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The Zombie Media’s Hunger for Gay Brains

“Brains! Give me gay brains!”

So the global media has been moaning this week, arms outstretched and flailing, sightless eyes staring fixedly ahead.

You can hardly have missed this story.

We’ve been here several times before, most recently with the story about ‘gay drivers being as bad as women’, but the press clearly can’t get enough of this kind of ‘gay science’. Especially when it appears to confirm the popular, consoling, and time-honoured view of gay men as women’s souls trapped in men’s bodies.

The only intelligent piece I’ve read on this story was by Mark Liberman, kindly forwarded to me by my friend David Halperin. It debunks the headlines about ‘gay brains’ rather, er, brainily.

It’s also worth pointing out that, as is usually with this kind of brain research, these differences – if they exist rather than being an artefact of sampling – have not been shown to be innate. The brain is ‘plastic’ and the differences in size could have been in effect ‘learned’ or be the product of behaviour and not t’other way around. That’s to say, shopping for shoes and salad with gal pals might increase the part of your brain that ‘processes emotion and language’. If this important proviso was mentioned in the news reports at all, it was right at the end.

And of course, you only have to think for less than a minute about the claim that gay men and straight women have the ‘same brains’, especially when it comes to the area that ‘processes emotion’, to see a major flaw with this apparently ‘common sense’ finding. I mean, how many hetero women – or lesbians – have the same attitude towards emotion-free sex that so many gay men have?

Far more significant than the findings of the research was the way it was reported. As Liberman points out, none of the stories headlined with ‘Lesbian brains are the same as straight male brains’. Almost all of them were a variant of ‘Gay male brains the same as heterosexual women’s brains’

To be fair, most of the research in this area isn’t terribly interested in lesbians either. That’s because the problem that needs to be explained from a biological determinist point of view, is human males who don’t impregnate women – which is what ‘male’ means to such people – and instead, in their view, try to impregnate other men, or, worse, be impregnated by them. Women, on the other hand, only exist to be impregnated from a biological determinist point of view, so their ‘orientation’ is largely irrelevant. Which should tell you all you need to know about biological determinism.

Gays who hope that this kind of research will deliver them from the ‘it’s a choice’ religious right and ‘it’s unnatural’ homophobes are jumping out of the moralist frying pan into the eugenic fire. Of course, they wouldn’t be the first. Magnus Hirschfeld (and also Karl Ulrichs) the ‘father’ of the modern gay rights movement believed that homosexual men were women’s souls trapped inside men’s bodies. Homosexuals should not be persecuted and criminalised, in Hirschfeld’s view, because they couldn’t help themselves, and more to the point, as women trapped inside men’s bodies, they weren’t really homosexual at all – they were congenitally confused heterosexuals with a hormonal imbalance. When they had sex with another male they were trying, in their own ‘crippled’ way, to be faithful to their heterosexual impulses.

Then along came the Nazis, who largely agreed with Hirschfeld about crippled, congenital homosexuals not being real men, but had a different view about what this meant – i.e. degeneracy – and, of course, what to do about this. Which, in addition to concentration camps, included operating on them to find the causes of their hereditary weakness, and injecting them with massive quantities of male hormones (though the latter of course is something many gays pay good money for these days).

Back to the eugenic future: In the real world, as opposed to the one created by psychobiology, gay and straight men are increasingly difficult to tell apart, both in terms of appearance, behaviour, and even sexual practises. So, I look forwards to the research into which part of the brain is responsible for straight men spending most of their sexual lives masturbating to online porn, or why so many of them favour anal or oral sex when confronted with an actual female – predilections which, from a biological determinist point of view, aren’t so different from homosexuality.

Human sexuality is far more perverse, cunning, and kinky than poor square old biological determinists can ever accept, because for them heterosexuality is necessarily the same thing as reproduction which is the same thing as sex. When much of human culture has been very energetically and ingeniously devoted to making sure that these things aren’t the same.

In a sense, homosexuality represents one of the crowning (over-) achievements of that energy. And that’s the very reason there remains such an intense, curious, and sometimes murderous, ambivalence about it.  As shown by the countless and continuing attempts to explain it away.

8 thoughts on “The Zombie Media’s Hunger for Gay Brains”

  1. Radiolab is great, but ‘thoughts that did not involve language’ is a scientific over reach. Scientists are obsessed with coming to easily defined conclusions, because that’s how they work. They can’t go from A to B without it.

    I’ve said it before here – you still are aware of things even if you don’t think about them.
    So, here is were I’ll argue with their theory, and I’ll side with one of the guys in the earlier part of the show. That thoughts are language. And without language you can’t have thoughts. But, you still are aware and “understand” and have a type of “natural intelligence”.

    Again, if you pause a thought – you still are aware. Everything functions normally. You can still walk, heart beats, blood flows etc etc

    If they did have “thoughts” that would still be “sound” which would still be “language” anyway.

    When I see a table, I know what it is, without thinking “table”. When you walk down the street – you are aware of everything, and “know” your environment. That, is what I think these particular scientists are talking about. They just don’t want to accept that their is a “knowing” that predates language or thinking.

  2. I never understood the Gay argument. I mean, if they really want to believe that it’s genetic then, if it actually was genetic (which it obviously isn’t) then we should be able to find a cure for it at some point. Which is not exactly the best argument for a ‘proud rainbow flag waving’ gay man to make.

    Fixations are comfortable and safe. It’s much easier to think your ‘fixed’ in a set of paradigms (genetics or other) because the thought that your not ‘secure’ or ‘set’ somehow is just too scary for people lost in that conceptual head space.

    Round and round we go : )

  3. Could we say that biological logic (sex is for reproduction only) necessitates (in a survival of the fittest species context) the gays? I mean… Imagine your “tribe” trying to find the time to be preoccupied by sex while protecting themselves and hunting at the same time. That just flew out of my ass, but I thought it was worth a post.

    Your tramp-loving friend,
    Floyd

  4. I would love to sit-in on a ‘spinster’ group.
    I wonder what nuance of tramp, given a choice, would choose to join either the ‘trollope’ group or the ‘harlot’ group…

  5. I’d join a trollope reading group.

    There are quite a few of these pieces about middle-aged women ‘going lesbian’ doing the rounds at the moment. I was asked to contribute some quotes to one – which surprised me a little as lesbianism isn’t exactly my chosen specialist subject. Though I may have been brought in to challenge the double-headed assumption that usually goes with this kind of piece that women are as sexually fluid as men aren’t.

    I said that perhaps what we are talking about here isn’t so much sexual fluidity – men have plenty of that, the dirty dogs – as nesting fluidity.

  6. As a kid, I never understood peoples over conceptualized take on sex. Which is were the whole ‘gay man = womens brains’ thing comes from. It reeks of a deep fear of homosexuality that has been so common amongst ‘gay’ identified men.

    That whole ‘it’s “normal” because gay men are like women’ is so childish.

    People are still trying to justify homosexuality based on the false fairy tale concepts of any given God or text.

    When will we ever evolve?

    The other thing that has always annoyed the shit out of me, is when people say that ‘Gay’ men are more like women because gay men are sensitive. That somehow sensitivity reflects, not our human-ness but is in fact related to how much spoof I can get on my face, or whether someone has tits or not.

    From experience, all sentient beings, all forms of life are sensitive – we can’t help it – it’s our very nature.

    I think what people are refering to, when they say “sensitive” are really “feelings” and “emotions” which are the conceptual after thoughts of any given experience.

    In other words – it’s all the chit chatter in the head which de-sensitizes the actual experience by turning that moment into pure concepts. So, women and gay men are ‘sensitive’ because they destroy the joy of the moment by over conceptualizing a past event, and therefore while being all caught up in ‘an old story’ they are in fact being insensitive by missing the current moment.

    Your sense’s are after all, spontaneous. They are not “feelings” which are thought based. And, yes, thoughts are also spontaneous – but the story that they tell are of events gone by – a re-telling if you like – which is mostly bound to be false due to the nature of memory.

    Men, being less obsessively conceptual are, in fact, more in tune with thier natural sensitive impulses.

    So women and “gay” men think too much so that makes them sensitive?

    How backwards!

  7. If only the budgets would be increased for research into most pernicious, anti-social and criminal behaviour that empirically associates with heterosexuality.

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