My research paper deals with the topic of sexual preference and biology. However, when I was researching this topic, I realized that there was an ideological problem with biology in itself, and that I could not merely present ‘informational’ statistics that somehow explained sexual preference. I have come to realize that the current “scientific” establishment, far from giving us “objective truths” and “facts” about the world and ourselves, has always existed and functioned within a growing capitalistic, often religious, oppressive socioeconomic context. I do not think that this means that science has nothing to offer us, though. I think instead it is important to strive to use the scientific method, but at the same time to realize that all of us, whether children or esteemed Nobel Prize winners, have biases that are shaped from the moment that we are born, and that keep changing through our lives, but which we still must strive to recognize at every point. This does not mean that we have to give way to a postmodernist relativism, where openmindedness becomes extreme. Instead, I think we should consciously create a balance between objective and subjective realities, and understand the complexities and layers of meaning involved. I realize that many scientists have tried to break free of their social constraints. However, there have not been enough who have truly tried to create a better society. It is in settling, and giving up on change, that we accept, rationalize and justify oppression. Scientists must always aim to understand human beings and the natural world better, and if they truly do so, they will recognize their limitations and biases. If instead they reduce, oversimplify, dichotomize and suppress, they will only reinforce oppression.
One of the primary reasons I am interested in understanding sexuality is because I have struggled, and continue to struggle, to understand it my whole life. I think being cross-cultural puts me at an advantage, but it is also a disadvantage. In trying to understand sexuality, I am able to analyze and observe aspects of both western and eastern culture. I am also able to observe the increasing globalization of capitalism and western values and imperialism. At the same time as I protest this hegemony, I identify fiercely with elements of western ideology and culture.
Sexual oppression, suppression and alienation became very important to me when I started realizing that I had to conform to an established way of expressing any sexual or romantic desires I had. In a way, these projects are my form of resistance to the intense alienation I feel when people see my rather overtly expressed desires as teenage confusion, hormones, confusing love and friendship (which apparently need to be separated), selfishness, exhibitionism, pent-up sexual needs, acting out and other generalities and stereotypes. But I do not see this resistance as yet another form of childish rebellion. I think it’s time to protest rather than suppress, to exhibit rather than ignore. I see and know that a lot of people are suffering in this world, and much of that suffering is social, personal and personal. I refuse to see these social and personal needs as somehow less necessary than physical needs, because I see the physical and social/emotional as being interdependent. They cannot exist separately. Therefore, I refuse to submit to or create a hierarchy of oppression. the problem with determinism
Reductionists look at individual parts in order to understand a whole system.
The problem is that specific parts of a system do not simply add up to create the system. Rather, they interact with each other, and change each other and themselves, in order to create a system. Elements that combine together to form a compound exist as the whole compound and lose their individual properties. Individual properties are not meaningless, as they are necessary to create the whole, but they do not define the whole, since they have become intermingled with other individuals’ properties.
For example, in this context, reductionists would look at interactions between electrons of different atoms in different molecules of a single cell to explain how a whole organism works. The interactions between different cells, and different organs, and in fact different organisms and between the organism and other objects present in their surroundings, are not considered, or in any case are denigrated. Genetic inheritance is given primary importance - often a godlike status. This is biological determinism.
Cultural determinism, while it seems like a better idea at first, completely shuns biology and maintains that an individual is born a blank slate and from the first moment that they are born they are environmentally created and their identities determined. Some cultural determinists predict individuals’ behavior exclusively as a result of economic climate, including all or most aspects of death, disease etc. Others look at the individual as greater than the social, but claim that it is or will be possible to predict exactly how a person will turn out because of forces in their social environment. Hence, the environment is seen as independent and immutable, and the individual is helpless.
Interactionism often seems like a step above both biological and cultural determinism, since it presents the hypothesis that an individual’s genotype gives rise to a particular phenotype as an accumulation of both genetic, biological factors as well as environmental factors. Therefore, the same genotype raised in different environments will create different organisms. Here too, though, the environment and biology are seen as factors that work independently of the organism’s choices and actions, and that the organism is shaped in a very specific, fixed way by them.
Determinism in all its forms looks at people as slaves to their biology or environment, quite passive participants in their life experiences. To contextualize the deterministic argument, a woman who currently identifies as a lesbian is a lesbian, and she is a lesbian because either she was born with a gene that codes for homosexuality or was exposed to a particular hormone “too much” or “too little” (biological determinism), or her environment in some way caused her homosexuality (cultural determinism), or because of an interaction between biological and environmental forces she became a homosexual.
The problem with deterministic theories is that they categorize people into strict, immutable boxes and labels. A person who changes is probably not the real thing (and “the real thing,” apparently, is someone whose desire remains constant throughout their life) or is in some way temporarily deluded. Scientists will nevertheless try to search for a pattern that will reveal her one, true identity. Of course, in a world that is dominated by an exploitative, oppressive, conservative worldview, it is very difficult for a person to exist freely and choose their identities, so this will only make determinists’ arguments sound even more plausible. But determinism can never quite succeed completely in explaining away the increasing oppression that people feel, either as communities or individuals. This cartoon
exemplifies the inherent ridiculousness of classifying gender and sex into specific, fixed categories. Whichever way you go about trying to solve this problem, there are messy complications involved. There are individuals who do not satisfy the physical requirements for being either male or female (genitalia or otherwise.) There are also individuals who do fulfill the physical requirements but not the socio-cultural, patriarchal roles of either the male or female gender. And in the end, no matter how many boxes are created, an individual’s sex or gender may change over the course of their lifetime. This is not such a ludicrous idea, actually. As Anne Fausto-Sterling says in her book Sexing the Body, “I don’t mean that a penis drops off or an ovary dissolves, but that one’s physique, one’s anatomical function, and how one experiences one’s sexual body change over time” (242). There are also social or environmental influences involved in how one perceives their sexual body and sexual desires, of course, and these too change over time. As discussed in the book Not in Our Genes, “Organisms do not simply adapt to previously existing, autonomous environments; they create, destroy, modify, and internally transform aspects of the external world by their own life activities to make this environment. Just as there is no organism without an environment, so there is no environment without an organism” (273).
The flexibility and plasticity of a person’s gender and sex experiences in their lifetime is also supported by evidence of the plastic nature of the brain. Fausto-Sterling discusses this in great detail, saying, “environmental signals stimulate the growth of new brain cells or cause old ones to make new connections.” When a person is born, their brain is incompletely developed, and, in fact, their brain never becomes “completely developed,” thus always allowing for change and regrowth. For example, one way in which the brain makes a neural connection more permanent is by myelination, or the production of a myelin sheath around individual nerve fibers. The human brain is incompletely myelinated at birth, and major myelination continues throughout the first decade of life. However, it is not completely myelinated at this point, either. In fact, there is a two-fold increase in myelination between the first and second decades of life, and an additional 60% increase in myelination between the fourth and fifth decades of life. This opens up the plausibility for diverse and changing gender-related experiences throughout life.
Because of the intricate web of multitudinous interactions and changes involved – within an individual’s specific nervous system and within an individual’s system in response to external stimuli or experiences or other individuals – it is impossible to look at a human being’s persona, or their sexuality in this case, as deriving simply from one gene or one over-generated hormone, or as a fixed, immutable constant. An individual is not immutably structured either by environment or by biology – environments change, and so do individuals, and individuals actively change environments, as environments do individuals. And this in turn impacts biology. Therefore, it would be much more apt to say, as Not In Our Genes concludes, “Thus, it is our biology that makes us free.” (290) ← Interpenetration of organism and environment