June 23 is a pretty big day for LGBT+ people, apparently. Not only is it my birthday (and isn’t that enough?) and the birthday of Alan Turing, it is also the birthday of Alfred Kinsey. You might be thinking “gosh, that last name sounds super familiar” but more likely you immediately associated the name with the Kinsey Scale. But Kinsey’s contributions to society and to LGBT culture went far beyond a simplified way of explaining fluid sexuality.
Alfred Kinsey was born in 1894 in Hoboken, New Jersey (his first mistake). Kinsey’s family was poor for the majority of his childhood, which meant they could not provide proper medical care for a number of illnesses that Kinsey contracted — including Rickets, which left him with a slight stoop. This would later prevent Kinsey from being drafted into World War I.
Kinsey also had a love of nature and enjoyed camping — he became one of the first Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scouts of America in 1913. In high school, Kinsey showed a keen aptitude for science — particularly biology, botany, and zoology. He cited his high school biology teacher Natalie Roeth as the most important influence on his decision to become a biologist. (A decision which seemed to cause a rift between Kinsey and his seriously overbearing father.)
Kinsey got his doctorate and traveled widely, studying gall wasps and other insects. Of the 18 million insect samples at the American Museum of Natural History, an estimated 5 million are gall wasps collected by Kinsey. He also published “An Introduction to Biology” in 1926, which was widely used in high schools (and I swear was the textbook we used at my high school. I’m kidding. I think.)
Kinsey is most known for his work as a sexologist. He became interested in the topic while discussing the mating habits of gall wasps with a colleague. Early on in his studies, he developed the Kinsey Scale — where a person’s sexual orientation could be rated from 0 (for exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (for exclusively homosexual). Kinsey believed everyone was bisexual ot varying degrees, probably because of his own bisexuality. He did later add a rating of “X” for “no socio-sexual contacts or reactions”. In his youth, Kinsey had routinely physically punished himself for his homoerotic feelings — so this scale was likely not just an effort to normalize for society, but to normalize them for himself.
Kinsey, through his two books (“Sexual Behavior in the Human Male”, 1948 & “Sexual Behavior in the Human Female”, 1953) that are collectively called “The Kinsey Reports” also laid the groundwork for the sexual revolution of the 1960s. He argued against the commonly accepted (by men) belief that women were not sexual beings. He insisted that clitoral orgasms were superior to vaginal orgasms. Both books became bestsellers, and Kinsey attained celebrity status.
Unfortunately, that celebrity status came with a lot of controversy. Kinsey was criticized for his research methods, for his own participation in sexual experiments, and for filming some of these experiments in his attic. Others criticized his survey samples, which were heavily homosexual and even more heavily white. He also caught the attention of U.S. Customs because he traveled around the world and brought back his research material, and Customs confiscated a lot of said material.
Kinsey died on August 26, 1956. He was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor museum honoring LGBT history, in 2012. (He is the third person I’ve covered so far who is honored there, the others being Alan Turing and Christine Jorgensen.)
(Adapted from this Facebook post.)