Threading together a (very) brief history of genetic research on sexuality

A twitter thread on the history of genetic research on sexuality for the LGBTQ+ STEM day 2020.

By Sayantan Datta

One day in 1957, Frank Kameny, an astronomer in the US army, was dismissed from service for being gay. Kameny went on to appeal against his unfair dismissal; although unsuccessful, the case went down in history for being the first known civil rights case tried in a US court on grounds of sexual orientation.

November 18, 2020, marked the 60th anniversary of this case, and the day was celebrated as the LGBTQ+ STEM day. Various individuals and organisations working for equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and other people from diverse sexual orientations and gender (LGBTQ+) individuals working in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines took to social media to highlight issues faced by queer-trans people in STEM. I was a part of an event hosted by @GlobalSciShow, an organization that aims to share science from all across the globe, on Twitter.

I chose to scratch the surface of the long history of genetic research on sexuality. Here are the tweets that followed (funny GIFs as a bonus!)

Before beginning, I asked people whether they believed that sexual orientation is genetically determined. While most people mentioned that they do not, about 39% also opted for “Maybe”. That reaffirmed to me the importance of having more conversations regarding the history of genetic research on sexuality specifically and the history of scientific pursuits towards understanding human sexuality generally.

I chose to speak about three classical studies to spark off the conversation, followed by a discussion on what motivates such research and where we stand now with respect to such lines of research.


Having discussed two landmark studies on humans, I turned to an old friend, the humble fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Dubbed as one of the best models for genetics, it is no wonder that fruit flies have also been used to study sexuality.


After this walk through scientific history, I moved on to talk about where we stand now.

And before closing the session, I brought up some lines of critique that are important to explore when discussing such research.

I closed with a reminder that I give myself daily.

The thread was well-taken. As much as I would have liked to write more, summarising decades of research (a lot of which triggers trauma) in a series of 280 characters is not easy. What I did re-realise at the end of this exercise was how closely science intertwines with society, how easily it adopts social biases and how eerily it contributes to them. I love science as much as I am scared of it, and these are only a few reasons. 🙂

P.S: If you would like to know more about some fantastic transgender people in Indian STEM, or about the kind of problems faced by transgender people in STEM in India, do check out the following pieces from TheLifeofScience.com:

  1. https://thelifeofscience.com/2020/10/10/raging_science/
  2. https://thelifeofscience.com/2020/07/31/salamanders-crickets-and-zebrafish-bittus-journey-in-science-and-gender/
  3. https://thelifeofscience.com/2020/10/02/grace-comix/
  4. https://thelifeofscience.com/2020/11/09/transgender-people-in-science/
About the author(s)
TLoS Team
TLoS Team

thelifeofscience.com or TLoS is a feminist science media collective based in India