Monday, February 24, 2014

Leave Kinsey Alone!

Jeez.  I finally got off my butt and after nearly a year I'm again reading William Benemann's Male-Male Intimacy in Early America (Harrington Park Press, 2006).  I'm moving along pretty smoothly, just past page 70, and there's some interesting stuff in it.  I've been making notes for a longer post, maybe more than one, because this is a subject I've been procrastinating on for a long time.  But occasionally Benemann puts his foot in it, and I'm going to write about that too.

At the end of the introductory material that bogged me down before, Benemann rejects the "bifurcated" view of people as either homosexual or heterosexual.  That's a good thing, though it occurs to me that just about everybody -- certainly every scholarly writer -- who addresses this subject pays lip service to Rejecting the Binary.  What counts is whether you can actually apply that concept to the material you're discussing; so far Benemann is trying to.  And, as most such writers do, he cites Alfred Kinsey:
A more useful model is the one presented by Alfred Kinsey in 1948.  Kinsey described sexual orientation as a continuum, a scale from one to six with one being entirely heterosexual and six being entirely homosexual.  Most human beings fall somewhere between the two extremes of the scale [xvii].
So, first: the scale doesn't run from one to six; it runs from zero to six, with zero (not one) being entirely heterosexual.  In an endnote Benemann cites Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin's 1948 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, page 638, so he could have seen for himself.  On that page is a diagram like this one:

Zero to six, right?  But that's minor.  Second, Kinsey didn't "describe sexual orientation as a continuum" -- he didn't describe sexual orientation at all.  The continuum is a map of data points based on individuals' sexual histories.

Third, most human beings do not fall between the two extremes of the scale.  The interval from zero to one includes half (50 percent) of Kinsey's male histories.  The interval from five to six includes one twenty-fifth (4 percent) of his male histories.  Those who fall between the two extremes are the remaining 46 percent.  I don't know who originated the belief that the histories are distributed in a bell curve, but it has no basis in Kinsey's data.