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The Straight LineHow the Fringe Science of Ex-Gay Therapy Reoriented Sexuality$

Tom Waidzunas

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780816696147

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816696147.001.0001

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Sexuality is a Matter of Perspective

Sexuality is a Matter of Perspective

(p.231) Conclusion Sexuality is a Matter of Perspective
The Straight Line

Tom Waidzunas

University of Minnesota Press

Abstract and Keywords

The newly created sexual orientation/sexual orientation identity binary, while useful for science that supports gay rights, is not unlike the gender/sex binary in limiting possibilities of fluidity and sexual expression. Moving beyond essentialist notions of sexualities and universalist notions of rights, we might open up new possibilities through dialogue.

Keywords:   Sexual orientation, Sexual identity, Gay rights, Sexual expression, Sexuality studies

In the United States, people often argue that objective science can represent their version of the truth in public moral disputes, even if most scientists have formed a consensus that differs from that point of view. While it is not a given that we will look to scientific evidence to resolve a moral issue, heated ethical concerns such as reorientation often become redirected into technical disputes. Evidence is invoked to literally make a claim “evident,” rather than being seen as an opinion or perspective allegedly tainted by politics. Bringing together pieces of evidence to bear on truth is never, however, a simple matter of “letting the facts speak for themselves.” A relationship must always be established between the body of evidence and the claim it purports to support. This “metonymic” relationship is never straightforward.1 In science a tremendous amount of work goes into scientific training, construction of laboratories, and development of scientific facts in order to convince readers of science that claims and the evidence used to support those claims have credibility. Even when scientists have established a consensus, scientists are forever burdened by establishing relationships of trust, not only in themselves as experts but also in the quality of the methods and the relevance of their experimental results. There is always a human element.

When psychologist A. Lee Beckstead described the sexual reorientation therapy debate, he alluded to how limitations of immediate human perception drive disagreement. A well-worn metaphor he used to think about these conflicts was that of trying to perceive a giant elephant:

Some people hold the tail, some people have the tusks, some people have the skin, and we’re all blind men so to speak. And I think all of us have to be talking to one another to see what the elephant really looks like. Most people have been holding on to one part, such as the leg, (p.232) saying this is what the elephant is. The more we can hear, understand, but not really take things at face value, and the more we can understand where people are coming from, then we can see the full picture.2

Although this metaphor is strong, there is something about it that is perplexing. It suggests that there may be a common object everyone is trying to see, yet we may consider whether, given the differing cosmologies of people engaged with this issue, a common object could ever come into view.

At the risk of mixing my elephant metaphors, it is worth considering what might be the “elephant in the room” for different actors across the terrain this book has covered, insofar as it illuminates how each carries different metaphysical worldviews. First, according to NARTH’s responses to the American Psychological Association, sexual orientation should now be understood as being on a continuum, and sexual orientation change experienced by individuals at the level of attractions should not be invalidated. Reorientation challenges the “born this way” essentialism of gay rights advocates and reorientation opponents. Even so, NARTH adherents have their own essentialism, viewing innate heterosexuality as unencumbered once the corruption of gender anxieties has been overcome.

For most religious ex-gays, the ultimate goal of ministry is achieving salvation in an afterlife through obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord. Living outside either heterosexual marriage or celibacy results in living outside God’s kingdom for eternity. In this metaphysics, science that does not align with these principles is human folly, and evidence that reorientation does not work is just the worldly persistence of temptation to sin. Such temptations must be resisted in line with theological principle and reading of scripture. Within the remnants of the ex-gay movement in the Restored Hope Network today, it is unclear whether cooperation can be sustained across its long-lived frame dispute, as secular reorientation therapists maintain the belief in sexual attraction change, whereas religious ministries remain more preoccupied with salvation.

On the other side of the debate, anti-reorientation activists have taken the APA task force report as proof that reorientation does not work and is often harmful. Sexual orientations are innate and immutable, based on physiological attractions, and they cannot be therapeutically altered. New activist initiatives have emerged in the wake of this change in the field of therapeutics. Truth Wins Out has developed the website LGBTscience.org, which compiles evidence for the biological basis of sexual orientation differences, including interviews with biologists and geneticists. From this (p.233) group’s perspective, gay and lesbian people deserve rights because homosexuality cannot be changed. Truth Wins Out has also helped develop “The NALT Christians Project,” where NALT stands for “not all like that,” to advance the idea that Christians can support full LGBT equality on theological grounds. This network includes supportive church groups and ministries. According to NALT, homosexuality and salvation are compatible.

Looking across these worldviews, we can see that the metaphor of the singular elephant does not work. These competing worldviews suggest that objects like “homosexuality” and “reorientation therapy” act more as boundary objects across disparate social worlds, where each term has different meanings and fits differently into a unique cosmology.3 As sexual orientation research continues, evidence and precisely where to draw the “straight line” will continue to be contested across camps when these do not fit into a system of thought. For people to recognize scientific evidence as meaningful, there must be established relationships of trust. Steven Epstein notes:

One of the important findings of the sociology of science is that experiments do not, in the simple sense usually understood, “settle” scientific controversies. Nothing inherent in an experiment definitively establishes it as the “crucial” test of a hypothesis. Rather, scientists negotiate precisely what counts as evidence, which experiments represent a hypothesis adequately, and whether an instance of replication is a faithful recreation of a prior study.4

Indeed, in a contentious climate, an allegedly “decisive” experiment can drive controversy rather than settle it.5 We cannot escape a politics of trust and distrust layered upon the production of scientific discourses. Establishing credibility may involve showing credentials, or it may involve community building, but it always involves convincing people that you and your evidence are trustworthy.

Time and time again, interlocutors in the reorientation debate have resorted to claims that “we” have objective science, but “they” are corrupted by politics. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and the National Association of Social Workers of Uganda have claimed that the American Psychological Association’s positions are merely beholden to gay activism. Meanwhile, members of the APA task force claim that NARTH is homophobic and its members’ research is not methodologically rigorous. Contrary to the idea that there can be a “pure” science, credibility demands mean that some kind of politics always plays a role in scientific work. While the popular story about science is that it (p.234) should not be “corrupted” by undue influences, science always involves tacit assumptions that are built into research:

The … expert must be seen as a necessarily “partisan participant” in a political debate, not as an apolitical arbiter of … truth, and this implies a radical review of the expert’s role in therapeutic evaluation. It also opens the way to an active and acknowledged evaluative role for non-experts, for patients and the public at large, in the processes of assessment and decision making.6

With this perspective in mind, claims that someone’s science has been simply “corrupted” by politics make no sense. Establishing credibility often requires demonstrating that one’s research might have provided findings contrary to one’s hypothesis or expectations. It also requires adhering to shared values, such as being “affirmative” of diversity. This analysis may seem unsettling, if it evokes images of scientists falsifying or skewing their data to achieve a partisan political agenda, but of course good science still requires the use of practices that maintain accountability to evidence even contrary to one’s expectations, and also convincing others that such measures have been followed. Science is not just politics by other means, but science and politics are forever interwoven because science involves human beings in the processes of knowledge construction, negotiations of conceptual tools, and the establishment of credibility.7 For instance, removing homosexuality from the DSM was not merely a political decision but rather a scientific decision, interwoven with changing political values that included the choice to see certain forms of research, including the work of Evelyn Hooker, Marcel Saghir, and Eli Robins, as valid scientific evidence.

Tracing the shifting straight line, I have followed processes of bringing evidence to bear on “sexual orientation” over several decades in the United States and abroad. The credibility of evidence has been shaped by the dynamics of opposing social movements, professionals jockeying for jurisdiction over sexuality, and historical context. With some exceptions, this evidence has centered primarily on male-identified bodies and psyches. Male sexuality has been used to represent “sexual orientation,” often without anyone qualifying or explaining why it is the key category. The cultural preoccupation with a heterosexual/homosexual binary, primarily male, was identified by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick as part of Western cultures more broadly, so it is perhaps no surprise to see it manifest within science.8 Mainstream scientists in the United States and in Westernized global institutions have reinscribed male sexualities as mechanical in nature and fixed. Female sexualities appear to be fluid, emotion based, and (p.235) diffuse, and are often ignored because they do not fit the same assumptions. Penile plethysmography as a measurement technique is perhaps most emblematic of this idea of sexual nature and gender difference. Even as the APA created the compromise of “sexual orientation identity exploration,” which allows for more fluidity of identity, it is based on a male-oriented model of fixed sexual orientations rooted in innate physiology.

The study of dominant measurement techniques over the years in these debates reveals how the consolidation of sexual subjectivities has involved particular power relations embedded in measurement practices. During the era when homosexuality was considered pathological in the United States, the psychoanalyst ruled. The dynamic between the expert and the subject reinforced the primary subjectivity of the analyst, who decided when the client had become heterosexual. Moreover, psychoanalytic theory depicted the client as helplessly blind to his unconscious motivations. One became straight only when the analyst’s theory was internalized, heterosexuality seen as natural, and homosexuality viewed as pathology. In addition, the indicators of heterosexuality were linked to behavior. If a client needed to convince a therapist that he or she was heterosexual, the evidence could be feigned through personal narrative. Yet the general homophobic circumstances led many people to internalize the view that homosexuality was pathological and to desperately seek cures.

Starting in the 1960s, behaviorists questioned whether the psychoanalytic interpretation was truly scientific and offered physiological data as a replacement. Experimental studies using aversion therapy and later covert sensitization therapy meant that an authoritative instrument would speak for whether or not a client was “cured.” Phallometric testing with penile plethysmography tied erotic imagery and erection to sexual orientation. To be a straight man meant having a physiological response to pornography intended to represent heterosexual desire. It also meant to have no physiological response to homoerotic imagery. Here technology mediated the relationship between experimenter and subject. If a subject wanted to convince the researcher he was straight, talking was not enough. He would have to fake desire and produce an erection by thinking about something else, or by engaging in “pumping” muscles to produce tumescence. He might also distract himself while viewing homoerotic imagery. Phallometric testing practitioners have ways of preventing these problems, but they cannot be eradicated.

Once homosexuality was demedicalized, the ex-gay movement took several years to consolidate new evidence in the form of self-report studies. In this kind of research, both professional experts on reorientation research and subjects as lay experts on their own change played significant (p.236) roles in the construction of knowledge—the professional brought methodology while the subject brought personal experience. Advocates saw this kind of research as the most democratic. Critics viewed it as coercive, alleging that those who participated in these studies were motivated by fear and a need for inclusion within homophobic institutions. As a result, it was argued, subjects exaggerated their heterosexual desires. Without physiological tests, ex-gays were considered incapable of testifying to their own change.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has provided a crucial insight for considering such power relations. She claimed, “To alienate conclusively, definitionally, from anyone on any theoretical ground the authority to describe and name their own sexual desire is a terribly consequential seizure. In this century, in which sexuality has been made expressive of the essence of both identity and knowledge, it may represent the most intimate violence possible.”9 Sedgwick made this claim in 1990, at a time when gay and lesbian lives were heavily marginalized in the United States. Back then, it was inconceivable that state legislatures might be passing bans on reorientation therapies. In the contemporary period of marginalizing reorientation and developing gay affirmative policies, Sedgwick’s statement takes on a different and interesting new valence. Is it indeed a form of “intimate violence” to tell ex-gays that they cannot name their own sexual desire? Perhaps, but so is telling same-sex attracted persons that their sexual desire is invalid and pathological. As scientific psychology has been important for defining the individual in the modern state in the United States, it is no wonder that moral disagreements over homosexuality would come to such an impasse. Perhaps it is time to move away from coercive tactics that place people within extreme binds of either/or choices. Before considering such alternatives, I now turn to further analysis of opposing social movements in struggles over scientific knowledge.

When Opposing Social Movements Target Science

The case of reorientation has revealed a number of tactics characteristic of social movements that involve hybrid levels of expertise and that target science. It is quite commonplace to see claims made by such movements that “our” science is objective while “their” science is corrupt without accounting for the fact that all science is situated, contingent, and rooted in a range of ethics and values.10 Another common tactic used to establish a position as objective is to enroll as many allies as possible, regardless of their strength or acceptability within the scientific community. For example, NARTH’s document “What Research Shows,” brought together (p.237) hundreds of studies discredited in mainstream science, but required readers to challenge every single one.11 A corollary tactic is to minimize the number of allies of an opponent. NARTH attempted to minimize the number of reputable allies on the issue of harm, by pointing to very few studies, while the APA task force did the same by reducing the number of reorientation studies worthy of review. Actors in controversies over sexual reorientation have also been actively engaged in reinterpreting and redeploying scientific findings. The best example was when NARTH and religious right organizations utilized the Spitzer study as evidence of the effectiveness of reorientation therapies for all gays and lesbians, although Spitzer intended only to demonstrate a possibility for a few highly motivated individuals. In social movements operating on the fringe, language and other symbols of science have been utilized in the performance of scientism. NARTH uses the neutrally titled Journal of Human Sexuality, complete with issues and volumes and its own editorial board, and NARTH conferences are replete with formalities and the flashing of credentials. As the name NARTH has become publicly linked to anti-gay bias, it has created a new parent organization with the neutral name “Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity.” It is not that mainstream scientists do not deploy these same tactics, for they do, but the difference is that they have emerged victorious in credibility struggles.

In addition to these tactics, claimants on both sides of reorientation therapy debates have routinely used metaphors to make their claims more vivid and to link their position with more well-established issues in their discussions of homosexuality, reorientation, and research. Homosexuality is like alcoholism, stealing, or smoking if you believe it is a pathology to be treated, or it is like eye color, handedness, or height if you believe it is an innate characteristic deserving of rights. Sexual reorientation therapy is like treatment for alcoholism, rehabilitation, or surgery if you are a proponent, or it is like torture or something out of Clockwork Orange if you are not. Such deployment of metaphors is not surprising. Yet these metaphors cannot settle the controversy, and alternatives are needed if we are to move beyond the impasse.

With all these tactics at play, the fate of claims in these disputes has been shaped by the intellectual opportunity structure within the field of therapeutics. In the United States, the institutional apparatus upholding the idea that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality stands firmly against the therapeutic treatment of homosexuality as pathology. It includes the removal of “Homosexuality” and all references to same-sex desire from the DSM, and the establishment of position statements, ethics (p.238) codes, journals, and professional LGBT therapeutic groups. Notions of “autonomy” and client “self-determination” do not apply when reorientation clients lack informed consent about the possibilities for gay affirmation. While testimonial evidence of change was first undermined by discrediting ex-gay claims as generally untrustworthy, this credibility hierarchy of evidence was later established on the basis of scientific construct validity and the new sexual orientation/sexual orientation identity dichotomy. Ex-gays simply could not access the truth of sexual orientation through testimony, but could only express an ex-gay identity. This move effectively exacerbated the frame dispute between factions of the ex-gay movement. Clarifying the meaning of change meant that the frame dispute could no longer be sustained through ambiguous uses of that term. Suddenly, religious ex-gay ministry leaders, with the goal of identity change, might be more affirmed by science if they only abandoned the goals of secular reorientation therapists, and a wedge was driven between these factions.

By contrast, in Uganda, the intellectual opportunity structure has facilitated the uptake of some reorientation concepts in science, also fueled by the influence of the wider cultural understanding of homosexuality established by the anti-homosexuality movement. That movement has, to a large extent, conflated homosexuality with child rape and other social ills, which must be disaggregated if gay rights are to proceed in the country. The prevalence of evangelical Christianity has also facilitated this uptake. In the postcolonial context, secular Western science can be assigned the status of “foreign influence,” negating the statements of professional associations even from Westernized international government organizations. The permissiveness of the International Federation of Social Workers and the close relationship between the National Association of Social Workers of Uganda and the Ugandan Parliament have been key institutional relationships enabling the uptake of NARTH concepts, imported during the 2009 Family Life Network conference in Kampala. While transnational networks have been important, the specific version of anti-homosexuality ideology in Uganda blends nationalist concerns with ideas about protecting a young population in the context of growing HIV rates. While much of this is specific to Uganda in the early twenty-first century, it should be noted that there are many similarities between these developments and the historical climate within the United States, where sodomy laws were only overturned by the Supreme Court in 2003. While homosexuality and child “recruitment” are closely conflated in Uganda, this discourse, which was prominent in the United States in the 1970s, still resurfaces from time to time.12 Finally, (p.239) Ugandan mental health professionals in psychology and psychiatry, regardless of their viewpoints, faced pressure from the state to lend some kind of support to the regulation of homosexuality, especially given that the Anti-Homosexuality Act contained provisions against homosexuality advocacy.

The final component of an intellectual opportunity structure, as I have defined it, is the existence of an opposing social movement. In many ways, the dynamics of opposing social movements targeting science are analogous to the dynamics of opposing movements targeting the state that sociologists have observed. For example, in the United States, venue shifting has been an important dynamic, as the victory of gay liberation in demedicalization led ex-gays to shift from the intellectual domain of science to that of theology. By emphasizing a definition of homosexuality as “sin” rather than “pathology,” those seeking to change their sexual desires toward heterosexuality could maintain some legitimacy under the banner of religious freedom. The anti-reorientation movement has responded to the shift of venues by highlighting theological perspectives in which homosexuality is theologically supported. As in other opposing social movement struggles, the media have played an important role in exacerbating conflict. While scientists have formed a general consensus that there is no evidence for the efficacy of reorientation therapies, and that they are potentially harmful, media outlets have continued to pit experts against one another as though there remains a burning scientific controversy. For example, in 2011, NPR ran a story titled “Can Therapy Help Change Sexual Orientation?” that presented the testimony of ex-gay Rich Wyler against ex-gay survivor Peterson Toscano, and claimed that the debate still rages despite the APA decision.13

Through back-and-forth processes of dialogical framing, a middle path was created in the United States between the extremes of “out gay” and “ex-gay” for clients struggling with conflict. The concept of “sexual identity therapy,” initially put forth by Mark Yarhouse and Lori Burkett, has in part become mainstream, although the capacity to therapeutically alter sexual orientation has not been supported. Through this process, the idea of an underlying “sexual orientation,” rooted in bodily experienced physiology and emotion, was gradually consolidated. Indeed, the intellectual opportunity structure provided key openings that allowed this convergence to take place. Among them were the 2007 position statement within the APA that recognized respect for religious diversity, and the inclusion of A. Lee Beckstead, an ex-ex-gay with extensive experience in religious communities and with psychology of religion, on the APA task force on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation.

(p.240) One thing that is particularly noteworthy in this conflict, which may not always be present when social movements target science, is the complex relationship between human kinds produced in science and the collective identities of these social movements. At the heart of the contest over the efficacy of reorientation therapy is a contest over the validation of notions of selfhood. Inevitably, whenever a social movement unsuccessfully targets science, members of the movement risk being seen as out of touch with the reality that science validates. In this case, the intellectual opportunity structure blocked not only the construction of facts but also the validation of selves integral to the collective identity of social movements. Whether or not an “ex-gay” is delusional and whether or not “gay” people are suitable for full inclusion into society have been stakes in these struggles with mental health institutions. The compromise promoted by the APA of “sexual orientation identity exploration” offered a way to validate aspects of ex-gay lives: one can have a straight lifestyle and identity in line with one’s religious beliefs while realizing that at the level of attractions, one will always feel gay. While this position begins to offer a way out of the “culture war,” it still precludes a fuller range of understandings of sexual and gendered selves. To better illuminate how this preclusion works, I first will look at how essentialism and the evidence used to bolster it make sexualities appear to exist independent of culture. I will then further explore what it means to understand sexualities as culturally learned and how that idea might still be used to advance gay rights.

“Nature” Manufactured for Assimilationist Politics

In the United States, the relegation of reorientation to the scientific fringe has emerged along with a cultural surge in essentialism around sexual orientation. Whether it is Lady Gaga proclaiming, “I was born this way” or Mary Lambert singing, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to” in the Macklemore song “Same Love,” essentialist ideas about the innate and immutable nature of sexual orientation are fashionable. Amin Ghaziani has described U.S. culture as moving toward a “post-gay” era, in which sexual orientation becomes so inconsequential that gays and lesbians are integrated into straight spaces.14 In the era of gay marriage, gays in the military, and hate crime protections, gay and lesbian identities are becoming increasingly accepted as forms of sexual citizenship. While the politics of assimilation involve playing down cultural differences, they are based on essentialist differences. It is not only the belief (p.241) that gays and lesbians can’t change that makes assimilation more tenable; the idea that straights are “uncontaminated” by gay biology also facilitates the comfort levels needed for assimilation. As Suzanna Walters has argued, essentialist politics can only get gay rights so far, since it produces “tolerance” rather than full acceptance. We learn to tolerate many annoying things, such as the side effects of medication, and saying same-sex desire is something that just “can’t be helped” is another way of devaluing homosexuality. Alternatively, we might imagine reasons to culturally value same-sex attractions and behavior as part of the human condition for many people.15 As essentialism reinforces this idea of “tolerance,” it is worth further examining how this discourse extracts biology from culture, seen in the new campaign LGBTscience.org put together by Truth Wins Out.

This organization has recently posted numerous interviews with scientists to document evidence for the origins of sexual orientation. The website seeks to explore the biological basis for sexual orientation, what scientists say about changing sexual orientation, and the ethics of research. The most highly publicized research in this area took place in the early 1990s, when studies by Simon LeVay, Dean Hamer, and Michael Bailey made headlines. Many believed these studies suggested that a “gay gene” on the X chromosome, in a region labeled Xq28, was responsible for causing homosexuality. Back then, some gay activists wore charm bracelets with the Xq28 moniker, and T-shirts were made saying “Thanks Mom for the gay gene.” Truth Wins Out has interviewed these three scientists and several more, some of whom have been engaged in more recent research.

Research on the biology of sexual orientation centers on two paradigms. One, “brain organization theory,” asserts that sexual orientation is the product of sex hormones acting on the fetal brain during gestation. These hormones are responsible for forming internal and external genitals out of the same preliminary structures, and are thought to also shape the brain such that being male means being attracted to females, and vice versa for being female. Sexual orientation is but one of many attributes thought to be the product of these sex hormones; a range of gendered behavior and identity is also being attributed to this cause, such as women’s mediocre spatial reasoning skills, which are supposed to account for their underrepresentation in science fields.16

Exploring the brain organization thesis, Simon LeVay examined the hypothalamus in brains of deceased homosexual and heterosexual men, as well as women. It had long been thought that this region of the brain (p.242) affected sexuality in animals, so extending this work to humans was plausible. LeVay found a statistically significant difference in the sizes of the INAH3 region of the hypothalamus for homosexual and heterosexual men. While the trend for having smaller structures was statistically significant, it was not absolute—some gay men had INAH3 clusters on the high end of the scale, while some heterosexual men had clusters on the low end. The study was criticized because most of the gay men had died of AIDS, whereas the majority of the heterosexual men had died of other causes. There is no plausible reason, however, why HIV/AIDS would shrink this region of the brain. LeVay even controlled for this factor in heterosexual men and found no effect.

The second paradigm, which is often linked to brain organization theory, is the idea of a “gay gene,” inherited from the mother, which causes homosexuality. Through a genetic study in 1993, Dean Hamer and his team of geneticists at the National Cancer Institute claimed to have found a gene within the Xq28 region of the X chromosome, though no specific gene has been identified. While Hamer and his colleagues had a nuanced explanation of the relationship between the suspected gene and behavior, the media reported a simplistic causal story. Meanwhile, Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard conducted a twin study of homosexuality, in which pairs of monozygotic (identical) and dizygotic (fraternal) twins were studied for homosexual identity. The researchers found that if a person with an identical twin was gay, the twin was also gay, at a rate of 52 percent. Meanwhile, if a person with a fraternal twin was gay, the fraternal twin was gay at a rate of 22 percent. These two paradigms of the “gay gene” and the “gay brain” can be linked if the gay gene somehow regulates the hormones that circulate in the fetus during brain development, perhaps through effects on the gonads.

In the interviews on LGBTscience.org, scientists present their views on the evidence pertaining to the biological causes of homosexuality for a public audience. Typically, these interviews include narratives that do the work of relegating sexualities to the domain of nature, outside the realm of culture, rather than treating these domains as interwoven. For example, LeVay states, “The science really backs up the notion that being gay or being lesbian or being straight for that matter is really a kind of central part of your nature.”17 Psychiatrist Milton Diamond explains the meaning of his phrase “nature loves variety”:

Nature when it makes its products, whichever they are, either human beings or animals or plants or whatever, makes them in many different (p.243) forms. In fact, we wouldn’t have evolution if that didn’t happen. So, nature loves variety. The problem is, it’s unfortunate that many societies don’t like variety, they want everybody to be the same. They want everybody to think the same and have the same religion, have the same thoughts. Well, I think that wouldn’t be reality. It’s reality for the society that they want things the same. It’s not the same for nature. Nature wants variety. And that’s the way it progresses.18

Like the sexological tradition going back to Kinsey, these narratives pit a natural sexuality against an oppressive cultural morality. It is rather commonplace to place nature and culture in opposition like this; such discourses are ready made to fit into modern state politics, which are often premised on the idea that politics and culture are antithetical to nature. Bringing “what nature wants” into the political realm of acceptance seems to suggest that nature can be seen in an unmediated fashion through the transparent window of scientific research. Yet, a major argument of this book is that notions of sexual orientation, including how they are measured, labeled, and classified, emerge historically. I explore the ramifications of this idea in the next section.

Meanwhile, these research programs have been the target of numerous criticisms, and the original studies have not been replicated. There is no way to explain how genes would produce same-sex sexual desire, and the gay gene theory also lacks a more nuanced incorporation of the reality that genes and environment interact. Nonetheless, this theory has taken on a life of its own, even finding its way into scientific databases as an organizing framework.19 The popularity of this idea outside science says more about its political utility than about its status as scientific fact. At the same time, gay genes are a precarious strategy for sexual equality, as they could potentially lead to genetic screening. Brain organization research, as in the LeVay study, is not clearly linked to the gay gene except through rhetoric. If there is indeed a measurable difference in brain structures, these differences do not point to a genetic cause, but may be evidence of the brain’s plasticity. Any biological differences should not be understood independent of culture, but rather, the scientific vocabularies and methodologies, including grouping people into “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals,” are deeply culturally bound. To move beyond the impasse of nature versus nurture, it is imperative to realize that science is not outside the world in which we live. To do so is not to question the value of gay rights, but rather to open up consideration of a broader range of sexual and gender expressions.

(p.244) Therapy for Binaries

In the Spitzer study, sexual orientation was measured as a composite of behavior, attraction, and identity measures, with attraction being considered the “core feature.” The creation of a sexual orientation/sexual orientation identity binary, confining sexual orientation to attraction and the realm of nature, has been a strategic move that works well for policy concerns. Sexual orientation/sexual orientation identity has been brought into being to join the various binaries populating the modern world, including male/female, masculine/feminine, nature/culture, mind/body, technology/society, and many others. This strategic move bears many similarities to the severing of “gender” and “sex,” which was important for second-wave feminists but later subject to critique. But as a form of essentialism, fixing sexual orientation within the body, separate from identity, precludes some ways of being human.

Second-wave feminists relied on the sex/gender dichotomy to argue that the malleability of the cultural construct of gender could challenge inequality between the sexes. They argued that gender ideologies of active “masculinity” and passive “femininity” were not a product of “nature” like male and female sex but that gender was socially constructed.20 Judith Butler has argued that cultural gender does not merely map onto a fixed and natural sex binary but that cultural notions of gender are necessary for the social construction of sex. That is, a cultural binary of gender is mapped onto a continuum of bodies that range from male to female, confining sex to a binary, resulting in the exclusion of intersex categories. This is best illustrated by surgeries on infants with ambiguous genitalia, which historically have been assigned sex and surgically altered on the arbitrary basis of capacity for heterosexual intercourse.21 For Butler, gender is performative, meaning that people enact gender in ways that make their biological sex seem like an essence. Furthermore, she argues, any gender performance is really a “copy of a copy” with no original, and she considers drag performance to be support for this notion. For Butler, the performativity of gender is built within a “heterosexual matrix” that is normative in society; people are encouraged and even coerced to enact gender in ways that make the gender and sex binaries supporting reproductive heterosexuality seem inevitable and natural. In her critique of the heterosexual matrix, sexual orientation categories, which rely on notions of biological sexes to delineate “object choices,” are subject to the same criticism. A category like “gay man” relies on an essentialist notion of who belongs in a “male” sex, furthering the exclusion of intersex categories and taking the natural binary of sex for granted.

The logic of Butler’s critique of the gender/sex dichotomy can be (p.245) further applied to the sexual orientation identity/sexual orientation dichotomy newly formalized by the American Psychological Association. In other words, sexual orientation identities can be viewed as performative enactments of essentialized sexual orientations. Identities of “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “heterosexual” reinforce the idea of an underlying biological essence. For heterosexual men, this means eschewing anything that might look like homosexual desire, and for gay men, this might mean donning an Xq28 bracelet or eschewing anything like heterosexual desire. Like gender, cultural expectations of sexual orientation expression can also be coercive. However, if sexual orientation identities are similarly performative, then the rehearsal of desire expressed within them is always a “copy of a copy” with no original. For many men in the era of phallometry, this may mean understanding the physiology of erection as automatic in the presence of key object choices, and perhaps experiencing anxiety when it is not. Even learning to say that one was “born that way” becomes part of the performance. Yet, as in the case of the erasure of intersexuality through binary sex, a category system limited to “gay” and “straight” erases other experiences and possibilities such as bisexuality, attraction to a person who does not easily fit into “male” or “female,” or attraction to a person simply because of who the person is (or some other reason) rather than the person’s sex category. Sexual orientation essentialism, rooted in notions of binary sex, also creates challenges for the inclusion of transgender persons within the sexual orientation identity categories of gay, lesbian, straight, or bisexual.

By invoking behaviorist studies using phallometric testing as the best evidence that reorientation does not work, scientists have effectively used a notion of male sexuality as a stand-in for all human sexuality, characterized by fixed sexual orientation. Because female sexuality is often theorized as being primarily emotion based, with emotional connection leading to sexual desire, women’s sexuality is often understood to be more fluid. In her longitudinal study of women and changes in their sexual identity, expression, and desire, psychologist Lisa Diamond has developed a pragmatic model of women’s sexuality in which women are understood to have an underlying fixed sexual orientation, but a layer of fluidity rides on top of this fixed foundation. While this model is useful to make sense of Diamond’s data while supporting contemporary gay rights discourses, it still excludes sexual subjectivities characterized by spontaneous fluidity without any fixed sexual orientation foundation. A narrative in which a person is 100 percent heterosexual at one time and 100 percent homosexual at another time is not possible within the current regime of fixed sexual orientation, even with Diamond’s “layer of (p.246) fluidity.” Thus, while notions of fixed sexual orientation undermine the therapeutic reorientation of people into heterosexuality, they come with a cost of undermining some possibilities of conceptualizing spontaneous fluidity of sexual orientations that may occur.22

At the same time, Diamond has also encouraged thinking about sexual desire in much more complicated ways. Whereas genital arousal testing reinforces a very mechanical notion of desire, Diamond has encouraged thinking about the ambiguity of the term sexual desire. Referring to research on what this term means to young women in qualitative interviews, Diamond provides a number of examples:

“Liking to look at a woman’s face or body”; “the urge to have sex”; “a fluttery feeling in my belly”; “wanting to be physically near someone”; “not needing to care about her personality”; “feeling really really happy around someone”; “electric energy”; “wanting to talk all night long.”23

Diamond offered this list to criticize Spitzer’s use of self-report, given that his attraction scale did not really define the meaning of desire, and it seems to scratch the surface of possibilities of what “desire” might mean to different people. We might also consider how it can complicate notions of male sexual desire limited to visually stimulated erection. What does it mean for a man to feel “really really happy around someone,” “electric energy,” or “wanting to talk all night long” even if an erection is not present? Such forms of male sexual desire are precluded if the truth of desire is reduced to erections produced by pornography. We might also consider other means by which men become sexually aroused beyond visual stimulation, including touch and emotional connection.

Not all sexual classification systems are based on fixed “sexual orientations,” however. The contemporary system in the United States is quite rare historically and cross-culturally, although it has been expanding in influence. To move past the impasse of essentialist views of gay rights politics versus heteronormative conservatism we should reconsider what it may mean for sexualities to be learned.

How Sexualities Still Involve Learning

A key talking point for proponents of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda was that homosexuality is learned behavior that can be unlearned. This perspective has prompted opponents to look to essentialism for a response. The scientific panel that advised President Museveni noted that no definitive evidence exists for the claim that homosexuality is genetic. When it has been used to justify a bill containing the death penalty for (p.247) homosexuality, it is understandable that the idea that sexual orientations are “learned” seems extremely dangerous. Indeed, at the time of this writing, controversy rages over a new billboard erected in Richmond, Virginia, by the group PFOX depicting a set of twins and the caption, “Identical twins: One gay. One not. We believe twins research studies show nobody is born gay.”24 At the same time, the idea that there is an element of learning in sexual orientations is a key component of the argument of this book, as it is based on social constructionist theory. However, it does not follow that adopting a position that sexualities are learned means that one supports anti-gay measures, nor does it mean that sexual feelings can just be changed at will.

In the introduction, I explained two constructionist perspectives on how sexualities are learned that I have brought together for this analysis. John Gagnon and William Simon point to particular “sexual scripts” circulating throughout society, which teach us the how, what, when, and where of sexual enactment and desire. We are not born knowing what “sexual” means or how a sexual encounter is to unfold appropriately, and the many things that are considered sexually attractive change over time and from culture to culture. Sexual arousal and orgasm are only possible if a situation is understood to be sexual by participants.25 Gagnon and Simon likened the adoption of a sexual identity to adopting a career, within which people learn to succeed. Thinking in these terms leads to the question “what is sexual?” There is much ambiguity regarding this category, and its boundaries shift from time to time.26 For Foucault, sexualities were consolidated as human types through scientific discourses beginning around the end of the nineteenth century. Foucault described the shift from a juridical mode of power to a medico-scientific regime. With this shift, we learned that people who engaged in same-sex sexual behaviors become “homosexual” while those who did not were “heterosexual.” This category system, rooted in Western sexology, delineates human kinds, and creates a set of discourses available for our own self-fashioning. In late modernity, people increasingly look to science to understand the many components of their sexuality and self-identity; thus these essentialist ideas have become ever more firmly entrenched.27 Through a Foucauldian lens, sexual identity is learned because we enter into a world with limited options for sexual expression and identification.28 Moreover, Gagnon and Simon speculated that people likely adhere to universalized essentialist notions of gender and sexuality because they cannot cope with the existential reality that what it means to be human, including patterns of emotion, thought, and desire, have continually changed throughout human history.29

(p.248) Conceptualizing sexualities as learned and historically contingent, however, does not necessarily mean that all people simply have a “choice” to determine their sexual desires. If we abandon for a moment the idea that sexual orientations are biologically determined, the social shaping of this thing we call “sexual orientation” could be just as strong. Internalizing a cultural idea of fixed sexual orientation can have immense implications for one’s life choices. At the cultural level, scripts are created for sexual orientation categories that are difficult to resist. The repeated rehearsal of sexual orientation as essence is likely to accompany bodily effects like any other deeply ingrained practice. At the same time, as long as both a strong gender binary and gay/straight binary exist, reinscribed by a scientific “straight line,” it is likely people experiencing fixed sexual orientations will continue doing so.30 Imagine an openly gay activist who subsequently wants to explore a relationship with a woman; if she finds out about his past, would she trust that he could actually have a sexual relationship with her, given his innate and immutable “nature”? Would anyone believe in the authenticity of their relationship? What might happen to his feelings of attraction for her when subjected to such societal doubt? Yet, with increasing transgender inclusion in society, and with an understanding of the performativity of sexual orientation identities, perhaps a destabilization is possible to allow a broader range of sexual expression beyond the gay/straight dichotomy, especially for men. The scripted ideals, including relationship styles and notions of success, associated with static sexual orientation identities could give way to new possibilities.

To say that sexuality is learned also does not undermine the idea that it has a biological component. Sexual orientation identities might better be thought of as nature–culture composites rather than cultural signifiers for natural sexual orientations. Encouraging us to consider that the body has some meaningful role in sexualities, Elizabeth Wilson has analyzed Simon LeVay’s data and acknowledges the statistically significant difference between heterosexual and homosexual hypothalamic structures. Taking an intermediary position, she argues that it is important to take seriously both the differences along with the continuities across the structures LeVay observed, as a starting point for thinking about the complexities of how sexual desires are neurologically embodied.31 As philosopher Ian Hacking has argued, human categories constituted through science have “looping effects.” Reinforcing human kinds can have effects on the people who adopt these identities, resulting in changes in behavior that can, in turn, affect scientific research on those identified groups.32 If persons are diagnosed with a mental illness, for instance, that illness diagnosis may change behavior in ways that affect (p.249) research on people with the diagnosis. Applying this concept to sexual orientations, the scientific view that men’s sexual orientations are binary, fixed, and based on erectile response may limit other forms of sexual expression. If men adopt this characterization of their sexuality as objective unmediated scientific fact, it will then be reinscribed in scientific research when they participate in studies. Scientific research alleging that women have greater potential for sexual fluidity may actually create more openings for women’s sexual exploration. If the brain differences LeVay identified are real, they may be the results of these looping effects more than any “innate” difference in human types—that is, they may be an effect, not a cause.

The learning of sexualities is further illustrated by the fact that the Western system of classifying sexual orientations, based on object choice, is not the only way of classifying sexualities. Some other sexual systems in the world seem to permit (or even require) sexual fluidity among men. In Indonesia, the words gay and lesbi are used to refer to sexual subjectivities that include same-sex relationships but do not exclude heterosexual families.33 Massad describes Arab and Muslim countries where many men who engage in same-sex behaviors do not ascribe to a sexual identity, and those who penetrate remain part of the societal norm, though this system is threatened by essentialist discourses of global gay rights groups.34 Studying sexualities in 1990s Guadalajara, Mexico, Héctor Carrillo observed a complex overlay between a Western sexual orientation–based system and a traditional sex-gender system. In the gender-based system, men identified as “hombres” or “normal” may penetrate men and still maintain their status as potential partners of women. By contrast, “maricones” are men who are penetrated and who maintain a feminized position. Yet among Carrillo’s interview respondents, same-sex behavior may have been interpreted through either or both of these systems.35 Other societies have been taken to illustrate the possibility of universal homosexual practices, yet the circumstances of these relationships call into question whether they truly apply to a model of universal sexual fluidity. For example, the “Sambia,” a pseudonymously named tribe in Papua New Guinea, historically enacted a ritual in which adolescent males ingested semen of older men in order to attain “life force,” though this is no longer practiced following international scrutiny.36 Ancient Greece is also known for mentoring relationships between older men and adolescent males.37

While a gay/straight dichotomy is a dominant discourse for men in the United States, researchers have found much sexual fluidity despite it. A key finding of the largest sex survey ever conducted in the United (p.250) States was that sexual attraction, identity, and behavior do not always neatly line up for either men or women.38 Some men on Internet hookup sites identify as heterosexual and seek sex with other men. In interviews, these men explained how sex with other men makes them “more heterosexual.”39 Furthermore, men working in the porn industry maintain their heterosexual identity by explaining that their “gay for pay” work is not based on their own sexual desire but rather is justified by being paid, and is still authentically heterosexual because they use straight porn on the set to stay aroused.40 While these cases illustrate ways in which the straight/gay binary can be partially resisted, they also point to the reality that some men experience sexual fluidity. Yet, the resistance expressed toward male bisexuality by gay as well as straight men supports the fact that the gay/straight dichotomy remains a tremendously strong cultural force.41

With all of this variation in sexual categorization systems across the planet, how could it be that the identities of “gay,” “lesbian,” and “straight” are innate and immutable? Offering an alternative to the stale metaphors of eye color, on the one hand, and alcoholism, on the other, Tom Boellstorff provides a metaphor to explain how sexualities are learned yet still have a biological basis. Boellstorff notes that people can be said to have a biological predisposition to acquire language, but whether that language is English or Chinese depends on the cultural context.42 Sexual subjectivities can be understood in the same way. Whether one grows up in a society where there is great sexual fluidity or distinct sexual binaries has a tremendous impact on how one develops sexually. Another alternative metaphor for thinking about how sexualities are learned is cuisines. Consider how many people in the United States shudder at the thought of eating insects, yet in many places in the world, insect consumption is commonplace and insects are even considered a delicacy. There may be a “basic mammalian capacity” to consume the larvae of insects and even adult scorpions. However, the revulsion that many feel to this idea is learned. Likewise, the revulsion that many gays and lesbians may feel about heterosexuality, or that straight people may feel about homosexuality, is learned.

What does the idea that sexualities are learned mean for how we should teach young people about sexuality? Sex education experts have promoted the idea of teaching kids that they may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual. In Uganda such efforts by UNICEF have been met with moral condemnation and accusations of “recruitment” of children. The introduction of the idea that there are people with fixed sexual orientations in the world, who identify as LGBT, is certainly a worthy undertaking (p.251) for teaching cultural competency. But to tell young people that they have a predisposition toward an innate heterosexuality or homosexuality is to introduce looping effects that reify these binary constructions. It might be more prudent to tell them that they may or may not experience variation in their sexual desires and even their gender identification across a wide spectrum, and that in the end, sexuality and gender are mysterious but should be treated with respect, and these parts of life need not be based on adherence to coercive norms.

Bringing Sexual Rights into Dialogue

Life within a modern nation-state involves processes of “co-production”;43 that is, decisions about how we live and claims about our nature come into being simultaneously. The acceptance of gays and lesbians as healthy and maintaining subject positions worthy of full inclusion into the citizenry of the nation-state has been predicated on an understanding of sexual orientation as innate and immutable. Advancing protection from the state in the form of rights has involved delineating a population, and in this pursuit, the innate and immutable model has been useful. After all, the idea that homosexuality could be reoriented has been used to exclude gay and lesbian people from obtaining rights. In that instance, the idea that heterosexuality was the only “natural” expression of human sexuality had been co-produced along with laws against homosexuality. So it is understandable how this new formulation came about. If, however, the normativity of heterosexuality was a coercive regime, so is the regime of “the gay citizenry and the straight citizenry.” If rights are predicated on being within a sexual orientation category for life, this precludes numerous ways of being in the world.

At the same time, rights of individuals, as delineated in the U.S. Constitution, have been conceptualized as being God-given and inalienable properties of human beings. They have been critically important for minority groups who might be oppressed by the tyranny of the majority. Moreover, when Hillary Clinton argued that “gay rights are human rights,” she was appealing to a set of universal human rights chartered by the United Nations. Yet these modernist notions of rights, as prediscursive properties of individuals, are simultaneously emancipatory and regulating discourses. As long as rights are conceptualized as “universal,” they will exist as top–down discourses that have regulatory functions.44 We might move beyond the dualism of universalism and cultural relativism and instead promote cultural dialogue. This would require a realization that not all cultures have the same conceptualization of human (p.252) dignity. We might, as Boaventura de Sousa Santos suggests, conceive of human rights as “mestiza” or hybrid. That is, rather than emerging out of universalism imposed from above, rights might be established and developed through dialogue. For example, the concept of dharma in Hindu cultures and the concept of human rights within Western international institutions are both concerns about human dignity but within very different frameworks, yet dialogue across these cultures could produce alternative understandings. Such a dialogue across the United States and Uganda might proceed on the basis of aligning “human rights” with ubuntu. This term, which translates to “humanness,” was suggested by Makerere University Law professor Sylvia Tamale as a new basis for respecting the dignity of LGBT persons in Uganda. The concept of “human rights,” which applies to individuals, may not fully correspond to another concept of human dignity, such as ubuntu, that aligns parts with a greater whole, yet, dialogue might aid in the production of “mestiza” rights that allow us to better envision human dignity, diversity, and possibility in ways we may not yet understand. In short, more dialogue could develop human rights on the basis of argument and justification rather than on appeals to universals.

In the United States, the model of freedom of religion might be a starting point for an alternative to immutability politics in gaining gay rights. Freedom of religion means that the state cannot require a person to change religion in order to obtain rights. This preserves rights for a trait that is widely seen as malleable, although it might be immutable for some. A person could change religion in theory, yet that person’s religion might constitute such a deep part of her sense of self that if the state required the person to change, it would be a violation of her human dignity. If such a model were adopted for LGBT rights in the United States, it would involve the acknowledgment of sexual and gender fluidity that many people experience, and would sidestep the coercive politics of fixity, while still granting rights to people who experience their sexualities as fixed. Settling for a world in which gay and straight exist as separate species is settling for a world in which same-sex eroticism still maintains a degree of taboo, but is tolerated because some people just “can’t help it.” Rather than starting from the folk belief that same-sex sexual desire is genetic in origin, we might instead begin with the idea that consensual sexual behavior between members of any sex, including sex between men, is not inherently shameful.45

Returning to Spitzer’s concept of “suboptimal” invites further reflection about why sexualities must be “optimal” as “natural variants” to be considered worthy of citizenship. In The Queer Art of Failure, Judith (p.253) (Jack) Halberstam explores how dominant notions of success in society may be unattainable and undesirable for queer people. Likewise, striving for biological optimality, achieving some kind of scientific ideal of biological evolutionary potential, may undermine other ways of creating justice and experiencing pleasure in the world.46 Rooting “natural variation” in a biological determinism may also undermine struggles for justice in other ways. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has argued that once gay rights turns to the issue of causes of homosexuality, the debate is already lost because the search for causes already implies the devaluation of gay and lesbian lives.47 Jonathan Ned Katz offers an alternative view: “The emotional quality, the aesthetic and ethical value, and the cultural and personal worth of any eros is independent of biology, and of its socially and individually constructed origins.”48 This perspective suggests that we might justify the value of different sexualities primarily for how they enhance human lives, rather than because they are parts of “nature” that cannot be helped.

Yet the more we develop our sexual natures in tandem with the modern nation-state, the more natural that the nation-state and fixed sexual orientations seem. Modern nation-states, predicated on universal rights, are not the only way of organizing human beings. Science, conceptualized as a transparent window onto nature, is not the only way of knowing, and has never been truly transparent. By unearthing the seeming naturalness of the gay/straight dichotomy as it has been conceptualized in science and as it has been developed in tandem with rights discourses, I join other queer scholars in the hopes of further opening the door to other ways of being and knowing perhaps not yet experienced. Within the cacophony of clashing experts all claiming to have the illusory objective truth of our sexual nature, it is worthwhile to consider cultivating sexual natures that are just and humane, developing concepts of sexual rights through dialogue, giving sexual minorities a seat at the table, and being respectful of people’s claims about themselves regardless of the direction they are taking. This does not mean that “anything goes,” but rather that we might come together to have discussions about the boundaries of human freedom and acceptable sexualities, without necessarily imposing strict binaries and universals, but making our justifications with substantive arguments. While this approach may not provide moral certainty, at least it “means that we will be cautious and deliberate in our sexual judgments.”49 These pursuits may help preserve the mystery and discovery that are part of living a sexual life complete with its own experiential evidence. In the end, we might learn to trust ourselves and each other. (p.254)


(2.) A. Lee Beckstead, interview with author, Salt Lake City, 2009.

(5.) Steven Epstein, “Activism, Drug Regulation, and the Politics of Therapeutic Evaluation in the AIDS Era: A Case Study of ddC and the ‘Surrogate Markers’ Debate,” Social Studies of Science 27, 5 (1997): 716.

(6.) Evelleen Richards, “The Politics of Therapeutic Evaluation: The Vitamin C and Cancer Controversy,” Social Studies of Science 18, 4 (1988): 686.

(7.) If we acknowledge that objects have agency as well, then politics becomes an even more complicated affair. See Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

(9.) Ibid., 26.

(10.) Dawne Moone has observed an analogous dynamic within the domain of religion. In conflicts over homosexuality, church members claimed that “our” theology is pure while “their” theology was corrupted by politics. Yet, no theology is free of human mediation and social construction. Dawne Moone, God, Sex, and Politics: Homosexuality and Everyday Theologies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

(11.) On enrollment of allies and trials of strength, see Bruno Latour, Science in Action.

(12.) For example, during the pedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church, gay priests were targeted for firing because many of the victims were boys. Stephen Clark, “Gay Priests and Other Bogeymen,” Journal of Homosexuality 51, 4 (2006): 1–13.

(13.) Alix Spigel, “Can Therapy Help Change Sexual Orientation?,” NPR, August 1, 2011, accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/08/01/138820526/can-therapy-help-change-sexual-orientation.

(14.) Amin Ghaziani, “Post-Gay Collective Identity Construction,” Social Problems 58, 1 (2011): 99–125.

(15.) Suzanna Danuta Walters, The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions Are Sabotaging Gay Equality (New York: New York University Press, 2014).

(p.306) (16.) Rebecca Jordan-Young has argued that while there is much hype about brain organization theory in the media today, little of the theory has been proved, primarily because research conducted is quasi experimental, and outcome research is largely inconclusive due to shifting gender meanings in society. Sexual orientation research is often confounded by inconsistencies with regard to whether gay men are supposed to be like heterosexual women or like lesbians, and whether lesbians are supposed to be like heterosexual or gay men. See Rebecca Jordan-Young, Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011).

(17.) LGBTscience.org, “Dr. Simon LeVay,” accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.lgbtscience.org/simon-levay.

(18.) LGBTscience.org, “Dr. Milton Diamond,” accessed October 1, 2014, http://www.lgbtscience.org/milton-diamond.

(19.) Kate O’Riordan, “The Life of the Gay Gene: From Hypothetical Genetic Marker to Social Reality,” Journal of Sex Research 49, 4 (2012): 362–68.

(20.) The origins of the gender/sex binary have been traced to the theories of John Money and Anke Ehrhardt, who created a theory of gender in work with intersex infants. See Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).

(21.) See Suzanne Kessler, Lessons from the Intersexed (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998); Anne Fausto-Sterling, Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (New York: Basic Books, 2000); Katrina Karkazis, Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority, and Lived Experience (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008).

(24.) Cavan Sieczkowski, “ ‘Ex-Gay’ Group Erects Billboard Saying ‘Nobody Is Born Gay,’ ” Huffington Post, December 10, 2014, accessed December 12, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/10/ex-gay-billboard-virginia_n_6301334.html.

(26.) Ken Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories: Power, Change, and Social Worlds (New York: Routledge, 1994).

(29.) John H. Gagnon and William Simon, Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Aldine Transaction, 2005), 2.

(30.) See Steven Epstein, “Sexuality and Identity: The Contribution of Object Relations Theory to Constructionist Sociology,” Theory and Society 20, 6 (1991): 825–73.

(31.) See Elizabeth Wilson, Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004).

(33.) Tom Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005).

(34.) Massad, “Reorienting Desire.”

(p.307) (35.) Héctor Carrillo, The Night Is Young: Sexuality in Mexico in the Time of AIDS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).

(36.) Gilbert Herdt, The Sambia: Ritual and Gender in New Guinea (New York: Holt, Reinhart, and Winston, 1987).

(37.) Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, vol. 3, The Care of the Self (New York: Vintage Books, 1984).

(38.) Edward O. Laumann et al., The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

(39.) Jane Ward, “Dude Sex: White Masculinities and ‘Authentic’ Heterosexuality among Dudes Who Have Sex with Dudes,” Sexualities 11, 4 (2008): 414–34; Jane Ward, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (New York: New York University Press, 2015).

(41.) Kenji Yoshino, “The Epistemic Contract of Bisexual Erasure,” Stanford Law Review 52, 2 (2000): 353–461.

(43.) Jasanoff, “The Idiom of Co-Production.”

(44.) Boaventura de Sousa Santos, “Toward a Multicultural Conception of Human Rights,” in Moral Imperialism: A Critical Anthology, ed. Berta Hernández-Truyol (New York: New York University Press, 2002).

(45.) The position that challenges the marginalization of a sexual expression with the phrase “not inherently shameful” is, in part, inspired by Hoang’s assertion in her ethnography of sex workers in Vietnam: “I do not believe that having sex for pay is shameful.” Kimberly Kay Hoang, Dealing in Desire: Asian Ascendancy, Western Decline, and the Hidden Currencies of Global Sex Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015), 21.

(46.) Judith Halberstam, Queer Art of Failure (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011).

(47.) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay,” Social Text 29 (1991): 18–27.