Sunday, October 10, 2010

Strong Silent Types - Testosterone Made Me Gay…!

I wish I had access to all these studies reviewed at Strong Silent Types - Stuff for Men. In this recent post, ultimo167 looks at one the typically reductionist attempts to pin gender differences to biology and neuroscience - specifically everyone's favorite hormone to hate, testosterone.

This post also reveals a new side of the blogger that I had not seen before - a little bit of his personal life. As someone who also gets personal in my blogging sometimes (open practice), I appreciate that openness.

Bao AM, & Swaab DF (2010). Sex differences in the brain, behavior, and neuropsychiatric disorders. The Neuroscientist : a review journal bringing neurobiology, neurology and psychiatry, 16 (5), 550-65 PMID: 20889965

I guess if you are going to put forward an extreme, all-encompassing, hard-wired view of human behaviour, you might as well declare that mental disorders, gender identity, sexual orientation, emotional type and expressivity, stress tolerance and even paedophilia, are pretty much ‘stitched up’ by the presence or absence of testosterone, pretty much before the year dot (2010, pp.551-552). However, the trouble with such a sweeping theoretical narrative is that it begs to be scrutinised and criticised for holes, gaping or small, in its canvas-like fabric. Ditto, for those of us who can still see the social in all human behaviour, we must try to stop ourselves from guffawing, too loudly…

The sex differences in playing behavior…seem to have originated early in our evolution, before the hominids, and are imprinted during our intrauterine development under the influence of testosterone. A similar sex difference is seen in spontaneous drawings of children. A Japanese study showed that 5- to 6-year-old girls tend to draw human figures, flowers, and butterflies in bright colors, but boys prefer to draw more technical objects, weapons and fighting, and means of transportation, in bird’s-eye view compositions and in darker colors’ (2010, p.550).

Who be I to suggest that by age five or six, most children have already well learnt (early subversives to the hegemon notwithstanding), that boys and girls should do as above, and below…?

I mean, Bao and Swaab (2010) claim here that since boys prefer to play with balls, and girls, with dolls, and since male and female monkeys apparently make similar sex-based difference pastime choices, then that proves that ‘social pressure’ (p.550) has no influence whatsoever on those behaviours. It is predetermined that males will be technical and detached, and females, artistic and engaged (2010, p.550). Therefore, it would seem redundant to enter into any further discussion about what part masculinity and femininity play in the performance of gender. If the authors’ (2010, p.555) absolutist standpoint is indeed the truth then sadly, individual agency within the social milieu, has no such part to play.

Sex-based differences just are…

At first glance, I can see some potential positives among the many outlandish claims made by Bao and Swaab (2010). For example, that sexual orientation is an immutable characteristic of who we are, born with us like our physical features and therefore, impossible to change (2010, pp.556-557). For so many years, I had tortured myself needlessly, wishing and hoping that my homosexuality would disappear. It was not until I was 35 years of age, at the launch of our ‘Human Rights Centre for Mental Health’ in Melbourne, that all that shame and repression came crashing down upon my head. In a flash, the man who I had fallen ‘secretly’ and deeply in love with had kissed a woman, bashed me senseless, and thrust me into a profoundly traumatised state.

While in that state, I repeatedly begged him to finish off what he had started…

With hindsight, I would have spared myself an awful lot of trouble if, when I was a teenager, I had been able to be ‘honest’ about my emerging homosexuality. If only I could have celebrated rather than dreaded the indisputable fact that I desired men, and that, I wanted their sex and their love. For more than two decades, all the fucked-up homophobic messages that riddled my brain, the beatings I took and the intense fear that I came to accept as ‘normal,’ ostensibly denied me access to my sexuality. I was living an extraordinary lie and causing myself untold grief, trying to keep bottled-up inside what was as natural and integral to me as my Hibernian blue eyes. I am, therefore, all in favour of anything that assists those lingering rumblings that homosexuality is a ‘choice,’ to quickly fade away…

Proof for the idea that homosexuality is the result of upbringing, or that it is a lifestyle choice or an effect of social learning is…lacking (Le Vay, 1991). Therefore, it is totally irrational that some people still forbid their children to play with homosexual friends mainly for fear that homosexuality is contagious or can be learned’ (2010, p.558).

A critical flaw in Bao and Swaab’s (2010) study is that they attribute a common, biogenetic cause and effect relationship to so many disparate aspects of human behaviour. For example, they (2010) argue that male violence is a product of sex-based and hormonal differences (p.560) and that schizophrenia, which is reportedly higher in men than in women (2010, pp.552-553), is similarly produced. In that regard, the authors (2010) stridently deny ‘that the social environment has [any] effect on the development of gender identity, sexual orientation’ (p.563), paedophilia, mental disorder, etc. We are who we are, according to the authors (2010), fundamentally because of how much or how little testosterone we got during the ‘intrauterine period’ (p.563).

Read the rest of the post.

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