immutability and etiology). Causality is – of course – the wrong question and will only get muddled answers. The framing of “gayness” as an issue of nature vs. nurture or destiny vs. choice misses the point about (fluid, chaotic) sexuality and about civil rights. It’s not our genes that matter here, but rather our ethics.

via Born This Way? – Brainstorm – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Of course, the author doesn’t cite any evidence for her contention, just surveying the overall history of the question, which is how postmodernists tend to argue.


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