March 19, 2007
A single cure? Only if there's a single cause!
Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that the designer gene controversy is heating up. Reason's Ron Bailey writes about the controversy created by the Reverend Albert Mohler's recent assertion that homosexuality might in the future be preventable by in utero intervention. (Rev. Mohler bases his assertion on this article which recites the standard genetic and prenatal theories of homosexual causation, and the newer theory about the possibility of prevention.)
This has all created a very predictable flap, with gay activists claiming that there is a Mengelean plot to genetically engineer "them" out of existence (because many of them believe all homosexuality is caused by prenatal events). And, of course Mohler's claim will upset many of the anti-gay righties who insist that homosexuality -- even homosexual orientation itself -- is always a choice.
I think both sides are at least half wrong. A lot of people have come to see sexuality in binary terms in much the same way they see race. Just as you have to be either black or white, you must be either 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual. Other sexual preferences, such as sado-masochism, bondage and discipline, and innumerable types of fetishism, don't seem to count, nor do preferences for certain body types, ages, races, or appearances. (Not too many gay men are attracted to Michael Moore, nor are most straight men attracted to Janet Reno.)
But forget all that. It's just gay or straight! Check the box. Why people can't see how silly this is, I have never been able to understand. I first learned about the influence of prenatal hormones on the developing brain (and the role it might play on the differentiating hypothalamus) back in 1971, and wrote a paper about it for a high school Psychology class. Over the years, I came to learn that no single theory could possibly explain the development of something so complex as what might turn on a particular human being sexually. It's too complicated, and the reasons why each person is turned on by certain things are as complex and varied as the individual.
Does that mean that homosexuality is never caused by the influence of prenatal hormones or genetic factors? Of course not. I think there are some people who are born gay; perhaps even a majority of those who knew it from when they were very little and were always obvious to others. But there are plenty of others, and while I know that gay activists have trouble understanding this, there are also plenty of bisexuals (which I define as people who could have sex with a member of either sex under the right circumstances). The degree of bisexuality varies from person to person, but what happens is that many of these people will eventually fall in love with someone, and then society will adjudge them as gay or straight depending the sex of the partner. Peer pressure is also brought to bear. Most bisexuals in same sex relationships will say they are gay, and most bisexuals in opposite sex relationships will say they're straight. While an admission of bisexuality always has consequences (usually skepticism and ridicule), it is much harder on a man in a relationship with a woman to admit bisexuality than for a man in a gay relationship. For women, the consequences are there, but generally less severe, although I have been told more than one time that some lesbian circles are extremely intolerant of women who admit to having sexual desires for men.
I think sexuality is a lot more fluid than people commonly assume, which is why I think attempts to control it by administering hormones will fail. At most, trying to prevent homosexuality in the way Rev. Mohler imagines might prevent some of the "born gay" types.
But there's a big question that's being overlooked. Even if we assume that inadequate amounts of testosterone results in a failure of the male hypothalamus to fully differentiate as heterosexual, how does anyone that all of these boys (born with feminine hypothalamuses) will all be gay? Suppose it's just a predisposition, just a possibility? You'd have to dissect the hypothalamus of every last male cadaver, and even then you wouldn't be sure. What about the "born gays" who never become gay? Is there not a sort of biological determinism going on with the theory that's at odds with individual freedom?
Anyway, if we assume an ability to identify a shortage of testosterone at the crucial period in the differentiation of the fetal hypothalamus, and testosterone is administered accordingly, I'm wondering how many women are going to make an appointment to go to the doctor to have their fetuses tested at precisely the right time and then receive hormones simply to prevent having a possible "born gay" baby. Some, I'm sure. (And if they have the right to abort their fetuses, certainly have the right to add hormones to them.) But I doubt it would be in numbers sufficient to constitute "genocide," and I see no way that it would prevent all homosexuality. First of all, the type of homosexuality that goes on in prisons would still go on, and as long as men have the prostate gland, there are going to be some individuals who will figure out that there are different ways of stimulating it.
Sorry, but "preventative" hormone therapy applied en masse to all babies would not be a good idea. Too much testosterone can do things like decrease IQ, and unnecessary testosterone would be too much. But again, there is no reason it would prevent the fetuses from eventually growing up and engaging in homosexual conduct.
In any case, I seriously doubt the ancient Spartans had a shortage of testosterone, or "gay genes." As I have said before, they did what they did, but did not know gay from straight. The either/or, all-or-nothing heterosexual or homosexual dichotomy is a modern phenomenon.
I believe the creation of an exclusively homosexual "identitarian" caste has been aided and abetted by anti-gay activists who wanted to preserve a cultural stigma working in collusion with organized activists reacting against them. In the process, exclusively gay men have been manipulated into thinking their sexuality is not merely a part of their nature, but it's an identity. Which must be identified as such, organized, grouped into ghettoes, etc. That this is at odds with human freedom and just living side by side with everyone else on an equal basis does not matter to activists on either the pro-gay or the anti-gay sides. (I don't think these sides should be there, but then, I don't think race should matter either.)
As to the gay gene theory (the Xq28 gene -- advanced by gay researcher Dean Hamer), it has been called into serious question by other research, and it has never been independently confirmed in a controlled manner. Nor has anyone ever shown that all incompletely masculinized fetal hypothalamuses lead to homosexuality in adulthood.
There's a lot of irony in the fact that a theory once invoked to advance sexual freedom could be seen as ultimately destructive of it, but that's what's happened with the way the prenatal hormone theory has progressed. I think sexual freedom means the right to do something, as well as the right not to do it. There is no question that some people are born gay, but if there is sexual freedom, what difference does it make? Those born gay have just as much legal and moral right to engage in sexual relations with whomever they want as those who weren't. I have long thought that human freedom is negated by deterministic theories involving genes and hormones -- especially when they are applied to people who were never tested, might not want to be tested, and might have their own reasons for doing whatever the hell it is they do.
But that won't stop people from looking for an attraction-to-large-penises gene, an attraction-to-large-breasts gene, an S&M gene, or an attraction-to-pierced-navals gene or even an attraction-to-pornography-instead-of-humans "gene."
God help sexual freedom. Especially the right to be left alone.
MORE: Speaking of designer genes, the experts also claim to have isolated a gene for religion -- something I discussed years ago in a post titled "Designer genes for God and gays?"
I suppose gay activists who are worried about religious anti-gay "genocide" could always utilize whatever reproductive techniques they choose and practice retaliatory preventative anti-religious "genocide" by ensuring that they give birth only to gay, irreligious fetuses.
Shouldn't such nonsense be called "gene-o-cide"?
posted by Eric on 03.19.07 at 06:00 PM
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