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QUEER SENSE ECOLOGICAL MODEL
OVERVIEW OF QUEER SENSE
The Queer Sense Ecological Model is adapted from the Ecological Systems Theory of Human Development founded by American psychologist, Dr. Urie Bronfenbrenner.
Bronfenbrenner was born in the Soviet Union in 1917 and his family moved to the United States when he was six years old. Bronfenbrenner’s scholarly work is credited in helping to found Head Start in 1965. His most notable achievement is designing a model that gave us a framework on understanding how children are shaped by the community they live in. His model is the golden standard when speaking about childhood development in an ecological context. Bronfenbrenner named his systems Microsystem, Mesosystem, Exosystem, Macrosystem, and Chronosystem.
The Queer Sense Ecological Model is not about childhood development though. It’s focuses on attitude formation towards homosexuality.
This model is unique in that it provides a comprehensive framework on understanding how culture shapes individuals’ positive and negative attitudes toward sexual orientation. The Queer Sense Ecological Models systems have been renamed to: Individual, Micro Cultural System, Extended Cultural System, Macro Cultural System, and Historical Context.
Lastly, this model includes three underlying fundamental concepts: Role Models, Attachment, and Language that are actively working across the micro, extended, and macro cultural systems. These three concepts are the underlying catalysts that form one’s negative and positive attitudes towards sexual orientation.
This model could be expanded to include attitudes towards gender orientation too (e.g., transgender, male-to-female, crossdressing), but at this time, this presented model focuses mostly on the formation of attitudes towards sexual orientation.
QUEER SENSE ECOLOGICAL MODEL
THE INDIVIDUAL: BIOLOGY
Each human being who has existed since the beginning of time has been unique in terms of having a distinct DNA structure. Individuals are a complex set of variables of age, gender, temperament, intelligent potential, learning style, and a complex network of neurological and biological makeup.
Is there a gene that determines whether a person will be gay? The scientific community has examined this question thoroughly over the years by researching genes, brain makeup, and prenatal care and studying mostly males. Their findings? They have yet to find the elusive gay gene.
If you took a person identifying as gay, who also had an identical twin, then wouldn’t you expect to find a gay twin too?
Let’s examine the premise of identical twins before we answer this question.
Identical twins come from the same sperm and egg where early in development the embryo divides in half creating two babies. On the other hand, fraternal twins are formed from two different sperm and two different eggs. Returning to the original question, if one identical twin identifies as gay, if they’re identical, how would you expect the other twin to identify? You’d expect the identical twin to be waving his rainbow flag and proudly saying-“I’m gay, folks.” But this is not the case.
First, identical twin studies do not show a 100% ratio between one twin identifying as gay and another identifying the same. Second, and this is a point I’ll come back to, identical twins it turns out are not identical in terms of DNA.
Researchers have found that 52% of homosexual males who have identical twin brothers also have a brother who’s gay. Among fraternal twins, researchers have found the ratio to be 22%. Researchers concluded that because identical twins have a higher incidence of mutual homosexuality than fraternal twins, there is a definite genetic component in the development of homosexuality.
Over the last couple of years, researchers have come up with new data regarding the relationship between genetic makeup and homosexuality. They concluded there is a link.
Scientists state that gay men share a genetic make-up, but it accounts for only 40 percent chance of a man being homosexual. This is based on research done at the Northwestern University where 400 sets of twins were examined. This is noted as one of the largest studies completed to date regarding the link between homosexuality and genetics.
The researchers did not find a specific homosexual gene, but they did find specific markers on a chromosome. Their research demonstrated the existence of genes on pericentromeric chromosome 8 and chromosome Xq28 which they say influences development of male sexual orientation.
The lead author, Dr. Alan Sanders, said of his study, “It is not proof but it’s a pretty good indication” that genes on the two chromosomes have some influence over sexual orientation.
Dr. Michael Bailey, another researcher on the study, said, “Sexual orientation has nothing to do with choice. Our findings suggest genes may be at play.” Dr. Sanders added to his colleague’s comment, “We don’t think genetics is the whole story. It’s not. We have a gene that contributes to homosexuality but you could say it is linked to heterosexuality. It is the variation.”
One reason that there is variation among identical twin studies is that identical twins are actually not identical. That is, recent scientific evidence concludes identical twins are not identical in terms of DNA. If you are a person who learned that identical twins share 100% of DNA from their twin you’re not alone.
Researchers have been working with this presumption for years. In fact, many have based conclusions on this very premise.
In an article titled, Identical twin studies prove homosexuality is not genetic, the researcher conducted an identical twin study and he prefaced his research with these statements:
1. Identical twins have the same genes or DNA. They are nurtured in equal prenatal conditions. If homosexuality is caused by genetics or prenatal conditions and one twin is gay, the co-twin should also be gay.
2. Because they (identical twins) have identical DNA, [sexual orientation] ought to be 100%. But the studies reveal something else…
The truth of the matter is that the statements above are false.
This is not the fault of the scholarly scientist who made this assertion. He, after all, based his statements on what most of his colleagues presumed to be fact. This study was carried out prior to the research that has concluded identical twins are not genetically the same.
Historically, there are numerous studies that have concluded that certain disorders or conditions lack a genetic-origin based on the presumption that identical twins are genetically one hundred percent identical. In fact, not too long ago, you could have Googled identical twins and found a reliable source which stated that identical twins were 100% genetically alike.
It turns out though that no two humans are alike-including identical twins.
Geneticist Carl Bruder of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and his colleagues stumbled across this finding. They closely compared the genomes of nineteen sets of adult identical twins. The conclusion of their study was startling to say the least. Identical twins share large portion of genetic DNA, but they are not genetically identical.
Normally people carry two copies of every gene, one inherited from each parent. “There are, however, regions in the genome that deviate from that two-copy rule, and that’s where you have copy number variants,” Bruder explains. These regions can carry anywhere from zero to over 14 copies of a gene.
One underlying point the scientific community does not address, but is the crux of Queer Sense, is that we are reliant on people’s self-reported sexual orientation. This underscores the point that people may not be fully aware of their same-sex attractions and have yet to label their feelings appropriately.
This discrepancy points out that we have two distinctive concepts at work-
1. Sexual Identity, and
2. Sexual Orientation.
Sexual identity is the person’s inherent biological makeup that determines whether a person is attracted wholly to males, females, or both. We perceive our sexual identity through the vehicle of feelings and our ability to precisely label these feelings is dependent on the environment we live inside.
Sexual orientation refers to the label we use to identify our spectrum of same-sex or opposite-sex feelings such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, bi-Curious, heterosexual and questioning, gay but bi-curious, etc.
In other words, a person may have a sexual identity that falls outside the spectrum of heterosexuality but not have full awareness of these feelings.
Let’s presume a person has underlying same-sex attractions but has lived in a heterocentric environment all of his life and has limited exposure to gay-related-media or gay role models. This person may not become fully aware of their same-sex attractions and end up labeling himself with a sexual orientation that is the standard bearer in society-Heterosexual.
This does not mean such an individual is closeted and is consciously lying about his sexual orientation, which can also be reasons why a person identifies as heterosexual. That is, a male is aware he has attraction to males but finds it safer to blend in as a heterosexual within his community.
Rather the point above is that there are some males and females who are not fully aware of their underlying sexual identity and have never attempted to identify these feelings with labels that would be congruent with their inner feelings.
Imagine this case scenario. A person lives in New York City, is growing up in a liberal family, is exposed to a religious community that is pro-gay, attends a school with other gay students, has a family member who is gay and accepted by his work and family, and has access to media with media figures or characters who identify as gay.
If this person’s sexual identity falls outside the spectrum of heterosexual, it is going to be much easier for such a person, in this environment, to explore his feelings and make meaning of them by putting a label on them that affirms his true inner feelings. This label could be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or even names like Heteroflexible.
Ultimately, a person in a more accepting a culture will find it easier to explore his feelings and therefore it’s easier for him to make meaning of his sexual identity. He’ll be able to appropriately come up with a sexual orientation label that helps him express his sexual identity as a person.
Micro Cultural System
The micro cultural system consists of people and organizations that are within a person’s immediate vicinity. The individual’s micro cultural system naturally expands with age. A two year-old girl’s micro cultural system may include only parents, siblings, and grandparents, but the same child who is now fourteen years old will have a micro cultural system that includes teachers, peers, coaches, dance instructor, parents, siblings, siblings’ friends, parents of friends and so on. The fourteen year-old girl is not only exposed to other individuals, but she’s exposed to organizations too which have their own environments. This includes the girl’s school, church, Boy Scouts/ Girl Scouts, football team, Gay Straight Alliance, PFLAG, Christian clubs, and the list goes on.
By the time the girl is eighteen her micro cultural system includes the university she attends, dormitory where she lives, residents in that dormitory, close friends, peers on campus, professors, guidance counselor, fraternities/sororities, various college clubs on campus, family, boyfriend/girlfriend, partner’s friends, employer, co-workers, and the list goes on.
Extended Cultural System
The extended cultural system interacts consistently with the micro cultural system and each influence the other.
This system is comprised of people, institutions, and events that the individual does not have immediate contact with but are nevertheless part of an individual’s community.
This system includes schools and churches in the community, parent’s place of work, friends’ parents’ place of employment, local politicians in the community including state politicians, and active community organizations that range from local chapter anti-gay religious group to Human Rights Campaign.
This cultural system does not just consist of people and organization but events too. Events include Westboro Baptist actively protesting at a local area Gay Parade, Human Rights Campaign sponsoring an event for AIDS awareness, politically explosive current events like a school shooting, a teacher fired from one’s school for being gay, a gay college student being a victim of hate violence, and local employment organizations that conduct community outreach for no discrimination in the workplace.
Macro Cultural System
The macro cultural system has a pervasive impact on the micro and extended cultural systems as the interactions within this system filter down. This system is comprised of media and legal events that occur and the presence of national or international institutions. The individuals in this system are celebrities or are people who receive national and international attention.
The macro cultural system’s media events include syndicated national broadcast of the TV series Glee famous with its gay characters, broadcasting a commercial featuring a same-sex couple raising a child, and President Barack Obama’s statement on national TV saying gays have equal right to marry. Legal events include the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passing of the ballot called Proposition 8 that discriminates against same-sex marriage, and Supreme Court’s ruling that allowed six states to implement same-sex marriage.
Macro Cultural System’s institutions include Human Rights Campaign, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Supreme Court, National Center for Transgender Equality, Executive Branch, Tea Party, and media companies such as Fox News, MSNBC, Gay Channel.
When we think of individuals who are in the macro cultural system we are more focused on the individual’s interactions with the media: the “sound bites” an individual makes in terms of sexual orientation, statements and speeches someone makes, and stances an individual takes on issues related to sexual orientation.
Individuals in the macro cultural system include President Barack Obama who states people should have right to same-sex marriage, MSNBC Rachel Maddow who argues against Senator Demint on why same-sex marriage should be federally recognized, and Fox News anchor Bret Baier stating a good reason to oppose Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which protects gay people from getting fired is because sexual orientation is a belief that may conflict with employers.
The historical context has an impact on our attitudes towards sexual orientation. Celebrities who are openly gay such as Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper would have suffered significantly had anyone known their sexual orientation in the early 1900s.
Gay identity has association with the criminalization of sodomy which had once been illegal over centuries. In the United States, the people of seventeenth and eighteenth century did not police the issue of sodomy too well. In the early 1900s arrests increased for sodomy but they were mostly related to cases regarding violent crimes.
By the mid-1900s the arrests for sodomy dramatically increased. The violent crimes were not increasing either. Rather, gays were being targeted. Legislatures pushed for sentences of ten to fifteen years in prison. During the era of McCarthyism in the 1950s Senator Joseph McCarthy lead a witch hunt for communists, and he also lead a crusade against gays. The next decade saw criminalizing laws against gays.
The term sexual psychopath was used and gay people were associated with this term. During the McCarthy era for example, Ohio expanded its laws to cover misdemeanor sexual offenses. In Ohio it was illegal to display any overt sexual conduct such as two men touching hands. Several states made similar changes to their laws. The result was that gay people were regularly arrested and imprisoned. In 2003 the Supreme Court ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional, yet, even today there are still twelve states that have sodomy laws on the books.
We saw the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and homosexuality became synonymous with disease. By the 1990s there was a growing tolerance. President Bill Clinton passed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This gave homosexuals in the military some recognition that they existed even though they must remain silent on their sexual orientation otherwise be dishonorably discharged. In this time period it was safer to remain silent about sexual orientation than be out, and it many circumstances, it continued to be better to blend in as heterosexual.
Now, in 2015, there are thirty states where same-sex marriage is legal. The number of celebrities who are out has drastically increased and continues to grow. Once upon a time young men in only large urban areas like Los Angeles started to explore in their teens or twenties, but in today’s world early teens are coming out gay in rural areas of the South and Midwest. There is a push for more support to be given to our gay youths in terms of community clubs, high school organizations, and access to mentors.
History does make a difference.
And if you are gay, then this is a good era to live in.
Here are a few more examples of moments in history that drastically altered our political landscape:
— Urie Bronfenbrenner, father of Head Start program and pre-eminent ‘human ecologist,’ dies at age 88
Macro Cultural System