Is there such thing as the ‘gay mind’?

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27 October
17:39
October
2016

It depends how you identify it. Is it something physiological or medical that could be identified as a gay mind and, once science had advanced enough, dissect it out in a brain? My gut feeling is no. It doesn’t explain the diversity of sexual expression, like bisexuality. Do you have to chop the brain into two bits, half a female and half a male one? It might be a convenient theory but it stops making sense.

The second approach is in psychological or cultural terms, in the way that minds develop through the interaction between your brain and your experiences. In that sense, you could identify a gay mind, or at least a gay mindset.

One thought is whether people predominantly attracted to their own sex inherently have a different take on the world. That could be because, if some gayness is part of the human species, then not all people are constituted to focus on reproduction. It might seem, therefore, that they are in some way fitted out to contribute to society more in other ways.

I am wary, though, that this line of thinking might lead to stereotyping. The idea that gay people are a bit less important than straights, for example – that gays are somehow more creative, artistic or musical, which is seen as being a bit of luxury in society. There certainly do seem to be a huge number of gay artists, musicians and designers and so forth, but that might be because of the ways in which gay lives play out in our particular society.

It’s actually good to believe in the idea of a gay mind. It establishes us as less contingent. It’s not that we’ve woken up and decided to be gay today.

After all, ‘gayness’ is culturally specific. It isn’t the same thing as same-sex desire and men who have sex with men. So I’m slightly less convinced that we could just say there always is a gay mind, some gay super-mind; that starts getting into the realm of the weird and mystic. 

In the past there was no concept of gay, or even of homosexuality. The word wasn’t invented until the 1860s. In the Middle Ages, for example, people thought primarily in terms of sins, so it was much harder back then to think, ‘Actually, it might be an important aspect of my mind to be attracted to people of the same sex’. They’d have thought about themselves as sinners whose sins happen to take this form. But I think it’s actually good to believe in the idea of a gay mind, because it establishes us as something less contingent. It’s not that we’ve woken up this morning and decided that we feel like being gay today. 

Dominic Janes is the author of Oscar Wilde Prefigured: Queer Fashioning and British Caricature, 1750-1900

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