Departmental Papers (HSS)

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Book Chapter

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A Queer World: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader

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At the 1991 CLAGS conference on "The Homosexual Brain," Dorothy Nelkin argued that linking homosexual behavior to brain structure reflects in part the growing preoccupation with biological determinism in American culture. Responding to the expectation that defining homosexuality as a biological status will reduce prejudice, she suggested that genetic explanations in fact can serve multiple social agendas. In particular, they have in the past been used to justify social stereotypes and persistent inequities as "natural" and therefore inevitable. Thus, while biological claims could lead to greater tolerance for human differences, they can also lead to pernicious abuse. Ultimately, it is not biology but common beliefs and social biases that shape social policies.

The appropriation of genetic explanations is the subject of a book by Dorothy Nelkin and M. Susan Lindee, The DNA Mystique: The Gene as a Cultural Icon. The following material, excerpted from this book, contains the core of Nelkin's 1991 remarks.

Copyright/Permission Statement

Originally published in A Queer World: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader © 1997 New York University Press. Reproduced with permission.



Date Posted: 24 October 2017