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social sciences

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Social constructionist scholars have responded to this dilemma by producing elaborately reasoned classificatory systems to describe the conceptual relation between different manifestations of same-sex eroticism over time and across cultures.

These masterful schemes have three significant drawbacks, however: one, they are based almost entirely on data regarding male-male eroticism--women have not been introduced into these taxonomies, nor have separate ones been developed for them; two, they have the function of effacing important differences in same-sex erotic expression within societies (particularly along the lines of class, racial, and gender identities), reducing the social complexity of sexuality to a single uniform mode of expression; and three, they unduly privilege "homosexuality"--a modern, European concept--as the yardstick by which other same-sex erotic practices are measured, even suggesting an evolutionary trajectory from behavior patterns manifest in pre-modern and non-European societies to our current hegemonic modality, alongside which other sexual behavior patterns nonetheless persist.

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Moreover, the explanatory power of such taxonomies remains limited so long as no coherent etiological model for same-sex erotic inclination is available.

Is It Just a phase? Homosexuality, Social Science, and Queer Theory

Social scientific inquiry into homosexuality in the mid-twentieth-century United States marked a turning point in the way in which homosexuality was conceived. Alfred Kinsey's and his associates' extensive survey data, published in the monumental volumes Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), challenged the idea that all individuals could be neatly sorted out according to the terms of a heterosexual/homosexual binary.

A large percentage of Kinsey's respondents evinced sexual response to both men and women over their lifetimes. In this light, neither "homosexuality" nor "heterosexuality" appeared to be either permanent or mutually exclusive behavior patterns or states of being, and were thus called into serious question as accurate descriptors of human sexual behavior. To correct this apparent deficiency in available sexual categories, Kinsey introduced his famous seven-point scale, a continuum ranging from "completely heterosexual" (zero) to "completely homosexual" (six), with the vast majority of his subjects falling somewhere in the middle.

Other social scientists who were contemporaries of Kinsey provided ethnographic accounts of persons who engaged in "homosexual" behavior but did not identify as "homosexual," including Albert Reiss's 1961 study of teenage male prostitutes in Nashville and Laud Humphreys's 1970 study of men in St. Louis, many of them married, who frequented public toilets for sex with other men.

More recent research by psychologists indicates that not only sexual behavior but also sexual identity may be transitional over the lifespan; a person who initially identifies as heterosexual may subsequently identify as bisexual, gay or lesbian, or .

Such findings not only fly in the face of earlier medico-scientific beliefs but also in the face of gay and lesbian minority group politics, precisely because they destabilize that political movement's constituency. For this reason, gay and lesbian social networks and organizations have been (and often continue to be) wary of admitting a growing number of openly self-identified bisexual, transgender, questioning, and even closeted persons to their ranks.

HIV/AIDS prevention and education initiatives have been similarly bedeviled by the lack of well-bounded at-risk populations. Many men who have sex with men are not gay- or bisexually-identified, and cannot be targeted via the same methods used to reach these groups.

The notion that homosexuality (or, for that matter, heterosexuality) may be a transitional phase at least for some once again raises the specter of a "cure" for homosexuality, not to speak of the categorical dismissal of such assertions or behavior on the part of young people. It also conjures up the image of homosexuals as predators, capable and even bent on seeking out and poisoning, perverting, or converting others, especially the young.

This latter was a potential implication (based, albeit, on a cursory examination) of Kinsey's data that the United States government was not slow to appreciate in instituting its bans on the employment of homosexuals in the military and federal civil service in the 1940s and 1950s as part of "sexual psychopath" legislation.

Nor has the subsequent erasure of "homosexuality" from the lexicon of psychopathology necessarily guaranteed an end to the stigmatization of homosexually identified practices. The removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association in 1974 was a major achievement for gay activists. Yet by the early 1980s the newly identified "gender identity disorder," which understood effeminate behavior in young males as pathological and subject to therapeutic intervention, had been codified in the DSM. Gender role non-conformity thus remains a medical "problem," even if same-sex eroticism no longer is one.

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