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Lesbian & Gay Studies
Fall 2001 Dr. Ames
assess the evidence that sexual orientation is biologically based.
What social consequences are there if sexuality is, indeed,
‘fixed’ at birth? What are the
social implications if sexuality is chosen instead?
(Be explicit & detailed!) Which
set of consequences or implications would be preferable, in your judgment? (15
Pillard & Bailey use research of the hypothalamus as evidence that
sexual orientation is biologically based. The
hypothalamus serves reproductive functions.
They concluded that gay men had a smaller anterior hypothalamus, as do
women, than heterosexual men. Gay
men also tend to be born later is sibship and seem to have more homosexual
brothers & sisters than heterosexual men. Also, male & female
monozygotic twins are similar I their degree of gender atypicality.
This evidence suggests an X-chromosome linkage to homosexuality.
If sexuality if fixed at birth, then society may see homosexuality as a birth defect, a disease one is born with. Therefore, society may try to “fix” the problem, by treating it, wheter it be with drugs, hormones, or genetic engineering. If sexuality is chosen, however, then society may see homosexuality as a mental disorder (as done in the past) or a psychological problem. However if homosexuality is biological, many homosexuals believe that this legitimizes their sexuality. It is possible that society may more willingly accept homosexuality if it is “just the way we are”, so to speak. If it is chosen, some people se this as a good thing, because they believe that sexuality is socially constructed anyway, and it does not matter.
Although I believe that sexuality is a choice and no one is born purely biologically straight or gay, I think that the biological explanation may be more well received. If it’s biological, many people will accept it, the way we accept disabled people. It would be very difficult to “fix” biological homosexuality, and the only people interested in doing that would probably be the insanely religious. Without government backing and willing scientists, it would never happen. Therefore, I believe that homosexuality would grow increasingly accepted if it were proven to be biological.
Simon LeVay provides some evidence that sexual orientation is biological
in his book, The Sexual Brain. He
finds that in gay males part of the hypothalamus in the brain is smaller than in
straight males. One problem with
his study is that he only looked at brains of men who had died of IDS.
Most studies have similar problems, they just cannot be replicated.
There have, however, been studies done with monozygotic and dizygotic
twins that reveal a higher occurrence of homosexuality when one has a homosexual
twin. There have been a number of
studies done with animals that have also proved inconclusive.
There is evidence that sexual orientation is biological.
However it is far from complete or conclusive.
If sexuality is fixed at birth then homosexuality cannot be chosen. On the one hand, this is good for homosexuals who can say “we can’t help it, you have to accept us”. On the other hand, if sexual orientation is found to be biological and they can find the gene that causes it, they can fix it. In which case homosexuality becomes a disease.
If instead sexuality is chosen there are also differing consequences. For instance, if sexuality is a choice, then it also has consequences and could be considered a sin or a crime. There is also the danger of being seen as a deviant group. The idea of sexuality as a choice can be appealing to the gay community. It gives us a chance to emphasize our human diversity.
I go the route of social constructionism. I believe that we are all born the same with innate sexual desire that is not directed toward either sex. The direction of the desire is determined by society. In other words, we learn to act out our natural urges. I like this theory because it starts out from a singular base of humanness and branches out from there. Although this could cause homosexuality to be considered a sin or a crime, we are already at this point. Eventually we will overcome. Regardless of the consequences, I think this explanation is closest to the truth and in the end the truth is most important.
2. Gayle Rubin makes the claim that sexual minorities serve as scapegoats in times of social stress. Give an example or two from history. How might Rubin’s theory explain hatred of gay people in October 2001? Do you agree with this explanation? (10 Points)
The largest example of sexual minorities being used
as scapegoats would have to be Nazi Germany. The first group to be imprisoned,
even before Jews and Gypsies were the sexual deviants.
Germany, before the rise of the Nazis, was a fairly sexually free place,
but people like homosexuals were blamed for the decline of German society (read
economy). After concentration camps
were built, they were transferred from the jails, and after the war they were
put back in prison. The second
example is 1950s America during the cold war.
There was a major witch hunt by McCarthy for pinko commies and
homosexuals. They were considered to hold un-American ideals, and to be
threat to national security. They
couldn’t be trusted, so many of the people “caught” lost their jobs and
their liberties. Many of the
anti-homosexual laws are from this era.
Recently, America has been under a lot of stress due to the terrorist attacks. The shock and shift in peoples’ world view cause many of them to look for someone to blame. While many blame the people responsible for the attacks, and some blame leaders fro not being prepared, others blame sexual minorities. As an example, Falwell mentioned that god didn’t protect us from attack because of the feminists, abortionists, homosexuals, and liberals. In general, even before the attack, sexual minorities are blamed for the moral decay of a society.
Moral panic is a time when the larger society directs
their fears and social concerns towards minorities.
Homosexuals have been targeted as scapegoats throughout history.
For example, when the ADIS epidemic was linked to homosexual behavior, a
new wave of homophobia and discrimination resulted.
It was deemed the “gay disease”, and was used to create even more
hatred for homosexuals. People were
scared of the disease, as we all are scared of any new disease, and blamed gays
for the presence of the disease. In
1977, the Dade County gay rights ordinance was repealed because people were
afraid of the “gay threat”. “Protect
Our Children” was used as a tactic to enforce homophobia, heterosexism, and
increased violence against homosexuals. During
times where communism was a threat to the American democracy, homosexuals were
deemed communists. The SIECUS was
attacked as having communist motives, even though their purpose was sex
education. Whether the threat is
disease, communism, or power in the hands of minorities who threaten the
“American way of life”, homosexuals, feminists, ethnic “others”, etc.
will had have become scapegoats, outlets of hatred that ease the mainstream
This theory could explain hatred of gay people right now because this nation is fully aware of the threat of “others” at this time. Anyone who looks or acts different than us may be a terrorist in the minds of man Americans. It’s illogical, but all “different” people are threatened by the current situation. We are “looking” for people to blame, people other than ourselves. We are in a state of extreme nationalism and we want everyone to be unified as normal, hard-working, heterosexual, “white”-acting, Americans.
I think Rubin’s explanation makes a lot of sense. Hatred is bred by ignorance and fear. We don’t have logical explanations as to why we hate people that are different from us. It makes sense that people & societies create scapegoats. You can see examples of it throughout history. The Nazis did it to Jews and homosexuals, among others.
3. Using evidence from
readings and videos, explain how—and why—gay people have developed
gay communities. Detail and specificity are good, here, too! (15
Gay people have developed communities for several reasons.
Communities are essential for effecting social change as well as everyday
socializing. Not only do
communities help us to band together in a movement as a people, they also allow
us to get to know one another as people are generally more comfortable around
their “own kind”. Communities
allow us to have a network of communication.
It is a way to get the message about AIDS across as well as a grapevine
of information. People needed a
place to go where they could be comfortable being who they were and meet other
people like them.
Gay people developed gay communities rather innocently. A place became a hotspot if the owner and bartenders were known to be gay. Gay men (and women) opened bars and gay patrons came. It became a place to get much needed services such as loans that were denied to them by straight-owned businesses. People became comfortable and found it was a great and easy place to find a date. Eventually bath houses came into the spot light as a place for gay males to procure anonymous sex
Communities developed as bars because it was a relaxing atmosphere and if necessary able to be kept a secret for at least a short period of time. The main aspect of almost any community is its social interactions. They gay community is especially oriented this way because what separates us is our sexual desire. Bars gave us a chance to get to know people we never would meet on the street. The communication opens up a world of opportunities.
The bar was naturally adopted as the institution serving the homosexual
community for several reasons. For one, participation in the community is a leisure time
activity. A gay bar does not
develop by accident; it is the result of careful and systematic planning.
“A gay bar is a gay bar from the start” (Achilles).
These bars are most likely to exist in city areas.
Unaccepted sexuality is rarer and monitored in small towns and rural
areas. “Metropolitan life
continually beckons to you ‘perverts’.” (Rubin)
Sexual migration creates concentrated pools of potential partners,
friends and associates. It enables
individuals to create adult, mature networks in which to live. Within these communities there is a sense of fear amongst the
inhabitants. The greatest sense of
group cohesion in the homosexual community is expressed in reaction to the
police. The police are constantly
interfering with homosexual communities; their main target being the bars.
An officer will often perform the act of entrapment; this when an officer
poses as a homosexual and enters the homosexual community or bar and connives a
homosexual to hit on them and then arrests them for sex crimes.
All these actions render homosexuals to see themselves as wronged and
persecuted. The police are then a
target upon which hostility is placed. The
police is the enemy and the homosexual is the under dog.
It’s a vicious cycle.
According to Steven Epstein, by the late 70s, gay people began to form a
community similar to ethnic groups. These gay neighborhoods or “ghettos” usually cater to gay
needs, and prevents them from even having to leave the area. In Stephen O. Murray’s study, he describes a gay
“community” in the Yonge/Wellesley area in Toronto Canada as consciously
*unlike ethnic) formed villages where gays have the freedom to be homosocial.
These tow authors describe “gay communities” very literally.
The phrase is most often used when discussing gays in general.
Gay and Lesbian people have set up social systems that allow them to
essentially ‘be themselves’. Nancy
Achilles discusses homosexual bars as a gay ‘institution’ that has arisen
from deviance (she argues that many social institutions do) that enables gays to
have amore acceptable lifestyle.
She argues that prior gay meeting places tended to be sleazy, and
unacceptable. She also argues that
the bar is a healthy way for the community to be confronted by homosexuality.
I believe that gays have developed communities (literally or
figuratively) for the same reason why other “minorities” have developed
them. For comfort and a sense of normalcy.
4. How has community
building among Lesbians differed from community building among gay men?
(Give explicit examples from readings & videos.)
Why, do you think this is so?
Community building among Lesbians differs from community building among
men in that it has been slower and on a (at least somewhat) smaller scale.
Witht the even of urbanization, Lesbians were still economically
dependent on men and lacked resources to build up communities.
Then women started gaining some autonomy but still faced economic
In the move “After Stonewall”, we saw how Lesbians were still treated as inferiors by gay men and had a hard time getting heard in the larger gay movement. There were far fewer bars specifically for Lesbians than there were (and still are) for gay men. Therefore, a lot of Lesbian socialization took place in homes rather than bars. Another differences was that community building among gay men was sometimes structured around promiscuous sex and the baths. This was not the case with the Lesbian community.
Communities differ among gay men and Lesbians because of the way society
sees them and difference between men and women.
the reasons are tied closely together, so much so it is difficult ot tell
which applies in a particular case. The
communities built by gay men are often more centered around sex than Lesbian
communities. Examples of this are the gay bars, baths, and tea-rooms.
There are less social political groups among gay men than Lesbians, but
the ones that exist often have more financial and political [clout] than Lesbian
ones, for the simple fact men have more money and power than women.
The reason gay male organizations are more sexual is either because men
are innately more sexual or sexualized more by society, depending if you take an
essentialist view or not.
The communities developed by lesbians are more closely tied into the women’s and feminist movements. These organizations seem les sexual in nature than gay male communities, but lesbians have bars too. The reason Lesbian communities are tied in more to the women/feminist political movement has to do with the position of women in a patriarchal society. Lesbians advance the power of women because they know it also improves the power of the Lesbian community.
As sated the difference between the communities of gay men and Lesbians is as much to do with the way society treats men and women as with the differences between them.
5. What does Gloria Anzaldua mean by saying Lesbians of color can serve as a drawbridge? What do you think of this analogy? (10 Points)
Gloria Anzaldua calls lesbians of color drawbridges.
(She also says they can serve as bridges, islands, or sandbars.)
The drawbridge is a connection between the community of Lesbians of color
and larger communities such as the Lesbian/gay movement or the women’s
movement. Lesbians of color are
marginalized for their gender by both gay and straight males, for their color by
gay and straight men and women, and for the sexuality by straight men and women.
This can lead to a lonely existence.
Lesbians of color have created their own communities within and outside
of the gay and women’s movements.
As a drawbridge, a Lesbian of color can educate “others” about her experience and the issues that are important to her without being very threatened. The idea is that she can pull up the drawbridge any time she wants.
It must be very difficult to be asked to speak for an entire group of people. Or, it must also be frustrating to constantly explain why a certain comment or institution is wrong or insensitive. The drawbridge allows them contact with the rest of the world to socialize and to try to education through dialogue. On the other hand, she can retreat to the safety of her fellow Lesbians of color and shut out the rest of the world whenever necessary.
The analogy of a drawbridge to lesbians of color first means that they
(Lesbians of color) can act as a bridge between white lesbians and other
lesbians of color. They can form
alliances with white lesbians and push to have the voices of lesbians of color
heard. They struggle to have racial
oppression acknowledged in addition to sexual orientation oppression, rather
than ascribe to white Lesbian’s ideals and views.
But the analogy of a drawbridge also implies the ability to draw the bridge up and essentially separate from white Lesbians into the world of Lesbians of color for awhile if their struggles on the other side of the bridge get too frustrating & they need a break.
I think that this is a good analogy—fitting of the situation of many Lesbians of color. I believe that it’s a better analogy than that of a bridge in itself because there is the opportunity to raise the bridge & retreat for awhile.
edited: 18 October 2001