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Ah, science.
January 20, 2005 7:46 AM   Subscribe

New research takes steps towards finding the "gay genes." A study conducted on gay brothers in more than 100 families found several genetic regions of similarity with linkage to sexual orientation. This is kind of dense (scroll to the bottom of the page for the FAQ), but that's because it hasn't been written up in the press so there are only journal doc's and scientific summaries available.
This is the press release, which is clearer (Microsoft Word).
This is the article on the study, as published in the journal Human Genetics (PDF).
posted by joe_murphy (107 comments total)

 
The paradox - abomination or abortion?
posted by greensweater at 7:55 AM on January 20, 2005


...previously on MeFi: You get the gay from your mother.
posted by RockCorpse at 7:58 AM on January 20, 2005


To summarize the article, it seems like this study goes further to disconnect same-sex attraction in males from maternal genetic inheritance (which has been the prevalent theory) by linking a few candidate genes responsible for certain aspects of brain development and hormone and neurotransmitter production, which are located on three autosomal (non-sex) chromosomes.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:02 AM on January 20, 2005


This is all Lefty crap...Gays are gay because of Intelligent Design...same thing for lefthandedness.
posted by Postroad at 8:08 AM on January 20, 2005 [1 favorite]


All if this nature/nurture (although with sexual preference, that may be an inept usage) seems specious to me. Does it really matter where one's sexual preference comes from? Is it anyone's business?

I think that I understand the thinking behind it. . .to include homosexuality with race and other innate attributes what one has not choice in, therefore society should not discriminate. (Meaning, you may be ick'ed out by it but they really really cannot help it.)

But in this realm, that seems overly defensive (and I say this as the parent of a gay daughter).

Am I full of it here, or should society be such that who one sleeps with and is sexual with is irrelevant to their place in society?
posted by Danf at 8:11 AM on January 20, 2005


It matters because Gay is a sinful choice! The bearded man in the clouds has told us so! Boo!
posted by basicchannel at 8:16 AM on January 20, 2005


Danf, doing research on something that isn't well understood is a Good Thing. As you might know, people tend to be bigoted, scared, whatever, about stuff they don't understand. On the other hand, sometimes they don't want to know.
posted by RockCorpse at 8:24 AM on January 20, 2005


it's not nature/nurture, it's nature/natial/nurture. A lot of things happen to people inside the woomb, and from the research I've seen it seems that gayness mostly comes from there. OTOH, there's probably a genetic predisposition as well.
posted by delmoi at 8:26 AM on January 20, 2005


Does it really matter where one's sexual preference comes from?

Showing that sexual behavior is more or less equivalent to how some folks' skin cells make different amounts of melanin than others indicates how trivial this (societal) distinction really is. That's important, if the goal is less discrimination.
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:34 AM on January 20, 2005


Also, whether or not your preference is anybody else's business, and whether or not it can benefit humanity to understand why anyone might have a given preference, are different questions.
posted by bingo at 8:43 AM on January 20, 2005


Metafilter: gayness mostly comes from there.
posted by odinsdream at 8:51 AM on January 20, 2005


So are they trying to tell me I can't catch "teh gay?"
Or maybe that "teh gay" isn't a moral weakness?

Huh! Godless heathens! May James Dobson strike them dead!
posted by nofundy at 8:56 AM on January 20, 2005


Showing that sexual behavior is more or less equivalent to how some folks' skin cells make different amounts of melanin than others indicates how trivial this (societal) distinction really is. That's important, if the goal is less discrimination.

Of course, the goal of scientific research is to increase the scope of our unbiased knowledge, not to push a particular political agenda, right? Anyone?

Don't get me wrong. I'd love to have solid evidence that being gay is equivalent to being dark-skinned or blue-eyed or what have you. But even if this line of research eventually tells us something we don't want to hear -- that homosexuality comes from bad parenting, say, or even that it's a choice -- it will still have been valuable as science.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:07 AM on January 20, 2005


I don't think that finding that homosexuality is linked to genetics is likely to change many people's minds, to be honest. Gay people can still make the choice to be celibate, and if you believe that gay sex is wrong, it's wrong even if that inclination is inborn, and even if being celibate deprives you of the life most people want to live, one that includes sexual and romantic relationships.

It's more important to do the right thing than to be happy. I think a lot of our social contract is based on that idea.

The only thing to do is to convince people that gay sex ISN'T a wrong thing--and you can't prove that from genetics.
posted by Jeanne at 9:20 AM on January 20, 2005


(That said, there IS a lot of crap going around like those "if you're gay, you can change and become straight" ministries, and the sooner people admit that that's not true, the better.)
posted by Jeanne at 9:22 AM on January 20, 2005


The origins of homosexuality are also the origins of heterosexuality: this research tells us about both. It's an interesting area of study.

That said, "I was born this way" as justification for gay rights harms the gay and lesbian community.
posted by Tlogmer at 9:24 AM on January 20, 2005


What greensweater said. Haters 'gonna hate: if it's nurture/choice, they'll bash us; if it's nature, they'll genetically engineer us away. One crucial difference between this and race: black parents don't often fear having black children, whereas many straight parents (not all, of course) do fear having queer children.
posted by stonerose at 9:25 AM on January 20, 2005


Of course, the goal of scientific research is to increase the scope of our unbiased knowledge, not to push a particular political agenda, right? Anyone?

One could easily say the same thing about whether science research is about further knowledge or pursuing profit, and not add anything to this discussion.

In the end, the point is how the knowledge is used. Reading the paper, I don't believe this research aims to further any one specific political agenda.

The interpretation of the results lies with the policy makers and the mob of unwashed masses who vote them in, as it always has.

Anything that gives bigots less and less ammunition is good for all GLBT.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:29 AM on January 20, 2005


I once read an interesting study that seemed to indicate that in many animal groups, the percentage of the homosexual population increased along with the population density. This raises the possibility that 1) homosexuality may be in part a species survival mechanism, and 2) in some cases at least, it may be triggered by after-birth conditions. Like frogs changing gender to suit the needs of the local frog community.

Of course, this fails to account for bisexuals such as myself, but possibly we fill some deep-seated sociogenetic need for pornography and supervillains.

Personally, I've long been of the belief that homosexuality can be caused by any or all of: genetics, conditions in the womb, early upbringing, post-birth triggering, and choice.
posted by kyrademon at 9:40 AM on January 20, 2005


Gays are gay because of Intelligent Design...

Then all those rightwingers are defying God in decrying homosexuality!
posted by rushmc at 9:46 AM on January 20, 2005


Most biologists concur that the concept of "race" is a social label rather than scientific, yet we still have rampant racism.

WHY would it be good to know where gayness comes from? What benefit would come from it? Is knowledge value neutral?

Just asking
posted by edgeways at 9:49 AM on January 20, 2005


Tlogmer, good link. That's something that I was thinking about bringing up, but that article said it fairly well.

Another interesting idea: Though I understand the intent behind this kind of research, (as discussed; to prove that homosexuality can be genetic, and therefore falls outside of moral choice) it does also open the doors to some pretty grim possibilities.

Like, pre-natal screening for homosexuality? There's been talk for years about that kind of screening for things like downs syndrome, rare blood diseases, and even eye-colour. Do we really want to open the door that would allow people that kind of choice; that is, choosing not to have gay kids?
posted by paultron at 9:56 AM on January 20, 2005


Completely biased statement but: Population control, lets all be gay. It's fun anyway.
posted by taursir at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2005


Is knowledge value neutral?

Yes.
posted by rushmc at 10:09 AM on January 20, 2005


Those researchers are such dra*BANG* unh...
posted by abcde at 10:16 AM on January 20, 2005


Great article, Tlogmer. I've not been entirely convinced that, if it is somehow proved that homosexuality is genetic, discrimination will end. However, one point you do miss in your article is that studies have shown that the general public are more willing to accept homosexuality if it is given that it is innate, i.e. that it were genetic or could not otherwise not be helped. Similarly, the same studies have shown that people would be less willing to accept homosexuality if it were proved to be a "preference". This is one of the driving reasons both sides argue so much over this issue.

While it suggests "it is ok to be gay since you cannot help it," the contrapositive implies something most social libertarians would not accept, namely: "if you can help it, then it is not ok to be gay."

I think I would disagree with the above. The contrapositive does not necessarily follow from the original assertion. After all, one could equally argue that bisexuality is genetic.

Your argument that bisexuals can choose who to sleep with to the exclusion of one gender relies on the position that a sexual desire can be repressed. But, the Argument from Genetics also comes with the hidden argument that it is acceptable for a person to act on his/hers natural sexual desires provided it is between consenting adults. After all, just because you a gay doesn't mean you can't choose an uncomfortable life of celibacy in the same way that if you were bisexual you could choose to restrict yourself to single-gender desire.

The real issue here is not whether or not homosexuality is genetic, but whether it is acceptable for consenting adults to act on their natural sexual desires. This is why PFOX can accept homosexuality may be genetic, but can still argue that it is possible to change that natural state or that celibacy is preferable - acting on a natural sexual desire is only OK as long as their invisible friend in the sky says so.
posted by axon at 10:17 AM on January 20, 2005


Most biologists concur that the concept of "race" is a social label rather than scientific, yet we still have rampant racism.

But nobody blames biologists who mapped the genes for melanin production for society's racism, or claims they had a political agenda.

Do we really want to open the door that would allow people that kind of choice; that is, choosing not to have gay kids?

If we lived in a society with rampant racism, people would choose not to have black children. Or there would be government programs to make black people sterile. But it doesn't happen (outside of conspiracy theories).

Beyond a cursory "what if" examination of eugenics, which already applies far beyond the realm of what we're talking about in this thread, the doors on eugenics were opened back in the late 1800s and have been shut closed, on the whole, everytime some quack tries to reopen them.
posted by AlexReynolds at 10:22 AM on January 20, 2005


If we lived in a society with rampant racism, people would choose not to have black children. Or there would be government programs to make black people sterile.

The problem is that white folks aren't randomly having black kids. If they were, you can bet some of them would kill to find a way to stop it. Ditto with gay kids.
posted by axon at 10:25 AM on January 20, 2005


The search for 'gay genes' is an old and stupid one, an artifact of a discredited genetic reductionism that has prompted decades of searches for genes which supposedly will code for complex behaviors. The fallacy that genes are so developmentally privileged, and act in such linear ways, has been long to die; hardly a week goes by without new reports of genes found 'for' alcoholism, sexuality, violence, etc. etc. etc., all of which are quickly forgotten and result in nothing.

For a sensible critique of the 'gay gene' idiocy . . . .
posted by Coherence Panda at 10:43 AM on January 20, 2005


WHY would it be good to know where gayness comes from? What benefit would come from it? Is knowledge value neutral?

What kind of a question is this? Why not? I can list several reasons why though:

1) we're studying what each gene does and how it affects us - with loads of them to study, it makes sense to find groupings where you know exactly where to look for similar characteristics in samples you have. The "spleen shaped more round instead of long" gene is going to be much harder to track down since you have no idea what the hell you're looking at / for.

2) evolution is a strange thing... lots of folks are of the school of thought that every mutation/difference in a species happens for a legitimate reason... if we could pinpoint that homosexuality is genetic - we could then have very valid reason to ask "why does this happen? how does it make evolutionary sense?"

3) it would put to rest an age-old question of nature versus nurture being the cause, and homosexuality is a very easy trait to identify. If it's found that it is genetics - maybe we have valid reason to think a whole bunch of other psychological (well, are they really psychological anymore?) traits are genetic too - poor anger management versus good, impatience versus patience, preference for tacos versus burritos -- we'd have opened a doorway to seeing exactly how it is we're all programmed, and why we do just about everything we do. Why choose homosexuality? Because it's easily identifiable, and a phenomenon that, at least to most people (myself included) makes no sense from an evolutionary standpoint.


Basically, there are a million reasons OTHER than pushing a social agenda on why this would be a spectacular find for science...

I'd love to know what jerk flipped the gene in my DNA that makes me absolutely hate anything that involves tomatoes... you don't know how bad it was going through college and HATING pizza because it has tomato sauce...
posted by twiggy at 10:45 AM on January 20, 2005


Twilight of the Golds, here we come--we'll see how quickly many on the right suddenly start thinking abortion is ok when the tests are ready, huh?

WHY would it be good to know where gayness comes from? What benefit would come from it? Is knowledge value neutral?
There are many benefits: finding out the "why and where and how" of things is what science does, fundamentally; you can't say it's a choice if it's proven to be genetic; just as you can't discriminate against others because of their genetics as expressed in skin color, eye color, handedness, hair color, etc, you won't be able to discriminate against us, we hope; where gayness comes from is also where straightness comes from, genetically, i suppose, benefiting you guys too; and more.

Those of us who are gay and also have gay relatives have always thought it was genetic. It's good to see science catching up. There'll have to be unshakable, and enormous, amounts of irrefutable evidence before the haters switch tactics, and switch tactics they will.

and on preview, what twiggy said.
posted by amberglow at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2005


I don't think that finding that homosexuality is linked to genetics is likely to change many people's minds, to be honest.

The argument might go something like this:

Normal: "If it's genetic, that means it's God's doing."

Fundie: "Ah, well then, it's just a genetic defect."

Normal: "Defect or no, you can't argue with God's will, or question the ways in which He works, now can you?"

Fundie: "Ah, maybe it's just a way of evolution getting gay people out of the gene pool."

Normal: "Evolution, you say?"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:46 AM on January 20, 2005


Paultron - I've been reading about the possibility of homosexual eugenics too. I'm not sure I agree with all of the conclusions, but this is a fairly grim analysis. So is this. Both tie the discovery of a "gay gene" to the prospect of an increase in abortions targeting gay fetuses. The second is really interesting, from the "pro-life alliance of gays and lesbians".
posted by loquax at 10:50 AM on January 20, 2005


Coherence Panda:

I thought based on the tone of your post that the article you linked to was going to be a bunch of crap. A friendly and honest suggestion - consider reading your own posts and thinking about the tone of voice you give off.. it seemed really snarky and mean, like a big "you're a retard for posting" to the poster...

Turns out, I read the article you linked to and it makes some really interesting points I hadn't thought about.. especially as far as social consequences, rather than benefits, of successfully finding a "gay gene"... Definitely a good read, and I do thank you for posting it.. I realize you probably didn't mean to sound condescending in your post now that I read the article and it's actually a good bit of writing... just thought I'd comment on my initial impressions due to tone of voice.. I find that I kinda do the same thing sometimes
posted by twiggy at 10:52 AM on January 20, 2005


Man, just imagine the madness induced in a Born-Again Christian married couple where the woman is pregnant, and prenatal genetic analysis determines the child is going to be gay.

As greensweater mentioned in the first post.

Do you give birth to Abomination? Or commit the murderous sin of Abortion?

Oh, the exploding heads...
posted by zoogleplex at 11:03 AM on January 20, 2005


Twiggy: My bad . . . I write before thinking sometimes, and forget that the tone in my head isn't always the same as it looks on the screen . . . glad you overlooked that and enjoyed the link.
posted by Coherence Panda at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2005


(AlexReynolds -

"But it doesn't happen (outside of conspiracy theories)."


Actually, there have been several programs in the US which led to widespread sterilization of minorities - well documented and far outside the realm of tin-foil hat-dom. Here's a look at one which was targeted at Native Americans. I can find you others, if you like.)
posted by kyrademon at 11:15 AM on January 20, 2005


and that whole syphilis experiment too (Tuskegee?)
posted by amberglow at 11:35 AM on January 20, 2005


"Showing that sexual behavior is more or less equivalent to how some folks' skin cells make different amounts of melanin"

That's a really bad comparison. Differentiation in melanin production isn't "race", and as such there's not a "race" gene. In fact, there's not a "race gene" in any sense, not even a combination of "race genes" because there's no such thing as biological race. So the comparison does more to obfuscate than it does to clarify.

Seven things that I believe are true and that I wish I could convince everyone of:

1) Sexuality is for the most part genetically determined yet nevertheless results from complex developmental interactions in gestation as hormones shape the development of many or most organs.

2) This developmental process, being a complex process with many steps acting upon many systems, results in a spectrum of differentiation. Some systems can be less (or almost or not at all) determined by the genetic coding for sex, creating ambiguity1. There is commonly ambiguity in the primary sexual characteristics, this ambiguity can occur nowhere, anywhere, or everywhere as we look at various organs and systems. A given penis can be less ambiguously sexed than the associated brain, for example. Or vice versa. The result is that sex ultimately is an aggregate attribute and thus sex lies along a spectrum (not evenly distributed, however, and also probably "clumpily").

3) Sexual orientation, to the degree that it is biological, is probably primarily a brain epiphenomenon that interacts closely with sex. There could well be specifically a gay "gene" (and by this I mean ecological "gene" and not molecular biological "gene"), presumably serving some evolutionary purpose. Or, on the other hand, it's purely an epiphenomenon resulting from particular "branch" (or branches) of sex development. Either way, or both, sexual orientation is likely to have some ambiguity, as well. (And, as I write this while thinking about it, it occurs to me that a specifically genetically coded orientation could account for the less ambiguous orientations we see in the population while a sex-developmental epiphenomenon orientation could account for the more ambiguous orientations we see in the population. Thus, postulating both could have some explanatory power we need.)

4) As sexual orientation occurs a great deal in the brain, we might imagine some degree of late-developmental or post-developmental plasticity. People might, to some degree, be able to quite validly choose to alter (to some degree) their orientation. People do seem to do this, so I think this is likely.

5) Given all the above, it seems unlikely that we'll find something as simple as a single "gay gene" that explains all variations of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation and its development will continue to be ambiguous.

6) Whether it's genetic, cultural, or a personal choice shouldn't really matter in the political arena. A genetic explanation makes non-discrimination laws more palatable to a great number of people, but it's a shaky and dangerous foundation upon which to build a social/legal defense against discrimination and bigotry. It's shaky because of what I wrote above: sexual orientation is probably more complex than a single genetic explanation. It's dangerous because such a defense implicitly denies a defense to non-genetic socially prohibited sexual orientations. It would allow discrimination against people who choose to engage in socially prohibited sex; it would allow discrimination against people (in one horrifying scenario) who choose to forgo the gene therapy that would allow then to "correct" their sexual orientation to the socially accepted norm. Finally, it's a bad strategy because it implicitly cedes the moral ground to the moralists who are anti-gay bigots. When defending black people from discrimination I greatly prefer the "there's nothing wrong with being black" defense over the "they didn't choose to be black" defense. Surely it's obvious, in that context, why the latter defense is unsatisfactory compared to the former?

1 What I mean here is that a given genetic coding could result in different sex differentiation in various organs/systems were the process "recreated"—such as in cloning—from the beginning of development. It's only recently come to be understood that there are environmental factors that are relevant to development during gestation and so the same genetic code can result in different outcomes. Note that twin studies necessarily rely upon identical twins that developed in the same conditions during gestation. (Thus very or exactly similar sexual orientation found in twin studies is currently inconclusive on this matter.) Once we have identical twins that can develop in different environments, we'll have a better grasp of how much is environmentally sensitive.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:41 AM on January 20, 2005



and that whole syphilis experiment too (Tuskegee?)


The men got syphilis on their own. The government doctors did not treat or tell them that they had it. Both situations are unacceptable, but I think actively infecting people with a disease (as so many people believe) is worse than intentional neglect.
posted by thirteen at 12:08 PM on January 20, 2005


axon: Your argument that bisexuals can choose who to sleep with to the exclusion of one gender relies on the position that a sexual desire can be repressed.

I know that it is really not your intent. But honestly as a bisexual person, I really dislike the stereotype that bisexuality mandates some sort of forced polygamy.

twiggy: evolution is a strange thing... lots of folks are of the school of thought that every mutation/difference in a species happens for a legitimate reason... if we could pinpoint that homosexuality is genetic - we could then have very valid reason to ask "why does this happen? how does it make evolutionary sense?"

I think that the notion that every possible phenotype must have some sort of an evolutionary benefit, especially in a critter such as humans where behavior is highly dependent on context, is highly dubious. Part of the problem with this thinking is that humans are diploid organisms, and the existence of sexual recombination. It is quite possible to have two genotypes that improve evolutionary fitness separate from each other, but decrease evolutionary fitness in combination.

3) it would put to rest an age-old question of nature versus nurture being the cause,...

One of my frustrations with these discussions is that both biology and psychology have long given up on the concept of nature vs. nurture. Instead, the challenges has been how much variance in behavior is explained by genetics, and how much variance in behavior is explained by environmental factors. When I was in microbiology, one of the big unspoken limitations was that even for bacteria, environment-gene interactions are extremely complex. The only thing this can do in the nature/nurture debate is to put some boundaries on the variance due to genetics.

amberglow: There are many benefits: finding out the "why and where and how" of things is what science does, fundamentally; you can't say it's a choice if it's proven to be genetic; just as you can't discriminate against others because of their genetics as expressed in skin color, eye color, handedness, hair color, etc, you won't be able to discriminate against us, we hope; where gayness comes from is also where straightness comes from, genetically, i suppose, benefiting you guys too; and more.

I don't buy this. To start with, there are many issues on which discrimination based on factors beyond our control has been largely acceptable. As an example, there are lots of social debates regarding deafness: is it child abuse to not provide implants for profoundly deaf children? should the priorties for dealing with deafness involve support for Deaf culture, or research into cybernetic solutions for deafness? The discovery of genetic influences for several mental illnesses has in turn, led to an increased focus on developing and promoting cures for mental illness.

Of course, everyone is going to yell "Goodwin," but the belief that homosexuality is inborn has also been grounds for some of the worst discrimination against lesbigays in history. So I find myself very dissappointed with how much the gay community has bought into the bad science of the "gay gene." (Not that the science is bad as published, but that in the translation from science to politics, it becomes bad science.) Anti-gay bigots are more than happy to go both ways on this.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:23 PM on January 20, 2005


KJS: I've been vocal against the "nature defense" for some years now, and I've noticed in the last two that I don't feel at all like a voice in the wilderness anymore.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:41 PM on January 20, 2005


EB: I think that we really need to be teaching genetics better. I think that a lot of the reason why people think so shallowly on this is that most people are rarely given an exposure to genetics beyond Mendel's peas: green vs. yellow, wrinkled vs. smooth. Perhaps people get hemophillia as an example of a sex-linked trait, or coverage of Parkinsons, Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell. The big problem is that these examples where a bad mutation in a single gene shuts down an entire metabolic pathway are not typical of most genetic influences on development.

Things are not that simple even in prokaryotes where the "metacode" that controls regulation and transcription is is relatively simple. In eukaryotes there is an increasingly large quantity of evidence that the "metacode" may be both critically important, and quite a bit more complex than previously understood.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:04 PM on January 20, 2005


I have no objection with studying genetic factors (although I believe, like many here seem to, that sexual orienation is the result of a complex interplay of many things.)

And I understand the desire for something to point to and say, including to some people who may be very close to you, "Look - see? I COULDN'T change if I really wanted to. 'Therapy' ISN'T going to help. My desires are inevitable. This is the way things are, and nothing's going to change it, so get used to it, because there's SCIENTIFIC PROOF!" I even believe that, if that could be said, it would help some people, particularly parents, get used to the idea. Which would be a great relief to many.

But that proof is unlikely to ever materialize, honestly. Development is a complicated business, and the doubly or triply abstracted level of the actions that spring from the thoughts that are based on the drives that originate in biology are among the most complicated of the lot. And even were it possible to get it, it wouldn't solve most of the problems - people who, say, believe that god put bone-shaped rocks in the earth to trick us aren't going to take sophisticated genetic arguments too seriously.

It's probably just as well. As many here have pointed out, "there's nothing wrong with it" is a better argument than "there's nothing to be done about it" anyway.
posted by kyrademon at 1:07 PM on January 20, 2005


Coherence Panda: In contrast to Twiggy, I thoroughly disliked your linked article. When someone says But we need to recognize that this focus on what causes individuals to be lesbian or gay arises from homophobia I reach for my gun. It's not only demonstrably false (cue quote about the relative worthiness of the unexamined life) but utterly, utterly patronising. The Council for Responsible Genetics, in decrying investigation on the strength of a couple of less that satisfactory studies and some haphazard speculation about the future come across as a bunch of cardigan wearing busybodies who insist on telling us what's good for us because we're too stupid to figure it out for ourselves. That's what we have vicars for.

I have no doubt that if homosexuality turns out to be unavoidable, whether by genes, temperature, or parental spinach eating while in utero, bigots will still be bigots. That doesn't stop enquiring minds from wanting to know.
posted by Sparx at 1:11 PM on January 20, 2005


twiggy: lots of folks are of the school of thought that every mutation/difference in a species happens for a legitimate reason

That seems evolutionarily backwards to me - mutations don't happen for a reason related to any ultimate benefit that they may end up creating. New genetic traits occur via mutation or sexual recombination, and if they happen to create a benefit, they will be selected for.

That said... homosexuality is undoubtedly caused by the same combination of factors as cause heterosexuality and bisexuality. Whatever they are, people will use the science to support many different political opinions. I find the eugenics potential of the genetic argument much more frightening than the other possibilities - and I hate, hate, hate anything along the "pity us, we can't help it" lines.
posted by expialidocious at 1:11 PM on January 20, 2005


KirkJobSluder -

Yes. I can't tell you how irritated I am that the most simplistic and poorly understood kind of biological determinism has become a very commonplace philosophy for many people these days. I've had people who should know better seriously tell me that, say, men are simply genetically programmed to have sex with as many women as possible, and cannot help this drive and therefore must cheat. They tend to look at me blankly when I ask how they explain the verifiable existence of monogamous or celibate men.
posted by kyrademon at 1:12 PM on January 20, 2005


Huh! Godless heathens! May James Dobson strike them dead!

Well, today Dobson's at it again!

Group Attacks SpongeBob's Gay Agenda. "James Dobson, founder of the conservative organization Focus on the Family, has found a new target in his battle over gay rights, cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants."

"' We see the [SpongeBob] video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids,' he said. 'It is a classic bait and switch.'" (from today's New York Times).
posted by ericb at 1:14 PM on January 20, 2005


kyrademon: And I understand the desire for something to point to and say, including to some people who may be very close to you, "Look - see? I COULDN'T change if I really wanted to. 'Therapy' ISN'T going to help. My desires are inevitable.

Well, on the other hand...

A while ago I read Gender Shock, a book that attacks the history of treatment for Gender Identity Disorder. In a long chapter regarding an experimental treatment for feminine boys, Burke describes how part of the "treatment" involved blaiming and treating the mother for causing the boy's femininity. An understanding of sexual orientation that gets away from the repeated incarnations of Freudianism would be a good thing in my opinion.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:20 PM on January 20, 2005


On preview and elsewhere at MeFi ...

I just scrolled down the MeFi FP and see that the SpongeBob/Dobson affair is already under discussion.
posted by ericb at 1:29 PM on January 20, 2005


KirkJobSluder -

I'm not sure how that relates to, much less contradicts, anything I was saying.

(Never said what you thought I said about copyright, either, I think. :) Pity that thread died.)
posted by kyrademon at 1:31 PM on January 20, 2005


kyrademon: I'm not sure how that relates to, much less contradicts, anything I was saying.

I didn't claim a contradiction. Just an alternative way that this research might actually help people.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:43 PM on January 20, 2005


Ah, I see. In that case, I agree. Although "you're gay because you had a domineering mother and a wimpy father" is considered a bit of a joke now in most circles, isn't it?
posted by kyrademon at 1:49 PM on January 20, 2005


KJS and kyrademon: yes, genetics is taught badly. But that's really the result that conventional wisdom in the field has changed pretty rapidly in the last thirty years and general social attitudes and non-specialized education tend to lag about that far behind, I think.

I've had people who should know better seriously tell me that, say, men are simply genetically programmed to have sex with as many women as possible, and cannot help this drive and therefore must cheat.

Here I imagine that I'm going to part ways a bit (or a lot) with you, kyrademon. (And we did, didn't we? in the gender thread?)

Obviously there's a good number of things that are very directly tied to the genome. It's also obvious, and no one denies (I don't think) that there are a good number of non-behavioral traits that are the product of all the various factors that you're claiming complicate behavioral/cognitive traits. Some behaviors/cognitive things, undoubtedly, have simple genetic correspondences. Others won't.

I agree with EP in principle, though often not in practice. In principle, it seems really absurd to me to exempt human behavior/cognition from evolutionary/genetic analysis when we would never think of exempting animal behavior/cognition from an evolutionary/genetic analysis. Furthermore, the example you cite, though in the realm of the most controversial, should be in the realm of the least scientifically controversial because if there's anything that would be strongly subject to evolutionary pressures, it would be sexual behavior. And we know this about animals.

I understand the reasons why there's resistance against looking at human behavior and cognition from this standpoint. In the past, doing so has really been a smokescreen for an attempt to validate a reactionary social position. In the present, doing so is often a smokescreen for an attempt to validate a reactionary social position. But the opposite, this exceptionalism about human behavior and cognition...well, it strikes me—it deeply offends me, in fact—as just another example of the entrenched dualism and anthropochauvinism of western thought.

I'm not endorsing the assertion in your quote, by the way. If I were, I'd endorse it only partly, or weakly, and with some important qualifications.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2005


That's a really bad comparison. Differentiation in melanin production isn't "race", and as such there's not a "race" gene. In fact, there's not a "race gene" in any sense, not even a combination of "race genes" because there's no such thing as biological race. So the comparison does more to obfuscate than it does to clarify.

EB, let me clarify, because you are putting words in my mouth that I never said.

It can be said that the social construct of race can be connected in a general, qualitative sense to the phenotype of skin color.

No scientist since the end of WW II makes any claim that having a certain percentage of melanin protein in your skin makes you one "race" or another.

A genetic understanding of what makes people of, say, African origin have blacker skin than Europeans, says nothing about the morality of making a distinction between the two, which again is a social construct and one that has less significance today than it did a hundred years ago.

However, it helps trivialize the difference to the point where you have to work pretty damn hard to rationalize hatred of someone with a different skin color, if that's the only difference.

So my point stands: genes show that biological differences between humans on the basis of skin color are a trivial, laughable basis on which to form prejudices. Likewise, I am optimistic that an understanding of behavior (sexual or otherwise) on a genetic basis will make our superficial differences equally trivial.

Knowing how we work takes all the steam out of passionate and irrational hatreds.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:00 PM on January 20, 2005


Actually, there have been several programs in the US which led to widespread sterilization of minorities - well documented and far outside the realm of tin-foil hat-dom. Here's a look at one which was targeted at Native Americans. I can find you others, if you like.

No need. My point is that it doesn't happen today. And if it did, you can be sure there will be a public outcry on a similar if not louder basis than what met the author of The Bell Curve.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:02 PM on January 20, 2005


I blame bush.
posted by Balisong at 2:12 PM on January 20, 2005


So my point stands: genes show that biological differences between humans on the basis of skin color are a trivial, laughable basis on which to form prejudices. Likewise, I am optimistic that an understanding of behavior (sexual or otherwise) on a genetic basis will make our superficial differences equally trivial.

But there's no good reason to suppose that. The reason it's worked out the way it has with "race" is not because a general genetic diferentiation doesn't mean very much, but because there's not a general genetic differentiation. If there had been, if race meant what people thought it meant (that what we identify as "race" corresponded to genetics), then the general genetic differentiation well may have been far from superficial.

There are two seperate levels on which your notion of "race" fails. The first is that within the bounds of skin color, there is not a generalized genetic correlation across all populations. Skin color is not a reliable marker for genetic relatedness across all populations. The other level is simply that skin color is the dominant, but hardly the only or sufficient characteristic used to determine "race" as the term is commonly used. Therefore, with regard to "race", whether a genetic or social construction, "melanin" is not a very good identifier and, thus, its genetics is not that relevant. So the example fails on at least two crucial counts.

Unfortunately for your anticipation, sex and sexual orientation don't look like "race", from a biological perspective, at all. For the reasons above. They look, biologically, like pretty fundamental characteristics, not at all superficial.

As I wanted to say in the gender thread: it really shouldn't be a threat to anyone's hopes for a just and egalitarian future to find that people are genetically "unequal" in various respects. After all, we know that individuals are unequal in various respects, and yet we manage to achieve a notably (by historical standards) egalitarian society anyway. If we come to believe, or know, that people come from the womb comprehending the world in very different ways, I'm sure that we'll be able to find a way to accomodate that awareness in a just, humanistic, liberal society.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:22 PM on January 20, 2005


AlexReynolds -

My link was to something that was going on in the 1970's. A bit too close to "today" for me to comfortably agree with your assertion. Especially given such things as the current, modern, even-as-we-speak practice of state-funded sterilizations, most common in the poorer areas of the country (especially where there's a high minority population), and frequently done with, shall we say, questionable consent. This came up as a big news item as recently as the 2004 Oklahoma Senate race, when the candidate who eventually won was fairly convincingly accused of having performed such nonconsensual sterilizations.

Ethereal Bligh -

As in the gender thread, I suspect our opinions are closer than they would at first appear. I have no objections to the genetic and bioevolutionary investigation of sexual behavior in humans. I simply strongly suspect that the answers will be far more complicated than the oversimplified version of Darwinism which many seem to adhere to these days. In fact, I *don't* think humans are different or superior to animals in this respect, and I think the common view of the sexual behavior of animals is also oversimplified in much the same way.

Interestingly, since you bring it up, the study of animal homosexual behavior has been just as bizarrely politicized as the study of human homosexual behavior. It's been frequently complained about that for decades and decades, incidents of homosexual behavior in animals were dismissed as "a dominance ritual", "play", or, my favorite "a greeting" (one famous incidence of calling such behavior "a greeting" led one annoyed and sarcastic zoologist to start called lesbian behavior in lionesses "the big hello".)

So, I actually have no objection to a real examination of the sexual behavior of animals (including humans) from a standpoint of genetics and evolution. I simply believe, based on everything reliable I've read, that in neither case will the give simple and obvious answers.
posted by kyrademon at 2:27 PM on January 20, 2005


There was a great, great science fiction story written about 10 years ago about this very issue.
posted by Tlogmer at 2:35 PM on January 20, 2005


I simply believe, based on everything reliable I've read, that in neither case will the give simple and obvious answers.

I agree with you. But I suspect that in some matters, it will give the simple and obvious answers. Others, likely not. There's a strong streak of dogmatism in denying nature arguments that I find as disheartening as the dogmatic nature arguments.

Do you really think that even for the majority of mammals the degree of complexity and abiguity of sex and sexual behavior is even in the same ballpark as that supposed by the "almost everything in the end with humans is nurture" crowd supposes? Yeah, I agree with you in the estimation that the contemporary ideas of animal sex and sexuality are likely simplisitic. But it seems to me to be a long jump to the area where (these) people (and perhaps you) are proposing human sex and sexual behavior exist. That length of that jump seems very unlikely to me.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:50 PM on January 20, 2005


Ethereal Bligh -

Have to go from work for home, so I'll respond to that in a bit.

Before I go, however, I'd like to note that I think you are misunderstanding what AlexReynolds is saying.

If I understand him correctly, he is not saying that the trivial genetic differentiation which makes people look different from each other in various ways is biologically equivalent to whatever genetic differentiation, if any, influences sexual orientation.

He is saying that he believes that once the scientific bases of sexual orientation are understood, some of the props of prejudice against it will be destroyed, just as some of the props of racism were destroyed when cultural and scientific advances made arguments that black people look the way they do because they are Satan's Grandchildren a fringe, rather than accepted, position.

If I'm right in my interpretation of his posts, that's an argument about the effects of science on society, and a perfectly valid one - in other words, a *cultural* equivalence of two areas of genetic invesitgation, not a *material* equivalence.
posted by kyrademon at 2:59 PM on January 20, 2005


Ah. He's making a much more general argument than I realized. Okay. I still think it's probably unintentionally misleading, though.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:10 PM on January 20, 2005


I (as a board certified homo) can't buy either argument entirely. I have a gay cousin on my father's side, and my father, despite being a raving rightie, was rumored throughout his school years to be gay. While I find all that interesting in terms of how I "turned out," I somehow can't believe that I inherited my inherent poofiness from my daddy's sperm. Frankly, I would find any biological or group-think psychosocial explanation of gayness or lefthandedness rather dubious. It really seems that sexual orientation is likely a hodge-podge of various factors, that will never be pinned to the bed by empirical data. And, if there is a gay gene, I still would have to be a Luddite about it: I'd rather believe that identity and the larger concept of gender are fluid and mysterious, and are essential to the raison d'etre of human consciousness... to know thyself. Yet, I wouldn't want science to stay away from exploring the genome. Far from it. There are surely some wondrous things there that will help to advance a greater equality in society via deeper biological understanding, along the lines of what AlexReynolds and kyrademon are saying. I just couldn't put all of my eggs, er, whatever, in that basket for my own purely romantic reasons. Humanity has to grow up in terms of the sum of its knowledge, rather than a specific path of its knowledge, which would include the wisdom that getting along with others will ultimately make your own life better. /rant

Oh, and a quixotic tip of Occam's razor to EB.
posted by moonbird at 3:26 PM on January 20, 2005


I am leery of using any research into the genetic origin of homosexuality as fuel in a debate on civil rights for homosexuals. To do so is to buy into the idea that natural or innate behaviours are somehow better or privileged that unnatural or learned ones - which is bollocks. It's letting yourself get sidetracked away from the justice of discrimination against activities that don't hurt you.

(Imagine if we found a gene that predisposed murderers to murder. Would we excuse them on the grounds of natural inclination? I think not. If you find that argument offensive when proposed by me here, imagine it coming out of the mouth of some fundy when you've finally proven that gayness is innate. Watch the rhetorical ground shift.)

My personal position is that this is very interesting, but irrelevant to any discussion of where I am allowed to put my penis. I don't look to nature for a lead to ethics or morality.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:37 PM on January 20, 2005


Back home. Ah, a refreshing bike ride.

Anyway, Ethereal Bligh -

My own personal belief (right or wrong) is that, in fact, all behavior is based in biology. However, given that, there is such a wide and complex range of behavior available that it is perfectly reasonable to call an awful lot of behaviors "socially constructed". That is to say, biology makes a range of behaviors available, and then influences people towards a certain set of behaviors within that structure, but does not outright determine a single behavioral set. This means that the behavioral set chosen can also be influenced by other things, such as the results of interaction with others (social context.)

My problem with the "biology is destiny" crowd is not the basis of their belief, which seems reasonable, but the fact that they tend to believe that this means that biology determines a *single* behavioral pattern, rather than a range. This seems to me to be so clearly untrue that it's baffling, given the vast panoply of people's actions. Too often, it's an excuse for saying that the behavior of their own particular culture (or person) is the correct and natural behavior, and that people who think they are different are just fooling themselves. It is reasonable to point out to them that much of this behavior is in fact mutable, and that therefore their adherence to the behavior is a social construct - influenced by biology in some way, but far from the only way they could do things.

My problem with the "all things are social constructs" crowd is that, again clearly to me, much behavior is strongly influenced by biological factors, and all of it is based on it, and ignoring that is patently ludicrous. However, as I tried to say on the gender thread, even bearing that in mind, those who claim to know exactly what part of things is entirely biology (currently, at least) often don't know what they're talking about, and do things like mistake correlation for causation.

Sexual orientation is, I think, very clearly strongly driven by biology. But many things have shown us that it can change when the cultural context changes as well (Ancient Greece, ships at sea, prison populations, etc.) So it's a biological influence, and a strong one, but you can't leave the social construction out of it, either.

Anyway, um, that's what I think. Yeah.
posted by kyrademon at 3:45 PM on January 20, 2005


...To do so is to buy into the idea that natural or innate behaviours are somehow better or privileged that unnatural or learned ones - which is bollocks. It's letting yourself get sidetracked away from the justice of discrimination against activities that don't hurt you...
But isn't that already being done with mental disorders and alcoholism and a variety of other things already? Haven't we already reclassified those things--from a moral failing or weakness or sinning, to a brain chemistry or genetic wiring thing? Hasn't much discrimination against the mentally disordered and other groups gone away? I'd say yes. We've come a long way from lobotomies and electric shock--for both mental things and to "cure" homosexuality. We have a long way to go.
posted by amberglow at 3:54 PM on January 20, 2005


of course, what i just said implies that they'll "fix" homosexuality too, which i unfortunately think will happen.
posted by amberglow at 3:57 PM on January 20, 2005


Take heart, amberglow - being left handed also used to be considered sinful in some places. So did having red hair. No one is trying to "fix" those these days, because, unlike alcoholism, they really aren't harmful when people just leave each other alone - just like being gay. So maybe homosexuality will be thought of like having red hair instead of having dementia.
posted by kyrademon at 4:08 PM on January 20, 2005


You're right, kyrademon, we agree on quite a bit. But we can look at animals and many behaviors that are incredibly invariant—complex behaviors—and we know they are innate. (But it should be mentioned to those out there who don't know: we're also finding social learning in a lot of animals, where they wouldn't know some "natural" behaviors otherwise. More than many people expected, since "learning" has also had an unduly privileged position as being almost exclusive to humans.) I can't believe that there aren't a good number of behaviors that are as hard-wired.

Keep in mind that, as I said in the gender thread, I'm coming to the position I hold from a long-ago strong, even extreme, nurturist position. I've had to accept naturist factors against my preferences and so I suppose I'm impatient with people that, seem to me, to be overly resistant, dogmatically resistant, for the same reasons I was (and still am, to a point).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:13 PM on January 20, 2005


"...because, unlike alcoholism, they really aren't harmful when people just leave each other alone - just like being gay. So maybe homosexuality will be thought of like having red hair instead of having dementia.

As comes up in every contentious antidepressent thread, however, there's lots of things about personality and behavior where there's a great amount of debate as to what constitutes "functional" and "dysfunctional". It seems self-evident to me that homosexuality is functional when, in contrast, depression isn't. But, I say with regret, I'm sure that the reverse is true for a great many intelligent and well-intentioned people.

Or, for example, we could have a contentious argument about cochlear implants for children of deaf parents.

This is part of why I am strongly in the "defend on the basis of morality" camp. We have to be strongly active and loud on this matter now, long before it gets into the realm of whether a "corrective therapy" is ethical or not. We need to capture, certainly not cede by inaction, that moral territory now. Otherwise, we're going to have a big fight on our hands if there ever is found to be a strong and well known genetic basis for homosexuality.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:20 PM on January 20, 2005


Heh. We dislike most in others the traits we dislike most about ourselves . . .

I know where you're coming from. At one point, I used to have a totally social constructivist view of gender - until I started making lots of friends in the trans community. If gender didn't really exist, as I thought, then why were they so damn SURE they were male or female - sure enough to get surgery so that their body matched up? Meeting people in the intersexed community only convinced me more - why would people brought up in all ways as female, even to the most basic cradle conditioning, rebel and long to go back to what they were born as? I became convinced that, though there was a wide range, from androgyny to completely male or female, and it wasn't linked to the behaviors people thought it was, or even completely to the sex of the person in question, nonetheless . . . there was SOMETHING innate going on that was influencing things just as the social conditioning was.

Kind of backwards when you consider that many point to the trans community as the best evidence for pure social construction theories around . . . but, as I've mentioned before, I don't think biology is mutually exclusive with variety and fluidity.
posted by kyrademon at 4:32 PM on January 20, 2005


Who would choose to have heterosexual children over homosexual if that choice were technically possible?

Everyone who wanted biological grandchildren. (Sure, they can probably brew 'em up in the lab by then, but that makes it dependent upon a conscious choice and action and I'll bet many people would want to stack the deck their way a bit more than that.)

the doors on eugenics were opened back in the late 1800s and have been shut closed

Ha! Just you wait...you ain't seen nothin' yet.
posted by rushmc at 4:44 PM on January 20, 2005


.Meeting people in the intersexed community only convinced me more - why would people brought up in all ways as female, even to the most basic cradle conditioning, rebel and long to go back to what they were born as?

I asked about intersexed people over thataway and didn't get an answer. Seems to me that the disastrous—and I really think "disastrous" is the right word—for the sex assignment of many of the intersexed is a clear refutation that gender is completely a socially constructed thing. Here we had children with their genitals adjusted and raised against their their genetics, where they didn't know and in some cases the parents didn't know, and they did not accept that assigned sex and gender role.

And, see, that mess exemplifies (in the worst way) everything that frightens me about being dogmatic on these matters.

I agree with you on the transexualism thing. I don't believe for a minute that the majority of transgendered are of social, not biological, origin. In my mind, this sort of thing has the very simple explanation that I wrote about above; and which, I think you, I, and KJS all agree: a whole bunch of biological systems make up "sex" and some can lean one way and other less that way or even the other way. The chromosome and primary sex characteristics don't seem nearly close to sufficient to me to define sex. Transgendered are intersexed, though not as obviously so. Seems to me.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:44 PM on January 20, 2005


Seems the only religious folks many of you have ever met (that you know of) were flaming assholes on the internet.

Too bad, you should get out more. Try leaving the city once in a while, and not just for a drive thru.

Some jerk flames you in a net board and you knee-jerk all believers into your little pigeonhole collection.
posted by HTuttle at 7:36 PM on January 20, 2005


I looked back through the thread for these many posts decrying all religious types as flaming assholes.

I found a few posts which discussed in mocking or negative terms: 1) people who promote Intelligent Design, 2) people who hate gays for religious reasons, 3) people who are religiously opposed to both gays and abortions, and might someday have to choose between them, 4) people who believe fossils were placed in the earth by supernatural means to fool people, and 5) James friggin' SpongeBob-Is-A-Tool-of-Satan Dobson.

I didn't read one post which ascribed these views to all religious believers.

What are you talking about?
posted by kyrademon at 8:38 PM on January 20, 2005


There is so much to comment on here! I will try to be brief.

I would like to make the social-constructivist statement that homosexuality and heterosexuality are culturally constructed sexual behaviours, and thus looking for genetic causes by looking for connections between homosexual behaviour and specific genes is problematic at the very least. While same-sex sexual activity can be observed in every human population, "homosexual" behaviour can not. Rushmc makes this point indirectly with his comment about the likelihood of getting biological grandchildren from a gay child. In many societies, same-sex sexual activity has nothing to do with reproduction: men and women marry and procreate separately from their involvement in same-sex sexual activity.

This said, there may well be a genetic predisposition to something that increases the likelihood of homosexual behaviour in our culture. However, if we accept (and based on cross-cultural and historical evidence, we should) that homosexuality is culturally constructed, then we should frame the genetic questions differently. We could, for instance, look for genes that increase plasticity of behaviour.

About modern eugenics, power and the right to bear children: Reproductive Technologies Web, particularly Betsy Hartmann is a fantastic resource with extensive publications.

With regard to intersexuality:

1) Transgendered people are not the same as intersexuals. Intersexuality is an umbrella term that refers to a number of genetic and hormonal variations which usually result in ambiguous genitals. For more info see the ISNA.

2) Some intersexed individuals are essentially genetic and hormonal males with very short (more that 3 standard deviations smaller than average) penises at birth. These babies are often assigned female and "re"-constructed surgically. It is these assignments (or possibly the the John/Joan case) to which Ethereal Bligh was most likely referring. Not all reject their gender assignment, although many do.

Many more intersexuals are not clearly one gender or the other; their surgery is an "assignment" surgery, not a "reassignment" surgery. Some have mixed genotypes (XY XO, or XYX), some have hormonal syndromes that affect morphology (Androgen Insensitivity Disorder).

In these cases, intersexuality is indicative of the cultural-constructedness of gender and sexuality. There is no biological binary between male and female, which must call into question the biological basis for gender. This in turn illustrates the problem of sexuality. If a person is a genetic male and a morphological female with no reproductive organs of either sex, that person will certainly have a sense of sexuality (in our culture, she will probably identify as straight, gay, or bi). But in such a case, can that sense of sexuality be said to correspond in a meaningful way with biology?

Okay, I just hit preview and this is so not brief. I'm going to end it here for now, although there are lots of unfinished thoughts.
posted by carmen at 8:50 PM on January 20, 2005


EB brings up a good point, and one that's separate from the "born gay" or no thing.

We all, as individuals, know what's right and natural for us--straight people just never ever have to wonder or think about it, since the dominant culture is attuned the way they are. We are all brought up to be straight.

Some (which i also learned late, as an adult) were born in the wrong bodies. That's a very extreme and more foreign thing, even for me (who heard as a young man, "do you think you're a woman?" and "do you want to become a woman?"), but it goes to show how very basic and fundamental identity is. You don't need to grow up in a city or a liberal area to realize that you're gay. You don't need any cultural or social reinforcement, or the absence of that, to KNOW. It's so hard to get that point across to people who never had to wonder or question why they didn't want what everyone else wanted, or who never had any desire to follow the paths we all were brought up to follow.

Someday the teen suicide rate won't be made up of gay and lesbian kids who couldn't reconcile. Scientific studies can help save their lives.

and, on preview, i'd disagree with carmen--there was no social or society to construct my behaviors, or the desires underlying that behavior. I think that if you'd poll gay and lesbian people, or any deviant population, you'd realize that. There was also no social pattern for my behavior and desires to even exist for, unlike straight people. I can accept that that heterosexuality and gender roles are socially constructed, but that can't hold true when there aren't role models, or a society that models those constructions. It was, and still is, invisible in society to deviate from the heterosexual norm.
posted by amberglow at 9:11 PM on January 20, 2005


Carmen, I think both Ethereal Bligh and I are aware of the differences between the transgendered and the intersexed, if that's who your comments are aimed at. Ethereal Bligh was, if I read correctly, expressing his or her belief that whatever drives people to change their birth genders springs from a biological source, and therefore they are in some sense the same as the obviously physically intersexed - e.g. transgendered people have two physical sexes, with one simply being nonobvious. (Personally, I think that's an interesting idea, but I need to chew on it a bit more before I decide whether or not I agree.)

After a careful reading of what you say, I think I agree with a lot of what you say, since you make it clear that you consider the definitions of sexual behavior and identity ("homosexual", "heterosexual", "gender") to be social constructions, while allowing that the behaviors these definitions are meant to describe may be influenced by genetics. That seems a reasonable position.

However, at times you seem to want to throw out biological bases for behavior entirely - for example, when you say, "in such a case, can that sense of sexuality be said to correspond in a meaningful way with biology?" To which I'd answer - sure. It simply doesn't correspond to the simplified "XX=female sexuality, XY-male sexuality" version of biology, but to something much richer and more complicated, which could involve genetics, development, and all kinds of other things along with social interaction.

Social construction does not seem to account for how many of the intersexed reject their "assigned" gender (although I am aware that not all of them do so.) If it's a construction, why don't they fit into the construct? That would indicate to me that there is at least some biological basis for sexual identity, even if it isn't as clear-cut and immutable a basis as many would prefer to believe.
posted by kyrademon at 10:07 PM on January 20, 2005


Of course, the goal of scientific research is to increase the scope of our unbiased knowledge, not to push a particular political agenda, right? Anyone?
No. Scientific research is aimed at making money. Grants, grants, grants, and more grants. THAT is the name of the game.

Gay people can still make the choice to be celibate, and if you believe that gay sex is wrong, it's wrong even if that inclination is inborn, and even if being celibate deprives you of the life most people want to live, one that includes sexual and romantic relationships.
As a Catholic, you hit it right on the had. I dunno if I agree, but that is EXACTLY the CC's stance.

if we could pinpoint that homosexuality is genetic - we could then have very valid reason to ask "why does this happen? how does it make evolutionary sense?"
Nothing in evolution "happens for a reason." It happens due to mutations and the successful reproduction of future generations.

Perhaps people get hemophillia as an example of a sex-linked trait, or coverage of Parkinsons, Cystic Fibrosis and Sickle Cell. The big problem is that these examples where a bad mutation in a single gene shuts down an entire metabolic pathway are not typical of most genetic influences on development.
Because it hasn't been conclusevly shown to be yet. This article has some evidence, but it is FAR from conclusive. Hemphillia, if it is sex-linked, appears to be a LOT more complicated that a simple one-allele or double allelic effect, which all that is what is taught in most genetics (college included) classes. I also don't understand what your last part means. Those mutations help to show how genetics has an influence on the entire system. By the way, your examples are often times in fact due to one bad mutation. Sickle Cell for sure, it's all about one amino acid change. Also, these examples are given to help students understand how genetics works on a larger scale. A 3-hour class cannot possibly get into deep detail about all the variations you describe.
posted by jmd82 at 10:35 PM on January 20, 2005


"No. Scientific research is aimed at making money."

Actually, many go into scientific fields for the mind-blowing sex.
posted by kyrademon at 10:49 PM on January 20, 2005


If there really was some "gay gene" they would have proven it long ago with identical twin studies. you take 2 identical twins that were raised in a) the same place and b) different places and if both are always gay, then there is obviously a gay gene. this is not he case. there has been proven concordance (above 25% correlation consitantly, and some studies up to 50%) but the scientific community LONG ago dismissed the idea of a single or group of "gay genes". They may influence, however they never demand.

The strongest explanation i have seen looks at childhood activities. the theory goes that we are sexually attracted to that which is different or unfamiliar. not drastically different (ie racial mixing is rare) but noticeably different. therefore, if we play mainly with girls from a young age, they become very familiar to us, and later in life we are attracted more to males because they seem more mysterious. likewise for girls.
posted by sophist at 11:50 PM on January 20, 2005


Sophist, I presume you're talking about such things as the theories of Daryl Bem, Exotic-Becomes-Erotic and all that. I find that particular theory a little weak myself - while there does seem to be a strong correlation between childhood difference from same-sex peers and adult homosexuality, the difference in question is almost always gender-identity related. This would make me more likely to believe that there's another factor which accounts for both childhood gender-identification and adult homosexuality, rather than the first leading to the second; otherwise, children who were alienated from their same-sex peers for non gender-identification reasons would also be more likely to become adult homosexuals, and there seems to be very little evidence for that.

Bem, to be fair, does not ignore biology - he postulates a six-step process involving biological tendencies at the base, namely: biological variables -> childhood temperament -> activity preferences (gender conforming or non-conforming) -> feeling different from same or opposite-sex peers (exotic) -> physiological arousal to same or opposite sex peers -> erotic attraction to opposite or same sex persons. And he also says -

"Many of my biologically-oriented friends and colleagues tell me that they think EBE theory is very clever--and very wrong. They may be right. The existing data are far from decisive, and I am genuinely open to the possibility that biological factors influence sexual orientation more directly than EBE theory would have it. But as much as I prefer being right to being wrong, I will be content if EBE theory does no more than provoke some affirmative competition. To my knowledge, there is no competing theory for a more direct or alternative path between the genotype and sexual orientation. It is not that a such a theory has been advanced, tested, and found wanting, but that it has not yet been proposed."

A worthy goal, even if I think his particular theory is dubious. I also am on the boat that says a "gay gene" that explicitly determines everything decisively is never going to be found.
posted by kyrademon at 1:40 AM on January 21, 2005


kyrademon: re. intersex and transgendered, I was responding to EB's comment Transgendered are intersexed, though not as obviously so. In my readings of intersex activism, this is a definition most would not agree with.

However, at times you seem to want to throw out biological bases for behavior entirely - for example, when you say, "in such a case, can that sense of sexuality be said to correspond in a meaningful way with biology?" To which I'd answer - sure. It simply doesn't correspond to the simplified "XX=female sexuality, XY-male sexuality" version of biology, but to something much richer and more complicated, which could involve genetics, development, and all kinds of other things along with social interaction.

Actually, you've made the point I was trying to make much more clearly, thanks. I was trying to say that if we have a woman with an XY genetic make-up, the definition of her as gay, straight, or bi will be exactly opposite depending on whether we look at her gender (woman) or her genetic sex (male). If a researcher had a skin sample and a note on sexual preference (say: prefers men) that researcher would likely conclude that she was gay. But anyone who knew her, and most likely she herself, would consider her to be straight.

The basic problem here is that gender (in our culture) is binary but sex is not (always). The homo/hetero dichotomy (or continuum) depends on a binary to make sense, meaning that it depends on the culturally constructed gender rather than the underlying biologically constructed sex. This leads me into your comment:

Social construction does not seem to account for how many of the intersexed reject their "assigned" gender (although I am aware that not all of them do so.) If it's a construction, why don't they fit into the construct? That would indicate to me that there is at least some biological basis for sexual identity, even if it isn't as clear-cut and immutable a basis as many would prefer to believe.

Certainly there is some biological basis for sexual identity, but we have to be very careful of using the recipients of childhood gender assignment surgery to explore the nature/nurture argument for a few reasons.

1) Childhood gender assignments are supposedly made on the doctor's best guess of gender, but in fact most children (90%) are assigned female. This is due to a complex set of reasons, the most obvious of which is that it is easier to surgically construct a female. This means that even in cases where the best guess is that a child will grow up feeling like a boy, they will likely be assigned as a girl.

2) Intersexuals, for the most part, do not have a "true" sex that corresponds nicely to a gender. Even if doctors were able to make bigger penises (and progress is being made in this direction), there is no guarentee that a child with a mosaic genetic pattern or hormonal differences would feel comfortable as *either* a boy or a girl. (My stance on intersex issues is the same as the ISNA: a child should be raised in one or the other gender, the family should receive counciling as needed, and no surgery should be done until the child is old enough to choose it or reject it. I do not want to imply that parents should raise their children in some kind of "third gender.")

3) The "treatment" that many intersexuals have received over the course of their lives has been compared convincingly to child abuse (I don't want to provide details here because it would be sensationalist and off topic. Both the John/Joan link and the ISNA have more info on this if you are interested). Many intersexuals experience combination of shame and secrecy outside of their families and medical team, and the lack of control over their bodies in relation to their families and medical teams. The rejection of an assigned sex is embedded in a mesh of biology and culture that makes acceptance or rejection meaningless in the sense of "proving" a social or biological basis for sexual identity.

Mairi MacDonald provides a personal account of her experience as an intersexual who rejected her gender assignment. She reflects on how her experience differed from those of the transexuals she knows:

Yes, there are many areas of overlap. There are gay trans people, there are intersex people who are also trans, there are crossdressers who are gay etc. But these do not imply natural alliances.
...
And, as I learned more about my self, a fundamental difference between people like me and those in transition who were "trans" began to surface. I was transitioning out of a role assigned to me, most trans people seemed to be similarly transitioning out of but they were also transitioning into. Equally valid but with different objectives.

posted by carmen at 6:54 AM on January 21, 2005


the theory goes that we are sexually attracted to that which is different or unfamiliar. not drastically different (ie racial mixing is rare) but noticeably different

It seems to me that a female is much more "drastically different" from me than another male with a different shade of skin, so different that adding in an additional difference of skin color is insignificant to the total.
posted by rushmc at 8:03 AM on January 21, 2005


amberglow, I take your point about role models, however the social construction of gender is obvious when looking at human behaviour cross-culturally. For instance, in the world-wide population, there are many more than 2 genders.

Social construction is a tricky thing: its hard to pin-point what has influenced our behaviours especially when they seem very intrinsic to our person. It's easiest to go at it sideways: you identify as homosexual (forgive me if I have misinterpreted). Do you expect to marry and have children? Do you expect to have romantic relationships with members of the same or opposite sex? Do you expect to have sexual relationships with members of the same or opposite sex? These expectations are constructed in a cultural rather than a biological context.

In some modern societies (and in ours, historically) people who enjoy same-sex sexual activity often marry and have children with members of the opposite sex. In some societies, people who enjoy opposite-sex sexual activity can marry members of the same sex and parent children with them. In some places, every member of a social group engages in ritual same-sex sexual activity regardless of sexual preference. My point here is that sexual activity has a meaning which varies across time and place: here and now same-sex sexual activity means "homosexual." If you look at social construction as the attribution of meaning to behaviour, you can see how it can happen with or without specific role models.
posted by carmen at 9:04 AM on January 21, 2005


jmd82: I also don't understand what your last part means. Those mutations help to show how genetics has an influence on the entire system. By the way, your examples are often times in fact due to one bad mutation. Sickle Cell for sure, it's all about one amino acid change. Also, these examples are given to help students understand how genetics works on a larger scale. A 3-hour class cannot possibly get into deep detail about all the variations you describe.

Hrm, I'm not certain that deep into detail is all that sufficient. What I think would help would be the basic linear model for quantitative genetics that goes something like:
Vtotal = Vgenes + Vevironment + Vdevelopmental noise where V is some measure of variance.

An easily understood example would be to go with human height, for which there are at least 5 known genes that influence development of height, but environmental loadings are also significant. Quantitative genetics is not new, it was central to both the "new synthesis" that actually turned Dawinism from a conjecture to a robust theory, and has been a major part of crop science and animal breeding leading to the green revolution post WWII (because, it provides a framework for determining just how far you improve yield by manipulating one of the factors.) So the absence of quantitative genetics is bad for three reasons. First it encourages a rather shallow understanding of how scientists actually think about genetics. Second, quantitative genetics has been key to many of the most practical applications of genetics. Third, it promotes the "nature vs. nurture" myth when for the most part, the majority of the debate has been on how much variance falls into which category.

sophist: (above 25% correlation consitantly, and some studies up to 50%)

Correlation is not measued that way.

kyrademon: I'm rather fond of Fausto -Sterling's model that is heavily influenced by systems theory. We know that genetic factors influence brain development and cognition. However the theory that the brain is a relatively static organ after adolescence has also been shattered. We know that environmental factors can influence brain development throughout the lifespan. Many of these influences include changes in gene expression.

For an example, there appear to be genetic influences to Alzheimer's as well. On the other hand, it looks like maintaining an active intellectual lifestyle throughout the lifespan can significantly delay and even prevent Alzheimer's.

amberglow: I hear what you are saying, but having talked to gay and lesbian people from other cultures, (most noticably Arabia and Latin America) I'm not so certain that culture does not play a huge role. For example, in Latin America (or so I'm told), cultural values for machismo permit men to engage in homosexual sex without seeing themselves as any different from straight men. There appears to be a similar thing reported from some African-American men. Likwise, an Arab friend informed me that adolescent same-sex erotic relationships were treated as normal (if very private), as long as they were abandoned in adulthood. Even in our culture, I read and hear from older men and women that the shape of how sexual orientation was expressed was very different.

on preview:
I think carmen nailed it. The best read gay activist I know knocked the whole "born this way" out of its pedistal in my brain with an interesting observation. He cannot recall a time when English was not natural to him, but he's fairly certain he was not born an English speaker.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:41 AM on January 21, 2005


Got to largely agree with carmen on the social construction issue.

Bear in mind, the words "homosexual" and "heterosexual" can in some part be considered tendencies - you generally find members of either the same sex or the opposite sex sexually desirable. In that sense, they can be viewed less as social constructions and more as descriptive terms for biological drives.

However, the words have come to bear a weight of behavioral expectations. If you are identified as a homosexual, for example, (in this culture) it is assumed that you will sleep almost exclusively with members of the same sex, that if you marry a member of the opposite sex it will be strictly a marriage of convenience, that if you are more likely to have children by artificial insemination or adoption than intercourse, etc.

Now, insofar as this definition is still purely *descriptive*, as it is when it's used to talk purely about desire, it is arguably not itself a social construct (although it is still being used to describe behavior that is socially constructed in some way) - that is to say, if you look at a person, and say, "they behave this way, and I will choose to define that as homosexuality (or heterosexuality.)" But it definitely becomes a social construction once it (inevitably) becomes *prescriptive* - that is to say, once people define themselves in a certain way and modify their behavior to match the definition. In other words, it becomes a social construct as soon as someone says, consciously or not, "I am a homo/heterosexual, and therefore I *should* behave like X."

As carmen points out, it is perfectly possible to envision (or research) societies where the behvioral model is different - for example, where even those who are generally attracted to the same sex are expected to marry and have children, or where even those who are generally attracted to the opposite sex are expected to have same-sex intercourse as well.

These kinds of constructs are inevitable, since our brains like to put things into nice little categories, and it's a heck of a lot easier for me to say "I'm bisexual" to those who ask, rather than, "Well, I'm attracted to both men and women, but to a somewhat broader range of women than men, so I've mostly ended up dating women, but in both cases I find myself most strongly attracted to other bisexuals, so I may simply be bisexual-sexual, and I really like threesomes, especially FFM but also MMF, although I've been in a monogamous relationship for some years now, which I'm perfectly happy with, although we've discussed the possibility of finding a third, in part so my girlfriend can explore her bisexuality, since there's a whole gender she's never slept with so she wonders if she really 'counts' as bisexual, which I think is silly since it's about who you're attracted to rather than who you sleep with, but that's social construction for you . . ."

But sometimes, I think, many of us find the neat categories a little to straight-jacketing, and at that point it's important to remember that we created them, they didn't create us.

. . . damn, I talk a lot in this thread.

(On preview: I've already rambled on enough in this post, kirkjobsluder, but I'll definitely take a look at Fausto-Sterling and chew on the English-speaker thing for a bit . . .)
posted by kyrademon at 9:48 AM on January 21, 2005


Fausto-Sterling is awesome. Very smart and very accessible.

Another favourite of mine that covers a lot of the same ground as this discussion is Sexual Nature / Sexual Culture, which is a truly interdisciplinary volume dealing with everything from the sexual orientation of fruit flies to bonobo* orgies to the cross-cultural existence of romantic love. I have to admit though, that not all of the chapters are very accessible.

Also: KirkJobSluder, I think the language analogy is very apt, and what a great way to put it.

*bonobos are also known as pygmy chimpanzees
posted by carmen at 10:15 AM on January 21, 2005


Bonobo orgies are among my favorite kinds of orgies.

I had initial qualms about the language analogy, but the more I think about it, the more interesting I find it, if only for the field of questions it opens up . . . e.g., can you learn a new gender or sexual orientation in addition to your old one? Why or why not? Etc.
posted by kyrademon at 10:30 AM on January 21, 2005


*bonobos are also known as pygmy chimpanzees

Also gracile chimpanzees.
posted by rushmc at 12:46 PM on January 21, 2005


kyrademon: I had initial qualms about the language analogy, but the more I think about it, the more interesting I find it, if only for the field of questions it opens up . . . e.g., can you learn a new gender or sexual orientation in addition to your old one? Why or why not? Etc.

I think that there are analogies. By the time kids are 3-5, they have mastered all of the phonemes, about 90% of the grammar, and probably about 80% of the most frequently used vocabulary for their mother languge. All of this occurs through exposure to the language has a spoken practice, and before the development of narrative memory. This incredible burst of learning is so natural that we take it for granted. After this age, acquisition of language becomes increasingly difficult.

Now, there do appear to be some genetic factors at play. It seems to take only a single generation to transform a pidgin without a consistent grammar into a creole with a consistent grammar. Children synthesize grammar where none existed before. This is also something that adults do with difficulty.

If children can absorb, analyze and master grammar without really "thinking" about it. Then why not gender identity? Most children are not raised in a social vacum. If children develop an implicit understanding of the order of nouns and verbs just by listening to language, why not an implicit understanding of gender, and their place in it?

Of course, I've always been at least mildly gender dysphoric, not to the point where I've wanted to change my physical sex, but enough so that I've been consistently baffled by the demands placed on me to speak the language of masculinity. Whether due to genetics or something that happened to me as a kid, I never really got the message that as a boy, boy things were good and girl things were taboo.

This is a long-winded answer to the question. I think that people can learn a different gender or sexual orientation, I think that most transexual people and lesbigay people have had to put on convincing performances in order to pass in other cultures. I think however that doing so involves a lot of cognitive dissonance maintained over a long period of time.

One of the reasons why I'm skeptical of the "born this way" argument is that some of the main battles over gay rights involve things that are pretty obviously socially constructed. For example, the current version of marriage in the United States is a type of relationship that is probably unique to our particular historical context. Granted, my own personal bias is that I prefer that type of relationship to the alternatives. But my experience of romantic love with men is doubtlessly influenced by my appropriation of romantic love myths in our culture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2005


Bonobo orgies are among my favorite kinds of orgies.

I had a prof once who told us she wanted to be reincarnated as a bonobo. It was kind of unnerving....

I think it is safe to assume that a person who tries to learn a new gender role (the way an adult might try to learn a new language) could. Think cross-culturally rather than cross-gender: could an American woman learn to be feminine in an Eastern European country? In an Asian country? In an African one? Almost certainly. As for sexuality, there's a fair amount of evidence that humans as a group have a highly plastic, context based sexuality.

KirkJobSluder brought up good points on why language is a good analogy. I've got a few more: language is clearly both biological and cultural. Humans are biologically predisposed to learning language, but what languages they create do not have any external meaning (that is, there is no connection between the word "tree" and the object tree except the connection that English speakers have agreed on). In this sense we can see that the behaviour is entwined with biology--you need a big brain, an upright posture and a decented voice box to make human language--but it is also culturally constructed--what meanings are attached to which sounds is purely cultural. That language is culturally constructed does not imply anything about choice: we don't choose whether or not to learn language, and we also don't choose which language will be our mother-tongue.
posted by carmen at 3:35 PM on January 21, 2005


If children develop an implicit understanding of the order of nouns and verbs just by listening to language, why not an implicit understanding of gender, and their place in it?
Because all possible permutations of gender and sexual identity aren't expressed publicly or socially. Children (and even most adults) don't see anything to model except for the heteronorm and the boy or girl thing. Even nowadays, with more publicly gay and lesbian out people, you don't see all the behaviors associated with that. There's nothing to model or learn from, unless you grow up in a same-sex household, or a commune or something.
posted by amberglow at 3:53 PM on January 21, 2005


Or--to put it another way, i was brought up to be straight, but aren't. All of us are brought up that way pretty much. The implicit understanding is only one way.
posted by amberglow at 3:54 PM on January 21, 2005


amberglow: Because all possible permutations of gender and sexual identity aren't expressed publicly or socially. Children (and even most adults) don't see anything to model except for the heteronorm and the boy or girl thing. Even nowadays, with more publicly gay and lesbian out people, you don't see all the behaviors associated with that. There's nothing to model or learn from, unless you grow up in a same-sex household, or a commune or something.

Certainly. Which is why I do think that there is something other than social factors going on. However it does nothing to show that social factors are not involved. By all means, I was raised to be a masculine heterosexual man. However, it didn't work. While I learned the language, I never spoke it well, and I don't "pass" well. So I do think that socialization is not everything. It takes 10 years to become an "expert" in something, I gave up somewhere around year 15.

However, there are some things that genetics really can't explain. I'll buy the claim that there is a genetic switch that makes me swoon at the way some men smell. But what about my preference for romantic monogamy? Why men with a certain voice? Why do I have a strong preference for bears and otters?

An older and wiser gay man once told me that watching people come out was sometimes extremely painful because it was like going through adolescence all over again. They had to learn different cultural norms and codes for getting along in a new community. In addition, this was a guy who remembered Stonewall, and lived through the AIDS crisis and noted how the culture had changed during his lifetime.

It seems that if we put all of our weight into genetics, that we are unable to explain the history of homosexuality in our own culture, much less the contemporary differences between cultures.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:50 PM on January 21, 2005


Or let me describe it another way. Heterosexuality has not been constant over time. For some brief examples, the story on Onan suggests that maintaining family lines took priority over romantic attachments. In Puritan New England, sexual activity was apparently quite common before marriage, if birth and marriagerecords are accurate. In many cultures, arranged marriages are the norm. In turn of the century France, having a regular prostitute on the side was apparently typical for upper-middle class men. Today, heterosexuality seems to be constructed along the lines of get a job, date around, have sex early in the relationship, and marry for "love."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:08 PM on January 21, 2005


it is like adolescence, because we were shut out of the adolescent rituals all around us, for the most part. But that's also an extremely limited view--our western, urbanized view with already-existing gay neighborhoods (since the 70s generally), etc, and codified rituals and expectations--a place to go, really. Right now, in other parts of the world, people do it differently--but they still do it. And they always have been.

Why does basing sexual orientation on genetics make us unable to describe or explain our cultural history or the history of homosexuality? It doesn't nullify or negate or dismiss anything. All humans are social and create communities--these were and are ours.
posted by amberglow at 5:09 PM on January 21, 2005


and on preview: the expression of heterosexuality has not been constant over time.

Heterosexuality certainly has been constant.
posted by amberglow at 5:12 PM on January 21, 2005


...and the cultural forms that expression takes is what changes over time, not the acts and the desires themselves.
posted by amberglow at 5:14 PM on January 21, 2005


...and the cultural forms that expression takes is what changes over time, not the acts and the desires themselves.

Desire has definately changed over time. There are people in the world today whose sexual desires include things like watching women stomp on cellular telephones or dressing up in furry animal costumes or being encased in latex and tied up. The fact that these desires, which all depend on recently invented cultural tools, can exist means there is something more than biology at work with sexual desire. It also indicates that desires can change depending on context and available technology.
posted by carmen at 6:30 PM on January 21, 2005


I think at this point we may have argued ourselves into a consensus without exactly realizing it. I mean, I don't think anyone still involved in this discussion would seriously deny:

1) that desire has a profound physiological base,
2) that the expression of desire is to a large extent determined by sociocultural cues and interactions,
3) that beyond the fact that the basic urges are largely physiological and the details of expression are largely sociocultural, the precise extent to which each play over the general spectrum of desire is not really known (although carmen might argue for a greater sociocultural role and amberglow might argue for a greater physiological role),
4) that none of the plausible models that have been proposed for behavior here negate any of the other possibilities, but probably interact with them in concert in some way.
posted by kyrademon at 11:04 PM on January 21, 2005


I think at this point we may have argued ourselves into a consensus without exactly realizing it.

Ya, ya. I'm pretty much still here because I'm procrastinating writing my paper on the cultural construction of gender through physical inscription into the genitals... now that you've summarized everything so nicely I guess I have to get back to work.
posted by carmen at 7:43 AM on January 22, 2005


yes, but... : >

I'd say those are just new means of satisfying old fetishes--before cell phones, you had old porn of women stomping and standing on things, and even bataille (sp?) wrote about feet, etc...you could probably trace furries back to older things as well.
posted by amberglow at 10:47 AM on January 22, 2005


Yay!! More procrastination!

I grant you that the foot fetish is old (and the others are probably as well), but the fact that people incorporate cultural objects into fetishes and that the object itself becomes an important part of desire implies that the desire is formed culturally.

Fetishes also illustrate how weak the hetero-homo continuum is as an explanation for sexual behaviour and desire. The thing that brought it home most clearly for me was discovering a FAQ on the web that included the question "I am a man who likes to watch other men get kicked in the balls. Am I gay?"

(Sorry, can't find the link: I was searching for info on a medical condition and came across a fetish site dedicated to kicking testicles.)
posted by carmen at 12:07 PM on January 22, 2005


but the fact that people incorporate cultural objects into fetishes and that the object itself becomes an important part of desire implies that the desire is formed culturally.
See, that's where we differ--i think the desire is there regardless, and uses whatever's around to express itself. different ways in different eras, but still just an expression of desire.

now, get back to work! i'm shutting up now. ; >
posted by amberglow at 1:23 PM on January 22, 2005


oh, and welcome hon!
posted by amberglow at 1:25 PM on January 22, 2005


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