What Makes People Gay?


Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this interesting Boston Globe story by Neil Swidey. In "What Makes People Gay?," Neil Swidey writes,

No matter how imperfect these studies are, when you put them all together and examine them closely, the message is clear: While post-birth development may well play a supporting role, the roots of homosexuality, at least in men, appear to be in place by the time a child is born. After spending years sifting through all the available data, British researchers Glenn Wilson and Qazi Rahman come to an even bolder conclusion in their forthcoming book Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation, in which they write: "Sexual orientation is something we are born with and not 'acquired' from our social environment."

Which is not to say environment doesn't play a role–it's just that it might be the environment in the womb that's decisive, as opposed to, say, your family upbringing.

Swidey also explains why the origins of sexual orientation matter in today's policy debates:

Proving people are born gay would give them wider social acceptance and better protection against discrimination, many gay rights advocates argue. In the last decade, as this "biological" argument has gained momentum, polls find Americans–especially young adults—increasingly tolerant of gays and lesbians. And that's exactly what has groups opposed to homosexuality so concerned. The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank in Washington, D.C., argues in its book Getting It Straight that finding people are born gay "would advance the idea that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic, like race; that homosexuals, like African-Americans, should be legally protected against 'discrimination;' and that disapproval of homosexuality should be as socially stigmatized as racism."

Swidey does note that some gay activists resist the "born gay" argument, on the grounds that it makes homosexuality akin to a disease or genetic abnormality. One thing is true: People on all sides of the issue will come up with whatever arguments are necessary to justify their views regarding sexual orientation. One other thing is true, too, I think: The large-scale social argument over stigmatizing homosexuality is over.

While anti-gay bias still exists, in less than a generation we've gone from a president of the United States assuring the public that his ballet-dancing son was "all man" to highly visible gays in virtually every aspect of public life. Indeed, the yardstick has yet to be invented that can measure the social advance covering the distance between female impersonator impersonator Bette Midler playing Broadway to female impersonator Mario Cantone doing the same.

Whole Boston Globe thing here.

One of the researchers mentioned in the story is Michael Bailey, whom Reason contributing editor Deirdre McCloskey trashed a few years back with regard to his work on transgendered people. That's online here.

And just a few months ago, Assistant Editor Julian Sanchez asked "Are We All Kinseyans Now?" in rejecting rigidly dualistic formulations of sexual orientation. More recently, he demonstrated that, regardless of any nature/nurture debates, adoptive gay parents provide caring families to foster kids. That's online here.