30 March 2018 — 12:00 noon — WAG 316

Chris Babits (UT)

“Born That Way: The Search for a Gay Gene amid the U.S. Culture Wars, 1990–2004”

Starting in the early 1990s, researchers presented an array of data identifying a linkage between biology and homosexuality. In this pre-circulated section of a dissertation chapter, I examine how and why genetic studies on homosexuality became a core part of the nation’s culture wars. More specifically, I argue that genetic research represented a formidable threat to conversion therapists’ (i.e., individuals who aim to change, in some way, someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity) conservative views of gender and sexuality. To many, genetic explanations about gay men and lesbians being “born that way” seemed more concrete than nebulous psychiatric theories that had long pathologized homosexuality. To counter these biological studies, conversion therapists relied on the testimonials of their patients. By the mid-2000s, though, a majority of Americans believed scientific research over the lived experiences of “ex-gays.”  Examining the search for a gay gene amid the culture wars is key for giving context to and understanding present-day debates regarding conversion therapy.


Chris Babits is a fourth year PhD candidate in History and one of UT’s Andrew W. Mellon Engaged Scholar Initiative Fellows. In his dissertation, “To Cure a Sinful Nation: ‘Conversion Therapy’ and the Making of Modern America, 1920– Today,” he explores the cultural and political battleground of “conversion therapy,” a broad range of therapeutic and counseling practices that aim, in some way, to “cure,” “change,” “redeem,” “restore,” or “repair” a person’s attractions to the same sex and/or their gender identity. In addition to fellowship and grant support from the UT History Department, Chris’s research has been funded by Harvard, Yale, Cornell, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archive, the Virginia Theological Seminary, and other archives and cultural institutions.