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Is Sexuality Innate or Socially Constructed?

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At the annual HowTheLightGetsIn festival at Hay-on-Wye this year I will be joining feminist sociologist Hilary Rose and Rosalind Arden to debate a topic I have become increasingly irate about: Is sexuality innate or socially constructed? I am getting so tired of the obsession about why some people are lesbian or gay, and the tedious mantra from some sections of the gay rights community buying into the faux-scientific notion that because we are genetically programmed to be attracted to the same sex we should be afforded respect and equal rights. I ask myself, why does it matter how or why we are lesbian or gay, and why should any 'cause' discovered by scientists strengthen or weaken our quest for liberation from the tyranny of compulsory heterosexuality?

Why, then, you might ask am I returning to the topic again if I am so fed up with it? Because the discourse around sexual attraction and whether it is imbedded in our brains is fundamental to a wider feminist discussion about whether girls are born "naturally feminine" and boys masculine, or whether, as radical feminists have long argued, gender traits are a social construction and such roles are detrimental to women.

Recently I was asked by the Wellcome Trust, an independent charity that funds research to improve human and animal health, to take part in an online debate on whether or not sexuality is genetic. Wellcome had been on a quest to find out the most important question about life that science has to answer, and asked top science experts from around the world to participate by sending in their questions. Having received over 75 questions ranging from issues regarding aliens, to intelligence and consciousness, ageing, overpopulation and climate change, and over 1,000 votes on social media from other interested parties, the public decided that the question you wanted answering was, "Is sexuality genetic?".

How depressing. It would appear that the question about why some of us are not heterosexual is more important than the quest to cure cancer, how to stop the world combusting with climate change, or how we control population excess. What is this obsession?

And why do so many within the gay community seem to be determined to argue for a gay gene, becoming agitated when some of us, as do I, speak of being gay as a positive alternative to heterosexuality?

I can understand some gay rights activists fearing that if it can be argued that being gay is a choice, albeit a complicated one that is reliant on circumstance, opportunity and environment, the bigots can argue that we can be made to undergo gay aversion therapy and be 'cured'. But surely we can be against homophobic aversion therapy and STILL argue against a gay gene.

So when people say "If being gay was a choice then why would we choose to live a life where oppression, violence and discrimination are inevitabilities?", I say to them so is being a feminist in countries where sexism exists, but they still exist and persevere. It is about wanting to be part of creating a better world.

Some gay people might feel that finding a gay gene might diminish prevalent homophobia, but this is naive. Racism has not diminished because we know that blackness or whiteness is genetic.

But scientists still treat us like rats in a lab and look for 'causes'. I have been told I am a lesbian because my mother smoked and drank whilst carrying me; because I had occupied her womb shortly after she gave birth to a boy who shed excess testosterone, and that she took valium in her third term. None of this applies to my time in the womb, and nor do I want to hear mad theories about how I ended up fancying women because of some difference in brain patterns. I love being a lesbian, and I know many women who shift from straight to gay in later life, simply because it is what they prefer. If you are interested in this debate then come to hear us in a passionate debate about The Science of Sex at HTLGI.

Julie Bindel will be speaking at HowTheLightGetsIn, the world's largest philosophy and music festival, running annually in Hay-on-Wye from 22nd May-1st June in association with the Huffington Post UK.

For more on this topic, see the corresponding chapter in Julie's upcoming book Straight Expectations.

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