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Darwin's children.

Science is the engine of queer history. That's true first in a purely technical sense: Discoveries in physics and chemistry, from the steam engine to artificial fertilizers, promoted industrialization and the growth of large cities--the breeding grounds where gay people found each other and thus found themselves. That process continues today, as computers, satellites, and fiber-optic networks draw gay men and lesbians into an ever tighter, ever more electric web of queerness.

But it's also true in a moral sense. Science is part of a great rebellion in human thought--a shift--from a reliance on authority to a reliance on reason and evidence. Homosexuality is forbidden not just in the Bible but in many of the world's sacred books. If today we can safely ignore those proscriptions, it's thanks in large part to the rise of science. We queers, however we evolved, are truly Darwin's children.

And finally, science has propelled us by naming us. If you read the French philosophers, you'd think that was some kind of tragedy. Nonsense! The recognition and description of gay men and lesbians by sexologists (especially by my particular hero, the German gay rights pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld) began the long but necessary process by which mainstream society has faced us and is coming to terms with us. Yes, there were many individual tragedies along the way, as doctors misused science to "treat" homosexuality, but the overall course of events unleashed by that naming has been enormously beneficial.

So what does science have in store for us in the future? Experience tells us that it's impossible to predict where science will be more than five or eight years from the present. So I'll just indulge in some fanciful speculation, trusting that you'll take it for what it's worth.

The Human Genome Project will have run its course in a very few years from now. We'll finally have the Book of Life in our hands--but it will be written in an unknown tongue! It will take decades more work to decipher its 100,000 pages--to understand, in other words, how a unique mix of genes leads to the creation of a unique individual. And parallel to this great task will be another, perhaps even greater one: to understand how the human brain works--how it generates thought, emotion, memory, self-consciousness, personality, and desire. But when these twin tasks are accomplished, we will finally be in control of our own biological destiny.

And what will we be able to do with that awesome power? Certainly, with one tiny fragment of it, we will be able to tell something about an embryo's chances of becoming gay. And, very likely, to be able to do something about it too. Maybe we will even be able to change an adult man or woman's sexual orientation. Scary? Well, scary enough for me to write a thriller on the subject.

In fact, though, I'm not that much concerned about such things in this country. I'm optimistic enough to think that by the time this kind of technology becomes reality, few Americans will be interested in using it. I'm more concerned about other parts of the world. Fetal ultrasound imaging was a Western invention, but India is where it's being used to abort female fetuses. It will take a worldwide effort to stop the same thing from happening to fetuses that are queer.

On the more positive side, science will transform reproduction, and greatly to our advantage. I see cloning, of course, as having significant benefits for gay people in some circumstances. But there could be much more--true homosexual parenting, for example, in which two men or two women each contribute genetic material to a single embryo. Surely many gay couples would use this technology, which should be available within 30 years if people want it enough. And xenopregnancy--having a human fetus carried to term by an animal of a different species--could be of enormous benefit, especially to gay male couples, who currently have to pay $40,000 or more to have a child via a human surrogate. The idea revolts you--but why? I'd take the uterus of a sober, drug-free, nonsmoking pig over a prenatal environment any day.

It's not just human biology that will change things. Physics and chemistry will have to do so too, unless we are all to die. The profound disruption of the earth's carbon and nitrogen cycles, of which global warming is but one symptom, threatens to bring us to chaos and even to extinction. Technological fixes (safe nuclear power, new materials, self-fertilizing crops) are part of the answer.

But we will also develop, by wise intention or by dire necessity, a new and more modest way of inhabiting the world. Vegetarianism, human-powered transportation, collective living. An unlikely combination of science and simplicity will be our salvation. I see gay people leading the world through this difficult transition.

There's one science that truly promises to revolutionize human society, and that's astronomy. Eventually--in three, 30, or 300 years--we will come into radio contact with extraterrestrial civilizations, and that will be a great day for gay men and lesbians. Not because of meeting queer aliens (who knows whether they even have sex?) and not because of anything we may learn from them (we may learn nothing) but because the simple knowledge of living, thinking worlds beyond our own will greatly strengthen humanity's own sense of family--a family of earthlings to which even gay people belong.

Whatever science may bring, human beings will stay the same. People will go on wanting what they have always wanted: bread, circuses, and a main squeeze. But the paths by which we seek these three necessities will be laid out anew.

LeVay, a neuroscientist well-known for his study of the hypothalamus and how it relates to homosexuality, is the author of The Sexual Brain, City of Friends (with Elisabeth Nonas), Queer Science, Albrick's Gold, and the forthcoming The Earth in Turmoil (with Kerry Seih). He also writes a syndicated column, Queer Science.
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Title Annotation:homosexuals and the advent of scientific innovations
Author:LeVay, Simon
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Oct 14, 1997
Previous Article:Happy, healthy, and gay.
Next Article:Searching for that perfect pair of genes.

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