This is why Foucault, who spent his life studying criminals, so-called sexual deviants, and the mentally ill, never tried to analyze these people the way a doctor or psychologist might. He wasn’t interested in figuring out what environmental or genetic factors caused them to turn out like they did. In fact, he refused to ask or answer those kinds of questions at all. When an interviewer inquired whether he thought homosexuality was an “innate predisposition” or the result of “social conditioning,” Foucault replied, “On this question I have absolutely nothing to say. No comment.” Pressed for details, he explained that he would not use his position of authority to “traffic in opinions.”
In the end, Foucault wasn’t interested in settling the question of whether sexual orientation was biologically determined or, indeed, socially constructed. What he wanted to understand was how sexuality came to be the question—the one thing we believe we have to answer before we can move on to anything else.
However, that does not mean he thought we should, or even could, dismiss these categories out of hand. And this is where Hannon and the other choicers deeply (and, it should be said, perhaps willfully) misunderstand Foucault: “Social construct” doesn’t mean “not real.” Try that logic out on the 81 percent of LGBTQ students who report experiencing verbal or physical harassment at school, or the estimated 40 percent of homeless youth who identify as gay and/or trans: These are people who know firsthand that these “fragile constructs,” as Hannon puts it, still have tremendous real world power. We live in a world that values and rewards certain identities and punishes, often brutally, those who don’t fit that mold. Concepts like sexuality aren’t just names that we can take on or cast off at will. They are structures built into the very fabric of modern society, and they shape, from Day 1, how we understand the world and our place within it.