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Bob Airhart

The cultural and physical changes taking place in our era may be more complex and profound than any other in human history. Thank you for reminding me to seek out the building blocks of reality instead of seeking bricks that appear to support my preferred construct of reality.


While cultural factors may come into play to some extent, the fact that homosexuality and bisexuality are seen in so many species besides humans leads me to the conclusion that it is largely an inborn trait. After all, fruit flies, Bonobos and penguins aren't victims of bad parenting and Hollywood too, are they?

My greatest fear in finding "the gay gene" or any other definitive genetic basis for homosexuality is the obvious: the homophobes--even those who have been staunchly antichoice--will do an about face and decide that they'll make an exception for any fetus found to be gay. That will be, of course, a temporary measure while they search for a "cure" that can be utilized not only on currently living gay and bisexual people, but even to prevent future LGBTs.

Of course maybe I've just been reading too many RRRW sites and dystopian literature....


I guess my biggest problem with the essentialist viewpoint is that it's incredibly limiting. It disregards any number of queer experiences, including people whose sexual orientation changes over time. Basically, it's saying that you're born a certain way, and that's it. But even if there is a sexual orientation gene, there's no way to guarantee that the gene will be followed to the letter. People make decisions all the time contrary to their genetics. From an alarmist's standpoint, a gay gene might also lead to medication that can interfere with it.

Then there's the possibility that, like most things, some people are one way because of a genetic predisposition to be that way, and others are some way because of a more social constructivist creation. I hate to make a mental disorder analogy because I know as well as anyone that alternative orientations aren't mental disorders, but it's what I know: some people are genetically predisposed toward major depression. Other people experience life changes or trauma that leads to major depression.

I think it's ridiculous and limiting to play an either/or scenario. Embrace both essentialism and constructivism, have them both hate you, and feel like you're on top of things. :)

Greta Christina

I'm not arguing that genetics aren't a factor. I'm just arguing that, in humans, they probably aren't the sole factor.

The best single piece of research I've seen to support this is twin studies. Identical twins are significantly more likely to have the same sexual orientation as fraternal twins... but even in identical twins, it's not a 100% match. If it were entirely genetic, identical twins would have the same orientation 100% of the time.

And I totally agree with you about the creepy eugenics possibilities of a "gay gene." But again, I don't think we should be looking at this question in terms of what we would like the answer to be. I do think it's interesting, though, that the "it's genetic" argument can be framed as supporting gay rights or being a threat to them...

M Dorian

GC, your assessment of this profound and socio-culturally explosive topic about sexuality and genetic determinism was extremely well handled. I've long thought genetic factors go far in explaining a lot of human behavior. Of course our environment and social climate help mold us, but I'd bet many (even most) gay people would tell you they've known they were gay long before the pressures of "social conditioning" played upon them. In any case, GC, I think you wrote remarkably well on the subject.

(as for the identical twins studies, maybe a gay twin here or there doesn't want to admit to being gay. people lie a lot, and until there's a clear genetic marker, the jury's pretty much still out.)


@ MDorian:

Part of the reason why I don't think that the genetic theory holds water for the entire span of alternative sexual beings is because I'm one of those people who didn't follow the typical script of knowing I was gay all my life. I never had a sense that I was different sexually or in a gendered way. In fact, realizing I was gay two years ago came as a serious shock!

The idea of shifting sexuality breaks beyond essentialist barriers, and it leaves those of us whose sexuality does shift or breaks apart from alternative norms out in the cold.

It also discredits the people who do choose their sexual orientation.


I have long wondered why people think that orientation can't have any biological cause can easily accept that there are plenty of people in the world that are born with mixed sexual organs. For them to accept the existence of hermaphrodites (a massive and physical change from the norm) but not accept a small brain difference could cause homosexuality has always baffled me.


If it were entirely genetic, identical twins would have the same orientation 100% of the time.

Actually, Greta, you are dead wrong. Everyone has two sets of genes, while **some** can be dominant, and *tend* to be turned on, instead of the alternate, even those may not be in some cases. As a rule, if you had a gene like:


where G is gay, and S is straight, (its bound to be far more complex than that), then you have a 50-50 chance, unless one of "dominate" of having either the G or the S active, but you ***cannot*** have both genes, on both strands, from different parents active at the same time. Its one or the other, not both.

This is why you can get twins where one dies of a horrible genetic disease, while the other never shows any symptoms. While 90% of all their genes may have had dominate characteristics, which meant they activated identically between them, they was some 10% or so, which included the disease gene, which didn't activate the same way at all.

So, there is absolutely no reason for someone that has a gene that codes for being attracted to the same sex to *necessarily* express the gene at all, even if it is there. For them, even if they are a twin, it may, depending on when the split that produced the twin took place, simply be dormant in "that" individual.

Now, how likely it is that it would be active.. Depends on the gene, some may be pure 50-50, other may have dominate traits, which makes the odds 70-30 in favor of the gay, or the straight, gene. Its even possible that the trait, if complex enough, could be a chain reaction type effect, i.e., "if gene A activates, its makes it more likely that B does, instead of C, but if C activates, that makes it twice as likely that E will, instead of D, if D does, then S *must* be activated, but if E does, then the odds are 99.9% that G will be, instead of S, unless some random factor causes S to be instead anyway."

In other words, the odds of ending up gay may be linked to a whole series of genetic activations, which effect other transcriptions, which in turn determine the odds of still other genes being "picked", when they are made to go active.

Note, this is actually backwards, since in fact, at an early stage "all" genes go active, then some are refolded to "deactivate" them. But, for sake of simplicity, the above is a fair explanation of what could happen. It would also explain why you can get a wide range of "levels" of gayness. Linked developmental transcription factor may each increase the degree of disattraction to opposite sex, and the attraction to the same, with the result that only the right set of genes and activations/deactivations would produce someone 100% on *either* end of the spectrum.

After all, in such a scenario, its damned unlikely that every straight person has the same 5-10+ genes that code for being straight, or that every gay person would have the same 5-10+ that code for that. Most people, if 100% either way meant, for argument sake, having all 10 of the set, *most* people are probably going to have 4-6 that are one way or the other, since for them, cultural effects are far more likely to result in the passing on of that odd mix, than of its elimination by either extreme.

Greta Christina


Well, shut my mouth. I didn't know that. Okay, I stand corrected.

I still stand by my main point: which is that the current science -- as understood by people who are actually experts in it -- supports a "partly genetic, partly environmental" hypothesis for the causes of sexual orientation. But I was obviously mistaken about the twin studies. Sorry about that.


Well, its a fairly recent discovery. Fact is, until a few odd cases popped up in recent years and someone both a) thought, "Why would one get the disease, but not the other?", and b) had the tools to find out which genes *are* active, it was thought that they where identical in every respect, that diseases where caused by external factors (some where not known to be genetic anyway), and that it wasn't possible for different genes to be active in one than the other. Small differences, like eye color oddities, slight differences in skin shade, etc., that where observed and discounted, should have clued the in that someone else was going on, but also got ignored in favor of other explanations. It was having known inheritable genetic diseases pop up in one, but not the other, than resulting in them taking a closer look and realizing it wasn't *quite* as clear as they thought it should be.

Greta Christina


I agree with you about essentialism -- at least 100% essentialism -- not being right. But I don't agree with your reasons.

The problem isn't that it's limiting, or that it might lead to medication that can interfere with it, or that it discredits people. And it's not necessarily the case that genetics can't explain shifting orientations; people might have a genetic predisposition toward an orientation that shifts.

The problem is that the current science -- admittedly in its early stages -- doesn't support it. The current science supports some combination of genetics and environment (or essentialism and constructionism). And the research is still coming in.

And that really is the point of my post. We shouldn't be trying to answer this question on the basis of which answer we find most politically useful, or most personally preferable. We should be trying to answer it on the basis of which answer is most likely to be true; which answer is supported by the evidence. If we don't, we're no better than creationists.


Greta, when you talk about "queer theory constructionists", do mean the sort of people featured in stories I've heard about, where a guy propositions some other guy and, upon being told that the propositioned guy is not gay, start going about how "everyone is bisexual" and "you're just lying to yourself"?

Are there people like that, or is it one more of the valiant efforts to "fight the Gay Agenda"?


The current issue of Scientific America has an article about identical twins and genes. It's not just that one twin may have a gene that isn't "turned on."

It's that identical twins aren't. Identical, that is. They don't have the same genome. We used to think they did. They don't.


Thanks for the link, Greta. It took me weeks to put that info together and I am glad it continues to shed a little light where most people want to blow out the candles and close the curtains.

Thomas Chong

Lesbians are freaks of nature.


Only the more interesting ones, Thomas.


For what it's worth, I think that sexual orientation is both nature and nurture. Some combination of the two does seem to make sense. As for myself,I think I have always had a bisexual "tendency". Yet, women have certainly played the greater role in my life, and men less so. I have no "theories". I'm not a scientist; but I think that it's becomming clear that we are part of a very complex continuum, and that for the last 3 billion years, life has been evolving in a connected, but branching way. So why shouldn't sexuality have a complicated, and nuanced, manifestation? For example, I love my wife very much, but that does not preclude the fact that I (sometimes) find myself "attracted" to certain men! It doesn't render my feelings for her any less valid or important because I'm bi! If anything, this makes me treasure our life together even more. It also makes me realize that human sexuality is wonderfully faceted. Why shouldn't it be? We shouldn't be surprised that it is. It sure makes for a more varied and interesting world! I agree that science will, eventually, settle this question, in time.

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