Evolution’s closet: the new biology and homosexuality in Britain, 1900-1976

Year of award: 2017


  • Ross Brooks

    Oxford Brookes University

Project summary

I will explore the diverse approaches adopted towards homosexuality by biologists in Britain from the discovery of sex chromosomes at the turn of the 20th century to the publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene in 1976.

My research project will make the case that new theories of homosexuality, originating from zoology, ethology, evolutionary biology, genetics, endocrinology and eugenics, steadily formed an alternative body of knowledge which challenged models of normative and non-normative sexuality derived from psychoanalysis and psychiatry. The project will demonstrate the importance of this body of knowledge to developments in British post-war history, including the anti-psychiatry movement and homosexual law reform.

I will undertake a comprehensive investigation of the different approaches adopted towards non-human and human homosexuality by biologists in Britain between 1900 and 1976, and trace the dissemination and influence of knowledge and practices concerning the new biology of sexuality in British medicine, law, politics and the media. I will also provide a body of research which contextualises and informs today's biopolitical debates pertaining to ‘gay genes’ and the prospect of choosing an unborn child’s sexual orientation in adulthood.