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Born This Way

Science, Citizenship, and Inequality in the American LGBTQ+ Movement

Born This Way

Science, Citizenship, and Inequality in the American LGBTQ+ Movement

The story of how a biologically driven understanding of gender and sexuality became central to US LGBTQ+ political and legal advocacy.

Across protests and courtrooms, LGBTQ+ advocates argue that sexual and gender identities are innate. Oppositely, conservatives incite panic over “groomers” and a contagious “gender ideology” that corrupts susceptible children. Yet, as this debate rages on, the history of what first compelled the hunt for homosexuality’s biological origin story may hold answers for the queer rights movement’s future.

Born This Way tells the story of how a biologically based understanding of gender and sexuality became central to LGBTQ+ advocacy. Starting in the 1950s, activists sought out mental health experts to combat the pathologizing of homosexuality. As Joanna Wuest shows, these relationships were forged in subsequent decades alongside two broader, concurrent developments: the rise of an interest-group model of rights advocacy and an explosion of biogenetic and bio-based psychological research. The result is essential reading to fully understand LGBTQ+ activism today and how clashes over science remain crucial to equal rights struggles.

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2023

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Gender and Sexuality

History of Science

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Political Science: American Government and Politics


“Bristling with insight, Born This Way is one of the most important and thought-provoking works of LGBTQ+ scholarship this century. The clearest path to genuine equality, Wuest argues, may not rest on biological claims about the nature of sexuality and gender, but, rather, on claims about the forms of social provision to which everyone is entitled.”

Cary Franklin | University of California, Los Angeles

“Addressing crucial questions that are both timely and timeless, this powerful, persuasive, nuanced book is a conversation-changing account of the sources and consequences of scientific authority in the struggles over LGBTQ+ rights and politics in the United States.”

Dara Strolovitch | Yale University

“A devastatingly smart analysis, Born This Way deftly reveals the political pitfalls of relying too heavily on scientific claims in securing rights and legal protections—and, more fundamentally, that we can never divorce science from politics.”

Katrina Karkazis | Amherst College

Table of Contents


Part 1 Origins
1 The Science of Civil Rights: The Rise and Demise of Sexual Deviancy
2 Desire in the Throes of Power: Gay Liberation, Psychiatry, and the Politics of Classification 
3 “Why Is My Child Gay?”: The Liberal Foundations of Born This Way 
4 Immutability before the Gay Gene: Biology and Civil Rights Litigation 

Part 2 Evolutions and Adaptations
5 Rise of the Gay Gene: Science, Law, Culture, and Hype 
6 From Pathology to “Born Perfect”: Marriage Equality and Conversion Therapy Bans
7 The Scientific Gaze in Transgender and Bisexual Politics 
Conclusion: Beyond Born This Way: Fluid Desires, Fixed Identities, and Entrenched Inequalities


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