Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dr. Alfred Kinsey

Alfred C. Kinsey (1894-1956), a bisexual professor of biology at Indiana University, began research for his landmark Kinsey Report in 1938 as a response to questions about sex and sexuality raised by his students. Kinsey had petitioned Herman Wells, Indiana University's progressive president, for permission to offer a noncredit "marriage course", and his request was granted. Kinsey was appalled to find how little they knew about sex and how much they feared it. At the time, 96% of young Americans didn't know the word "masturbation", and when told what it meant, 40% believed it caused insanity, impotence and/or blindness. The most popular marital guide of the day called oral sex within marriage "the hell gate of the realm of sexual perversion".

Kinsey's students asked him if their habits and desires were normal, but he had no answers, since there was no data available. Prior to that time, leadership and authority on matters of sex and morality had come from clergy. Kinsey decided to conduct scientific research himself to find out what was “normal”. He devised a questionnaire of 300 questions about people’s sex lives and then traveled across the country with four colleagues, recording 18,000 sexual histories. He had a knack for gaining people's trust and keeping them honest, and he approached sexuality as a biologist studying "the human animal", without imposing any moral judgements. This was a new direction, using science, and not religion, to approach issues involving sex.

Their initial report, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male,” was published in 1948. Kinsey researchers established a simple rating from 1 to 6 to classify sexual behavior, with “1” indicating exclusive heterosexuality and “6” exclusive homosexuality – since known as the Kinsey Scale. It was revealed that American men were far more sexually adventurous than anyone had previously been willing to admit. Kinsey reported that 92% of the men interviewed masturbated, 85% had engaged in premarital sex, 50% had participated in extra-marital sex and 69% had had sex with a prostitute at least once. The Kinsey Report sold 270,000 copies, and Alfred became a celebrity. Five years later, a follow-up report on the human female revealed just as shocking results.

In particular, his findings on male homosexual behavior resulted in great controversy. His research found that 37% of men had engaged in at least one homosexual experience, that 10% had been more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years, and that 4% were exclusively homosexual their whole lives. Fully half of the men interviewed admitted to having some erotic response to other men. Moral traditionalists were outraged, accusing Kinsey of deliberately promoting homosexuality. That charge was reexamined years after Kinsey's death, when biographer James Jones revealed that Kinsey, though married, routinely had sex with men.

Kinsey had earned America’s respect in part because he looked the very model of a conservative academic. While Kinsey and his wife were both virgins when they married, his work transformed them both into sexual adventurers. Kinsey had sex with men in his inner circle – outside of any  research – and encouraged others to have sex with his wife. Further, Kinsey’s staff and their wives had sex with one another in various combinations. He used his attic to film hundreds of people engaged in a wide variety of sex acts, including much gay S&M activity.

"It's impossible to estimate the damage this book will do to the already deteriorating morals of America," said evangelist preacher Billy Graham. The backlash included congressional hearings, obscenity charges and an FBI investigation. Kinsey was branded a communist out to destroy the American family. However, one by one, states undid laws against fornication, adultery, and sodomy – usually citing Kinsey as their authority – and schools began to teach sex education based on his principles.

An Eagle Scout who aspired to become a concert pianist, Kinsey had grown up poor in New Jersey, the son of devout Christian parents. They approved of the Boy Scouts because it was an organization heavily grounded on Christian principles. His father wanted Alfred to study engineering, but was finally convinced to allow him to study biology at Bowdoin College in Maine (photo at left, 1916). He soon became an authority on gall wasps. Such a background seemed an unlikely foundation for a career as America’s first and foremost sexologist. However, observing the sexual activity of wasps led him to the realization that humans knew more about sex in the animal kingdom than they did about themselves. Kinsey’s subsequent research forever changed how humans regarded themselves in sexual terms, leading to an open discussion of sexuality, which until that time had been taboo.

Kinsey continued his work up until the time of his death. He died on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62, from a heart ailment and pneumonia. His obituary in the New York Times included this passage:

“The untimely death of Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey takes from the American scene an important and valuable, as well as controversial, figure. Whatever may have been the reaction to his findings—and to the unscrupulous use of some of them—the fact remains that he was first, last, and always a scientist. In the long run it is probable that the values of his contribution to contemporary thought will lie much less in what he found out than in the method he used and his way of applying it. Any sort of scientific approach to the problems of sex is difficult because the field is so deeply overlaid with such things as moral precept, taboo, individual and group training, and long established behavior patterns. Some of these may be good in themselves, but they are no help to the scientific and empirical method of getting at the truth. Dr. Kinsey cut through this overlay with detachment and precision. His work was conscientious and comprehensive. Naturally, it will receive a serious setback with his death. Let us earnestly hope that the scientific spirit that inspired it will not be similarly impaired.”

Fortunately, Kinsey’s pioneer work has continued to the present at Indiana University's Morrison Hall, where The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction is housed. Ongoing research topics include condom usage, sex in long-term relationships, hormones and reproduction.

“Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior the sooner we will reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.”

  – Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948)

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