Science, Identity, and the Construction of the Gay Political Narrative

87 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2006 Last revised: 4 Jul 2021

See all articles by Nancy J. Knauer

Nancy J. Knauer

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: July 23, 2010


This Article contends that the current debate over gay civil rights is, at base, a dispute over the nature of same-sex desire. Pro-gay forces advocate an ethnic or identity model of homosexuality based on the conviction that sexual orientation is an immutable, unchosen, and benign characteristic. The assertion that, in essence, gays are "born that way," has produced a gay political narrative that rests on claims of shared identity (i.e., homosexuals are a blameless minority) and arguments of equivalence (i.e., as a blameless minority, homosexuals deserve equal treatment and protection against discrimination). The pro-family counter-narrative is based on a behavioral model of same-sex desire under which homosexuality is an immoral, freely chosen, sexual practice. This produces an anti-gay political narrative that relies on claims of free will and self-determination (i.e., individuals choose to engage in homosexual acts) and arguments of nonequivalence (i.e., homosexuals are not the same as other deserving minority groups). The pro-gay insistence on immutability is misplaced. Claims of immutability rest on a shaky factual basis, produce stable desexualized gay subjects with no transformative value, and such claims are ultimately unresponsive to the pro-family characterization of homosexuality as a chosen and immoral behavior. Moreover, the supposed strategic or pragmatic benefits of asserting an unchosen and unchangeable sexual orientation (i.e., group cohesion, the ability to secure third-party alliances, and legal utility) are in many instances illusory, or at least highly debatable. This Article concludes that the resources currently expended to promote and protect the notion of immutability could be more profitably allocated to establishing the inherent morality of same-sex desire and same-sex relationships. Part II places contemporary queer bio-science of immutability in a larger historical context of prior medico-scientific models of homosexuality. It notes that although past generations of inverts and homosexuals have embraced the potential emancipatory value of various scientific models, science has never lived up to its promise to liberate gay men and lesbians. Parts III and IV take issue with the strategic benefits purportedly offered by the identity model. Part V concludes that arguments based on queer bio-science misapprehend the behavior-based understanding of homosexuality that continues to inform the laws and policies regulating same-sex desire, and the discovery of a bona fide "gay gene" would be of limited utility against a persistent moral condemnation of homosexual acts.

Keywords: homosexuality, LGBT, gay, lesbian, ex-gay, gay gene, essentialism, social construction, sexologists, foucault, reverse discourse, sexual inversion, gay liberation, homophile, bowers v hardwick, sodomy, krafft ebing, havelock ellis, LGBT identity, dale v boy scouts, immutability, sexual psychopath

JEL Classification: J7, K32

Suggested Citation

Knauer, Nancy J., Science, Identity, and the Construction of the Gay Political Narrative (July 23, 2010). Law & Sexuality, Vol. 12, p. 1, 2003, Available at SSRN:

Nancy J. Knauer (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

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