The new genomics of sexuality moves us beyond ‘born this way’

Joanna Wuest in Psyche:

The gay gene has loomed large in our social imagination since first coming out nearly three decades ago. In a 1993 issue of Science, the cancer researcher-turned-sexologist Dean Hamer employed cutting-edge genomic technologies in an attempt to reveal what it means to be queer. Though novel in its genetic claims, Hamer’s study joined a growing cohort of bio-driven theories including Simon LeVay’s work on neuroanatomical causes (ie, the ‘gay brain’ hypothesis) and similar searches for hormonal ones. Flush with funding from the Human Genome Project’s boosters, many others probed strands of DNA in the hopes of elucidating the nature of human identity and social life. Just as a range of traits from IQ to alcoholism were being pinned down to discrete genomic markers, so too was sexual orientation deemed a desire encoded deep within one’s biological makeup.

There are overtly political reasons for the production and popularisation of this brand of sexual science. Since the 1950s, when the first national gay and lesbian rights organisations formed across the United States, LGBTQ+ advocates have worked closely alongside sympathetic researchers to assist in conducting and promoting such work. In recent years, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National LGBTQ Task Force have even begun to marshal neuroanatomical research concerning the nature of gender identity – ie, a ‘trans brain’ hypothesis – in challenges to discriminatory bathroom policies.

This political investment in sexology has paid dividends for equal rights. Though the studies themselves have been at times vigorously contested, the ‘born this way’ sentiment has thrived.

More here.