cover image Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research Into Homosexuality

Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research Into Homosexuality

Simon LeVay. MIT Press (MA), $45 (364pp) ISBN 978-0-262-12199-6

LeVay (City of Friends), best known for his 1991 study on differences in the brains of straight and gay men, here chronicles the history of the myriad attempts to explain possible biological origins of homosexuality. Most interesting is his survey of research in Berlin at the turn of the century. Before the word ""homosexual"" was used, the German jurist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) was the first person to declare gays, or ""urnings"" (followers or descendants of Uranus), a distinct class of people from heterosexuals, or ""dionings"" (from Diana). Ulrichs thought that gay minds developed in one male or female direction, while their bodies developed in an opposite-sex direction. Magnus Hirschfield expanded these theories into his notions of ""a third sex,"" until Kinsey proposed the concept of a universal continuum of sexual desire. In separate chapters, LeVay chronicles theories and experiments regarding prenatal hormone levels (androgens and estrogens), genes and brain structure, as well as attempts to ""cure"" people of homosexuality, ranging from the merely psychoanalytical to the grotesquely surgical, such as testes transplantation. LeVay deftly translates biological arcana for the layperson but also has a full grasp on historical information--both nonmedical (the activist practice of ""outing"" closeted homosexuals was initiated by the anarchist Adolf Brand in fin de siecle Berlin) and medical (in WW II, the U.S. Army tried treating a unit of 300 gay men with testosterone injections, unexpectedly causing ""the worst homosexual problem"" because they increased rather than modified the intensity of the men's sex drives). (June)