“In reality, a cycle of manipulation and retroactive need is unifying the system ever more tightly…. Technical rationality today is the rationality of domination” (Horkheimer and Adorno, Dialectic of the Enlightenment 95).
I just read this LA times story titled “What does gay look like? Science keeps trying to figure that out.” In it, various biological characteristics of queer bodies are discussed as correlating or even possibly causing queerness. After reading it, I am disturbed by some (if not all) of the studies that seek to understand “the origins of sexual orientation.” Among those studies:
- Having older brothers increases the likelihood of being gay for males. This might be because “After giving birth to a boy, [a mother’s] immune system might create antibodies to foreign, male proteins in her bloodstream. Subsequent sons in the womb could be exposed to these “anti-boy” antibodies, which might affect sexual development in the brain.
- Left-handedness increases the likelihood of being gay or lesbian. One study hypothesizes that “development of a fetus might be disturbed by factors such as a mother’s illness, steering the fetus into being less than strictly right-handed — and, in some cases, less than strictly heterosexual” (emphasis mine).
- Gay men report having larger penises than straight men. “One guess is that gay men could have been exposed to an odd mix of hormones in the womb. Testosterone levels might peak early, causing enhanced penis growth, then drop off later in pregnancy — leading to some feminine characteristics.”
As Eve Sedgwick has written in Tendencies, she’d be fine with these studies if the approached biological factors as conducive or productive of same-sex attraction. Instead, terms like disturbed are used.
But I think even if these studies used different terminology, I wouldn’t be okay with it. Why even look for the “origins” of same-sex attraction? First of all, these studies miss that sexual orientation is largely a historical and social construction, rising out of the nineteenth century. As Foucault has noted in History of Sexuality, before this period, Western society focused on acts, until the implantation of identities on bodies: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual. These implantations, he argues, give rise to the power of the medical and psychological disciplines: the more they invade bodies, the more power they get, and the more power they get, the more they can invade bodies. A search for the origins of sexual orientation is an invasion into queer bodies, for the purpose of controlling sexuality.
I am also disturbed by the search for origins of sexual orientation. Foucault also smartly argues that seeking for origins is an ill-founded pursuit. It marks a foundation and ignores prior causal influences, as well as other influential factors. Genealogy, Foucault argues, is a stronger method for understanding causations and cultural-historical (and perhaps even biological?) influences on our bodies. What if scientists, instead of looking for the origins of sexual orientation, instead looked at from a genealogical perspective, with so many different genealogical forces going into the orientation.
And what is up with the claim that an early peak in testosterone leads to femininity? I hope this is journalistic laziness and the authors of the study at least wrote “feminine biological characteristics,” because gay male femininity, such as flipping the wrist, is socially constructed: it’s a value put on an action. But even if the scientists who wrote this study meant biological characteristics, this is largely a stereotype of gay men. There isn’t anything inherently feminine about a gay/queer male body. Hell, I can show you some bears and some daddies that show this.
And this whole thing reeks of strategic rationality. As Adorno and Horkheimer have written, strategic rationality is the rationality of domination. It’s been a while since I’ve read Dialectic of the Enlightenment, but this rationality of origins, causations, and statistics seems wrapped up, to me at least, in domination.
No, my left-handed body is not disturbed. I’m reminded of the Feminist slogan “Keep your laws off my body.” I wonder if a queer politics slogan shouldn’t be “Keep your science off my body.”