The Difficulty of Studying
Queerness Scientifically

Queerness is a phenomenon that's notoriously difficult to define—many people spend years debating over how to define their own sexual preference, and it's common for people of all ages to change their minds and redefine their sexual preferences in different ways. But in order for the "gay gene" research to mean anything at all, we have to presume that the people whose brains, chromosomes, and various body parts are being studied have been correctly catgorized under their "true" sexual preference. Since practically all of us who have ever considered ourselves queer have also at one time in our lives considered ourselves hetero, it should be obvious that if queerness is really something lifelong and unchangeable, then there will inevitably be a significant number of miscategorizations that will seriously undermine the "gay gene" researchers' ability to collect accurate information. Different researchers have tried several different methods of categorizing people's sexual preferences, so the definition of sexual preference can vary widely from one study to the next. But the most common method of categorization is to simply ask people whether they currently think they're queer or not. In other words, these biologists haven't been looking for biological differences between people who feel same-sex attraction and those who don't—they've only been looking for biological differences between people who define themselves as "queer" and those who don't. Queer writer Darrell Yates Rist comments on the inadequacy of this method:

What criteria, other than self-identification, could LeVay possibly have relied on to categorize his cadavers? How did he account for the frequent dissonance between sexual self-definitions and what men actually want and do? In the best of circumstances, how would he measure degrees of desire and draw the inexorable line between gay and straight? Does he actually believe that most American men (including his study's presumed heterosexuals) will confess to homoerotic urges? Or that self-defined gay men, by nature, experience no heterosexual longing?
—Darrell Yates Rist, "Are homosexuals born that way?" from Homosexuality: Debating the Issues, edited by Richard M. Baird and M. Katherine Baird, 1995, p.75

Actually, although the vast majority of "gay gene" researchers do categorize people's sexual preferences based on their own self-definitions, Simon LeVay himself used a somewhat different method and didn't even ask about many of his cadavers' sexual self-identifications. He collected one group of cadavers of men who had self-identified as "gay" and who had died of AIDS (and later, when his evidence was challenged, the brain of another man who had self-identified as "gay" but who had died of other causes), and another group of cadavers of men who were known to be intravenous drug users and had also died of AIDS (these men he glibly presumed were heterosexual), and a third group of cadavers of men who had died of miscellaneous other causes (these men he again glibly presumed were heterosexual, despite the fact that he actually knew nothing at all about how they had defined themselves or who they'd had sex with).

For more information, see also:

"Sexual Orientation: Binaries and Definition Problems" by Pierre Tremblay and Richard Ramsay, Faculty of Social Work, University of Calgary, from their collaborative work The Social Construction of Male Homosexuality and Related Suicide Problems: Research Proposals for the Twenty-First Century, 2000.

"How Do You Define 'Sexual Orientation'?" by Randall L. Sell, excerpted from his article "Defining and Measuring Sexual Orientation: A Review," Vol. 26 No. 6 Archives of Sexual Behavior, December 1997, pp. 643-658.

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