By Jon Dean January 2005
The origins of Sexuality are largely unknown, and anti-gay organisations use the argument that sexuality is a choice. Dean has explored the science behing sexuality and provides and insight into the debate.
All too often in our lives as gay men and women, we are confronted by people who claim that our lives are unnatural, a result of "choice." We know that they are incorrect, but until recently it has been hard to fight back. Recent scientific discoveries, however, may allow us to debunk some of the lies that others use against us. While the origin of our sexuality may not be terribly relevant to our everyday life, the only way we can stop these lies is with truth. I have assembled the scientific truth about homosexuality to the best of my ability, so that others may use it to defend themselves against the false science of the opposition.
Common consensus among the gay community places the onset of homosexuality in the womb. This is not to say that all people agree on when the homosexual mind actually develops.
When a child is developing, the fetus is bathed in washes of hormones that "etch" the brain and body like a computer chip. Some believe homosexuality to be the result of an anomalous hormonal release by the mother during this phase of development. This is supported by studies which have shown that mother mice under stress during pregnancy have a much higher percentage of homosexual offspring. The stress is thought to have triggered extraneous hormone production. A similar phenomenon was observed by sociologists upon analysis of the distribution of sexuality in the general populace during wartime (a high-stress situation). There are far more gay babies born during times of war, researchers discovered, than in peacetime. Another supporting study concluded that men with multiple brothers are more likely to be born homosexual, because the mother is used to producing testosterone and does so in higher quantity with each subsequent son. Ironically, testosterone is thought to be the hormone that, in excess during development, most contributes to male homosexuality.
Other theories state that homosexuality is a solely genetic trait. Our genes, they say, tell our minds to develop in a "gay" way. There are a few studies that support this, but they aren't nearly as convincing as the hormone studies. The "twin studies," which found that if one twin (identical) was gay, the likelihood of the other twin being gay was MUCH higher than a mere brother or fraternal male twin, are the most compelling bit of evidence toward a theory of genetic predisposition. The only issue with this study was that both babies were exposed to the same hormonal treatment in utero. Actually, same-gender fraternal male twins did experience a slight boost in likelihood of being homosexual, landing somewhere between the 10% of regular brothers and the 50-60% of identical twins. This lends support to both theories.
Support for both theories can be derived from an interesting look at the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus, specifically INAH-3. The hypothalamus controls human desire for such things as water, food, sleep, sex, etc. You know, basic needs. In gay men, INAH-3 was found to be uniformly smaller than those in straight men, but a bit larger than the INAH-3 of heterosexual women. A similar study has not been conducted on lesbians, nor has the study been repeated to validate the results. This, class, is what we refer to as "scientific repression." It means that scientists work too hard to discredit the study in theory, instead of actually attempting to replicate it. Why? They either (a) don't care, (b) are afraid of the results, or (c) are not being provided with the necessary materials. Another observed difference is that the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain, which helps control body cycles, is about twice as big in gay men as in heterosexual men. What this means is unclear, but it could cause some hormonal cycle anomalies.
If the studies are accurate, however, they could lend support to either theory. Further testing is required to prove the effect of hormones or genetics on the structure of INAH-3 and the suprachiasmatic nucleus.
It has also been said that homosexuality is an entirely human behavior. This is inaccurate. Homosexual behaviors have been observed in a multitude of animal species, including penguins, mice, and apes. This is also interesting, as many species that have been observed practicing homosexuality do not jointly raise their young. This debunks the theory that homosexuality is caused by imbalanced parenting, as all the young of an animal species are typically raised in the same way.
Personally, I believe that homosexuality is determined by a combination of genetic predisposition and hormone anomaly. It seems the most likely explanation for the study results.
The "nurture" theory put forth by many anti-gay groups, however, is a crock of shit. No "good" scientific study has supported this theory. The theory itself is ludicrous. Gendered behavior has been proven time and time again to be a congenital trait by many cases of "accidental transsexualisim." Upon birth, a small percentage (about 1 in 30,000 or so) of infants are born with ambiguous or "deformed" genitalia. Until recently, it was common procedure to "gender correct" these infants without their knowledge or consent. Young boys with a penis measuring less than 1" in length at birth are often surgically reassigned as female, complete with hormones. Most of these "lost boys" come back eventually, demanding their bodies be corrected to their true gender. These same boys are raised as girls their whole childhood, yet they still know that they are, in fact, male. This knowing occurs regardless of whether or not the child is actually informed that the procedure was performed. Gender, then, is biological in nature. That is not to say that gender is binary and determined by sex chromosomes, but rather that once we are born, our gender is fixed, not by our physical genitalia or our everyday hormonal chemistry, but by our pre-birth development.
It is often thought in uneducated circles that gay men wish to be women. Science refutes this. The Bed nucleus of the Stria Terminalis (BSTc) has been found in FTF transsexuals to be identical in size to the BSTcs of regular (both lesbian and straight) females. This both lends credibility to the claims of so-called "MTF" (I call them FTF transsexuals, because they were always women) transsexuals AND distinguishes gay men from transsexuals. Our BSTcs are the same size as those of straight men. This yanks the rug out from under the common misconception that gay men want to be women, and that all FTF transsexuals are gay men. Anecdotal experience also supports this. I have a friend who is a post-op FTF transsexual, and she is a lesbian.
Besides, who would "choose" to be gay? I sure as hell didn't. Fuck, I chose NOT to be gay. Every goddamn day of middle school, and my whole sophomore year of high school, I prayed and studied and psychoanalyzed myself away from my true homosexual nature. Now I'm the GSA president at my high school, gay as a picnic in springtime, and actively looking for a nice boyfriend. So much for choice. Read Mel White's Stranger At The Gate for another attempted convert's experience. This guy tried everything, including Prayer groups, isolation, electroshock, reflection, Jesus, introspection, aversion therapy, and 30 years of committed heterosexual marriage. He currently lives with his partner, and is minister of a (Texan at the end of his autobiography) Metropolitan Community Church. Once again: So much for choice.
So next time someone attempts to use science (or lack thereof) to explain why we are "sick," consider yourself armed. We all must fight misinformation if we ever want to be truly free.