I specialize in reviewing Print-On-Demand (POD) published books for my website and Midwest Book Review. Please query for a review by email to hgunther234@hotmail.com.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Backdrop: The Politics and Personalities behind Sexual Orientation Research by Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D.

Active Voice Press
Sacramento, CA
Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: Excellent
ISBN: 9780615518121, $16.95, 298 pp.

Quoting from the back cover:
“In Backdrop, Gayle Pitman narrates the ‘story’ behind the science of sexual orientation–a science that has been rife with contradictions and controversies. Pitman argues that, when it comes to sexual orientation research, we could potentially glean more powerful insights from the backdrop of politics and personalities behind the research than from the actual studies themselves. Beginning with a focus on the causes of sexual orientation, moving then to the politics of transgender and intersex identities, and culminating in the political controversies of reparative therapy, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ and same-sex marriage, Backdrop brings into focus the rich and textured landscape behind the scientific research findings. Filled with plot twists and development, variegated characters (the scientists as well as the activists and reactionaries), and thorny political, moral, and philosophical questions, Backdrop brings the science to life, raising more complex questions while simultaneously providing us with a more nuanced understanding of gender and sexual orientation.

“Gayle E. Pitman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Sacramento City College. She has conducted research on the physical and mental health of lesbian women, and she has written numerous articles and book chapters on gender and sexual orientation. She lives in Northern California.”

When I received Backdrop: The Politics and Personalities behind Sexual Orientation Research to review, I thought, This is probably a boring, history college text...politics, research, but then again, sexual orientation might be interesting.

To my delightful surprise, I could not put the book down, except to rest my eyes and sleep. Of course the subject matter is interesting and complex, but it is Gayle Pitman’s style and quality of writing that makes this book a classic success, whether you are reading for enjoyment, information or a college class.

It is well organized–divided into three sections: The Biology Story, The Gender Story, and The Activism Story; contemporary–providing current nomenclature; and realistic. She takes a very complex subject and makes it understandable to the average person.

Pitman brings to life the significant research, researchers and the impact of their research: Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides who supported the idea that homosexuality was an abnormality; Simon LeVay from the Salk Institute in 1991 who postulated that the size of INAH-3, a tiny area of the hypothalamus, is correlated with sexual orientation–larger in heterosexual men and lesbian women, and smaller in heterosexual women and gay men; Dean Hamer, with an ironclad scientific pedigree, working at the National Institute of Health, studying the genetics of sexual orientation, found a shared marker on the X chromosome in an area called Xq28 in gay brothers. He published his findings in Science on April 2, 1993, A Linkage between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation; and a host of others–Gregory Herek, Ritch Savin-Williams, Lisa Diamond, J. Michael Bailey, Angela Patttatucci, Richard Pillard, Vivienne Cass, Paul McHugh, Janice Raymond, Alice Dregers, John Money, Evelyn Hooker, etal.

To be sure, real life is more fascinating, colorful and controversial than fiction, and Pitman has done a excellent job of interweaving such elements for our entertainment, education, and contemplation. I highly recommend Backdrop: The Politics and Personalities behind Sexual Orientation Research to anyone who can read.

Kaye Trout - August 28, 2011