19 May 2009

Book Review: Reinventing the Male Homosexual

Robert Alan Brookey is an American Professor of Communications at Arizona State University. He wrote Reinventing the Male Homosexual: The Rhetoric and Power of the Gay Gene.

I was just beginning to blossom when LeVay came out with his theory of neuroendocrinological basis for heterosexual and homosexual difference and when Hamer came out with his theory of the gay gene. As an adolescent, the gay gene theory seemed to fit so perfectly into the idea that homosexuality is inborn and that I had no choice in the matter.

Yet, as I went through college and graduate school, it became clear that the gay gene theory would not work. The consequences of it are highly problematic. Is there a gene that predisposes someone to watching May Bukas Pa or Wowowee? Doubt it.

Reinventing the Male Homosexual does a geneology of the discourses that have brought us to the gay gene. It's a little dry (he is analyzing scientific rhethoric after all) but if you have not been comprehensively studied the history behind the creation and formation of "homosexuality" as a distinct identity or constellation of behaviors, it's a really good foundational text.

Many people who attempt to historicize homosexual identity do it with lots of convoluted, poststructuralist jargon. This guy does quote Michel Foucault and is enamored by him but doesn't let the love fest with Michel get in the way of being clear and to the point. (I liked Jennifer Terry's An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society, but honestly, at somewhere after the page 200, 250 or 300 mark I wanted to shoot myself... way too much detail for a non-scientist!)

One detail that he didn't get into which I thought was very significant to American gay politics and the thrust towards finding homosexuality to be a "immutable characteristic." He discusses at the end, Frontiero v. Richardson, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case, that struck down an Air Force regulation that discriminated on the basis of sex under the Equal Protection Clause. In that case, the Court held that discrimination based upon immutable characteristics such as race, sex and national origin required significant justification by the government in order to discriminate. He argues that the "gay gene" movement has in some ways tailored its message to that.

However, United States v. Carolene Products, in 1938 the U.S. Supreme Court gave birth to modern Equal Protection analysis. Justice Stone indicated that Equal Protection was not a substitute for the normal political processes of government. It was there to protect "discrete and insular minorities" who lack the regular protections of the political process. Legislation aimed at these minorities required heightened scrunity. However, after the 1950s and 1960s, as the belief that race is biological became more rooted in the minds of Americas, other insular minorities had to find a biological origin which produced Frontiero's "immutable characteristics" analysis.

Brookey does not go into this aspect of American jurisprudence, but I think, in part, the move by some scientists to prove the existence of a biological cause of homosexuality is really attempting to solve a legal question by analogizing to race -- as though race is biological! The more thorough look at U.S. jurisprudence may have provided alternative openings for gay and transgender rights that looks at "discrete and insular minorities" without getting into the false debate regarding "choice."

The version I read was a 183 page hardcover published by the Indiana University Press (March 1, 2002) ISBN: 978-0253340573. The book is written in English. The lowest price was at the Indiana University Press website itself or abebooks.com.

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