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A nice counterpoint to Dobson's shit
August 15, 2005 4:58 PM   Subscribe

What Makes People Gay? --long, informative article from Boston Globe on recent scientific developments regarding nature or nurture. Studies on twins, brothers, CGN, the "big brother" effect, fetal development, genetics, hormones, etc. and don't miss the Evangelical Preacher who converted to the belief that homosexuality is not a choice but rather a predisposition, something "deeply rooted" in people.
posted by amberglow (151 comments total)

 
Broadway musicals.
posted by ColdChef at 4:59 PM on August 15, 2005


Another excellent post, good job Amberglow. I recommend watching Ma Vie En Rose, as a side note.
posted by Dean Keaton at 5:05 PM on August 15, 2005


ColdChef, broadway musicals don't make people gay. Gay people make musicals.
posted by ericb at 5:09 PM on August 15, 2005


I think what makes you gay is nothing other than simply the fact that you are. I'm straight because I'm straight. My gay friends are gay because they are. This may sound like an oversimplified theory, I grant you, but I think anything that tries to explain homosexuality is nothing more than an attempt to try and explain something that the theorist thinks is somehow... different. Which it isn't.

All that said, however, I second Dean Keatons words. Excellent post, amberglow.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:11 PM on August 15, 2005


And, I was shocked to learn in the Willful Barrenness thread that:
"Even male homosexual behavior occurs on something resembling an estrus cycle--about once a month." [posted by jefgodesky]
Once-a-month. Yeah, riiiight!
posted by ericb at 5:12 PM on August 15, 2005


Canadian researchers have consistently documented a "big-brother effect," finding that the chances of a boy being gay increase with each additional older brother he has... So, a male with three older brothers is three times more likely to be gay than one with no older brothers, though there's still a better than 90 percent chance he will be straight.

Wait. Does that mean that Stephen is the gay Baldwin?
posted by ColdChef at 5:13 PM on August 15, 2005


ColdChef, broadway musicals don't make people gay. Gay people make musicals.

Then it's gotta be Judy Garland.
posted by jonmc at 5:14 PM on August 15, 2005


http://www.bugmenot.com/
posted by Dean Keaton at 5:15 PM on August 15, 2005


As a twin and a gay man -- I have always known I was gay. My mother claims she knew that I was different from my older brothers (and assumed I was gay from early childhood) the moment I was brought home from the hospital. I, however , never exhibited any childhood gender nonconformity.
posted by ericb at 5:15 PM on August 15, 2005


Is it me, or is the pseudonym-ed Patrick in the article clearly a transsexual and not just *homosexual*?
posted by the cydonian at 5:17 PM on August 15, 2005


I'm pretty sure all the Balwins are secretly gay.

By the way, I have always felt that musicals were a collusion between Jews and homosexuals to give old people and midwesterners something to do while on vacation in New York, which seems like an awfully generous activity.
posted by maxsparber at 5:17 PM on August 15, 2005


Is it me, or is the pseudonym-ed Patrick in the article clearly a transsexual and not just *homosexual*?

Really wish mainstream media would stop lumping the two together; not all homosexuals consider themselves as being of the wrong sex.
posted by the cydonian at 5:18 PM on August 15, 2005


One of the few articles I've seen on this issue that actually adresses the complexities of these issues.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:20 PM on August 15, 2005


Great article. Provides me with a lot of ammo to use against pigheaded people who claim that homosexuality is always a choice.
posted by ColdChef at 5:23 PM on August 15, 2005


not all homosexuals consider themselves as being of the wrong sex

Bingo.
posted by ericb at 5:24 PM on August 15, 2005


Something is hinted at in the article is that there might be two types of gay people - those that had a genetic predisposition (men who know they are men and like men) and those that "became" gay due to environmental cues, such as social pressure resulting from CGN (childhood gender nonconformity). And many human traits can be attributed to both (cancer, height, skin color, etc.), so I don't see why this is any different.

Something I'd like to note, though, is that those who "become" gay from environmental pressure shouldn't be ostracized by religious groups for "choosing to be gay". Those kids with constant pressure from families and society, telling them they're different and "too girly" or "too manly", aren't choosing to be gay. In fact, one could argue, with all that pressure and telling those kids what they "are", society is choosing their sexual orientation for them.
posted by Moral Animal at 5:30 PM on August 15, 2005


Brain scans showed that when straight men smelled the female urine compound, their hypothalamus lit up.

Really? Because when I go into the bathroom after my wife, it usually has the opposite effect. Mmmmmm...pee.
posted by ColdChef at 5:31 PM on August 15, 2005


Brain scans showed that when straight men smelled the female urine compound, their hypothalamus lit up.

Sounds vaguely like Uncle Fester and the light bulb, with golden shower fetishism thrown in.

I need some air.
posted by jonmc at 5:33 PM on August 15, 2005


AS THE 21-YEAR-OLD COLLEGE JUNIOR IN A HOSPITAL JOHNNY slides into the MRI, she is handed controls with buttons for "strongly like" and "strongly dislike." Hundreds of pornographic images - in male-male and female-female pairings - flash before her eyes. Eroticism eventually gives way to monotony, and it's hard to avoid looking for details to distinguish one image from the rest of the panting pack. So it goes from "Look at the size of those breasts!" to "That can't be comfortable, given the length of her fingernails!" to "Why is that guy wearing nothing but work boots on the beach?"

Best. Medical study. Ever.
(Why does this remind me of A Clockwork Orange?)
Also, why IS that guy wearing nothing but work boots on the beach?
posted by ColdChef at 5:33 PM on August 15, 2005


Also, why IS that guy wearing nothing but work boots on the beach?

He was building a house, and got sweaty, but the sand was hot.
posted by jonmc at 5:38 PM on August 15, 2005


Spiderman?

sorry, first thing to come to mind. But honestly, just from my genetics background it's kind of misleading to think in terms of gay/ not gay. Very few things about humans are binary. It's probably better to think of it as a genetic spectrum from born flaming to born fundamentalist. And then the environment wreaks havoc with us from there on.
posted by slapshot57 at 5:43 PM on August 15, 2005


Spiderman?

Batman and Robin (NSFW).
posted by ericb at 5:46 PM on August 15, 2005


I really, really don't want to know what's at the other end of ericb's link.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 5:49 PM on August 15, 2005


It is clear that people cannot be 'cured' of being gay and that is almost certain that being gay is largely a genetic thing surely there are some circumstances where supposedly hetrosexual men choose to be gay. What about what happens in prisons and in the Navy (when women were not on ships) where formerly or allegedly straight men have gay sex?

Is there any research on this? What happens, do men pretend that other men are women in these situations? Do the men who engage in these gay activities in these environments continue to do them when they leave?

Is there any good info about this?
posted by sien at 5:50 PM on August 15, 2005


I really, really don't want to know what's at the other end of ericb's link.

It's art, really! ;)
posted by ericb at 5:51 PM on August 15, 2005


...being gay is largely a genetic thing...

Actually, this article seems to be more about biological causes rather than genetic ones, but I'm only on page 5.
posted by Alison at 5:53 PM on August 15, 2005


What about what happens in prisons and in the Navy (when women were not on ships) where formerly or allegedly straight men have gay sex?

My admittedly unlettered theory: some men (and probably some women) just can't deal without sex of some kind for very long so they make do with what's available. The fact that slender, young, less hairy/scarred-in short, less "masculine," body typed men are often the objects of sex (willing and otherwise) in these situations seems to bear this out.
posted by jonmc at 5:57 PM on August 15, 2005


I take that back now that I have hit page 8, although a genetic cause for homosexuality is still far from conclusive.
posted by Alison at 6:01 PM on August 15, 2005


By the way, I have always felt that musicals were a collusion between Jews and homosexuals to give old people and midwesterners something to do while on vacation in New York, which seems like an awfully generous activity.
I thank you--twice even. : >

It is a really good article, but i didn't like that it was wrapped in that little kid's rough time. It sets a tone not necessary, i didn't think. The Boston Globe has a very good track record on gay issues, i find.
posted by amberglow at 6:04 PM on August 15, 2005


oh, Americablog raises a point about one of the people quoted--a sketchy character-- J. Michael Bailey
posted by amberglow at 6:10 PM on August 15, 2005


sien, I don't think it's that they choose to be homosexual, they just start acting on urges that they had repressed (or simply didn't need to act on) up until that point.

Sexuality isn't black and white, it's a continuum. Even homo-bi-hetero is still wrong, as it implies you're either 100-0, 50-50, or 0-100. People are all over: 90-10, 30-70, 45-55, etc etc. The unfortunate aspect of our culture is that both pro-gay rights and anti-gay groups resort to the dichotomy to prove their points. Which gets people in the mindset that if they have gay sex once they're gay or bi, or if you have straight sex when you've previously had exclusively homosexual sex you've gone back in the closet, or you have to date the opposite sex from now on because you're obviously not really attracted to the same sex, it's just a phase.

But I'm not one to talk. I call myself gay 'cause it's a helluva lot easier than explaining "Well, you see, sexuality is a continuum, and all humans have their own place along it. I myself lean heavily towards the homo. Now, it's not that I'm ruling out the possibility of ever having a straight relationship, it's just not as likely as a gay one. And it won't be with you, so please stop trying to get into my pants because it's freakin' annoying."
posted by schroedinger at 6:22 PM on August 15, 2005 [1 favorite]


What makes people gay? Flouride in the water.
(Can I say again that with regard to public policy, it really doesn't matter?)
posted by klangklangston at 6:31 PM on August 15, 2005


As I read through this: Childhood Gender Nonconformity? No mention of how artificial and weird (if you think about them at all) gender norms are...
posted by klangklangston at 6:34 PM on August 15, 2005


(Can I say again that with regard to public policy, it really doesn't matter?)

Yeah, but as an existential/scientific question, it's interesting.

sien, I don't think it's that they choose to be homosexual, they just start acting on urges that they had repressed (or simply didn't need to act on) up until that point.

I dunno, just about everything I've ever read on prison sex has pointed toward the idea that it's either used as a tool of domination (as in rape) or as a "hole of convenience," for those who can't do without sex, any port in a storm, so to speak.
posted by jonmc at 6:36 PM on August 15, 2005


"Yeah, but as an existential/scientific question, it's interesting."
Oh, yeah, totally. Research on homosexuality shines light on all of human sexuality, and is totally worthwhile.
On the other hand, I doubt there's ever going to be just one cause found.
posted by klangklangston at 6:39 PM on August 15, 2005


And of course, gay people can commit crimes and go to prison as easily as a straight person, and simply carry on his sexual business as usual. I see no reason why the percantage of gays in the criminal population would be any different from society at large.
posted by jonmc at 6:40 PM on August 15, 2005


I really, really don't want to know what's at the other end of ericb's link.

Bruce and his Dick.

Which is pretty much why I'm gay, to be honest.
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:42 PM on August 15, 2005 [1 favorite]


It's always funny how in reality nobody is really clear on anything, and yet people are always positive that there is conclusive evidence one way or the other.
It's sad how much of the topic is really just political.
posted by nightchrome at 6:42 PM on August 15, 2005


Bruce and his Dick.

Which is pretty much why I'm gay, to be honest.


Just wear a BatRubber, please.
posted by jonmc at 6:43 PM on August 15, 2005


jonmc, I didn't see your comments on prison sex until I hit post but I wonder if any studies have been done on ex-cons to see just how straight they remain once on the outside...those that participated in consensual prison relations that is.
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:44 PM on August 15, 2005


Michael Jackson proved that race was a choice. Thus we should end all protection for racial minorities.
posted by Citizen Premier at 6:46 PM on August 15, 2005


i always hated the word 'tolerant.' it just sounds like such an effort.
posted by brandz at 6:47 PM on August 15, 2005


Hmm, I didn't mean their thinking was along "Oh golly, now that there's no women around I think I'll fall in love with a dude." It was more "Now that there's no women around, I'll fuck a dude"--OK, so that sounds exactly like what sien was saying, but what I mean is they're not necessarily forcing themselves to do it. It's just that's what's available, so they act on that attraction though it's less than their attraction to women. Yeah, in prison "relationships" generally the dominant one tries to femme up the submissive, but how much of that is a desire to not "be gay" and how much of it is making the dude femme enough to be palatable? That's excluding the complication that the dude does generally like men better and just femming the other guy up as part of a power thing, not a "If I close my eyes I can pretend his soft hands are those of a woman" thing.
posted by schroedinger at 6:47 PM on August 15, 2005


schroedinger: So your take on sexuality is that it may not even be measurable. Perhaps it is a wave equation. If we perform experiments to measure homosexuality it is there, if to measure hetrosexuality it is there but perhaps not both at the same time.

The bit on whether people can be truly bi is interesting, but as yet the research is not conclusive or replicated as far as it goes.

If anyone finds some articles about gay activities in men that are without women please post them, it appears from the replies here that there are a bunch of theories which may all be valid, but no one is sure.

It's almost surprising that the religious right hasn't hit on the 'going Japanese' in prison thing yet. Hopefully rebuttals will be well out there when it comes.
posted by sien at 6:47 PM on August 15, 2005


jonmc, I didn't see your comments on prison sex until I hit post but I wonder if any studies have been done on ex-cons to see just how straight they remain once on the outside

I don't have any data, but there's an excellent novel by a guy named Don Carpenter, (the title escapes me) about two men. One is a hardened (but decent at core) white streer thug who gets into violent scrapes, the other an affable black gambler and pool hustler. They meet as street kids, then again decades later in prison. They are both hetero outside of jail, but have a passionate sexual relationship in prison. The black hustler dies and the white guy reforms upon leaving prison. Quite a story, very hard-boiled and exciting, but very moving at the same time. Disclaimer: it's not very explicit.
posted by jonmc at 6:50 PM on August 15, 2005


I just read a blurb that pre-packaged foods can cause people to turn gay because of too much estrogen. If I was only allowed one question for snopes, I would ask if this is true. Is it? [link]
posted by pruner at 7:04 PM on August 15, 2005


Damn you, processed cheese, for ruining good Christian society!
posted by nightchrome at 7:07 PM on August 15, 2005


I eat Easy Cheese by the truckload, dude. There goes that theory.
posted by jonmc at 7:09 PM on August 15, 2005


Whatever, Jon. We know you're hot for cock.
posted by klangklangston at 7:10 PM on August 15, 2005


(And c'mon, didn't Dobson or his ilk say that what makes people gay is the sheer HOTTness of gay sex?)
posted by klangklangston at 7:11 PM on August 15, 2005


only cock soup, dude. (sorry to disappoint, MetaGays)
posted by jonmc at 7:12 PM on August 15, 2005


Homosexuality is a matter of probabilities. We can find the situations where it is most likely for someone to be homosexual, but we cannot say for sure. For instance, if we hang a disco ball in the center of a room and blast Cher out of its built-in speakers, as one gets closer to the ball the more likely a dancing man picked randomly from the crowd is Grade-A Fag.

Clearly these biology pussies are tainting their observations with their own homonalities. Bring in the differential equations! Bring in the Dirac notation! Bring in the mathematicians and physicists! The real scientists will uncover the sparkly, fabulous truth!
posted by schroedinger at 7:44 PM on August 15, 2005 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: tainting their observations with their own homonalities

: >
posted by amberglow at 7:46 PM on August 15, 2005


If you look at the soil around any large U.S. city with a big underground homosexual population - Des Moines, Iowa, perfect example. Look at the soil around Des Moines. You can't build on it, you can't grow anything in it. The government says it's due to poor farming. But I know what's really going on. I know it's the queers.
posted by nervousfritz at 7:53 PM on August 15, 2005


But, man, can you dance on that soil!
posted by maxsparber at 8:00 PM on August 15, 2005


(And c'mon, didn't Dobson or his ilk say that what makes people gay is the sheer HOTTness of gay sex?)

Yeah, from what was that recent claim? I think it was in a letter from someone on the religious right end of the spectrum. It claimed that gays had "hotter sex" and as such the temptation for such could lead straight men into each others' pants. Anyone know the reference? I've Googled, but can't find it.
posted by ericb at 8:04 PM on August 15, 2005


MetaFilter: uncovering the sparkly, fabulous truth!
posted by ericb at 8:05 PM on August 15, 2005


eric: this? ...The lure of unwanted same-sex desires is much like the sirens’ song once heard by Odysseus. It is strong in its call, and works strongly against the will... (Concerned Women For America's Ken Ervin)
posted by amberglow at 8:22 PM on August 15, 2005


You're not like the others, nervousfritz, here in the trailerpark.
Cornell psychologist Daryl Bem has proposed an intriguing theory for how CGN might lead to homosexuality. According to this pathway, which he calls "the exotic becomes erotic," children are born with traits for temperament, such as aggression and activity level, that predispose them to male-typical or female-typical activities. They seek out playmates with the same interests. So a boy whose traits lead him to hopscotch and away from rough play will feel different from, and ostracized by, other boys. This leads to physiological arousal of fear and anger in their presence, arousal that eventually is transformed from exotic to erotic.

Critics of homosexuality have used Bem's theory, which stresses environment over biology, to argue that sexual orientation is not inborn and not fixed. But Bem says this pathway is triggered by biological traits, and he doesn't really see how the outcome of homosexuality can be changed.

Bailey says whether or not Bem's theory holds up, the environment most worth focusing in on is the one a child experiences when he's in his mother's womb.
Really interesting stuff, amberglow. Thanks.
posted by Tlogmer at 8:26 PM on August 15, 2005


Bollocks. There are some things that science can't plumb the depths of, and sex is one of them. Who we have sex with is a product both of our lower-order biological urges and also of our higher-order rational calculations. We choose freely to develop homo or hetero urges that all of us share. And, while it might not be very efficient for desert tribes for whom maximum procreation is desireable, it's hard to see exactly what's so bloody awful about homosexuality today. Yeah, it has a very different character than heterosexuality, and even the two kinds of homosexuality (male and female) differ immensely, but with a bit of restraint and with love, it's not bad. Just like heterosexuality. Christians today probably just need to learn not to allow their sense of 'disgust' dictate their sense of moral worth.

This whole "scientific-genetic" argument is rather disgusting to me. Alcoholism is genetic, too, you know. Homosexuality is very, very different from some sort of rude disposition-- it can be, like heterosexuality, the fusion of higher rationality and true spiritual freedom that is love. What's next, after all? This way of speaking about it just fuels the religious-right "the AIDS-ridden gays can't help being filthy and disgusting" trip. And it's not helping homosexuals to convince others in their own communities to be responsible. How could it? Gays and lesbians today are either told that they're disgusting or that they can't help acting on whatever urge pops into their heads. One is more demeaning than the other, but neither is true.

Homosexuality is a choice-- and not a bad one. Can't we just say it that way?
posted by Viomeda at 8:29 PM on August 15, 2005


I think klingklangston was referring to this article, linked to in an earlier thread by schroedinger, in which Dr Paul Cameron compares the thrill of same-sex whoopee to the rush of heroin.
posted by BoringPostcards at 8:33 PM on August 15, 2005


And BTW, Viomeda, this:

Homosexuality is very, very different from some sort of rude disposition-- it can be, like heterosexuality, the fusion of higher rationality and true spiritual freedom that is love.

is just awesome. :)
posted by BoringPostcards at 8:34 PM on August 15, 2005


ericb, do you mean this?

“People in homosexuality are incredibly evangelical,” [Dr. James Dobson] adds, sounding evangelical himself. “It’s pure sexuality. It’s almost like pure heroin. It’s such a rush."

Dobson's such a card!
posted by schroedinger at 8:34 PM on August 15, 2005


Homosexuality is a choice-- and not a bad one. Can't we just say it that way?

You can, but i would never ever classify it as a choice--i never chose to be attracted to men. i never chose who makes me hard, and makes my heart beat faster.
posted by amberglow at 8:50 PM on August 15, 2005


Viomeda is my new hero.
posted by nightchrome at 8:51 PM on August 15, 2005


BoringPostcards: Thanks.

The funny thing is that, especially in ever-changing times like these, moralists get very frightened, and they hardly ever notice that they're simply judging by disgust rather than true moral goodness. The best thing to do, interestingly, seems to be to remind them that love animates morality; this is especially effective (or ought to be) among those who follow Christ, whose primary emphasis was on love.

There's a moment in his book Surprised by Joy when C. S. Lewis, the best teacher Christians have had in the last hundred years, recounts his days in the boys school, where 'fagging' (the often-homosexual adoption of underclassmen by older students) was common. He says something to the effect of: even if homosexuality is a sin, it's the kindest, gentlest sin, because it's borne of comfort given to another person. It's always illuminating to watch a hardline, modern Christian react to 'the great C. S. Lewis' saying that. And good; it sometimes opens them up a bit.
posted by Viomeda at 8:53 PM on August 15, 2005


Okay, deep enough in the thread that nobody's going to read this, so I write with the comfort of anonymity.

It was always clear to me that gayness was what you were born with--no thirteen year old would choose to be gay given the abundant (in my day at least and I'm sure still) pressures not to be.

Yet this implied that it was a genetic thing, but that didn't make sense either, because being gay should be selected against (you don't leave behind progeny at the same frequency heterosexuals do).

So it has to be something that's part of you when you're born, yet not something that you inherit in as simple a pattern as getting "the gay gene".

Here's the theory that makes the most sense to me:

While you're developing as a fetus (embryos start out neuter, or actually female) your brain has to make two decisions: how are you going to behave (male or female) and who are you going to be attracted to. The two are closely aligned, but separate.

Now: before we go further, we know that development of other sex-specific characteristics occurs as a result of androgens derived from the fetal gonad. If the gonad is a testis, it makes male hormones, and this influences other tissues (those that develop into the penis and scrotum) to form in the male way. If the gonad is an ovary, those tissues develop into the clitoris and labia.

It's not unreasonable to assume that the presence or absence of fetal androgens could influence the brain to develop in a "male" or "female" way, including whether the individual behaves in a male or female way and whether they are attracted to males or females (again, these two are not necessarily linked).

Okay, last piece of the puzzle. It is a truism in endrocrinology that a gland, whether secreting male hormone or insulin, doesn't do this willy-nilly. It is always subject to feedback: the more of the product the secreting gland is bathed in, the less it secretes (feedback inhibition).

Sorry, the real last piece of the puzzle: it doesn't have to be the exact hormone the gland secretes that feeds back negatively on its production of hormone; something that's close in structure to the hormone could do the same thing. Stress hormones (corticosteroids) are similar in structure to androgens.

Okay. Now imagine this: the corticosteroids of the mother can feed back on the male fetal testis and inhibit production of its essential male brain patterning production of fetal androgens. If this were true then mothers under stress would produce more gay babies--their offspring's production of testosterone and other androgens may have been inhibited at the critical point in development when their brains had to decide whether to be male or female.

Fact (as far as I know): males who were in utero during the battle of Britain were disproportionately gay.

If you're with me so far, imagine that their are two critical, androgen dependent periods in male fetal life: one that decides whether the individual will "act like a boy" and another deciding whether the individual will be attracted to men or women.

The level of maternal corticosteroids need not be of a sufficient level to inhibit the fetal androgens at both points. Could be at the point of sexual (behavioural) identity, choice of partner, or both.

That means, you can have men who are very effeminate, you could swear they're gay, but they're resolutely heterosexual. Others who are gay but "straight looking". Others, more commonly, who are effeminate to some degree and also choose male partners. We've all seen people who fit each of these categories.

It's not absolutely genetic in a Mendelian sense (it depends on factors such as maternal stress and probably other things) but sensitivity of the fetus and stress response of the mother would be expected to differ as a result of the genes each carried, so there would be *some* genetic influence.

Yet it's still inborn, part of the male baby's brain when he's born and something he comes to realize is an essential part of himself at some point in his maturation.

As a postscript, I think that, as far as your sexual preference (bad term, I realize as I write this) you're either gay or you're not. I'm not effeminate, but share more than one characteristic with gay men I've known. But homosexual intercourse holds no attraction for me. Not repression talking, it just doesn't. I don't think there's a continuum ( I think the situation may be different for women).
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:53 PM on August 15, 2005


I think unless you define all sexuality in all its many variations as choices, defining one type as one is ridiculous. Defining it as a choice also wouldn't explain how it has always existed in all different human (and animal) populations, and how there is proven evidence for it running in families, and proven brain differences.
posted by amberglow at 8:55 PM on August 15, 2005


amberglow, why is it that when someone says "choice" people instantly refute on the basis of "conscious choice"? Is it inconceivable that, while you don't choose now who makes you feel what way, somewhere along the path of your life your temperament settled into a situation that would set-up those reactions in the future?
People tend to be a lot more complex than a single, simple, life-altering decision of "this way or that". I can't imagine how many choices are ever that simple.
posted by nightchrome at 8:56 PM on August 15, 2005


amberglow: we posted at the same time--I'd be interested in how your views jibe or not with the theory (not mine) I posited.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:58 PM on August 15, 2005


The whole thing is very complex, and I would not say anything in an absolute sense on the topic. I can't fathom how sexuality could be both a choice and a genetic issue, but it is entirely possible (maybe even probable).
posted by nightchrome at 8:59 PM on August 15, 2005


Turtles, not a bad theory, but what about mothers who weren't under stress when pregnant who still had gay children? We're very evenly spread out among all classes, races and income levels--that wouldn't be the case if your theory was it, i think, and women of each succeeding generation have had more and more help and resources in pregnancy and birth than before. It seems there'd be less of us now than before.
posted by amberglow at 9:00 PM on August 15, 2005


As a postscript, I think that, as far as your sexual preference (bad term, I realize as I write this) you're either gay or you're not.

Yeah, I think there are a lot of people for whom that just is not going to work.
posted by nightchrome at 9:00 PM on August 15, 2005


and nightchrome: I think in this case it is that simple--you're gay or you're not, for the most part. Men in prison, not the same thing: how many continue a gay lifestyle on the outside?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:00 PM on August 15, 2005


If sexuality were a choice, why would people choose to be homosexual knowing they have a good chance of having their head cut off or body sliced in half as they do in Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries? Unless the person choosing homosexuality is a total, masochistic idiot who tries to make their life as miserable as possible "choice" seems unlikely.

I also think that homosexuality in prison has little to do with sexuality and may have more to do with the strength of the sex drive of the incarcerated men. Many men in prison may have an extra dose of testosterone and that all by itself makes the probability of male prisoners satisfying their sexual needs with the closest warm body.
posted by sultan at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2005


Turtles: So you're convinced bisexuals simply don't accept the truth of their orientation?
posted by nightchrome at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2005


that's what a choice is, night--i choose to drink pepsi instead of coke, or to wear a blue shirt and not a red one. Defining my sexual orientation as a "choice" always leads to the most common definition and usage of the word. Even if it's a subconscious or unconscious choice, that still implies the brain taking some action for some reason, and not the primal and innate desires and urges that exist.
posted by amberglow at 9:03 PM on August 15, 2005


sultan, again, you seem to be approaching it from the perspective of "why would I choose this when I know it is bad for me?". Putting aside the idea that the choice might not be a conscious one, how much of human history is chock-full of people choosing to do things they knew were bad for them?
posted by nightchrome at 9:04 PM on August 15, 2005


amberglow, do you think people are Pepsi or Coke oriented because of genetics? I mean, people have no control over their reaction to the taste...
Just trying to lighten the mood a bit. I understand the complexity of the issue people have with this idea of choice. I'm not 100% certain where I stand on the issue either, but the notion of sexuality being entirely genetic just doesn't sit right with me.
posted by nightchrome at 9:07 PM on August 15, 2005


The furthest i'm willing to go away from purely genetic would be an existing genetic predisposition (like in the breast cancer gene thing) aided and abetted by some in-utero thing happening. And it would have to be an in-utero thing (or things) that is seen in all human and animal populations.
posted by amberglow at 9:08 PM on August 15, 2005


Are there truly bisexual people? I thought the tests done in the FPP article indicated that, at their core, are straight or gay, with exceedingly few people falling in between.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:11 PM on August 15, 2005


It seems reasonable to me that you're born with your tastebuds being just so and thus bound to react to chemicals in a set manner, but how something tastes to you will be determined by how you as an individual settle into the buds you've got.
Also, all Pepsi drinkers are abominations. :)
posted by nightchrome at 9:11 PM on August 15, 2005


fff, I suppose you'd have to define truly bisexual. Will you not be satisfied unless it's completely 50/50?
posted by nightchrome at 9:13 PM on August 15, 2005


night : P (pepsi's so much better!)

Choice enters into it when actually acting on our desires/urges/etc, and in our choice of specific mates/partners/etc for whatever conscious and/or subconscious and societal and cultural reasons, but not in the actual basic gender of the person chosen, i don't think. Our sexuality is primal, i think.

I think they've clearly shown that for men at least, true 50/50 is very rare. Female sexuality is still so unstudied that we don't know yet.
posted by amberglow at 9:22 PM on August 15, 2005


amberglow, I guess at its root the idea that there is some kind of binary switch inside people that is either off or on just kind of offends me on some deep level I don't quite understand.
From my other rantings here on mefi, it's fairly obvious I'm something of a zealot where the concept of free will is concerned.
posted by nightchrome at 9:23 PM on August 15, 2005


sultan, similarly, people with unpopular political or religious views could never choose such views, because they would face persecution for them. The members of Die Weiße Rose, to pick a random example, clearly had a genetic predisposition to anti-fascism, because they died for their beliefs and no rational human would ever, ever do that. Right? Oh, or maybe they're just total masochistic idiots.
posted by bpt at 9:24 PM on August 15, 2005


night: what about acquired tastes? those are very common, and totally not genetic but cultural/societal. The fact that we instinctively spit out poisonous/bitter stuff, and are born knowing how to suck is closer to sexuality i think.
posted by amberglow at 9:24 PM on August 15, 2005


amberglow: What about love-- is love biologically determined? The way I see it is this: it's entirely likely that I fall in love with a boy, or a girl, or whomever. And I can't help but feel as though this is common to all; love seems to have much less to do with gender than people think. Given that sex is the fruition of love, isn't it entirely likely that almost anyone enjoy sex with either gender?

My trouble with the genetic explanation is simple. Sex isn't just biological, it's all tied up with love. And love isn't about 'predispositions we can't avoid,' it's about an act of reason-- which is higher than science-- that leads us to a deep connection with another being. How can the skin of our crotches, or even the chemicals in our brains, get in the way of something like that?
posted by Viomeda at 9:25 PM on August 15, 2005


but night--think of it as like other automatic things we are. Free will had nothing to do with our eye color or skin color or number of fingers and toes.
posted by amberglow at 9:26 PM on August 15, 2005


nightchrome. put it this way: I have no desire to force anyone to fit any theory I propose. Doubtless there may be people who truly , naturally, feel attracted to both sexes. I just don't think there are very many, and many of those may be gay men who for whatever reason see the need to 'temper' their 'gayness'. Maybe, maybe not, but from my observation and experience the idea that there is a continuum, with most people falling somewhere *between* being strictly gay and strictly straight doesn't ring true. Most, I think, are absolutely at the ends of that continuum, not distributed along the middle.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:27 PM on August 15, 2005


Love has much less to do with gender--it also has less to do with sex itself. Love and sexuality are two very distinct things. And love expresses itself very differently in all different settings, and in different societies/cultures/eras. Love is a brain/hormone/imprinting thing i'd say; the capacity to love isn't. Who you love is separate from who floats your boat.

Desire is more closely related to sexuality, i'd say.
posted by amberglow at 9:30 PM on August 15, 2005


Viomeda, seriously, you are awesome.

amberglow, but your skincolor has no effect on your personality, on you as a person, on what you "can" or "can't" do and still remain true to yourself. How other people react to it, yes, how society shapes itself and you, certainly. But the color of your skin in and of itself does nothing to you. The proposed binary switch does, because it's not about a physical thing at all, it's about the you that exists regardless of the physical bits.

Turtles, okay I understand your view on it, but I'd have to say that everything in my experience would be in disagreement with you.
posted by nightchrome at 9:32 PM on August 15, 2005


Love certainly isn't rational.

Are there truly bisexual people? I thought the tests done in the FPP article indicated that, at their core, are straight or gay, with exceedingly few people falling in between.

It's only one study, and I can think of some possibly methodological flaws (and it doesn't jibe with my life, though I suppose it's possible that I'm part of a vanishingly small minority).
posted by Tlogmer at 9:32 PM on August 15, 2005


I'd like to state once more for the record that I am making this up as I go along, so by default I suck at explaining my thoughts on the matter because I don't fully understand them myself.
posted by nightchrome at 9:35 PM on August 15, 2005


Are there truly bisexual people? I thought the tests done in the FPP article indicated that, at their core, are straight or gay, with exceedingly few people falling in between.

fff, the article was specifically referring to the possible non-existence of truly bisexual men. Bisexual women, according to the last few sentences of the same New York Times article, do truly exist, at least according to their arousal patterns as measured on brain scans. Which is a comforting thought, in a "cogito ergo sum" kinda way, to know that we quasi-dykes aren't just making this shit up. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 9:35 PM on August 15, 2005


Er, this was the previous MeFi thread on bisexuality that had the link to the New York Times article.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:39 PM on August 15, 2005


Turtles, not a bad theory, but what about mothers who weren't under stress when pregnant who still had gay children?

Sorry, amberglow, missed your response. The whole point of the theory is that there need not be "The Gay Gene". Some genes could dictate that the mother produced 'gay-inducing' levels of corticosteroids way out of proportion to the level of stress they experienced; other genes could make fetuses inordinately sensitive to the influence of maternal hormones. As with anything else genetic, you or your mother could by chance inherit a very weak, medium, or strong combination of these genes, which would make you more or less susceptible to anything from weak, strong, or no stress experienced by your mother when you were developing. As far as strict genetic/ pedigree analysis goes, this would be expected to muddy the picture enough that you would never be able to establish a firm genetic pattern of inheritance of 'gayness'. However, you *would* still expect that in cases where a lot of mothers in a community were placed under extreme stress more gay male children would be born than otherwise. This appears to have happened.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:40 PM on August 15, 2005


tlogmer: it doesn't jibe with my life, though I suppose it's possible that I'm part of a vanishingly small minority

But exactly: life, and biology is much more complex than we mere mortals living it can comprehend, IMO. But an inquiry into a question must begin somewhere--the theory that best fits, for the most part, the available evidence. Right now I'm chauvinistically disinclined to admit the existince of 'true' bisexuals. That is doubtless wrong, but based on the evidence I see these bisexuals are not by any means the majority, so I think it more prudent to formulate the theory with that in mind. Finessing the details will come later.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:47 PM on August 15, 2005


Tlogmer: "Love certainly isn't rational."

So people have been saying for at least three thousand years. But that argument's based on the assumption that "rationality" means things like having a steady job, not embarrassing yourself in front of other people, and maintaining emotional stability. Those things are often very good, but as far as attaining the highest good is concerned, I think love, the actual meeting of two souls, is a better way, even if the price for failure in love is higher. Love is rational insofar as it is (in part) an act whereby our mind's eye, our reason, fully recognizes another person. And, insofar as love aims at the highest good, it's certainly a rational choice. What's more, as I said, reason and love can guide us; a bit of everyday reason to go along with love can channel and protect it.

posted by Viomeda at 9:47 PM on August 15, 2005


eric: this? ...The lure of unwanted same-sex desires is much like the sirens’ song once heard by Odysseus.

Not that ... but, BoringPostcards digs up the relevant link (mentioned earlier in another thread by schroedinger)
"‘Untrammeled homosexuality can take over and destroy a social system,’ says Cameron. ‘If you isolate sexuality as something solely for one’s own personal amusement, and all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get- and that is what homosexuality seems to be-then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist. The evidence is that men do a better job on men and women on women, if all you are looking for is orgasm.’ So powerful is the allure of gays, Cameron believes, that if society approves that gay people, more and more heterosexuals will be inexorably drawn into homosexuality. ‘I’m convinced that lesbians are particularly good seducers,’ says Cameron. ‘People in homosexuality are incredibly evangelical,’ he adds, sounding evangelical himself. ‘It’s pure sexuality. It’s almost like pure heroin. It’s such a rush. They are committed in almost a religious way. And they’ll take enormous risks, do anything.’ He says that for married men and women, gay sex would be irresistible. ‘Martial sex tends toward the boring end,’ he points out. ‘Generally, it doesn’t deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does’ So, Cameron believes, within a few generations homosexuality would be come the dominant form of sexual behavior." [source]
posted by ericb at 9:52 PM on August 15, 2005


I think i'd need more proof Turtles--the WW2 thing also coincided with sexual and social revolutions of the 60s at the time of their adulthoods, so the babies born then grew up into a time when they could come out to be identified as gay, which wasn't as true before. They were freer to be less closeted than previous generations-- stressed pregnancies or not.

night, but why can't sexuality be the same? There's really a limited range of skin and eye colors we can be born with, given our genetic inheritances, and the same is true of sexuality and orientation. People inherit temperaments and aggressiveness.
posted by amberglow at 9:53 PM on August 15, 2005


this recent thing on people choosing mates based on inheritable traits was interesting, and is related: ...The researchers looked at a wide range of variables, including characteristics that are mostly inheritable, and those that are less so, to determine the role genes play in our social behavior. They found that "people are genetically inclined to choose as social partners those who resemble themselves on a genetic level."
In this and previous studies, Rushton found that we tend to select spouses on the basis of inheritable characteristics, even if we don't know those features are inheritable. For example, he says, the middle-finger length is primarily inheritable, whereas the upper-arm circumference is less so. And spouses who have participated in his studies tended to marry someone with a similarity in the length of the middle finger, but not in the upper-arm circumference.
The role of genetics is not limited to physical characteristics. To a lesser extent, genes also play a role in the formation of personality, and even personal likes and dislikes. The enjoyment of reading, for example, is believed to be more inheritable than having many hobbies. ...


as for bisexuality: I think that just as the existence of more openly gay people in society led to more study, when bisexuality loses some of its own stigma and more people come out as such (there are perhaps tons and tons of obstacles to that happening) , there will be more study of it as well.
posted by amberglow at 10:01 PM on August 15, 2005


amber--fair enough, this was the one little piece of data I have at hand to support the theory. For me, though, the strength of the theory is that it accounts for what we see around us--some genetic contribution but nothing particularly strong, the various combinations of femininity vs. attraction toward males, and definitely, something I think we'd both agree on, that gayness is something that's part of you when you're born and not a 'choice' that one makes independent of one's biology. It might not even be stress per se that is the precipitating factor. But the idea that you have two little switches in your brain, each of which is set one way or another makes some kind of sense to me.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:01 PM on August 15, 2005


And I should have said that gayness or straightness is something that's part of you when you're born, and not a choice.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:03 PM on August 15, 2005


there we agree. : >

I think we'll know what it is, whether a combination of things, or a simple explanation, not too long from now. Studying genes, and studying our brains, are very new fields, but also very active ones.
posted by amberglow at 10:10 PM on August 15, 2005


And with that sensible comment amber I say goodnight.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 10:26 PM on August 15, 2005


Back from lunch and not a whole lot left to say really.

amberglow, well I guess the thing is that what turns someone on seems to change drastically over the span of their life. Something that used to have a profound physical effect on me once, now does absolutely nothing, or possibly even is a turnoff. Likewise something that used to be completely nonsexual or even a turnoff may now evoke an overwhelming physical response. What has changed? Only me, the person, changing subtly and imperceptibly even to myself over time. Of all the various and sundry aspects of existence which can/did/do evoke a sexual response from a person, why should gender alone remain inviolate regardless of the changes in the person?
It just doesn't sit right with my reasoning.
But then, I may just be being contrary.
posted by nightchrome at 10:39 PM on August 15, 2005


what makes people hetero?
posted by punkbitch at 10:54 PM on August 15, 2005


One's tastebuds may be set to default, but over time one can develop a taste for naturally distasteful things.

To wit, most children find wine, beer, soft cheeses, and the like to be gag-worthy. As an adult, most of us learn to like these things. (To the point that I figure the best foods in the world are those that are already rotten...)

And cilantro. Cilantro has always tasted like Ivory soap to me. Made be feel quite ill to taste it. Yet somehow, my last cilantro-laden meal tasted okay. I think I'm beginning to get used to it, and that's the first step to actually liking it.

I have no idea if there's anything similar in the sexual realm.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:00 PM on August 15, 2005


nightchrome: I don't think it's just you. I have the same feeling. Sex is a lot more complex than 'we're born with it,' even if some predispositions exist; desires develop over time. The more I look back on it, the more I see not a simple categorization of males and females one column of which I was attracted to, but rather a series of people I've met, many of whom I've had some affection for, and some of whom I've had sex with. The sex often differs more from male to male or from female to female than it does from male to female.

Really being open to yourself doesn't just mean picking one side and going with it; it means being ready for your urges wherever and whenever they happen. Given the amount of change that happens in one person's life-- a tremendous amount!-- it seems more intelligent to be ready for anything.

And, by the way, amberglow-- I understand that, when you say 'nobody would choose to be gay,' you mean that no one would choose the social stigma, and you're trying to fight against senseless hatred by offering a reason. But doesn't it sound the least bit offensive? No one would ever say 'I would never choose to be Jewish!' or 'I would never choose to be Irish!' But the fact is, there are good reasons for choosing to be gay, despite the obnoxious social pressures: gay sex has its own flavor, its own play of bodies, that is unique. I may as well say "I don't eat foreign foods" or something like that, when the choice is mine to be open to the taste, no?
posted by Viomeda at 11:10 PM on August 15, 2005


Viomeda, if you don't stop being so awesome and eloquent in your explanations, I am going to be forced to keep undermining my seriousness by fawning over your posts.
posted by nightchrome at 11:16 PM on August 15, 2005


nightchrome: You win. I blush. Thank you.
posted by Viomeda at 11:22 PM on August 15, 2005


Awesome thread to read thank you all. I guess I tend towards the modest genetic input coupled with larger environmental effects producing a continuum of sexuality theory. Proximity rules over fantasy maybe.
posted by peacay at 11:29 PM on August 15, 2005


tlogmer: It's only one study, and I can think of some possibly methodological flaws (and it doesn't jibe with my life, though I suppose it's possible that I'm part of a vanishingly small minority).

Yeah, it certainly lacks face validity for me. Partly because most of the bisexual men I know freely admit that there are differences in what sexually attracts to women vs. men. For me, women look better but men sound and smell better. After about 15 years of this, I've just grown to accept that I'm going to fall in lust with some men no matter what. All of these studies with MRI scans, sensors, and dirty pictures just seems to be rather like trying to map the U.S. by flying a great circle from NYC to Seatle.

In regards to genetics vs. choice. A very nice gay men cut the legs out from under me when I was all naive genetics by pointing out that he didn't "choose" to speak English either. There is a heck of a large quantity of stupid oversimplification going on through all this.

For example, it seems that all arguments in regards to natural selection and sexual orientation ignore the fact that observed phenotypes don't always map to simple genotypes. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, in spite of the fact that about 80% of biology is better described by quantitative rather than qualitative genetics, it's just not something that most people are exposed to. It's the nature of the distribution of human height that you get a minority taller than 6'8". It might be the nature of the distribution of human sexuality that you get a minority that are gay.

Meanwhile, I don't think we should cut sociology and behavioral psychology out of the picture all together. The fact that I experience sexual desire with women and men may certainly be affected by genetics. My "Bi" political identity however is a product of history, culture and politics. I think the fact that heterosexual marriage is a product of history, culture and politics is something that gets lost in the quest for gay genes.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:57 PM on August 15, 2005


Bisexuality is such a question. Is a man bi, if he can enjoy having his cock sucked by another guy, while he dreams about some hot female? I think of asking the question this way because I have had sex with a lot of 'straight' men.

Big-brother syndrome: I didn't have any brothers, but I grew up in a small, tight neighborhood where I had only girls my age, the boys were all older early on. I learned to dislike the boys exactly as the article describes...'til one of them taught me to suck him when I was 10. When I was 12, I found myself compelled to seek more.

Girls: I wasn't in to girl stuff much. I started out quite boyish. I didn't reject boyish stuff until I got to the team sports age. That I hated with a passion. Instead, I became bookish, which suited my intellectual tendencies.

Yet I was boyish in that I enjoyed rough play, a lot. HOWEVER, being as I was always the largest kid in my class, I also got in a LOT of trouble over this. I was conditioned, by the skin of my ass (many spankings) to avoid such things at nearly any cost.

Sex and conditioning:
Be certain, any time you have an orgasm, you've just got a powerful reward for whatever behavior brought it about! This has to have some affect on the development of one's taste, if not orientation.
posted by Goofyy at 12:08 AM on August 16, 2005


If you look at the soil around any large U.S. city with a big underground homosexual population - Des Moines, Iowa, perfect example. Look at the soil around Des Moines. You can't build on it, you can't grow anything in it. The government says it's due to poor farming. But I know what's really going on. I know it's the queers.

I live about 40 minutes from des moines, and the farm land around there is very productive. Also, lots of new sprawly development has been going on. The vista of the Jordan Creek Mall and miles of empty prarie on one side and exurbia on the other gives lie to your onerious slander!
posted by delmoi at 12:39 AM on August 16, 2005


But the color of your skin in and of itself does nothing to you. The proposed binary switch does, because it's not about a physical thing at all, it's about the you that exists regardless of the physical bits.

Actualy, melatonin is a hormone which is psycho-active.
posted by delmoi at 12:49 AM on August 16, 2005


funny how all these super-silly 'studies' only seem discuss the male gender.
posted by TrinityB5 at 12:54 AM on August 16, 2005


delmoi, yes but the thing which colors skin is melanin not melatonin. Understandable that you'd confuse them, they're very similar-sounding words.
posted by nightchrome at 1:27 AM on August 16, 2005


Homosexuality is a matter of probabilities.

So what we need is a Quantum Theory of Sexuality?

Loved the article, but like other posters I think that sexuality exists in a continuum. It is also expressed quite differently in different cultures. Gay/Straight is a very Western concept [I can back that up with NSFW evidence if needed ...].

And women most definitely express sexuality - homo and hetero - different than men. I know women who made a conscious choice to be lesbian. I don't know any men who claim the same.

As for prison sex [I'm for it!] - it also works both ways. Young men are horny. Denied women 'straight' men will play with men. And this very gay boy from a very conservative small town messed around with plenty of women while growing up. At 19 you take everything you can get.
posted by kanewai at 4:05 AM on August 16, 2005


Vio, if the world continued to insist that you made a "choice" in regards to religion, and that you must change it (see the Inquisition) or you're doomed, or the rest can make laws forbidding you rights because of religion, then of course people would say I didn't choose to be Jewish, etc. The vast majority of us don't choose our religion, but religion is entirely cultural and lineal--we start out as whatever our parents were--sexuality isn't at all like that, despite pressure to be straight, and being brought up to be straight.

I see people here confusing desire and love with attraction and urges. The point about orgasms is exactly right, Goofyy, but people who have had sex with women even tho they're gay show that an orgasm regardless of the gender of the person you're with isn't enough even tho it's possible (on preview--see kanewai). Many of us can testify to that. And desires and attraction of course change over time--we change over time, and our primal urges and hormones and testosterone levels lessen as we age, as well as our functioning--it's said we men peak at 18. I think that's an evolutionary adaptation, so that we settle down to further and protect the species or something, instead of being in perpetual heat our whole lives.
posted by amberglow at 5:54 AM on August 16, 2005


A much better question would be what makes people straight. This search for a 'cause' of homosexuality is just bad science. More than likely, there will be no identifiable cause(s), a bunch of psychobabble speculation a la Freud and at best you end up with a bunch of meaningless correlations like the brother-effect.
posted by nixerman at 6:55 AM on August 16, 2005


Culture definitely influences at least the expression of sexuality. If you start looking at the evidence from pre-1900s, homosexuality was something that wasn't as publicly noted not because it was necessarily absent, but because it was more normal and assumed. Young men at college would be expected to suck each other off, just as part of being young adults. There were fewer risks to homosexual sex (no kids), and it felt good, so why not? Those folks would either marry or not and their sexuality just wouldn't be mentioned. Even speaking about a later era, nearly everyone I know has an uncle or aunt (maybe great uncle or aunt) who lived with a "roommate" for their adult life. People didn't want to talk about sexuality, so it was just assumed that they were chaste (and some of them were, as it simply was more socially acceptable to live unmarried with a member of your same sex).
But yeah, look at pornography from the Victorian era (especially The Pearl). Cousins whip out at a moment's notice to suck each other off before going in to fuck women. And from the Neo-Classical era (where a rediscovery of Greek homosexuality made it fashionable for the upper classes to have gay dalliances) to the Romantic era (where pan-sexuality reigned in the creative class), gay sex was simply not the BIG DEAL that it is today, at least in part because sexuality in general wasn't part of public identity. And even when it was disapproved of, charges of sodomy tended to be levied more for class affinity violations than for actual sodomy (see Oscar Wilde).
Sexuality is complex. Oddly enough, modern sexuality seems to have grown publicly simpler while engendering more private angst.
posted by klangklangston at 7:52 AM on August 16, 2005


First, there appears to be more than one possible cause for sexual orientation.

Second, given that there is more than cause, there are many different possibilities for "orientation changing strategies", provided you want to change orientations.

Third, behavior and orientation aren't linked. Many men have gay sex in prison and straight sex when they get out. Do they change orientations in prison? When they get out? Or does preference remain the same, while behavior changes?
posted by ewkpates at 8:00 AM on August 16, 2005


ewkpates, you'd be hard pressed to even define what you mean for "sexual orientation." The phrase "there appears to be more than one possible cause for sexual orientation" breaks down rather quickly under any sort of rigorous examination. The entire notion that homosexuality is somehow different in kind from heterosexuality the way the directions on a compass are different is one of those assumptions that's so ingrained that people can't see how silly it really is.

What would it even mean to "change" somebody's orientation? This is nonsense. What exactly in the person would be changing? Their "habits"? Physical structures in their brain? Would it then be just plain old behavioral conditioning? (This is what's so funny about the religious "ex-gay" movement. It's fundamental assumption is that sexuality is, indeed, something quite malleable that can be wholly flipped in as little as twelve weeks).

The distinction between people who are "gay" in prison and "straight" on the outside is even more silly. What changed inside of them? Is there, like a little arrow in their brains that get's flipped? It's like people who say Greeks were 'gay.' You toss these labels around but it's not even clear why.

It's the same problem with many of the scientists in the article. It's not at all clear that homosexuality or heterosexuality is a quality of some unchanging subject. IMO, this borders on pseudo-science and is not unlike all the science that went into the study of "races" a century ago. It doesn't even make sense to speak of sexuality as a continuum because, again, this implies that people's sexual preferences are even consciously realized. I suspect what we call "sexuality" today will end up just like what we historically called "race": cultural labels that cannot be rigorously defined in any meaningful way. Sexuality becomes little more than a series of events whose only relationship is the historical subject.
posted by nixerman at 8:23 AM on August 16, 2005


Sexuality becomes little more than a series of events whose only relationship is the historical subject.
But if that were so, there'd be far more true bisexuality all over the place, as in the past. Sexual orientation is much deeper than just acts, altho it's most often simply expressed as acts.

I think situational homosexual acts should be taken out of the discussion--you put all men in a confined space (whether war or prison) and you get sex--with appliances and furniture if available too, let alone with other men.
posted by amberglow at 9:18 AM on August 16, 2005


When people's brains react differently to smells, when their choices and behavior reflect clear preferences... then we've said in the past that they are "oriented".

You can dislike the term, but you can't reject the phenomena. What makes this even more interesting is that it's not a consistent one... sometimes the orientation is non-specific. But to say that there is no distinction between gay and straight is just silliness, or politically motivated dishonesty.

There is a distinction between left handed and right handed, between left and right brain, between aggressive and passive. Sexual Orientation is just another behavioral expression, and if there weren't a political agenda, it would be easier to see it scientifically.
posted by ewkpates at 9:38 AM on August 16, 2005


amberglow, the problem is that most any sexual encounter can be disregarded as situational. This goes back to the silly idea that having gay sex once makes you a homosexual. Let's say it does. Well, that's a bit suspect. That 10% number starts heading north really quickly. But, ok, let's say it doesn't. Where is the cut off? Is having gay sex five or sex times enough to make the cut? More? Maybe there are no real homosexuals, there's just a few men who somehow keep ending up in bed with other men.

Really, it just doesn't even compute. I didn't precisely mean to reduce sexuality to a series of acts, so much as to reduce the importance of the act in itself. At best, the distinction between homosexual acts and heterosexual acts is a coin-toss. The study of sex is important, but we should be careful to do real science. When you consider all the factors involved, the question of "What makes people gay" begins to look like "What makes people happy" or "What makes people creative." This is not really science. And that's why a lot of the results of this science, such as the kooky correlations and what not, look suspiciously like much of the earlier research into race. (I can't wait to see a correlation between an easily measured physical quality, say hand size, and sexuality. Then we can actually build real working gaydars.)

I suspect the whole enterprise is just doomed. In the history of ideas the notion of a 'sexuality' that is somehow imprinted upon a subject is rather young. There's no indication that it's meaningful or that it provides even any metaphorical value. People will look back and laugh about this whole 'search for the gay gene' and such.
posted by nixerman at 9:41 AM on August 16, 2005


how much of human history is chock-full of people choosing to do things they knew were bad for them?

Then aren't you saying that homosexuality is bad? If a person chooses to eat, too much knowing it may kill them but they do not have the willpower to stop eating, so does it anyway. That is not a good choice and something is clearly wrong with that individual.

Yet it would be hard to say OJ Simpson wasn't born to be an athlete but was he also born to murder... probably not. I would say more than likely his mother smacking him over the head with glass bottles and him growing up in a violent house has more to do with his murderous "choice."
posted by sultan at 10:18 AM on August 16, 2005


A good reply to the haters: "When did you choose to be right-handed?"
posted by five fresh fish at 10:31 AM on August 16, 2005


ewkpates: There is a distinction between left handed and right handed, between left and right brain, between aggressive and passive. Sexual Orientation is just another behavioral expression, and if there weren't a political agenda, it would be easier to see it scientifically.

Well, now hold on just a minute there. While it is true that handedness is a real phenomena, there is some evidence to suggest that it's not as either/or as you are presenting here. There certainly may be a continuum of handedness, with a choice forced on children when they learn to write and use tools.

Likewise, the differences between left and right brain turn out to be quite a bit more subtle than was claimed early and quickly adopted by pop psychology. Aggressive/passive certainly is not an either/or characteristic.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:46 AM on August 16, 2005


amberglow: sexuality isn't at all like that, despite pressure to be straight, and being brought up to be straight.

Well, I see two problems with this. First, I think it might be a bad idea to confuse "straight" which seems to mean ideally, "married with kids in suburbia" with that notion of heterosexual "urge." The second is that it makes the mistake of taking "straightness" for granted.

A big problem I see with these discussions is not just the groping to explain something that as nixerman points out we don't really have much in the way of construct validity. But its people on all sides take our contemporary notion of heterosexuality for granted: start puberty, fool around, grow up, find a "partner," and buy a house.

I see people here confusing desire and love with attraction and urges.

I think that any model of sexuality is going to have to deal with these things, and the basic problem that you can't cleanly separate one from the other. For example, in these studies that show collections of pornography, I think that if you slipped in porn that resembled people I have loved, that you would get very different reactions than just random strangers.

Which is one of the things that I really disliked about the previously mentioned study involving bi men. The depth of the urges I experience with the subset of people I love is more important to me than my preferences among anonymous people in pornographic photographs.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:17 AM on August 16, 2005


"A good reply to the haters: "When did you choose to be right-handed?""

Great example! There is no doubt people are born to be right handed or left handed yet if pushed enough they can change.
My father was born left handed but forced to change to right. As a consequence he has a terrible time writing to this day. He plays golf and bats left to this day but because he was forced to write with his right he considers himself right-handed.

The same can be said about sexuality. Most people are born with a definite preference yet with enough pressure can be forced to change.
posted by sultan at 11:26 AM on August 16, 2005


I think orientation is a better term than preference. To me, "preference" implies either the result of a conscious choice, which I don't believe, or that a person has had sex with men and had sex with women and prefers one over the other. Many people, possibly most, have only had sex with the gender they're oriented to be attracted to, and that's what they like because that's what they like.

"Orientation" is kind of a "you are here" marker on a spectrum ranging from 100% homosexual to 100% heterosexual, and I believe it's not a fixed point, but can fluctuate from time to time.

I also think homosexual behavior in prison has a lot to do with power, maybe more in some cases than it has to do with sex.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:02 PM on August 16, 2005


I agree with what Moral Animal said, from experience. (I call it the '"Prison World" Theory'.) What went "wrong" with me is that there were also always girls nearby to "fool around" with too (including some who liked their guys a little "fey") and that in those days (mid-'70s) David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Elton John were running around telling the press they were bisexual, so that I was never forced to to "choose" to be either Gay or Straight (consciously or not) -- I could be both.
posted by davy at 12:04 PM on August 16, 2005


Not all behavioral expression is created equal. Even within a behavior set there are different causal factors.

Nixerman is as misguided and unhelpful to this conversations a religious zealot. Happiness is very much a focus of science. How the brain causes behavior is a fundamental scientific question.

Science is the study of phenomena. Behavior is a fertile land of phenomena.

Heads or tails? Trust me, there's a difference...
posted by ewkpates at 12:04 PM on August 16, 2005


As I've said elsewhere, what factors "sexualize" someone in any particular way (or none at all) is actually irrelevant among free people who accept that there is no one right way to be sexual.

And I agree with kirkaracha about "orientation".
posted by davy at 12:13 PM on August 16, 2005


Orientation is totally a better term, and more accurately reflects how most of us see our sexuality. Preference and choice are much more loaded and more often used in derisive or judgemental ways, too. I see "orientation" as sort of the compass point, where you can make a circle around it that shows the usual or expected variation. (or like venn diagrams)


nixerman, you can describe all sexual encounters as situational but they're really not. We're all thrust into situations that could or could not lead to sex--it's our orientations that start the process toward who/which we choose. Without that basis, we'd all be indiscriminately omnisexual--which isn't so--at all.
posted by amberglow at 12:45 PM on August 16, 2005


"nixerman, you can describe all sexual encounters as situational but they're really not. We're all thrust into situations that could or could not lead to sex--it's our orientations that start the process toward who/which we choose."

So everybody who's raped and punked out in prison was Gay all along? "Despite never having been attracted to any males before, it was Jerry's Gay orientation that made him choose to be raped by all the jockers in C-Block on his first night in prison." Or are you just forgetting that?
posted by davy at 1:44 PM on August 16, 2005


Metafilter: you get sex—with appliances and furniture if available too
posted by Rothko at 2:07 PM on August 16, 2005


I learned to dislike the boys exactly as the article describes...'til one of them taught me to suck him when I was 10.

I can't remember whether it was online or in person, but I heard someone say that they thought a lot of men become gay because of child sexual abuse.

I just wonder if there's anything to this, or if it has been studied at all. I have no idea - it could be complete bullshit.
posted by beth at 3:10 PM on August 16, 2005


it has been studied, and it's not so, beth. i'll dig it up for you.

prison sex is different--as mentioned before, it's about power, violence, force, and the "any hole will do" thing. You yourself call it "rape".
posted by amberglow at 3:19 PM on August 16, 2005


you get sex--with appliances and furniture

amberglow, I have to admit that I do covet that purdy armoire of yours. ;)
posted by ericb at 3:25 PM on August 16, 2005


Eric: I believe the correct euphemism is "busting up his chifforobe."
posted by klangklangston at 3:40 PM on August 16, 2005


If I recall from Criminology - yes, there is a power issue going on in prisons. There is also some evidence that homosexual behavior in prisons is limited to prison for straight men. It is seen as acceptable to "use" another male for sexual gratification as long as you do not have a female option. There is tons of internal bargaining and justification going on which lead to "rules" of behavior - It is OK for a man to blow me in prison and/or for me to "do" him - because I am the "man" in those situations. But if you blow or "take" it - you are queer.

Anyway - the majority of straight identified males that have homosexual contact in prison do not once they get out of jail.

Next -

Cornell psychologist Daryl Bem has proposed an intriguing theory for how CGN might lead to homosexuality. According to this pathway, which he calls "the exotic becomes erotic," children are born with traits for temperament, such as aggression and activity level, that predispose them to male-typical or female-typical activities. They seek out playmates with the same interests. So a boy whose traits lead him to hopscotch and away from rough play will feel different from, and ostracized by, other boys. This leads to physiological arousal of fear and anger in their presence, arousal that eventually is transformed from exotic to erotic.

This interests me simply for the fact that this seems to be the rational behind the Focus on the Family article on mefi the other day - that some people think that by forcing a child to act more "male" you can reverse this. If this were truly one "path" (gag) to homosexuality then it would be our own socially constructed gender roles that are turning people gay. Maybe if we didn't have all this baggage about what it means to be "male" or "female" and were more accepting of peoples behavior as "human" we wouldn't be turning so many people gay. Reject the barbie and GI Joe marketing! Boys cook too! Boys dance too! Girls are construction workers and its OK! Maybe if we stopped freaking out when a boy didn't act butch then he wouldn't be all afeared of other boys that he will then eroticize.

(disclaimer - while I do despise social gender "roles" I think this theory is rather reductionary and discounts other factors - thus rather useless by itself)
posted by jopreacher at 8:39 PM on August 16, 2005


Is it me, or is the pseudonym-ed Patrick in the article clearly a transsexual and not just *homosexual*?

He seems transgendered, not transsexual, right? One rarely leads to the other.

I agree with amberglow that homosexuality is a choice, per se, meaning it *is* possible to repress sexual behavior (celibates, etc.), but one thing that people tend *not* to repress are their sexual appetites. Which I concur is wonderful. Yay.

I agree with nightchrome that sexual attraction between the sexes is a continuum, but I also agree with the other dude who said the large majority of humans are closer to the ends than the middle. I do think that people tend to move towards the ends of the curve as they grow older and become more comfortable with their sexuality. Just as my hetero tastes have refined, I expect it works the same way with homo style.

I also agree with klangklangston that the determining factors of homosexuality have no consequence whatsoever on public policy. People are people. Rights are rights. Fair is fair. I'm slightly interested in a new science kind of why, but the honest truth is I don't care much why people are gay. I think that gender (like race) is mostly a social construct. But I still read the article. And it was good. And long.

Love is just a word.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:01 PM on August 16, 2005


god. that's from the matrix iii, huh. bad movie, good line.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:04 PM on August 16, 2005


what jo said--it seems we swing back and forth between rigid gender roles and looser ones--i'm thankful i was a little faggy boy in a more "free to be you and me" environment than the 80s were, and than today is. Forcing a little kid to lie and act differently than his "normal" is massively wrong.

mrgrimm, it's cool--we all come at it from different angles, i think.
posted by amberglow at 10:21 PM on August 16, 2005


amberglow, I read you wrong, and even so I probably should have found a less heated way to put that.
posted by davy at 11:18 PM on August 16, 2005


"Maybe if we didn't have all this baggage about what it means to be "male" or "female" and were more accepting of peoples behavior as "human" we wouldn't be turning so many people gay."
Umm... But "turning" people gay isn't really a big deal unless there's something wrong with gays.
It's not like they're being turned into telephone psychics or Mormons.
posted by klangklangston at 11:52 PM on August 16, 2005


"There certainly may be a continuum of handedness"

I think handedness and sexuality have much in common. Society used to think of left-handedness as bad, just as they society thinks homosexuality is bad today. The statistics are very similar and there is not doubt a continuum for both. Left-handed is a metaphor for homosexuality; right-handed is a metaphor for straight, and ambidextrous is bisexual.

Approximately 10-13% of the population is left-handed. People who can use both hands equally well are rare. True ambidexterity is rare.
posted by sultan at 8:07 AM on August 17, 2005


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