Monday, February 05, 2007

Brokeback Mutton: In Defense of Science

Slate has an interesting piece on research into gay rams being carried out at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station and left-wing protests against the research, led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and gay/animal activists like Martina Navratilova. The research, which has demonstrated that gay rams are born light in the hooves and that straight fetal lambs can't be "converted," has sparked tremendous controversy.

As usual with scientific issues that tread too closely to interests or ideology, the facts of the case have been greatly exaggerated. The moral/ethical quandaries and extreme anxiety these types of studies raise within the gay community, however, haven't been exaggerated much at all.

The shadows of eugenics and biological determinism loom large over the gay community. Studies like this one, to some extent our best hope, are met with the kind of militant resistance that can only be born of the darkest fear. The question that arises every time scientists broach the subject of the biological origins of homosexuality is "Will they use it to hurt us?"

It isn't, unfortunately, an irrational question. The history of homosexuality is wrought with dozens of ill-conceived "scientific cures" for homosexuality--from lobotomy to aversion therapy, from shock treatments to hormone injections. (Even now, many so-called "medical" professionals promote the latest miracle path to ex-gaydom.) The history of the past century is filled with both the most horrific and perhaps the most mundane applications of eugenics--from the Holocaust to designer babies, from choosing who will be allowed to reproduce to choosing the gender of your unborn child. And let us not forget the fruits of biological determinism, the complete subjugation of women and racial minorities. It is, in the end, completely rational to wonder what advanced knowledge of the biological origins of sexual orientation will mean in the hands of those who hate us.

But do we do ourselves and the world any service by attempting to preserve its ignorance? Are we willing to forego the potential benefits of this knowledge? Let's look at some pros and cons.

*They could find a way to "fix" fetuses' sexual orientation. (So, we'll just find a way to make sure that ALL of OUR children are born gay.)
*They will treat us as diseased. (Nothing new there.)
*They'll kill us all. (Highly unlikely but more likely if we aren't "born that way.")

*People who see homosexuality as a choice will have to face the truth. (Most of them, anyway.)
*Acceptance of homosexuality will spread.
*Gay people who have difficulty dealing with their sexual orientation may get the help they need to cope with their identities rather than the "miracle cure" of the week from the homophobes.
*Proof of the innate nature of homosexuality will strengthen our case in fighting for legal rights for gay people.
*It'll really piss off Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, George W. Bush, etc.
* We will know....

The knowledge alone is worth whatever due vigilance will be needed to stave off the forces of darkness. The search for knowledge can't simply stop every time we get a little uncomfortable nor should it. Yes, science should be tempered by ethics and a clear understanding of the consequences of knowledge but it should not be smothered by them. And let us not forget that if we succeed in stopping progress, we are no better than those who've tried to stop us.

To my fellow LGBT Americans: Attempting to forever shroud ourselves in this mystery will cost more in the long run that simply letting it out, loud and proud. Aren't we the ones, after all, who blew open the closet door? Didn't we invent coming out? Would any of the accomplishments of the last few decades have been possible without the pursuit of and sharing of knowledge? Yes. Yes. And Hell no!

So, calm down. Breathe deeply. And just say it. "My name is Melinda and I was born a homosexual! Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa..."

Author's note: I'm not sure if this is as well written as it should be, so forgive me. Melinda is very sleepy. Bed now. Goodnight.


Blogger Rob the Webkahunah said...

I laughed for at least five minutes at the title of this post after I read it... great turn of phrase.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

I must credit Slate for that. I just named the post after the Slate article it was based on. But yeah, I'm still chuckling over "Brokeback Mutton" not to mention the first paragraph of Slate's piece and it's references to the gay sheep getting it on in their own private Idaho.

10:25 AM  

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