Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another solved mystery: Gays are nothing more but Women!

Another blow to my social constructivist belief that we interpret sexuality through a social lens that sets boundaries on what is acceptable, puts it in a box and then labels it - homosexuality is this; heterosexuality is that. A new study from Sweden reveals, according to National Geographic, that:

In some ways the brains of straight men and lesbians are on similar wavelengths, the research suggests. Likewise, gay men and straight women appear to have similar brains, in some respects. The findings are new evidence that homosexuals may be born with a predisposition to be gay.

Ah, I feel relaxed. Finally another mystery has been solved: it is biology! Yes, biology makes us 'women' or 'men' or, in some instances, 'gay' - or rather, female brains trapped in, well, male bodies... So much for my insistence on considering our social context in understanding our identities and our gender, cause we all know we cannot fight biology! (Which is not to say that I do not understand why some want to resort to the biological argument to counter the repudiation of homosexuality and the idea that one is 'made' gay, and therefore one can be 'un-made' - see some of the posts below).

I wanted to read the actual scientific article produced by Ivanka Savic-Berglund and the team at the Karolinska Instituet, but unfortunately I could not find it. From my experience, there's quite a long way from the actual research and the popularization done in mass media. The only research by the same team I could find was one focusing on hormonal responses in heterosexual men, women and homosexual men. Now, maybe it's a good thing that I couldn't find the original article, cause many of the technicalities elude me, but I figured out that what they were arguing is that smelling particular hormones (derived from male sweat and female urine) trigger particular reactions in our bodies. While heterosexual men had this biological response to the hormones derived from female urine, heterosexual women and homosexual men had this response to the hormones derived from male sweat. That's as much as my understanding takes me.

Leaving aside the fact that I can picture in my lay, social science-shaped brain, how one can smell the hormones from sweat (but I cannot picture for the grace of me how, in everyday life, you'd be able to do that with the hormones in the urine...), I'm still left with more questions than answers:
  • How is one to be defined as a homosexual man? I remember a conversation with a man who identified as gay, and told me there's no rule saying if you identify as gay you may not have had - or still have - heterosexual experiences. Since you'll say he was not a 'real' gay, I'll add that he was the president of the most prominent gay and lesbian association in that place.
  • On the other side of the coin, how is one to be defined as a heterosexual woman or a heterosexual man? I know, you'll say it's quite easy, see with whom they share the bed, but I beg to differ. I think sexuality is a bit more than sharing the bed, and there are many instances in which we would feel attracted to the 'wrong' sex (and of course, strongly deny it afterwards, or simply get violent about it).
  • I'm also confused as to why we spend so much time trying to prove that homosexuality and heterosexuality are biological categories, when so much of our history has shown that different cultures in different times had different homo/heterosexual practices. I know that I've been raised without curry in my food, and I can smell curry from miles apart and refuse to eat any curried dish - but my biological reaction is not innate, but learned. Should I be raised with a curry-based diet, I'd probably have a different reaction to it (which is not to say that in some cases, I might have just been allergic to it, and that's the end of the discussion).I'm not sure the food-based comparison is the best in this case, but now it seems able to convey what I'm trying to point out: that what appears to be biology cannot be divorced from the social context. Something that genetics has long pointed out, and then forgotten: there's no independence between genes and environment, just as I think there's no independence between what we call and identify as sexuality in human beings, and our bodies.
Some other blogposts and opinions on this: By the Fault, The Chronicle of Higher Education, MindHacks, In Repair, ...

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