Wednesday, January 30, 2008
In the Independent newspaper today, they had a long and involved piece entitled Scientists discover way to reverse loss of memory.
Briefly, a man whose brain was operated on to try to suppress his appetite suddenly recovered very vivid memories from 30 years ago. The more research is done on the brain, the more scientists find that manipulating it in some way alters how people act, think, feel and so on.
Another piece from the New York magazine forwarded to me by the New York Area Bisexual Network looked at various sorts of research that has been done by scientists from different fields looking at the so-called causes of homosexuality – length of fingers, chromosomes and so on and so forth. It also suggested that various stereotypical traits of lesbians and gay men might be biologically based, which to me beggars belief – it’s ahistorical and ignores cultural and geographical differences. I remember, for instance, when men having long hair was considered to be a sign of homosexuality. Who would that even occur to now?
“They’re born that way” seems to be the notion du jour – of this and pretty much every other age - and popular opinion likes to go down the common sense track, where if it seems to be true – because of repetition and stereotype, then it must be true. So male hairdressers are gay and female footballers are lesbian. Perhaps bisexuals are footballing hairdressers then?
So is that it then? We are all born gay or straight (or bisexual – although no one seems to be researching that). And we’re all man/woman, male/female, masculine/feminine and that’s that? Isn’t that just a tad simplistic? I think so.
In short, there’s a massive gulf between people who think sexuality is constructed in society - that we end up as we do because of our individual experiences in this particular space and time – and those that think our sexuality is a result what is going on in our brains / with our chromosomes bla de bla.
Science or queer theory?
I am particularly struck by this now as I’ve been reading queer theory for the first time in my life. I’ve always known it existed, but never having been schooled in it I was a bit intimidated, to be honest. But if you start from the beginning, say here it’s not as scary as all that even if it is a bit hard to pin down and define.
Anyway, while thinking that gender is formed in society, that gender is not glued to biological sex (what is that anyway?), and that sexuality is simply a role you play might be all very well to some readers of this blog, it wouldn’t really play in Peoria (do people still say that?)!
Now, I’m well aware that I don’t know enough about science on the one hand, or queer theory on the other, to have a properly informed opinion but that never stopped anyone in this debate. In any case, if you know a lot about one you are not likely to know a lot about the other.
It has always seemed to me, though, that the way people experience and express their sexuality varies so terribly much between cultures, both historically and geographically, that it has to be nonsense to say anyone is born to be gay/bi/whatever.
But hey – I’m a both/and type of bisexual. Do we have to throw out the born that way baby with the biological bathwater? Many people feel that their sexuality is such a deep and profound part of themselves that it is “natural”. They don’t feel that it is a role they can put on and take off. But are they right? What role does biology and neuroscience have to play in sexuality? Answers on a rather large postcard please.