Genes and gay identity

rc-am rcollins at
Wed Feb 10 22:36:22 PST 1999

>On Wed, 10 Feb 1999, Tavia Nyong'O wrote:
>> The political implications of this are obvious. A group that feels
>> bound by destiny will be more likely to act in concert to secure
>> rights and recognition. A group that is persuaded its mutuality is
>> contingent, fictive and requiring constant iteration will not count
>> much politically.

Miles replied:
>Why are you confusing "destiny" with biology? Religious groups,
>political groups, etc can be extremely coherent and influential.
>Moreover, association with these groups can make life more
>meaningful for group members. It disturbs me that even left-leaning
>people think that the best way to establish and sustain group
>cohesion is through biological claims.

hi tavia, hi miles,

miles, I myself actually oppose geneticist argument, because they do exactly what you say, infer destiny from biology, well in this case, genes. but I think tavia's comments should be taken not so much as an endorsement, but rather as an account of why it is rhetorically more fruitful - in politics - to generate a gene-based explanation of sexuality. it reminded me or sorel's version of revolution as a necessary fiction, and more recently, the swp/iso's version of class as a rhetorical necessity. (btw, I'm not using rhetoric here in it vernacular sense, but as a way of speaking which seeks to generate/intervene into, rather than reflect upon, the world)

having said that though, three comments, tavia:

1. the resort to the fixity of identity by oppressed groups may well seem useful, in an immediate sense, in struggles for recognition and acceptance. but what are the results of this on a day to day basis, and also in the longer term? doesn't this simultaneously and inescapably result in self-policing, and often a very vicious one at that, since maintaining fixity, or at least the presentation of a fixed identity, is deemed to be a condition of opposing oppression?

2. why are the only available options presented as a recourse to nature OR a resort to mutability? both of these are I think untenable, philosophically and politically. the first because it reads nature in the most reified of ways, the second because it so often presumes mutability to be a matter of will. (it is interesting, for me anyway, to note that 'nature' has been located in many different places over time: god, brain, blood, today it's genes.) [a partial reply to your questions chaz: no, I don't think sexuality is socially constructed, at least not in the narrow sense that many social constructionist arguments imply - too much disembodiment and, often paradoxically, not enough unsettling of notions of the body as nature (in the reified sense). in any case, I would think sexuality is natural and polymorphous. particular sexualities however are a condition and result of socialisation, in the psychoanalytic and marxist sense of the term rather than the psychological sense. but in a regular stoush, I would probably sound like a hearty social constructionist]

3. claims for necessary fictions have always struck me as too cynical, a belief that there is possible a place beyond ideology from which to adjudicate on what's the best ideological instrument for achieving a certain goal.

best, angela

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