This is Part 4 in a series of six parts. References can be found at the end of Part 1.
Part 5 is about the philosophy underlying the LGBT movement. Due to constraints on my time, Part 5 will not be nearly as complete as the previous parts; it will consist of selective notes. A fuller treatment will have to wait until the book version.
Nevertheless, the contents of the first four parts is, in my judgment, far more than enough to defend all the statements I made in the Introduction (Part 1) and all the conclusions I will state in Part 6.
I plan to post Part 5 in a week or so.
Etiology of Sexual Orientation: The Mainstream Theories
In an earlier section, “The Role of Volition in Sexual Orientation” (at the beginning of Part 2), I argued that sexual orientation is volitional in the same way that other aspects of sexual attraction and romantic love—as well as a sense of life and all other kinds of emotional responses—are volitional. All of these emotional responses are automatic and non-volitional in the present, but they are based on past, conscious, volitional evaluations. Moreover, all of these responses can be understood and deepened by identifying the past evaluations and making them explicit and conscious once again in the present. This kind of understanding is an integration of reason and emotion. My argument was an application of the writings Ayn Rand regarding emotions, and regarding sense of life and romantic love in particular.
In short, I concluded that the etiology of sexual orientation is volition. My conclusion is the opposite of the dominant, mainstream theories regarding the etiology of sexual orientation.
Historically, there have been two main theories of the etiology of sexual orientation. The theories are biological determinism and social determinism. These two theories have dominated the field of psychology not only pertaining to the etiology of sexual orientation, but also pertaining to the etiology of virtually every character trait and personality trait. In expositions of these two theories, the possibility of volition is either rejected summarily or—more usually—never explicitly considered, seemingly as if researchers did not have a choice about rejecting choice.
Over the past few decades, however, a third mainstream theory has emerged, eclipsing even the theories of biological and social determinism. This theory is ‘social constructionism’, which claims that ‘sexual orientation’ is merely a notion—with no basis in fact—that has been ‘constructed’ somehow by society as a whole. Proponents of this theory, which now dominates the academic writing in psychology, either make no mention of volition, or they consider individual volition as completely subordinate to the forces of society as a whole.
In the field of psychology, the rejection or subordination of volition long predates the contemporary debates regarding sexual orientation. Consider this quotation of Robert M. Frumkin (1961, 439) in the entry entitled “Sexual Freedom” in The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior; this encyclopedia was edited by the leading psychologist Albert Ellis along with Albert Abarbanel, and published when virtually all psychological professionals still considered homosexuality a mental illness.
The most distinctive characteristic of man as compared to non-human animals is that man’s behavior is essentially learned, it is not innate or biologically determined. Thus, man’s behavior is a social psychological phenomenon. And so is his sexual behavior.
The nature of sexual behavior in man, like all his truly human behavior, varies with his culture, with reference to the society in which he is socialized and in which he becomes a human, social being. [Underlined emphasis added.]
Freedom in popular usage is a term of little scientific precision. From the modern behavioral scientist’s point of view, there is, in reality, no such thing as freedom as the word is generally used in everyday language. That is, the idea that every person has an ability, freedom, to act in accordance with his own inner conviction, independent of the situation-process in which he is operating, is a fiction. The idea of free will, a concept closely related to the idea of freedom, must also be rejected. It too is fictitious.
This is the philosophical and psychological context—the “society in which” psychological professionals were “socialized”—that most psychological professionals have chosen to accept as a starting point in the debate over sexual orientation.
Note the last underlined phrase in the above passage from Frumkin. As we shall see later, social constructionists take this idea literally: that an individual is not human until he is socialized.
The following is the entire answer to the question, “What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?” in a brochure—intended for the general public—by the American Psychological Association (2008, 2):
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation. [Underlined emphasis added.]
As we see, the American Psychological Association does not even consider volition as a possible cause of sexual orientation. And as we shall see, proponents of the two main traditional theories—‘nature’ and ‘nurture’—generally are very critical of each other’s theory; and they arrive at their own theory by a process of elimination.
Of the two main traditional theories—‘nature’ and ‘nurture’—the less popular one among professionals in psychology is ‘nature’, that is, biological determinism. Let us examine that theory first.
In using the term ‘biological determinism’, I am not exaggerating the position of this side of the debate. J. Michael Bailey (in Garnets & Kimmel, p. 51–52), one of the leading biological researchers on sexual orientation, writes,
The argument over whether homosexuality is biological or ‘freely chosen” is perhaps the most common and least productive version of the biology debate.
Most scientists are both (strict) determinists and materialists. Determinism, in its strict sense, implies that all present events (including mental states and behaviors) are completely caused by past events. Equivalently, given a configuration of events at Time A, there can be exactly one configuration of events at later Time B. Materialists believe that all causes and effects obtain in the material world, as opposed to a nonmaterial “soul.” Thus a materialist determinist acquainted with modern neuroscience believes (as I do) that all behavior is most proximately caused by brain states, and thus behavioral differences must be caused by brain differences. This is true even for socially acquired traits.
Thus the argument that biology determines sexual orientation is fundamentally a philosophical argument, not a scientific one, and the philosophy is wrong. The argument regarding sexual orientation is a mere deduction from the more general doctrine of biological determinism, the doctrine that biology determines all behavior. As a doctrine of determinism, biological determinism is self-refuting: if the doctrine were true, no one could know it. More fundamentally, it contradicts one’s direct awareness of one’s own volition, an awareness as direct as one’s awareness of material things. But let us see specifically how the wrong philosophy infects the ‘scientific reasoning’ used by the biological determinists in their research.
Another main proponent of biological determinism is neuroscientist Simon LeVay. LeVay is well-known for a study (LeVay 1991) in which he reported a difference between heterosexual and homosexual men regarding the size of a particular part of the brain. The results of that study have not been replicated.
LeVay’s book Gay, Straight and the Reason Why (2011), published by the prestigious Oxford University Press, is a comprehensive presentation of the evidence that sexual orientation is determined by biology. LeVay cites hundreds of studies regarding animals, genes, sex hormones, brain structure and function, body parts (such as ratios of finger length), and ‘birth order’ (how many older brothers a child had).
The general pattern of many of the studies is as follows. The researchers take some measurement that seems to differ between men and women, such as the ratio of trunk (torso) length to limb length. (LeVay 2011, 224-227). Then they claim that homosexual men have an average measurement that is slightly skewed toward the women’s average measurement. Then they also hypothesize some reason that the homosexual men had genes or pre-natal hormones that would cause both the skewed measurement and the same-sex sexual orientation. However, various studies differ on the results, and some studies do not support the conclusions at all. (Note that LeVay does not claim that homosexual adults have levels of hormones—such as testosterone—that differ from the levels in heterosexual adults; LeVay claims instead that homosexuals had different levels of these hormones in the womb, causing these individuals to develop differently.)
Then there are studies that ask adults what their sexual orientation is, and what other physical and personality traits these individuals had as children. These studies affirm the existence of “gendered traits” (LeVay 2011, 74): traits that tend to differ between boys and girls, or between men and women.
LeVay (2011, 99) writes,
In the area of personality, men rank higher than women on measures of assertiveness, competitiveness, aggressiveness, and independence. (These getting-things-done traits are sometimes referred to collectively as instrumentality.) Women rank higher than men on measures of expressiveness, sociability, empathy, openness to feelings, altruism, and neuroticism. (This last item includes the tendency to depression, anxiety, self-consciousness, and low self-esteem.) [Underlined emphasis added.]
LeVay (2011, 100) also writes,
Men focus more than women on the youthfulness of their potential partners, whereas women focus more than men on nonphysical attributes such as personality, wealth, and power.
LeVay (2011, 101) concludes,
As with childhood traits, the gendered traits of adults appear to be influenced by biological factors, such as genes and sex hormones. First, many of the sex differences exist widely across different countries and cultures, including illiterate populations as well as those that are more egalitarian. In fact, contrary to what one might expect on the basis of a simple socialization model, gender differences in personality seem to become more marked as societies cast off traditional expectations about the roles of men and women.
In other words, LeVay argues that because these “gendered traits” are not caused by society, they must be caused by biology. Thus LeVay is arguing that biology determines much more than sexual orientation. He is arguing that biology determines ideas and/or practices related to ethics: such ideas and/or practices as “independence” and “altruism,” explicitly named by LeVay. He is also arguing that biology causes some women to be attracted to wealth, a trait that one might accurately describe as being a ‘gold digger’.
This theory is a doctrine of innate ideas and therefore should be dismissed out-of-hand on philosophical grounds. Either this doctrine presumes the existence of ideas without any perceptual knowledge to underlie them—that is, this doctrine is a form of mysticism—or this doctrine denies that what we generally think of as ideas are ideas at all, and thus this doctrine is a form of materialism.
LeVay (2011, 119–125) then cites studies that the measurements of these “gendered traits” in homosexuals are somewhat skewed toward the gender opposite to their own. That is, homosexual men are somewhat altruistic gold-diggers like heterosexual women, and lesbians are somewhat aggressive competitors like heterosexual men. From this evidence, LeVay concludes that sexual orientation too must be biologically determined.
In other words, LeVay’s claim that sexual orientation is biologically determined is a deduction from the premise that a whole constellation of character traits and personality traits—including ideas and values—is biologically determined.
Ironically, LeVay’s argument (2011, 119–125) that biology causes sexual orientation has even less empirical data than his argument that biology causes ideas such as altruism and gold-digger-ism: homosexuals exhibit these “gendered traits” only partly skewed toward the sex opposite to theirs own.
One more variant of LeVay’s basic argument is worth mentioning. The data that LeVay (2011, 247–270) cites that have the most dramatic numerical measurements pertain to some studies regarding “the older-brother effect.” According to this notion, a male child is more likely to turn out homosexual if he has an older brother. The theory is that having an older brother causes the younger brother to be exposed to less testosterone in the womb. (Again, LeVay’s point is not that these individuals have less testosterone as adults, but only while they are developing in the womb.) LeVay notes (2011, 251-255) that several very large studies contradict the studies that LeVay favors, but LeVay persists:
My take on the entire collection of studies is that gay men do have significantly more older brothers, on average, than straight men. If this were not the case, some systematic error would have to have biased the Canadians’ many studies and the positive findings of several other researchers. No one has been able to pinpoint such an error. That some studies have failed to detect an older brother effect may result from methodological issues, atypical samples, or pure chance. (Blanchard has spelled out what he considers the weaknesses of some of the negative studies.)
In other words, no one has pinpointed errors in either the positive or negative studies, but when errors are found, they may be in the negative studies.
A good summary of much of the book’s whole approach is given inadvertently by LeVay (2011, 183) in a footnote describing a particular study:
This by way of demonstrating that, with sufficient ingenuity, any inconvenient finding can be explained away.
But I have not yet come to the main point regarding these older-brother studies. According to the most positive studies, the probability of a boy being homosexual goes up, if he has one brother, from 2% to nearly 3%; if he has two brothers, the probability goes up to nearly 4%. From this change of one or two per cent, LeVay concludes that sexual orientation is 100% caused by biology. How does he draw this conclusion?
He draws this conclusion by a process of elimination. He gives some arguments (LeVay 2011, 267–270) that the older-brother effect cannot be based on environment. He then concludes (LeVay, 2011, 285) that the only causal factor must be biology: there must be some boundary amount of testosterone whereby, if a male fetus gets less than this amount, it definitely becomes homosexual; and if the male fetus gets more than this amount, it definitely becomes heterosexual.
And now we come to the main premise that makes this entire argument possible: LeVay rejects, at the beginning of his book (2011), the possibility of volition.
LeVay’s book has nearly 300 pages of text; but only two of those pages are devoted to the question of volition. The book has 561 reference notes; but only three of these notes are on the question of volition. The four cited references (LeVay 2012, 41) in these three notes are the Los Angeles Times regarding a Los Angeles Times poll, The New York Times regarding a poll of opinions about homosexuality, and two analyses by the RAND Institute of “the responses of gay men and lesbians to a questionnaire in The Advocate, a leading gay magazine.” From this evidence, LeVay (2011, 41) concludes categorically,
If their sexual orientation was indeed a choice, gay people should remember having made it. But, by and large, they don’t.
However, as I have argued (especially in Part 3), people generally do not remember choosing any aspect of their sense of life. Nor do they remember choosing to respond emotionally to certain styles of art. Nor do they remember choosing to respond sexually (or to be averse sexually) to intelligence, ability, moral virtue, power, wealth, violence, etc.
If any of the statistical correlations reported by LeVay are accurate, then there is a simple causal explanation—based on volition—for such correlations. If a boy is born with less testosterone and/or less-developed masculine physical traits, he may choose less physically vigorous activities, and he may even have lessened physical abilities. For such a boy or man, the choice to be heterosexual requires an extra amount of courage or knowledge, and some boys or men will not choose to exhibit that courage or seek that knowledge. But such correlations are only statistics. Physically strong boys may still choose not to be heterosexual, and physically weaker boys can still choose to be heterosexual.
The entire argument of LeVay’s book (2011) can be summarized as follows: LeVay eliminates volition—because of wrong philosophy and inadequate scholarship—at the outset, and then he eliminates environment in the various studies cited throughout the book; LeVay thereby arrives, by this process of elimination, at biology as the cause of sexual orientation. In truth, LeVay’s argument for biological determinism of sexual orientation—along with the hundreds of studies LeVay cites—is worthless.
LeVay’s book has some merits, though minor. LeVay (2011, 28–33) offers a good summary of Freudian theories of the etiology of sexual orientation, and he points out (in effect) that these theories violate Occam’s Razor: they are very complex and implausible, without supporting evidence. LeVay also identifies instances in which theories of social determinism are contradicted by empirical evidence. (See, for example, LeVay 2011, 33–40). In both of these cases, however, LeVay is unable to identify the main refutation of these other theories: volition.
The materialism underlying LeVay’s approach integrates with the statements, quoted earlier, by Bailey. Indeed, LeVay cites fourteen different studies by Bailey. LeVay’s (2011, 15) favorable description of some of these studies provides further perspective on the mindset of biological determinists studying sexual orientation.
Michael Bailey and his colleagues at Northwestern University … have studied the sexual orientation of both men and women by measuring genital arousal during the viewing of erotic videos.
Presumably, a guy not ‘turned on’ by watching strange women perform sex acts is not a true heterosexual; and a guy who is turned on by such women would be considered healthy if he had sex with all of them.
These researchers have no conception of sexual attraction as a response to values—any values, not just gender. To these people, sex is mindless. They are sexual nihilists. It is no wonder that they conclude that sexual orientation is mindless.
Unlike the arch materialist-determinist Bailey, LeVay at least offers some empirical argument—of sorts—against volition; LeVay at least devotes two pages to considering volition. That is two pages more than what the other mainstream side of this debate considers.
Although the notion that biology determines sexual orientation is popular in the popular press and among non-academic LGBT activists, the notion is a minority opinion among academic writers and psychological professionals. For example, the ‘historian’ D’Emilio (2009), often cited by mainstream psychologists (as in the instances I mentioned earlier), said in a friendly interview with the International Socialist Review,
The idea that people are born gay—or lesbian or bisexual—is appealing for lots of reasons. Many of us experience the direction of our sexual desires as something that we have no control over. We just are that way, it seems, so therefore we must be born gay. The people who are most overt in their hatred of queer folks, the religious conservatives, insist that being gay is something we choose, and we know we can’t agree with them. Hence, again, born gay. …
“Born gay” is an idea with a large constituency, LGBT and otherwise. It’s an idea designed to allay the ingrained fears of a homophobic society and the internalized fears of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. What’s most amazing to me about the “born gay” phenomenon is that the scientific evidence for it is thin as a reed, yet it doesn’t matter. It’s an idea with such social utility that one doesn’t need much evidence in order to make it attractive and credible. [Underlined emphasis added.]
(Note also the philosophical Pragmatism in D’Emilio’s comment. According to D’Emilio, an idea—though false—yet has ‘social utility’. Presumably, there then must be ‘social utility’ in outright lying about history—D’Emilio is a ‘historian’—or science or anything else. This mentality illustrates that political Leftists generally consider dishonesty a legitimate and important tactic in achieving their goals.)
As the argument for biological determinism is largely an argument by process of elimination, so too is the argument for social determinism. Social determinists consider volition little or not at all; then they undermine the case for biological determinism; and then they conclude that the only cause of sexual orientation must be society. Or sometimes they argue that biology has some
casual causal effect, but society too has a large effect.
The common academic arguments against biological determinism of sexual orientation are as follows:
1. The studies in favor of biological determinism are countered by other studies that do not replicate the favorable results; moreover, even the studies in favor are flawed. (See, for example, Peplau et al. 1999, 75–81; Jones 2012, 6–12)
2. Sexual orientation is variable and changeable. Common sexual orientations vary from culture to culture; many individuals change their sexual orientation over the course of their life; and some primitive tribes even have prescribed, changing stages of sexual orientation for every individual in that tribe.
This second argument, though useless as an argument against volition, is in my judgment a strong argument against biological determinism. Interestingly, even social determinists generally admit that they do not understand how society or environment determines sexual orientation; but they conclude it must be so, because the cause must not be biology. For example, Peplau et al. (1999, 80) write,
Currently, proponents of genetic perspectives view the research evidence as encouraging and justifying the search for specific genetic markers of sexual orientation. In contrast, skeptics emphasize possible limitations of available studies (e.g., McGuire, 1995). These include the inability of current research to disentangle the impact of genes and environment on family members’ sexual orientation … [Underlined emphasis added.]
Neither Peplau nor other leading psychologists seem to think there is a need to “disentangle the impact’ of volition from “genes and environment.” Therefore, once they eliminate biology as a possible cause, Peplau et al. (1999, 87) can conclude,
cross-cultural and historical analyses demonstrate that women’s erotic and romantic bonds can take diverse forms that are shaped by their social environment.
Of course, a doctrine of social determinism, like biological determinism, is self-refuting and in contradiction to our direct knowledge of volition. But to give a sense of the kind of thinking involved in the argument for social determinism, consider the following quotations.
Peplau (2001, 11) writes,
Also relevant is evidence that female primate sexual behavior varies as a function of the social context. For example, when rhesus monkeys are housed in male-female pairs, mating occurs throughout the female’s cycle. In contrast, when rhesus monkeys live in larger social groups, mating is generally restricted to the female’s period of fertility. Wallen (1995) explained this shift as resulting from the social structure and interaction patterns that emerge in larger groups.
The fact that Peplau, a leading academic psychologist cited favorably in the ruling by the U.S. District Court overturning California’s Proposition 8, cites the behavior of animals to make her point reveals her attitude toward volition.
In the same article, Peplau (2001, 3) writes,
in a region of southern Africa it was common for adolescent schoolgirls to engage in a form of institutionalized friendship known as “mummy-baby relations” (Gay, 1986). In this arrangement, an older girl (the “mummy” or mother) formed an emotionally close relationship with a younger girl (the “baby”). The girls exchanged love letters, and the older girl provided gifts and advice about becoming a woman. The most important aspect of mummy-baby friendship was the expression of affection and intimacy. These relationships sometimes but not always had a genital sex component. The mummy-baby relationship allowed teen-age girls to learn about their developing sexuality without fear of pregnancy and in a context condoned by parents and teachers.
Later, Peplau 2001, 4:
In rural Lesotho in Africa, prior to Western influences, it was common for married women to have a special, long-term female friend or motsoalle (Kendall, 1999). These loving sexual relationships were celebrated with a ritual feast in which the entire community acknowledged the commitment that the two women were making to each other.
In these and numerous other cases in this article, Peplau gives the distinct impression that she approves of all these social-sexual relationships involving children and multiple concurrent sex partners. (The only kind of arrangement that she cites disapprovingly is the custom of arranged heterosexual marriages in nineteenth-century China.) As we have already seen, and as we will continue to see, this kind of amoral ‘affirmation’ of homosexuality is the rule, not the exception, in the psychological professions today.
In rejecting the notion that biology causes sexual orientation, Peplau ends up endorsing an even more basic role for biology. Peplau (2001, 14) writes favorably of an
analysis provided by Helen Fisher (1998), who emphasized the possible neuroendocrine underpinnings for adult romantic relationships. Fisher distinguished among three major emotional systems that guide mammalian mating. The sex drive, associated primarily with estrogen and androgens, motivates individuals to seek sex with other members of their species but does not focus on a particular partner. Attraction, also called infatuation or passionate love in humans, is characterized by focused attention on a specific partner, increased energy and, in humans, with feelings of exhilaration and preoccupation. Research links this system with the catecholamines (e.g., dopamine and norepinephrine) and also with serotonin and phenylethylamine. The third system is attachment, characterized by close social contact and, in humans, by feelings of calm, comfort, and emotional bonding. There is considerable evidence that attachment is associated with oxytocin and vasopressin.
Although sexual desire, infatuation/attraction, and attachment are distinct processes, they are not entirely unrelated. Neuroscience offers hints about their possible interconnections. (Underlined emphasis added.]
It is nice to know that contemporary psychologists think that sexual desire and romantic love are not entirely unrelated. Unfortunately, these psychologists believe that the relation is hormonal. Peplau continues that these “three major emotional systems that guide mammalian mating”—“sex drive,” “infatuation/attraction,” and “attachment”—are more interconnected hormonally in women than in men, thereby ‘explaining’ why women connect sex and “attachment” more than men do. (I suppose men are out of luck.) Peplau (2001, 15) then concludes that this connection
may help to explain a puzzling aspect of women’s same-sex relationships—how an emotionally intense friendship can kindle sexual desire.
In other words, the one aspect of a sexual relationship that Peplau thinks needs explaining is how two people can be attracted to each other for non-physical reasons. She solves the problem by arguing that the cause is physical—in this case, hormonal—after all.
Observe this irony. The biological determinists argue that biology causes sexual orientation because biology causes everything. The social determinists end up arguing that biology does not cause sexual orientation, because biology causes everything else about sexual desire and romantic “attachment”; but society causes, in part, sexual orientation.
Most of these researchers ultimately admit that they really do not know the etiology of sexual orientation. Recall the current statement, which I quoted earlier, by the American Psychological Association (2008, 2):
Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.
So long as these ‘scientists’ deny volition, they never will find the answer.
Indeed, many researchers seem to have stopped trying to find an answer. Their new approach is to try to make the question go away. This approach should be familiar to students of the history of philosophy; the approach has been used by Kant regarding the question of knowledge of reality, by positivists regarding questions of metaphysics, and by contemporary philosophy regarding knowledge, reason, ethics, and philosophy itself. As we shall see, the psychological professions have relied heavily on this philosophical tradition.
Among psychologists, the new dominant school of thought regarding sexual orientation is ‘social constructionism’. (Indeed, Peplau is a social constructionist.) All of the social constructionists that I have read harp on the same themes, as if their ‘ideas’ were all ‘socially constructed’ by modern psychology rather than having been reached individually through a process of reason. Therefore, I will begin with two articles by one of the most prominent social constructionists regarding sexual orientation: Gregory M. Herek, who has been involved professionally in numerous U.S. and state Supreme Court cases regarding sexual orientation.
Herek’s entry, entitled “Homosexuality”, in the Encyclopedia of Psychology published jointly by the American Psychological Association and Oxford University Press, states (2000, 151–152),
Debate about the roots of sexual orientation has pitted those who consider it to be a universal human characteristic (some have also extended the concept to other species) against those who regard all aspects of human sexuality as socially constructed within a particular cultural context. [Underlined emphasis added.]
The sentence above contains a revealing word: “all.” According to Herek, it is not merely sexual orientation but rather “all aspects of human sexuality” that are socially constructed.
But there are other important aspects to this statement that are made clearer as Herek continues,
Proponents of the former viewpoint have hypothesized biological (e.g., genetic and hormonal factors, the intrautertine environment of the developing fetus) or environmental (infant-caretaker interactions, learning, social interactions over the life span) determinants of sexual orientation. Social constructionists, in contrast, have argued that although people engage in homosexual and heterosexual acts in all societies, such behavior does not necessarily endow an individual with an identity or social role that corresponds to modern Western notions of “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality.”
There is a big changing of the subject that is going on here. Instead of pitting nature and nurture—that is, biological determinism and environmental determinism—on opposite sides of the debate, Herek is placing those two forms of determinism on the same one side of the debate. Such a policy would be admirable if on the other side he placed volition. But on the other side, he places the proposition that there really is no such objective fact as sexual orientation.
One can already see from these two snippets from Herek that this notion of social construction is a form of nominalism, a denial that any kind of conceptual identification could be based on objective fact. But before analyzing the meaning of this argument, let us examine another article, one in which Herek elaborates on his own position as a social constructionist.
Herek ( 1993), in an article cited hundreds of times in the professional literature (according to Google Scholar), briefly describes his view on the etiology of sexual orientation:
Here we can make use of Freud’s (1961 ) assumption that humans are born with an amorphous, unformed sexuality—we are polymorphously perverse. Our behavioral repertoire is ambisexual. Over the course of individual development, the principal source of sexual arousal becomes located in the genitals for most people, and they find that they are aroused by a relatively limited range of things in the world—typically by human beings of a particular gender with fairly specific physical and psychological qualities. In other words, people acquire preferences for certain sexual partners, acts, and situations. Obviously, people are attracted to each other for a host of reasons other than gender—for example, physical appearance, intellect, personality, sense of humor, and religious and political affiliation. But gender is a basic consideration for most people, whether or not it is conscious. [Underlined emphasis added.]
Thus Herek, like LeVay, treats the etiology of sexual orientation the same way that he treats the etiology of attraction to fundamental character traits, personality traits, and value systems. Do all of these aspects of attraction occur without volition, as Herek suggests by the phrases “they find that they are aroused” and “acquire preferences”? Do all of these ideas—about intellect, religion, and politics—somehow get deposited in our brains without our ever having been conscious of them and having had an opportunity to judge them rationally? Such a position is a doctrine of social determinism, which—as I have already stated—is self-refuting and in contradiction to our direct knowledge of volition.
Moreover, are all of these aspects of attraction to be “affirmed” by psychologists, as sexual orientation is currently affirmed by psychologists, without scrutiny of the underlying ideas and judgments involved? Such a position would be absurd, as is the position to affirm every sexual orientation without scrutiny of the underlying ideas and judgments involved.
So far, Herek is already as absurd as the biological determinists. But he gets worse. He writes ( 1993, 322),
There is an important difference between the words heterosexual and homosexual when they are used as adjectives, describing sexual behavior of which anyone is capable, and when they are used as nouns, describing identity.
In many New Guinea societies, for example, becoming a man requires incorporating the semen of other men into one’s own body through homosexual acts. Once manhood is achieved, heterosexual behavior is socially prescribed … . [Here Herek cites references for these ridiculously irrelevant anthropological claims.] In some indigenous American societies, biological males could assume women’s occupations and be recognized socially as women; some men in this “berdache” role married (biological and social) males. In some tribes, a comparable role was available to biological females … .[Here he cites more ridiculous references.]
Such cross-cultural comparisons show that our notions of heterosexuals and homosexuals are part of a particular historically derived knowledge system.
Culturally constructed identities are not easily changed. But it is important to realize that “heterosexuals” and “homosexuals” do not exist in nature; they are constructs … .
Observe that Herek is not referring to these backward tribes in order to disprove biological determinism. He is citing them to try to disprove the validity of our advanced society’s concepts of sexual orientation.
First I will answer this argument in a common-sense way. Then I will make three philosophical points: one metaphysical, one epistemological, and one ethical.
The English language has the adjectives ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’, but no noun form for those words. We can describe actions as honest and dishonest. Does the fact that we do not have a word for ‘honest man’ and ‘dishonest man’ eliminate the need to judge specific honest acts and dishonest acts? Of course not. We still must judge men on the basis of whether actions of theirs are honest or dishonest. The fact that some men are honest sometimes and dishonest at other times does not eliminate the need to judge each specific act and the men who commit them. Moreover, a man who is honest sometimes and dishonest at other times is rightly called dishonest. Finally, if there was once some primitive tribe somewhere in which the men were honest to their tribal leaders but dishonest to their peers, there is still an objective basis for the idea of an honest man. Similarly, whether or not we use the words ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual” as nouns, we still must judge individuals based on their homosexual and/or heterosexual acts.
The metaphysical point is that actions are actions of entities. There are no disembodied actions. There is no metaphysical dichotomy between an entity and the actions the entity takes. The identity of an entity includes all of the entity’s characteristics and all of the entity’s actions.
The epistemological point concerns the nature of objectivity. By Herek’s ‘reasoning’, if primitive tribes could not count past ‘three’, then our concepts of ‘four’ and ‘five’ (not to mention scientific concepts such as ‘electricity’ and ‘gravity’) are constructs that do not identify anything that exists in nature; and if primitive societies did not have free men who enjoyed individual rights, but only masters and slaves who switched roles from time to time depending on the outcomes of battles, then ‘free man’ is only a social construct not identifying any facts in reality.
By this line of reasoning, if some idea has not been held consistently by every human being in the history of the world, then the idea cannot be based on fact. Using the terminology of Ayn Rand, this position holds that if an idea is not intrinsic—that is, “intrinsic in reality, apart from any relation to man or his mind,” (Peikoff 1991, 142) and apprehended infallibly through some non-rational, non-volitional means such as mystic revelation—then the idea must be subjective—that is, created by some mind without adherence to the facts of reality.
In reality, no idea can be intrinsic. All conceptual knowledge is knowledge of reality apprehended by an individual, human consciousness by a volitional process of reason. Conceptual knowledge is neither intrinsic nor subjective; it is objective. (See Ayn Rand [1966–1967] 1990 for the Objectivist theory of concepts, establishing the basis of objectivity.)
Note also that Herek cites the most barbaric practices of primitive tribes to call into question the concepts of our advanced, civilized society. If some concepts of contemporary society need to be challenged—concepts such as ‘social construction’ and ‘psychologist’, for instance—the rational way to do so is by referring to reality, not by referencing barbaric, primitive, irrational societies. I do not need to mention—nor does it further my argument to mention—that some cave man did not have the notion of ‘social construction’ in order for me to show that the notion is absurd. (Comically, these same tribal examples show up in article after article on the subject of the ‘social construction’ of sexual orientation.)
Now we come to the ethical point. What does this argument for social construction let Herek and his ilk get way with? It lets them change the subject, that is, evade the issue. Instead of addressing the question of whether all sexual orientations are equally life-affirming, and instead of identifying the intellectual premises underlying each sexual orientation, the social constructionists challenge the very idea of ‘sexual orientation’. And who came up with the idea of sexual orientation? According to the social constructionists, heterosexuals did, because male heterosexuals control our society and use the notions of sexual orientation and masculinity to maintain control. And so instead of trying to understand homosexuality, Herek can spend the remainder of his article—and career, judging by the rest of his work—writing about what is allegedly wrong about heterosexuals and masculinity.
Herek writes ( 1993, 320–321),
Heterosexual masculinity embodies personal characteristics such as success and status, toughness and independence, aggressiveness and dominance.
In recent years writers have pointed out the maladaptive aspects of heterosexual masculinity in terms of physical health, personal health, and psychological happiness.
(In the next part of this essay, I will discuss the connection between the philosophy of the LGBT movement and such criticisms of masculinity.)
And that is the pattern of most academic writing about sexual orientation. Homosexuals are considered healthy victims; male heterosexuals are considered oppressors; and writers psychologize about the alleged neuroses of the oppressors, most of whom the psychologizers have never met, but about whom they collect data from polls and multiple-choice questionnaires. (See, for example, Herek  1993, 317–318).
In the same article, Herek ( 1993, 318) writes,
Another set of empirical findings concerns the role of defensiveness in homophobia [an alleged neurotic fear that heterosexuals have of homosexuals, allegedly often due to the heterosexuals fearing that they themselves have homosexual feelings]. In psychodynamic terms, defensiveness involves an unconscious distortion of reality as a strategy for avoiding recognition of some unacceptable part of self. One mode of defense is externalization of unacceptable characteristics through projection and other strategies.
If I were to use Herek’s method of psychologizing about individuals I have never met, I could state that he—a homosexual—is projecting his unacceptable homosexuality onto heterosexuals; but I have no evidence that his evasion of the rational study of sexual orientation is unconscious.
The ethical point in short is that the notion of ‘social construction’ is simply an evasion to avoid the judging of homosexuality.
It gets worse. In the same article, Herek ( 1993, 320) writes,
The social constructionist position holds that what most people call reality is a consensus worldview that develops through social interaction (see Berger and Luckmann 1966; Foucault 1978; Gergen 1985, Plummer 1981). [Underlined emphasis added.]
Thus Herek is arguing that not merely is sexual orientation socially constructed, and not merely is all sexuality socially constructed, but all of reality is socially constructed.
Following the suggestion of Herek to see his references, I saw the first three references he cites just above.
In Foucault’s 1978 book, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, cited favorably by Herek, I found this ripple of semi-lucidity amidst muddy waters (p. 105–106):
Sexuality must not be thought of as a kind of natural given which power tries to hold in check, or as an obscure domain which knowledge tries gradually to uncover. It is the name that can be given to a historical construct: not a furtive reality that is difficult to grasp, but a great surface network in which the stimulation of bodies, the intensification of pleasures, the incitement to discourse, the formation of special knowledges, the strengthening of controls and resistances, are linked to one another, in accordance with a few major strategies of knowledge and power.
Thus, according to Foucault, as according to Herek, it is not merely sexual orientation that is a social construct; rather, sexuality—in all its irrational banality—is a social construct.
And here is how Foucault’s book ends (1978, 159):
Christianity once employed to make us detest the body; but let us ponder all the ruses that were employed for centuries to make us love sex, to make the knowledge of it desirable and everything said about it precious. Let us consider the stratagems by which we were induced to apply all our skills to discovering its secrets, by which we were attached to the obligation to draw out its truth, and made guilty for having failed to recognize it for so long. These devices are what ought to make us wonder today. Moreover, we need to consider the possibility that one day, perhaps, in a different economy of bodies and pleasures, people will no longer quite understand how the ruses of sexuality, and the power that sustains its organization, were able to subject us to that austere monarchy of sex, so that we became dedicated to the endless task of forcing its secret, of exacting the truest of confessions from a shadow.
The irony of this deployment is in having us believe that our “liberation” is in the balance.
Thus the conclusion that sexual orientation is unimportant is based on a conclusion that sex is unimportant, that sex is a mere “shadow.” Thus we arrive at a sexual nihilism more complete than the sexual nihilism of the biological determinists.
I also “saw” Berger and Luckmann’s 1966 book, The Social Construction of Reality, cited favorably by Herek, and found these passages:
Berger and Luckmann 1966, 13:
The basic contentions of the argument of this book are implicit in its title and sub-title, namely, that reality is socially constructed and that the sociology of knowledge must analyse the process in which this occurs.
Berger and Luckmann 1966, 15:
It is from Marx that the sociology of knowledge derived its root proposition—that man’s consciousness is determined by his social being.
Berger and Luckmann 1966, 69:
As soon as one observes phenomena that are specifically human, one enters the realm of the social. Man’s specific humanity and his sociality are inextricably intertwined. Homo sapiens is always, and in the same measure, homo socius. [Recall the quotation of Frumkin: “he becomes a human, social being.”]
Berger and Luckmann 1966, 209:
The insight into the dialectic between social reality and individual existence in history is by no means new. It was, of course, most powerfully introduced into modern social thought by Marx. What is needed, however, is to bring to bear a dialectical perspective upon the theoretical orientation of the social sciences.
Then I “saw” Gergen’s 1985 article, cited favorably by Herek, entitled “The Social Constructionist Movement in Modern Psychology,” and found this (p. 271–272):
What is confronted, then, is the traditional, Western conception of objective, individualistic, ahistoric knowledge—a conception that has insinuated itself into virtually all aspects of modern institutional life. As this view is increasingly challenged one must entertain the possibility of molding an alternative scientific metatheory based on constructionist assumptions. …
Elsewhere, the contours of this emerging metatheory have been referred to as sociorationalist (Gergen, 1982; Gergen & Morawski, 1980). In this view the locus of scientific rationality lies not within the minds of independent persons but within the social aggregate. That which is rational is the result of negotiated intelligibility.
This passage is written by an extremely influential psychologist who does not know that the only kind of entity capable of rational thought is an individual human being.
Thus Herek’s argument against sexual orientation is an argument against all of reason and reality, from which the argument against sexual orientation is a trivial deduction.
Can it get worse? I don’t know, but here is more from the same one article by Herek. He writes ( 1993, 323),
Through intense political struggle, lesbians and gay men have made considerable progress in shifting the realm of discourse on sexual orientation from medicine to civil liberties (e.g. see Altman 1982; D’Emilio 1983).
I have already quoted D’Emilio at length. Here are some passages from Altman’s 1982 book, The Homosexualization of America: The Americanization of The Homosexual, cited favorably by Herek:
Altman 1982, 41:
Any discussion of sexuality must balance the contribution to our behavior and emotions of inborn desire and of social constructs.
This author too is writing of all of sexuality, not merely sexual orientation.
Altman 1982, 41:
Biology and culture are not alternatives, but rather dual factors that interact with each other to produce particular expressions of sexuality. Such sexual expressions can take many and varied forms (including abstinence), but ultimately they involve a universal need for body contact, erotic stimulation, and orgasmic release.
There is no mention of love or values.
Altman 1982, 184:
Once sex is desacrilized and separated from its procreative function, it becomes evident that there is no reason to regard it as a form of behavior set apart from others. If it is regarded as legitimate to have a meaningful discussion with someone one meets on a voyage and will never see again, why cannot it be equally meaningful to have a f— with someone in similar circumstances?
Altman 1982, 185, favorably quoting Rita Mae Brown:
I want the option of random sex with no emotional commitment when I need sheer physical relief: erotic freedom.
Altman 1982, 201:
If sexuality were free from the sorts of pressures that exist in our society—it would be utopian to argue for no social pressures that exist in our society—I suspect child/adult sex would be fairly common, though not perhaps as common as sex among children themselves.
In response to these sordid—and evil—calls for promiscuity and mindlessness to the point of sexual nihilism, I offer these words of Cyrano de Bergerac (Rostand   1980, 77):
Watching you other people making friends
Everywhere—as a dog makes friends! I mark
The manner of these canine courtesies
And think: “My friends are of a cleaner breed;
Here comes—thank God!—another enemy!”
and Rostand   1980, 110:
… It is my voice, mine, my own,
That makes you tremble, as a blossom
Among the leaves—You tremble, and I can feel,
All the way down along these jasmine branches,
Whether you will or no, the passion of you
(He kisses wildly the end of a drooping spray of jasmine.)
Yes, I do tremble…and I weep…
And I love you…and I am yours…and you
Have made me thus!
Aside from Ayn Rand, Peikoff, and Rostand, all of the quotations in this section are from leading mainstream academic researchers in psychology and/or sexuality.
In short, contemporary academia and psychology believe that the etiology of sexual orientation has no basis in rational ideas because they believe that sex has no basis in rational ideas.
Whatever one thinks of the healthfulness of homosexuality, the psychological professions certainly are very sick indeed.
But etiology is only one aspect of the study of sexual orientation. Let us see how philosophical ideas affect other aspects of research regarding sexual orientation.