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Rogue monkeys and mad bisexual scientists – Part 1 of an investigation!

Posted in: Features
By Chris Banks - 16th October 2005

ROGUE MONKEYS AND MAD BISEXUAL SCIENTISTS – AN INVESTIGATION!
Part One: A Reading From The Book of Numbers

What does one do when confronted with a fundamentalist Christian fantasising about your arse? Call the police? Pass out on the kitchen floor and hope a loved one is nearby with the smelling salts?

Anything is possible in the mad, mad, mad, mad world of Ian Wishart, the man who brought us gay soy, lesbian Prime Ministers, essays on the nature of Hell, and wineboxes that don't contain wine.

Lately, he's taken his self-published magazine hatchet “Investigate” (buy a copy – you'll double the sales) to famed sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey, often credited as the father of the sexual revolution, and recent subject of a Hollywood film about his life.

It's this film, “Kinsey”, which has really set Wishart off. GayNZ.com reviewed it on its theatrical release a few months back, and with its recent release on DVD, Wishart has written an outraged quasi-review of his own, entitled “Darwin's Rogue Monkey”, claiming:

(a) Alfred Kinsey was a “mad bisexual scientist” who conducted sexual experiments on children
(b) Kinsey's 1-in-10 ratio for homosexuals was a figure he inflated to justify his own desires, and homosexuals actually number less than 1% of the population
(c) As one of the architects of the sexual revolution, Kinsey rewrote the book on (religious) morality and sent the world to hell in a handbasket
(d) “Fundamentalist atheist” and “gay activist” Chris Banks (yep, that's me) “fizzes at the bung” in his role as an apologist for the above.

We shouldn't be surprised. After all, this is the man whose work in the last few years have spawned labels as diverse as “warped” (New Zealand Herald), “dotty” (National Business Review), and “wanker” (former Labour MP John Tamihere).

We also shouldn't be surprised that Wishart's claims about Kinsey and gays are based on second-hand quotes from dubious researchers, distortion of genuine studies, and various other crazy claims cribbed from the internet.

You see, Wishart and his fellow fundies hate Kinsey with an absolute passion. Before Kinsey, the breadth and depth of human sexuality was an unknown scientific quantity. The void of knowledge was instead filled by Christian junk ‘science' – old wives tales about masturbation making you go blind and grow hairs on your palms, etc.

Before Kinsey became interested in human sexuality, he was studying gall wasps, a far less interesting phenomenon. However, he applied the same meticulous investigative methods to the study of both. He was interested in every variant of human sexual behaviour, and set out to document it by conducting one-on-one interviews with people.

The first publication to stem from these interviews was the 1948 book “Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male”. Kinsey discovered that the scale of human sexual behaviour was much wider than had been assumed. He devised a seven-point scale of sexuality to document this diversity, with “0” being exclusively heterosexual and “6” exclusively homosexual. Based on their recounted sexual histories in interviews, Kinsey was able to place each of his subjects at a point somewhere on this scale.

Kinsey said in his writings that it was impossible to determine the number of people who were heterosexual or homosexual, only to determine sexual behaviour at certain points in time. Nevertheless, certain percentage figures quoted in Kinsey's book have echoed down the ages, the most famous being the “10% of men are homosexual” which so infuriates the Christian Right.

It is Wishart's belief that this figure was nothing short of a colossal overcount, derived from a skewed sample, and it is this “lie” that has been used to further civil rights for gays around the world – he notes that gay activists used the “1 in 10” figure when petitioning for homosexual law reform here in 1985.

Subsequent studies have shown that 10% is probably too high a figure for the number of homosexuals in the population, and if Kinsey were still alive, he'd agree because he never said it in the first place. In actual fact, he stated that 10 percent of his sample were “more or less exclusively homosexual (ie. Rate 5 or 6) for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55”.

In terms of exclusive homosexuality, Kinsey's sample had a prevalence rate of 4% for men. But once again, these figures were intended to be indicative rather than definitive, a point which every researcher brave enough to tackle the subject since has also been at pains to point out.

In the 1994 book “The Social Organisation of Sexuality – Sexual Practices in the United States” (Laumann/Gagnon/Michael/Micahels) published by University of Chicago Press and based on the National Health and Social Life Survey of 1992, the authors assert that “estimating a single number for the prevalence of homosexuality is a futile exercise because it presupposes assumptions that are patently false: that homosexuality is a uniform attribute across individuals, that it is stable over time, and that it can be easily measured.” The authors also lament that “we have no way of controlling or even anticipating the ways in which our findings will be used”.

The politicisation of statistics was also noted by the authors of the 1994 study “Sexual Behaviour in Britain” (Wellings/Field/Johnson/Wadsworth), which Wishart selectively quotes from. Most people are heterosexual, so it's a given that gays and lesbians are a deviation from the statistical norm, but: “While deviation from a statistical norm might properly be termed diversity...deviation from a moral norm denotes perversion – a term heavily laden with opprobrium. Statistics have political significance in so far as they have the potential to normalise particular practices.”

The religious right would like to dictate the moral norm for society, and for years have attempted to do so. It is only now that the fruits of their labours have warranted their very own set of statistics. A new study by Gregory Paul published in the the “Journal of Religion and Society” (Vol 7, 2005) set out to test the hypothesis that high rates of religious practice correlate with lower rates of crime, promiscuity and abortion.

It found precisely the opposite, something which should be of particular interest to Wishart, seeing as he implores us to “look at the evidence” of Kinsey's legacy; he blames the atheist Kinsey's sexual revolution for the soaring rates of STDs in America.

Yet, of all the countries in the Paul study, America was by far the most striking example of a prosperous democracy with high religious belief, a seriously dysfunctional society, and – what do you know? High rates of sexually transmitted disease:

“Although the late twentieth century STD epidemic has been curtailed in all prosperous democracies...rates of adolescent gonorrhea infection remain six to three hundred times higher in the US than in less theistic, pro-evolution secular developed democracies,” Paul writes.

What's more, a study published in the April issue of the “Journal of Adolescent Health” discovered that fundamentalist teens in the United States who sign Destiny Church-style “abstinence pledges” are six times more likely to have engaged in oral sex than their non-pledging counterparts. Boys were four times more likely to succesfully embark on an anal odyssey with girlfriends, the study found. And Wishart thinks Kinsey opened a floodgate of perversion? Perhaps unsurprisingly, America is also the source of much of Wishart's – and indeed the world's – Christian junk science.

But when it comes to the use of statistics to try and skew public opinion on normality, the pendulum swings both ways. For every gay activist that's quoted a “1 in 10” prevalence rate for homosexuality, there's a fundamentalist Christian “doing a Wishart” and claiming that the actual figure is less than 1%. Neither claim can be made without creative use of statistics, and Wishart does not disappoint in this regard.

He claims the 1994 British study “Sexual Behaviour in Britain” found only 0.6% of men and 0.1% of women were “true” homosexuals. Unfortunately for Wishart, we've checked the original study and not a fundamentalist interpretation of it that can be easily found on the website of the “Christian Medical Fellowship” (whose aim is to “mobilise and support Christian doctors, medical students, and other healthcare professionals, especially members, in serving Christ throughout the world”).

According to the book (published by Penguin, no less) the study actually found 6.1% of men reported some kind of homosexual experience, with 3.4% of the women. Furthermore, the authors note: “An important caveat here is that since homosexual sex is stigmatised in Britain, it can be expected to be under-reported rather than over-reported...Because of possible reporting and response bias all prevalence figures relating to homosexual activity should be regarded as minimum estimates.”

It's a caveat that proved true ten years later, when the 2004 HIV-risk assessment paper “Increasing prevalence of MSM in Britain” (Mercer et al, Royal Free and University College Medical School) noted that “our estimate of the number of MSM in the population needs revising upwards”, based on data gleaned from large-scale, probability sample surveys of the British population.

Closer to home, and more recent, the 2003 study “Sex in Australia: Homosexual experience and recent homosexual encounters” (Grulich et al) and published in the “Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health” found 5.9% of Australian men and 8.6% of Australian women reported same-sex sexual experience. Again, these authors note: “It seems likely that the prevalence of homosexual practice and other stigmatised behaviours has been under-reported in national surveys because of perceptions regarding the social acceptability of such behaviours.”

Just this year, a New Zealand study of a Christchurch birth cohort studied to age 25 (“Sexual orientation and mental health in a birth cohort of young adults” Fergusson, et al) was published in the Cambridge University Press journal “Psychological Medicine”. It found 8% of respondents reported having some form of sexual experience with a partner of the same sex, and 2.9% reported having a sexual relationship with a partner of the same sex. And this is a sample of young people – many men and women don't fully realise their sexual orientation until their thirties or forties.

All of the above are a far cry from Wishart's claim that “the real incidence of homosexuality in the wider community is less than 1%”, so how did he calculate his miniscule numbers? Basically, he subtracted from the 1994 “Sexual Behaviour In Britain” study all the men and women who reported, at any point in their lives, a sexual encounter with someone of the opposite gender. These people, Wishart concluded in a throwaway remark, were “actually just uninhibited bisexuals”.

Exclusive homosexual behaviour over a lifetime, this study concludes, is rare. But has this ever been in dispute? No-one is disputing the minority status of the gay and lesbian communities. However, when you start adding numbers to the mix, and using percentage figures to determine normality, you're playing a dangerous double-edged game.

The Destiny Church political machine made similar “less than 1%” claims about homosexuals during this year's election campaign, only to find a measly 0.6% of the voting population ticked their box on polling day. Does this mean that Destiny supporters are an extreme minority, not worthy of equal civil rights?

And what of Mr Wishart and “Investigate”? His magazine currently has circulation figures of around 7,000. If we were to examine those statistics further, it's a safe bet we'd find that the vast majority of those 7,000 also read other magazines, meaning the number of “true” “Investigate” readers is even smaller (and being a lifestyle choice rather than a biological reality, reparative therapy has been shown to be effective in getting “Investigate” readers to revert to reading actual newsmagazines).

One thing's for certain – after decades of study, it has been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that gays and lesbians are here, and here to stay. No matter what the exact figure, homosexuals in this country certainly exist in numbers far greater than readers of “Investigate” and Destiny Church supporters, so again – who is normal and who is not?

In the final analysis, it was not statistics that won the battle for gay/lesbian civil rights – it was common sense and humanity. You can quote all the figures that you like, but in 1985, 1993, and 2004, people couldn't ignore the evidence of their very own eyes. A majority of politicians and the public simply looked around them and realised that gays and lesbians were their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. And discriminating against your family isn't the best way to promote family values is it?

Kinsey's pioneering work simply shed light on this fact, regardless of the numbers involved, and this is what Wishart and his fellow believers can't stand. They'd rather we all, gay and straight, were kept in the dark about the scientific facts of human nature.

So – what happens when a fundamentalist Christian can't win an argument over Kinsey based on facts? Easy. Wait till he's dead, and then accuse him of being a paedophile…

NEXT WEEK:
PART 2 – A Reading From The Book Of Capill


Chris Banks - 16th October 2005

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