Evolution, Etiology, and What’s Wrong with ‘Born Gay’

 Valerie Rohy, Professor of English

Valerie Rohy, Professor of English

We have all heard the charge that gay men and lesbians seek to “recruit children to their lifestyle”–a claim based on the old belief that homosexuality can be caused, like other bad habits, by dangerous influences. In response, queer communities increasingly cite theories of biological determinism to argue that homosexuality is physiological and innate: we are “born gay.”

But why should etiology–the science of causes–dominate the question of gay and lesbian rights? Rohy will address these questions through a rhetorical analysis of anti-gay and ostensibly pro-gay arguments, showing how both sides deploy the vocabulary of evolutionary theory: fertility and sterility, survival and extinction.

Video (MP4)
Audio (MP3)

Valerie Rohy is the author of Impossible Women: Lesbian Figures and American Literature (Cornell, 2000) and Anachronism and Its Others: Sexuality, Race, Temporality (SUNY, 2009), and the co-editor (with Elizabeth Ammons) of American Local Color Writing, 1880-1920 (Penguin, 1998). She has published essays on sexuality, race, and American literature in such journals as GLQ, Genders, and Modern Fiction Studies. In 2006 she won UVM’s Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award.

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