Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Peter Espeut | Gay activism posing as science

Published:Friday | July 1, 2016 | 7:00 AM

"Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people" - Socrates (470 BC-399 BC).

Two weeks ago, in my column 'Sexual identity, gender identity', I pointed out the difference between the two, and the dysfunction which arises when there is a mismatch. In a letter to the editor last Tuesday, Andre Stephens, who identified himself as a sociologist, rubbished my arguments, called me a "homophobe", and accused me of "dressing up ... religious intolerance in pseudo-scientific discourse". The letter was headlined 'Don't dress up homophobia as science'. During the course of his diatribe, sociologist Stephens recommended three books I should read for my edification.

I appreciate when my readers comment on my columns - and even criticise them, but it is extremely frustrating when a reader, clearly with an axe to grind, fails to engage ideas but descends into name-calling.

It is clear that Sociologist Stephens is confused about the distinction between sex and gender. He writes: "No half-decent sociologist believes that people are born 'male' or 'female' because of their chromosomes. That would equate (fe)maleness with a chromosome or sexual organ. I know that Espeut is a male, and I have never tested his chromosomes or seen his organs! It should be obvious from just that fact that 'maleness' is not based on those factors, but describes a series of social characteristics that we have been socialised to identify (shorter hair, more toned, less shapely, voice, etc., and, most of all, dress code!). I strongly encourage Espeut to read an article called 'Doing Gender' by West and Zimmerman."




I had explained that whereas one's sex (male or female) was a biological attribute determined by the sex chromosomes (XX for females and XY for males), gender (masculine or feminine) was a social attribute determined by socialisation. Sociologist Stephens is clearly confused when he says "that 'maleness' is not based on those factors, but describes a series of social characteristics that we have been socialised to identify (shorter hair, more toned, less shapely, voice, etc., and, most of all, dress code!)". In fact, it is the gender attribute of masculinity (not biological sex) that is the result of socialisation.

He recommends that I read 'Doing Gender' by Candace West and Don Zimmerman, as if they will support his argument. In fact, West and Zimmerman argue that gender, rather than being an innate quality of individuals (i.e., a biological attribute), is a psychologically ingrained social construct (i.e., is the result of socialisation).

West and Zimmerman make the point that persons socialised into particular gender behaviour believe that it is naturally occurring, whereas it is not innate at all but the result of socialisation. There may be more than two genders (because of how people are socialised), but there can't be more than two sexes.

In my column, I did not raise the issue of homosexuality; it is the gay campaigners who head straight there. But West and Zimmerman would agree with me that gay persons may believe that their orientation is innate and natural, but, in fact, is the result of socialisation. The gay lobby is right when it says LGBT behaviour is not a choice; we do not choose our socialisation; but not being a choice does not make it innate and natural.




"His argument that socialisation fails when a person who is supposedly born male identifies as a female is also nonsense to sociologists. We don't see people as failures because they do not fit into our traditional norms. A person who is a Christian in Iran is not a failure because he is in a small, rejected minority. Espeut should read Foucault's A History of Sexuality."

Sociologist Stephens needs to read my column more carefully; I did not say that any person was a failure, but that the process of gender socialisation had failed. One of the fathers of sociology, the Frenchman Emile Durkheim, who originated the concept of socialisation within the framework of structural-functionalism, used the term 'dysfunctionality' to describe the result of failed or incomplete socialisation. It is Sociologist Stephens who is writing nonsense.

Historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, author of the three-volume work A History of Sexuality, was neither a sociologist nor a psychologist. In fact, the social theory posited by sociologist Stephens is rather thin.

LGBT campaigners seek to legitimise their lifestyle by dressing it up in scientific language. In fact, their arguments cannot stand up to logical or scientific scrutiny. I challenge Sociologist Stephens to discuss the ideas I have posited above, rather than to descend into name-calling.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to