Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On the Crisis of Scientifically Studying Homosexuality

Crossposted, Original Link

Unless addressing HIV, AIDS, or sexual health, queer communities, at least in Lebanon, often disregard scientific interferences in our issues. Even though it is understandable, this hatred is still misleading, disturbing, and damaging to our movement. At the heart of my article is my scientific side trying to analyze and explain how scientists fucked up when they pointed their microscopes towards our identities.
If you bring up most scientific research talking about the genetic, psychological, or hormonal origin of our identities, you are most likely to get rolling eyes for a response. In some cases, you could harshly be reprimanded for being self-hating or naïve.
This scientophobia, if I may call it that, is a direct result of our bitter history with unethical or biased scientists trying to prevent us from accepting, or to heal us from, our identities.
In this article, we will not go over theories and studies that discuss biological and psychological origins of homosexuality. For those, you may find a well-referenced discussion about the subject on Wikipedia.
Scientific flaws permeate most of these research papers: The first being that they often study small groups of “homogenous” homosexuals. The studied homosexual is usually the stereotyped homosexual, white, cute, HIV+ and effeminate man.
There are rarely any mentions of other sub-communities, of lesbians, bisexuals, non-effeminate gay men, or transgender individuals. Perhaps, including everyone in one study would be too much of a hassle – I understand.
But here’s the catch: When you limit the scope of your study, you limit the scope of your conclusion. When you study a very specific population of homosexuals, you clarify the profile of that population.
After all, when science brags about finding an origin for homosexuality, and after looking at one sub-group in the queer community, random fucks, and their random assumptions about me, are legitimized, when in fact, science has barely ever studied people like me!
Of course, there are also issues of methodology that surface with some of the research. LeVay’s research* for example had a small sample of 7 homosexual men who died of AIDS. A sample of 7 is not enough to draw any conclusions whatsoever; the margin of error would remain too large. The differences observed could have resulted from sample artifacts, random population drifts, pure luck, etc.
Needless to say, these findings always fail the fundamental scientific test of replication. The laywoman may not know this, but for any scientific quantitative research to be acknowledged and for the scientist behind it to be accredited, it needs to be verified by another research team, while studying a different sample of the same population. If the conclusions fail to conform, then the theory is dropped.
The analysis of the results is also problematic. Scientists are allowed and encouraged to draw conclusions, as long as they, on one hand, keep their assumptions within the limits of reason, and on the other hand, they ought to clearly state they are speculating.
In addition, scientific research was always plagued with the overlap between causality and correlation, and that often led to numerous cruelties concealed behind the veil of science. As a biologist, there is nothing that shames me more. When we speak of causality, it means that A causes B, sticking a knife in someone’s skin causes a wound. Correlation on the other hand, means A is highly common when B is highly common in a specific population, for example, IQ results are often low in African American populations in the United States of America. Correlation may indicate causality, but scientists must be extremely careful when making a conclusion for a scientific research. Because s/he will steer the public opinion based on her/his research.
The African American IQ studies for example were disastrous and shameful for the scientists who performed them. Because of their racism and blunt bias, they frauded (they plea innocence on the basis of ignorance, but I personally refuse to let them off that easily) the results. Instead of drawing attention to some fundamental social problems affecting a minority’s ability to integrate the school system, such as language barriers, they chose to stigmatize the African American population and formulating correlation in the guise of causality.
Similarly, when scientists speak of homosexuality, they often speak of correlations with subtle phenomena such as unhealthy family dynamics, or a succession of older female siblings, and so on. They often fail to bring the social into the scene: After all, when parents notice that their son may be homosexual in a homophobic society, they often turn aggressive, if not violent.
You can also notice how some scientists, mainly genetic engineers, conduct certain “gay mice and homosexual flies” types of research and manipulation. It sounds interesting, that’s for sure, but when you think about it, what on earth do we have in common with mice? And flies? To top it off, the definition of a “homosexual fly” is one that just sticks its genital organ into another male. The same goes for mice. Such populations do not “choose partners” and have no preferential attitude towards anyone in the population. Give them a 100 mates and they will fuck 100 mates. I believe that the queer populations, throughout the different sub-communities, agree that what we define as sexuality is far more complicated.
Some argue that we look at animals in order to counter the normalcy argument. A comparison with insects and rodents is irrelevant for this purpose, because our social structures are fundamentally different from theirs: Drinking human blood is not rendered normal because mosquitoes ingest blood, is it?
If we need to better understand the evolutionary advantage our sexuality and identities present to society, then we can study animals that are socially closer to us, maybe primates. For such populations, non-heterosexual romance and sexual practice have been observed for as long as these animals have been observed.
For this, we also need to clarify, or maybe remember, that the concept of “normal” is void by definition, humans are normal, our non-conforming identities and orientations are by definition normal because a human being feels them, if these feelings were not “normal”, we wouldn’t be able to feel them. Psychological problems and illnesses are normal, they usually occur as a coping mechanism against stressful environments. Why do we treat them as illnesses? Because they pose a handicap to the individual’s life, hinder their ability to resolve the source(s) of stress, or causes danger to those around them. The same is not true for being queer. Rape, murder, violence, infanticide, pedophilia, necrophilia, and other unacceptable behavior have been observed and documented throughout history and across the ecosystems. This does not mean that we want to legalize them or defend pedophile rights, does it?
If we were to point out the patriarch of all scientific mistakes regarding homosexuality, it would be the desocialization of a deeply social matter. If you want to study homosexuality you need to know that you are stepping into an intricate field, where identity collides with a deeply heteronormative and homophobic society. You also need to understand that, whether or not you have a problem with homosexuals, and most modern societies have a problem with them, and that problem has a name, homophobia.
Unlike members of ethnic minorities, we are often born into heteronormative families, our persecution starts in our cradles. Such a struggle stains our whole life, it influences how and if we come out, it influences how we identify and how we interact with scientists, and other professionals. So the question cannot be what makes a man physically incapable of tolerating a pussy. The question is more complicated, I personally don’t know how to define it, and until you absolutely know what you are looking for, don’t venture into a world that you can’t even understand.
Just a friendly reminder, please stop mixing up gender identity, sexual orientation, and socially prescribed gender roles. A girl who likes to play football can be a person with an alternative gender identity or simply a child that likes to play football. She is not a homosexual, and the word “pre-homosexual” is one of the most disturbing and unscientific words I have ever come across.
And for all the queer folks out there, don’t fear science, dive headfirst and grab the beast with its horns. A PhD in neuroscience gives a white middle class man no advantage against you. Biology is a simple natural science, argue!

* LeVay, S., A difference in hypothalamic structure between homosexual and heterosexual men. Science 253:1034-1037 (1991)

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