Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Civil Rights and the Gay Gene Debate

So, I've spent some time reading about Genetics. By "some time," I mean six hard, grueling years of absorbing an undergraduate degree and years of biomedical labwork. Add to this a preparation for studying the history of Genetics and evolutionary theory, and you have one disgruntled academic.

Anyway, this weekend I will be giving two workshops for Building Unity, a student conference for organizers. This is the first time I've ever been able to give two workshops at anything besides the LGBT Leadership Institute at UW - Madison. My new found ability to give more workshops comes from a new inspiration. I'll be teaching my little fraternity brother how to empower others. We will be co-presenting one of the workshops together.

While the extra help in research will be useful, I'll probably spend more time guiding him through his first workshop design than I would spend just finishing it myself. In the end, I think it's the fact that he wants to learn more about something important that's driving me to do more than I have before. I might not have presented at all if he wouldn't have the opportunity to attend this conference and get exposed to new ideas.

The people I have "taught" have gone on to do some amazing things. Someties, seeing them go on and really make a difference in the world is what keeps me going. You know who ya'll are, and I'm proud of each of you.

Well, this new found energy has sprurred me to present something I've never presented before: material on the Gay Gene Debate and its implications for civil rights.

Another generously borrowed picture from a anti-gay website

I've been doing so much research, the extra material has started to overflow from my brain. I had to put it somewhere.

So, first, quite a few publications will state that research into the biological origins of homosexuality began with the recent publication by geneticist Dean Hamer. This is incorrect and misleading, in a way. "Modern" Biology has observed homosexuality since the late 1700s, beginning with animals and how the origins of animal homosexuality might explain human homosexuality. While the methods and instruments may have changed, the basic search for homosexuality in Biology has not altered much since then.

Later, in the 1870s, behavioral evolution started to change our concepts of the origin of human habits. Not long after, doctors began the process of medicalizing certain sexual behaviors, including homosexuality. I'm currently doing research on one such doctor who wrote in the 1880s. Many physicians asserted, in the late 1800s, that homosexuality should no longer be viewed as a moral vice, but rather a disease that might be treated. Eventually, homosexuality was declared a mental illness and, after due time, removed from that same list of diseases.

Even before Hamer's publication on possible linkage to genetics and homosexuality, research in fruit fly genetics showed a very simple mechanism for controlling insect 'sexual orientation.' Kulber Gill reported this discovery at the 1963 American Society of Zoologists, eventually leading to the mapping and characterization of this mutation by Jeffery Hall in the late 1970s. Dean Hamer's acticle on X-linked human homosexuality gene, Xq28, was not published until 1993. Since the early 1990s, there has been an explosion of genetic research in human and animal sexuality. However, this explosion wasn't because the material was new.

So, what does this mean for social justice and civil rights?

Well, first-off, the search for biological origins in homosexuality is complex and double-edged at best. While the religious faction grapples with the question, "dear lord, what if God made gays the way they are and we've been wrongfully hating them all this time?," the implications for gay activists are a little more complex.

Psychological and biological definitions seem to have a comforting nature about them to people who use them to construct their identities. For instance, when Krafft-Ebing (~1880s) wrote about the sexual perversions of men loving men, some homosexuals wrote him to express their gratitude at having someone publish a book that to which they related. Suddenly, these people realized that they were not alone in the world and other people suffered from homosexuality like they did. Now, with homosexuality no longer a disease, gay men and women gravitate toward a sense of identification. The gay gene offers a type of ownership over their own identity. It offers a common language to describe who and what they are.

However, with this, the gay gene also challenges a more general assumption about sexual identity. Suddenly, a doctor can tell you that you are gay with a prick of your finger. This is important because we have also found out recently that some of the most beautiful women are actually genetically-male, even though they had never doubted their own femininity (to my knowledge.) This is a major change in the role of science in our personal lives. A portion of our identity can be changed by a quick examination under the microscope.

Also, with all this rhetoric and enthusiasm for utilizing scientific authority, have we fogotten the real issues at hand? I mean, originally, the gay gene was compelling because it meant that homosexuals could not be "cured." However, I'd like to think we've moved beyond this. I mean, nobody deserves to be murdered, psychologically tortured, or yes, even discriminated against based on what's hanging (or not hanging) between their loved-one's legs.

Even if they prove that homosexuality has no biological component whatsoever, which I doubt, we shouldn't lose any moral ground on our fight against discrimination and murder. People die; whether they are gay men crucified in Montana, straight people beaten to death for holding a blind man's hand, the numberless transpeople who are slaughtered, or the one-in-three gay teens that end their lives rather than live with the hatred people have towards them, it's not ok.

No gay gene or biological origin can give us back their lives. A fight for rights deserves more than biorhetoric.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Less Than Recent Developments in Progressivism

Firstly, I'd like to thank people for their generous comments, both online and in person. A few people were curious as to my "political background," since it's been a while since I've really appeared on the Madison political scene.

There are quite a few issues that certain parties love to see as being two-sided. One of the great things about being a crazy libertarian is that I know my party issues will never be huge on the political agenda, not that they're always big on my agenda either. Still, things stop being black and white and I'm less likely to vote on only one controversial issue.

Funny to think that being a foaming-at-the-mouth third party member has made me somewhat more receptive to various opinions. However, I've already covered that in an older post, so I digress.

If possible, I prefer to observe. Maybe it's my scientific background or the fact that I had systems dynamics beat into me for four years at UW, but I can't help but think that paying close attention is half of the battle. However, observation every so often brings someone to action. I've had my fair share of involvement, but I prefer to pick and choose my battles wisely. I've been around long enough to see a few Dean of Students come and go. I still remember being a Junior when Austin King ran for alderperson. He seemed almost sane then. However, things change, including the subject of my academic studies.

While I began in the rough-and-tough biological sciences, I grew tired of living in fear. I just couldn't bear the murderous looks I'd get in Biochem 501 when the person sitting next to me suspected I might have a higher class grade than her or him. I think a few very intelligent people disappeared that semester, and each time that happened the course curve bumped up a curious amount. Needless to say, after graduation, I switched to a more social subject.

Now I study the history of social interactions with science. A lot of this revolves around the progressive movement(s) and the idea of political change. Progress and its later political incarnation, Progressivism, have two different but related stories. One of the stories has a huge part of Wisconsin's development.

Now this might seem like a 'yay, I love Progressive politics' rant, but that would be a bit misleading. The problem with knowing about something is the realization that it has flaws. While my opinions are slowly becoming more liberal as the conservatives are becoming more insane, I can't say "Progressive" politics in Madison are all that sane either. In fact, many times the "Progressive" politics in Madison aren't progressive at all.

Call it a hunch, but there's a lot of real progressive ideas coming back, and a lot of things are more connected than people realize. The Wisconsin Idea Project, while originally a song and dance to get funding from the state, has had the happy occasion to actually get people searching for these progressive ideas. Funny enough, this relates to the Union South renovation and the introduction of social space on campus... which sounds a lot like the "Science Discovery Center" that's boiling right now. Furthermore, there were rumors of 'light-rail' stations that conflicted with these sites. State, City, and University politics are converging on one location at one particularly sensitive time.

Sound confusing? Well, it is. However, I'm hoping that in the next few years, the Progressive Dane party will stop being an unwitting pawn of a few, and let's admit it, not very progressive or liberal people, and will start being influenced by some of the larger issues at hand. There are quite a few truly excellent people in the party. Now, far be it from me to tell another party what to do, but it seems like the Dems and Danes would do a lot better to stop the infighting, get rid of the bad apples, and remember the things they have in common.

I know egos are on the line, but things are seriously going down and people should keep their eyes on the road rather than at their "opponent's" jugulars. If not, a seriously important time will simply fly by... and where is the progressive or Democratic value in that?

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Madison Politics, April 2007 Race

Normally, I don't like to get too involved in politics. For Madison, this is doubly so. Politics are weird, way too serious, and often humorous in that really-scary-sort-of-way.

I almost always vote absentee, even though I don't travel. I dislike having to research a ballot the day that I have to vote, then having to make a decision based on limited information. Inevitably, there's someone on the ballot that I don't even know. I'm scared that I'm voting for some crazy conservative, an unpredictable liberal, or (God-Forbid) someone from my own party... the dreaded Libertarian.

So, here I sit with my ballot in front of me thinking about the future of my community. I want to make a good decision without spending too much time. Typical American mind-set... except I have that added 'do the right thing' mentality. Regardless, I honestly don't know who I'd like to vote for. The races seem so dramatic for the candidates that we have. Especially given the Lauren Woods/Eli Judge race. Woods really needs to reel her lackeys in, because I've heard people from her corner saying some fairly racist things. I'm tired of Madison politics coming down to "oh, she/he is a person of color, so each issue revolves around race." I hate it when people abuse the race card to suggest ludicrous statements or empty solutions. I'd rather have my race card saved for issues that are a little more important.

Specifically, I'm referring to some of the recent publications in the Daily Cardinal. Kumar, a very minor political player in Madison, made the assertion that a policy change made by the Democratic party in Madison was keeping people of color votes from counting. *Ahem* Alright, so first, thank you for speaking for me, Kumar, as the head person of color. You might not have meant it that way, but it's certainly how it came across, not only to me, but to quite a few people in Madison. Secondly, you just pointed out that your candidate isn't even keeping track of the political changes that are going on during her own campaign! I'm not sure that was the best move, either for people of color or your personal alliance with Lauren Woods and Ald. Austin King.

Critical Badger has a great article on this. The guy has amazing insight into the eccentricities of the major players in Madison.

Oh, and Ald. King, I'm glad you were there to tell me who a "real Democrat" was at the Democratic party meeting by putting down other politicians in your own party. You're the champion of all people who can't think for themselves. For a while, I actually bought into your campaign. I'm having serious second thoughts.

Lauren, it's become apparent that you had no idea what you were getting yourself into by allying yourself with Kumar and King. I think you'd make a great candidate one day... but not given the current situation. Sorry.

On to one of the bigger moments in Wisconsin politics, the supreme court position between Clifford and Ziegler.

My vote is definitely going to Linda Clifford for Supreme Court Justice. Hands down. Good record, I think we can trust her neutrality, plus she opened a gay hockey game, nearly killing herself on the ice to do it. Nice touch, I admire a person who can handle her/himself while 'walking on thin ice.' I like a justice who's in touch with the community. It shows the good, open-minded quality that's required for true neutrality and legal interpretation.

Alright, now on to the mayoral race. I think we all know who is going to win, which is a bit sad. I've been pondering the opposition, Allen. He gives the appearance of having experience and has a well-thought-through position on a lot of current issues. Most of these positions are city-focused, logical, and almost-reasonable. I was shocked... certainly this can't be happening in Madison!

So, I looked for the same issues on Dave's site. Lots of fluff, wishy-washy answers to real questions. Suddenly, I got to thinking... what has mayor Dave actually done during his term? Crime is rising and Madison either needs new leadership or a scapegoat. I'm running dangerously close to throwing your vote the other way.

Only problem is that Allen voted down a proposition for domestic partner benefits in the Madison school board. I tried to look up his stance on that decision. Nothing. I tried to look up his stance for civil rights. Nothing on LGBT issues.

I'm on the fence. Maybe one of the candidates will email me back with information on, not only their positions, but reasoning behind their positions.

Dear lord, reasoning in politics. Shun the day.

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