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June 17, 2008 3:19 AM   Subscribe

Homosexual brain resembles that of opposite sex. As announced yesterday in the Swedish Newspaper Dagens Nyheter, researchers at the Stockholm Brain Institute have published the results of a study conducted using PET scanning showing that homosexual men showed brain similarity with heterosexual women in their amygdala connections, which process certain emotions, as did homosexual women and straight men.

Previous research has shown that the amygdala are linked to differences in face perception and stimulus response to odors between heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Bottom line, certain crucial brain responses related to sexuality "are unlikely to be directly affected by learned patterns and behavior."

"once you recognize homosexuality as a genetic reality, it does create a theological dilemma"
posted by three blind mice (88 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
this sort of "science" will be looked at in the future the way we view phrenology today.
posted by geos at 3:24 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


What, this Stockholm Brain Institute?
posted by Jofus at 3:29 AM on June 17, 2008 [6 favorites]


I always just thought of it logically: with all the problems it brings (especially in places like Iran) why would anyone CHOOSE to be gay? Wouldn't one's self-preservation instincts win out? If homosexuality is truly a 'lifestyle choice' then why have thousands of gay men in Iran had forced gender reassignment surgery? Oh, yeah, because YOU CAN'T JUST STOP BEING GAY.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:35 AM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


Because brain mass is unquestionably dictated by genetics rather than usage. Science: it's much easier when you oversimplify.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:43 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I tend to agree with the idea that sexuality is genetically influenced. This research, however, doesn't necessarily indicate that homosexuality is a "genetic reality", which is a quote from a Baptist minister who does not have a background in science. I can't read Swedish, but I seriously doubt the paper's authors have outlined a causal path from conception to a "sexed" brain.

Developmental differences that lead to a gendered brain could come about from epigenetic changes in the parents' sperm and egg, the chemical environment in the womb during gestation, or other events that take place after birth and affect brain development.

Either way, the real social nightmares will come from the Christians praying and paying for research into "gay vaccines" and "hormone patches" to mutate a child's behavior into heteronormative conformance. That entirely despicable idea speeds directly into the heart of Bokanovsky, Handmaid's Tale, and Nazi-concentration-camp-experiments-on-pregnant-Jews territory. Jesus, please keep your Baptists away from the test tubes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:44 AM on June 17, 2008 [8 favorites]


shit. i'm all out of popcorn.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:49 AM on June 17, 2008


I can't read Swedish, but I seriously doubt the paper's authors have outlined a causal path from conception to a "sexed" brain.

I can and you are correct. What the researchers are saying is that they have discovered clear patterns in parts of the brain "unlikely to be directly affected by learned patterns and behavior."

Först undersökte forskarna blodflödet i amygdala, en mandelformad del av hjärnan som är särskilt förknippad med känsloreaktioner.

De fann att amygdalas koppling till andra delar av hjärnan såg olika ut för olika grupper. Hos strejta män och lesbiska kvinnor var amygdalas koppling extra tydlig till regioner i hjärnan som förmedlar rörelsefunktioner.

De delar i hjärnan som styr motoriken är kopplade till vår reaktion på yttre hot. Tidigare forskning visar också att reaktionen "fly eller slåss för livet" är särskild utpräglad hos män.

Men allra tydligast var amygdalas kopplingsmönster hos bögar och heterosexuella kvinnor. Där var kopplingen tydligare till de delar i hjärnan som tolkar känslor och kroppsliga reaktioner.


Quick translation

The researchers first looked at the flow of blood in the amygdala, a almond shaped part of the brain which is particularly associated with emotional reactions. They found that the amygdala's coupling to other parts of the brain looked different for different groups. Among straight men and lesbian women the amygdala's coupling was especially clear in parts of the brain that control motion.

Those parts of the brain which steer motion are connected to our reaction to external threat. Earlier research illustrates that the "flight or flight" reaction is particularly well developed among men.

The clearest comparison was the amydgala's pattern with gay and heterosexual women. Here the coupling was even clearer to the parts of the brain which interpret emotions and physical reactions.

posted by three blind mice at 4:00 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure this helps or hurt gay rights much. If you don't believe in evolution, you'll happily believe all the Ex-gay bullshit, even after science proves that they are lying. On the darker side, I can see this being used for selective abortions in the third world.

Dan Savage often points out that powerful Christians don't mind gays, as long as they stay in the closet.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:03 AM on June 17, 2008


This thread will gwendolyn.
posted by Eideteker at 4:03 AM on June 17, 2008 [6 favorites]


this sort of "science" will be looked at in the future the way we view phrenology today.

Of course you'd say that. You have the brainpan of a stagecoach tilter!
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 4:08 AM on June 17, 2008 [9 favorites]


Funny, all brains pretty much look the same to me.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 4:10 AM on June 17, 2008


Call me when they report in a peer-reviewed journal. (Tier 2 or better please!)
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:13 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, you guys are really paranoid about this stuff. Selective abortions? Just how do you expect would be child selectors to fit an MRI machine into a uterus as the baby is developing to test the bloodflow in the brain?

Maybe the scientists were just curious about what the differences were, (if any).

Secondly the stuff about homosexuality being "genetic" is a totally separate article unrelated to this research. A lot of people think that homosexuality might be congenital rather then genetic (i.e. caused while the child develops in the womb). This research just shows that the brains work differently.

That doesn't really prove that it's inborn, just that it's (at least) somewhat measurable with instruments. I mean, it wouldn't surprise me if these brain pattens developed as a response to socialization growing up -- like if gays and women socialize in a more feminine way, the parts of their brains used for that kind of thinking would develop more, and for men and lesbians the opposite.

I'm not saying that's the case, but it's a possibility.
posted by delmoi at 4:14 AM on June 17, 2008


Your Time Machine Sucks confirmed what I planned to enquire about: whether the brain changes over time. I watched a documentary with Oliver Sacks last week about music and the brain, where he said just that: that it changes and rewires itself throughout a good part of our life. Which, it would seem, it does. It serves to highlight just how careful we have to be when reading a superficially conclusive argument (I'm reminded of how reactionary rag the Daily Mail managed to assert that a report about immigration in the UK concluded that it had had a negative effect, when in fact the findings were the exact opposite).

I don't really buy the idea that because there are gay people in some places where it's hazardous to be gay, this proves it can't be a viable lifestyle choice. Humans often make choices hazardous to their lives, and indulge in risk-taking behaviours. This in itself proves nothing, but it's worthwhile acknowledging that we do not operate in straightforward patterns of self-preservation.
posted by palimpsest at 4:20 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


The researchers first looked at the flow of blood in the amygdala, a almond shaped part of the brain which is particularly associated with emotional reactions.

I love almonds!
posted by dirigibleman at 4:21 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Interesting, if "true" (i.e. found valid in peer-reviewed studied)...this might explain a behavior that's always troubled me from a logical standpoint.

Why do gay men often display feminine characteristics and gay women masculine characteristics?

If gay men are attracted to other men, wouldn't you logically assume that gay men would exhibit hyper-masculine behavior to attract members of the same sex? Ditto women (hyper-feminine behavior)?

In fact, to the point where it's the "stereotype" of gay behavior, the opposite is true. Often one or even both partners of a homosexual relationship will exihibit behavior normally associated with the opposite sex, not the same. Doesn't this imply in these cases that gay men are attracted to feminine traits (i.e. traits associated with the opposite sex)? Ditto gay Women?

Apologize for the generalizations (but we are talking about a group of people not individuals) and I realize there are exceptions but this is something I've always struggled to understand.

No judgements people, just an honest (and yes, an obviously homosexually ignorant :) ) question.
posted by armitage at 4:51 AM on June 17, 2008


Wow, dirigibleman - my sentiments exactly. I like the way you think.

Does that make me gay now?
posted by Sparx at 4:53 AM on June 17, 2008


Call me when they report in a peer-reviewed journal. (Tier 2 or better please!)

Call me when you RTFA.
posted by rxrfrx at 4:54 AM on June 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


Why do gay men often display feminine characteristics

you forgot bears.

and gay women masculine characteristics?

you forgot femmes.

the problem here might be that the only gay & lesbian people you notice are the obvious ones. i'd bet that there are heaps around you that you think are straight because they look & act straight.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:57 AM on June 17, 2008 [12 favorites]


My random homo guess is that it's genetic potential + environmental factors. There are probably a lot of people walking around with the genes to allow them to become 7 feet tall, but very few of them actually do so. If there is a definitive queerness gene, it might be so common as to be unremarkable, and without this or that developmental influence, it doesn't manifest as queerness. What I find irritating about the topic is that people on both ends of the political spectrum are so anxious to see some kind of final word on this to wave around like a flag when there are so many disciplines involved (genetics, neurology, reasonably unbiased psychology of homosexuality) that, while perhaps no longer in their infancy, are still pretty much at the toddling and putting random objects in their mouths stage.

Whether it's inborn or congenital or socialized or a combination, it doesn't change the fact that queers will have to continue pushing for our civil rights, that bigots will use any pretext at all to try to make things harder for us, and that at the same time, progress would appear to be on our side. In the US and Europe, things have gotten vastly better in the last 20 years and that is worth noticing. I'm in my thirties and I remember when it was taken to be as natural as rain that boys from New Jersey would pile into a car to go gaybashing...in the West Village. It wasn't remarkable enough to get reported in the papers; I heard about it from the victims, and straight adults I knew were also aware and blasé about it. Right now it certainly appears that marriage for gays in New York State is just a matter of time.

shit. i'm all out of popcorn.

I've heard that brain mass can also decrease under certain circumstances.

Why do gay men often display feminine characteristics and gay women masculine characteristics?

Because of confirmation bias.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:59 AM on June 17, 2008 [7 favorites]


rxrfrx, everybody knows that the National Academy of Sciences is just a tier 3 front for NARTH.
posted by dsword at 5:01 AM on June 17, 2008


Researchers at the Harlem Apollo Institute have published the results of a study conducted using Selection bias showing that caucasian men walk like this while African-American men walk liiiiike thiiiiis.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:03 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've heard that brain mass can also decrease under certain circumstances.

yeh, lack of popcorn can do that to you.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:06 AM on June 17, 2008


Guys, I'm not saying all homosexual relationships can be characterized this way. This is not a hostile post in any way. Was just an honest question for the obvious cases that do exist. I have no problem with any relationship anyone has that doesn't affect other people in a negative way and the purpose of my question was certainly not to imply that there's a problem when this happens.

I understand confirmation bias and perhaps my trying to understand the phenomenon in light of this study would apply there but the question I think is still a valid one is it not? The phenomenon itself is intriguing to me whether it is explained away by this study or not (I personally also believe that any/all homosexual behavior across all species will eventually conform to a specific/repeatable brain pattern so perhaps this is another example of confirmation bias w/ this study).

Again, I was only soliciting opinions from readers with either more education or more experience than I do in this subject. I apologize if this offended anyone or came across in a rude way (I didn't know a better way to ask the question :) ).
posted by armitage at 5:10 AM on June 17, 2008


Armitage, it's a complex mix; this week is Toronto Pride, and one look at the crowd will reveal many of the guys to have spent the last three months killing themselves in the gym for one weekend. That's clearly an instance of hyper-masculine appearance (and a corresponding behaviour) being a major attractor.

If gay men are attracted to other men, wouldn't you logically assume that gay men would exhibit hyper-masculine behavior to attract members of the same sex? ... In fact, to the point where it's the "stereotype" of gay behavior, the opposite is true.

Again, there's always a range. It's really hard in this instance to separate out the cultural factors from any biological ones—for instance, much of 'camping' is a series of coded cultural references (from "But ya are in the chair!" to "What have you got back there, reindeer?!). To offer a counter-example, there are many, many, many men who have sex with men who don't identify as 'gay'; they don't contribute to the composite stereotype simply because nobody knows.

Often one or even both partners of a homosexual relationship will exihibit behavior normally associated with the opposite sex, not the same.

This just proves that lying back and thinking of England is not an exclusively female behaviour. No, but seriously, this is just not a) this simple or b) true, whether we're talking about sex or chores. Some gay relationships fit neatly into a heteronormative model; in most, the gender roles are far more fluid (one does the laundry, one does the cleaning, one handles maintaining the couple's profile on hookup sites).

And collectively, looking at how relationships tend to work and the culture gay men have created, they are very definitely more like men than women.
posted by sixswitch at 5:18 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Fuck. My wife is a gay man.
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:19 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


armitage, I don't think your question was hostile at all, but confirmation bias is a large part of the answer.

in addition to that you could add elements of sociology, like in-groups v out-groups & the desire for a kind of identifiability, or queer theory & its deliberate blurring of (or rejection of) gender lines, but I fear this might turn into a bit of a derail.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:21 AM on June 17, 2008


Having skipped preview:

No worries, armitage.

I personally also believe that any/all homosexual behavior across all species will eventually conform to a specific/repeatable brain pattern

...and then I can put it in a chemical weapon like the season finale of 30 Rock. No, but seriously, you'll be waiting a looong time.
posted by sixswitch at 5:23 AM on June 17, 2008


I'm so gay, I can't even think straight!

Sorry, someone had to say it.
posted by Goofyy at 5:24 AM on June 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


> this sort of "science" will be looked at in the future the way we view phrenology today.

It looks like they're getting around that by measuring blood flow.

(I'm a huge fan of fMRI experiments, but am sympathetic to accusations of tea leaf reading. We don't understand the brain well enough yet, but man is that changing quick. Exciting stuff.)
posted by sdodd at 5:24 AM on June 17, 2008


I wasn't offended, but it sounds like an observation you'd make when you don't know large numbers of queers personally, which is an odd perspective to be making quantitative observations from.

It was somewhat more valid many years ago when gay culture was so sequestered that it tended to perpetuate certain norms as an insider/outsider test and a sort of subcultural conformity (on preview, exactly what Ubu said after he found his popcorn), but now there is a big diversity of gender expression in every healthy-sized gay population I've had the chance to witness close up, which of course includes really butch women and really nelly men. You are noticing the ones which match your preconception and not noticing the rest.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 5:36 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Guess this explains why dyke bars are tougher than biker bars.

Yes, this kind of research can be scary to this dyke, knowing history and how people abuse tools, but it is still fascinating and should be done.
posted by QIbHom at 5:43 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Back in grad school we had a discussion in a psych class touching on sexuality. We discussed the brain evidence for sexual orientation - sexually dimorphic nucleus in some mammals, medial preoptic area in humans. We read some primary literature papers. Conclusion was pretty simple: Most (if not all) demonstrated differences within one physical sex were smaller than total differences between sexes. In other words, a gay vs. straight man might show a difference, but the difference was rarely larger than the average male vs. female differences.

Of course the research at the time was complicated by two things: One physical, the other political. First, the brains were examined post-mortem, and many of the "gay" brains were identified as such by pathology rather than history: Persons that died of AIDS were classed as "gay", persons that self-identified as gay prior to death were classed as gay, and these groups were pooled, with no regard to whether the brain differences were related to sexual orientation or by the effects of HIV on the brain. This study seems to get around this first bit by using fMRI, which is good. However, the second point still needs to be addressed.

Politically, the studies were a mess. There were (and likely still are) two camps (no pun intended): One group that firmly believes that gay men are males with female wiring, and one group that firmly believes that gay men and women are entirely different than straight men and women - that gay men are in fact "hyper-male". Some people want to class gays and lesbians into convenient categories based simply on which sex they prefer - you likes guys, you must have a female brain, etc. - while others don't think human sexuality is that cut-and-dried. There are also more than a few people who strongly object to any evidence of a genetic basis for homosexuality - or object to any arguments against a genetic basis - again, for political reasons. Any published studies are going to be reviewed by members of one or more of these groups, and the reviewer comments are going to affect the final structure and tone of the paper. To further muddy the waters, there are data supporting pretty much any view you wish to take.

A few examples: This study (fMRI) supports the idea that gay brains = female brains, and lesbian brains = male brains - so there are only two "sexes". Behavioral studies on sexual activity show that homosexuals are NOT like straight men and women - gay men are the most sexually active, followed by straight men, straight women, and finally lesbians - so there are four "sexes"? Another study suggests that homosexuality has a genetic basis - the female relatives of gay men have higher fertility, thus some "gay gene" promotes reproductive health in women at the expense of hurting the chances of reproduction for their male relatives. And yet another study shows that homosexuality is environmentally influenced - having several older brothers is a "risk factor" for homosexuality, apparently by altering the uterine environment through previous exposure of the mother to male hormones during development.

And don't forget that in many, many cases what appears to hold true for gay men isn't applicable to lesbians. Got it? Great. Certainly nobody is confused now!
posted by caution live frogs at 5:53 AM on June 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


(I'm a huge fan of fMRI experiments, but am sympathetic to accusations of tea leaf reading. We don't understand the brain well enough yet, but man is that changing quick. Exciting stuff.)



Sorry, sdodd.
A red mist descends when you write "exciting stuff". Because there is already such cynical profit in tea leaf readings.

Case in point, a recent PBS documentary about over medicated children with the vulnerable parents being shown brain scans by the usual non-brain expert MD which "proved" blood flow abnormalities in their hot-headed young teenager which "demanded" curative drugs. (This part of the program dealt with a chain of walk-in, private, brain scan clinics.)

The question that seemed obvious to me: where was the "expert" getting the control scans from?

Anxious parents and greedy, slippery experts plus "exciting stuff" coming down the turnpike are a horrible combination.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:02 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Why do gay men often display feminine characteristics and gay women masculine characteristics?

Often does not equal always, and even casual observation would kind of throw a monkeywrench in this theory. I've met gay guys who make Clint Eastwood look like Carson Kressler. It's a complicated world.
posted by jonmc at 6:21 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fuck. My wife is a gay man.

I wish! If that were true she'd always be dressed to the nines, the house would be spotless and we'd be having sex all the time! Amiright fellas?
posted by Pollomacho at 6:32 AM on June 17, 2008


Wow. It seems like this is a stunning new finding about once every six months for the last twenty years.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:32 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Something I've often wondered: how many people are completely uni-sexual? Is there a better term? I'm talking about people (gay or straight) who are exclusively attracted to a single gender -- the opposite of bisexual.

Almost everyone I've met and gotten to know well enough to discuss this stuff with has admitted to at least some fantasizing about both genders. People who consider themselves gay have -- at some point -- had sexual thoughts about the opposite gender; people who are straight have had thoughts about their gender. I'd be a rich man if I had a dollar for each time I've heard someone say, "Everyone is bisexual."

Everyone except me, it seems. I've never once had even a fleeting sexual thought about a man. I don't even really understand what makes one man sexier than another. I think, to some extent, this has crippled my ability to interact with other men. Even in straight-male friendships (perhaps in all friendships), there's usually a bit of innocent flirtation. But I can't imagine flirting with a man. (I've never even been into the playful, locker-room punching-each-other-on-the-arm thing.)

I have a gay male friend (most of my male friends have been gay) who is the same as me, except he has trouble relating to women. He's not the kind of gay man who has lots of women friends. He says he's never had any interest in women at all -- not even a brief fantasy.

I think he and I are somewhat stunted this way. But it's how we are. I'm pretty sure it's not conditioning. I grew up in a very pro-gay environment. If I could press a button and make myself attracted to men (without losing my attraction to women), I'd press it in a heartbeat.
posted by grumblebee at 6:57 AM on June 17, 2008


I think he and I are somewhat stunted this way.

Not neccessarily. people are what people are. For some reason, i don't find mushrooms good to eat. I don't think this makes me stunted. For whatever reason, you can't look at a guy and get heated up. Not everybody is supposed to be everything to everyone.
posted by jonmc at 7:05 AM on June 17, 2008


It's funny. I don't like mushrooms either, and that also makes me feel stunted. Maybe "stunted" is too evocative of damaged or whatever. Let's say I feel sad. If there's stuff out there that's possible to appreciate, I'd like to be able to appreciate it.

I've often wondered how plastic people are sexually. It's hard to talk about this, because we live in a time when people are still persecuted for their sexuality. If you say people are plastic, it sounds like you're saying "gay people can learn to be straight." All sighs point to that people false.

Yet people are -- to some extent -- changeable. People DO learn to enjoy sexual practices that at one point didn't appeal to them (e.g. people learn to enjoy anal sex or being tied up). I've often wondered if there was some sort of conditioning I could do to myself to make myself like me. This is just idle speculation. I'm not really going to put myself though some sort of Pavlovian experiment.

It irritates me that sexuality has become politicized to the extent that one can't really talk about this stuff. One pretty much has to side with the "You're born that way and nothing is going to change you" camp or the "Pray to Jesus and it will go away" camp. My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between (and that it differs greatly from person to person). Some aspects of one's sexuality are plastic; some aren't.
posted by grumblebee at 7:14 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is an interesting result, but hardly conclusive. There were 20 each of gay men and women in the study, so it is not appropriate to generalize. This research is what we call a "hypothesis generating" study. I look forward to more research on the nature of human sexual identity, but I do hope that care is taken to avoid medicalization of homosexuality.
posted by Mister_A at 7:29 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Call me when they report in a peer-reviewed journal."

Preaching to the chior. I doubt that would change the minds of people whose minds need changing.

So........ Call me when the Almighty God Himself comes to earth and in no uncertain terms personally dope-slaps every fundy and homophobe on the planet - every single one - and yells at them in an unmistakable God-voice -

"What is wrong with you people? Why didn't you listen to Jesus? What part of "love your neighbor" do you not understand? There are more homosexuals and lesbians in heaven than hypocrites and haters."
posted by Ragma at 7:42 AM on June 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


NewScientist:
“‘This study demonstrates that homosexuals of both sexes show strong cross-sex shifts in brain symmetry,’ says Qazi Rahman, a leading researcher on sexual orientation at Queen Mary college, University of London, UK.

‘The connectivity differences reported in the amygdala are striking.’

‘Paradoxically, it's more informative to look at things that have no direct connection with sexual orientation, and that's where this study scores,’ says Simon LeVay, a prominent US author who in 1991 reported finding differences (pdf) in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus between straight and gay men.

But as Savic herself acknowledges, the study can't say whether the brain differences are inherited, or result from abnormally high or low exposure in the womb to sex hormones such as testosterone.”
posted by ericb at 7:50 AM on June 17, 2008


Previous related thread: Gender Based Brain Research.
posted by ericb at 7:51 AM on June 17, 2008


I would go for a cure if they found one. Even though I'm an Atheist, I still support the Ex-Gays, since they're the only ones who offer any glimpse of hope.
posted by mike3k at 7:51 AM on June 17, 2008


Do not attempt to simplify behavioral neurology.

Gross brain anatomy and morphology is determined by genetics. Individual neural connections, refined morphology, and relative sizes in individual people are influenced by a delicate mixture of that individual's genetics, maternal environment (including previous pregnancies and the genders of the children), maternal genetics, diet, stress factors, and so forth.

For that reason, I think that there probably is, from a biological standpoint, an uneven continuum of morphologies. We, as a society, perhaps because of the inborn need of humans to label and categorize, divide this continuum into discrete genders and 'sexual preferences.' However, there is no reason to believe that this aspect of humanity has discrete boundaries. Society is a lumpy gravy.

Hm... I think I've restated some of what caution live frogs said above.
posted by zennie at 7:53 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Even though I'm an Atheist, I still support the Ex-Gays, since they're the only ones who offer any glimpse of hope.

I wouldn't call what they're offering hope. And I wouldn't call this particular study conclusive, although it will get spun in many different directions I'm sure. zennie and caution live frogs have made good points here.
posted by Tehanu at 7:58 AM on June 17, 2008


Something I've often wondered: how many people are completely uni-sexual? Is there a better term?

I think you are referring to monosexuality.
posted by sixcolors at 8:44 AM on June 17, 2008


Masculine Women and Feminine Men
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:48 AM on June 17, 2008


I'm sure this is the third or fourth time recently I've seen a science-related article hyped in the news, tried to look at the paper, and discovered it's a PNAS early edition paper which isn't even published till the day after the newspaper reports come out. End rant, since the reporting I've seen on this paper is actually pretty good.

Brains are not my area of expertise, but it's aninteresting paper all the same. They do say that the similarities between heterosexual male and homosexual female brains are less pronounced than the ones between homosexual male/heterosexual female. Actually the part I found most interesting was not at all related to brain size, but was the reference to another paper about how gay men are much more likely to be left-handed than straight men.

Oh, and all their straight controls were 0s on the Kinsey scale, and the gay test groups were 5.5 or 6 on the scale. No bisexuals here.
posted by penguinliz at 8:56 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've always been confused by the often visceral and superficial reactions to behavioral science simply because it makes a claim one way or another in the nature/nurture debate. I've never seen any reason to prefer one scenario over the other, or to believe that the scientific validation of one point of view over another would do much of anything to end hatred and ignorance. There will always be people who hate gays, regardless of how they ended up "that way."

To address the science, I'm reminded of an old Chomsky essay in which he discusses scientific inquiries into the relationship between race and IQ. In this case, I suppose that the knowledge that specific preferences are related to hard-coded structures in the brain could be of some use to neuroscientists, however I fail to see any compelling reason to compare gay men to straight women or gay women to straight men. The only reasons I can fathom being given seem either bigoted or absurd. I can't imagine why somebody hoping to understand the human brain at a fundamental level would care what the sex of the person carrying it around is.

Also, what the hell is a "homosexual brain"?
posted by dsword at 9:03 AM on June 17, 2008


dsword: Strawmen created by Stephen Pinker aside, quite a bit of behavioral science is now looking at complex systemic models of nature and nurture.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:14 AM on June 17, 2008


I can't imagine why somebody hoping to understand the human brain at a fundamental level would care what the sex of the person carrying it around is.

Well, if male and female brains are different from each other in significant ways, that seems like a good reason to care.
posted by grumblebee at 9:16 AM on June 17, 2008


I would go for a cure if they found one. Even though I'm an Atheist, I still support the Ex-Gays, since they're the only ones who offer any glimpse of hope.

Wow, mike3k, I'm really sorry you feel that way.

I'm sorry that you hate, or at least dislike, yourself. I'm sorry that you think of homosexuality as something that can, or should, be cured.

For the record, I'm perfectly delighted to be a lesbian. I do think I was born this way, but I don't think that's true of everyone, whether they identify as straight or gay or bi. While it may seem "safer" if homosexuality is somehow found to be (purely?) genetic, it really isn't. For one thing, there will still be the wingnuts who will say that just because it's genetic doesn't mean that we shouldn't "control" ourselves and avoid "sin" by being celibate. And, of course, the idea that rights should be granted or denied based on inborn traits is just...no. I mean, you're not genetically born into being a particular religion, right? It's something you can choose, yes? And yet one's right to practice the religion of one's choice is rightly protected.
posted by rtha at 9:35 AM on June 17, 2008 [5 favorites]


Anybody else notice that the only time the usual suspects don't go ape shit screaming "OMG EUGENICS!" over any post that suggests there might be a connection between genetics and a given behavior is when that post is about obesity.
posted by tkchrist at 9:40 AM on June 17, 2008


well said, rtha.

while the question of whether sexuality is genetic or not is definitely interesting from a scientific point of view, the answer really shouldn't have any bearing on the legalities of the situation or on how we treat people. Ultimately, who someone wants to sleep with (consenting adult caveat, of course) is really nobody's business. And being hung up on it is diverting a lot of energy away from more serious problems, like the Mets' bullpen.
posted by jonmc at 9:40 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the darker side, I can see this being used for selective abortions in the third world.

Oh. C'mon. How many people in third world nations will be able to afford screening using fMRI. For fuck sake they can't even afford to do pre-natal care as it is.
posted by tkchrist at 9:50 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


I mean, you're not genetically born into being a particular religion, right? It's something you can choose, yes? And yet one's right to practice the religion of one's choice is rightly protected.

People also choose how to dress in public, how to raise their children, which substances to ingest... and yet people are granted or denied certain rights in each of those cases, based purely on choice. I assume you have a similar problem with all such regulation?
posted by Krrrlson at 9:57 AM on June 17, 2008


Fuck. My wife is a gay man.

i want to see a study where they test the brains of butch women and femme men. there are a *whole lot* of butch women who are straight and married and mowing the lawn in the suburbs--and a whole lot of femme men who are straight and married and taking care of their children. i'm not just talking about gender roles in the household, but that indefinable *something* that makes you identify a person as butch or femme, regardless of who they fuck. and bisexuality throws the biggest monkey wrench into the mix.

as someone who identifies queer, i've known plenty of gay folk who insist that not only can someone not be bisexual--they're extremely fond of insisting that that masculine-seeming straight woman on the bowling team wearing the flannel *has* to be queer, no matter who she's married to or how secure she might claim to be in her sexual needs. we are so attached to gender polarity, we just can't get our heads around a butch woman who isn't gay at all, though they're all around us. (straight people presume membership in their club in other more cluelessly annoying ways.)

i'm sick to death of people foisting their gender hang-ups on people who are living outside the "norm"--which is probably most of us, polymorphously perverse as we are.

and yeah, i'm a great believer in science, and i want to believe that brain imaging is part of science. but i saw that PBS show on drugged out kids too, and i think it's being used inappropriately by people with an agenda.

so what's the sample size? were some straight women who refuse to wear dresses and have been in a fight or two included? how about straight men who prefer talking their way out of fights instead of getting into it? straight male hairdressers? big motorcycle mamas? bisexuals of all stripes? color me skeptical until they're testing 10,000 people.
posted by RedEmma at 10:01 AM on June 17, 2008 [6 favorites]


On the darker side, I can see this being used for selective abortions in the third world.

Oh. C'mon. How many people in third world nations will be able to afford screening using fMRI. For fuck sake they can't even afford to do pre-natal care as it is.

Your point is valid, tkchrist, but there are examples of selective abortions as a result of pre-natal screening. In China, for example, they had to make it a crime (and actually enforce it) for a sonographer to reveal the sex of a child to parents. They have large propaganda posters all over sonography rooms at doctors' offices reminding the doctors and patients of the law. One can only imagine what would be done the world over in places where both homosexuality is considered a pariah and access to the screening is available. Even in more liberal societies, I imagine there would be plenty of folks that would use this for ill.

Interestingly, I can also see this forming a major clash between the morality against having a gay child versus the morality against having an abortion. I suppose the solution would be to have the child but to beat the gay out of him, sort of similar to the situation today.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:05 AM on June 17, 2008


China is not Third World.
posted by tkchrist at 10:24 AM on June 17, 2008


One can only imagine what would be done the world over in places where both homosexuality is considered a pariah and access to the screening is available.

With access to the screening process. And where would that be?

Bahrain? Saudi Arabia? Maybe Russia. Parts of the US. Certainly not Europe.

The people in these places most anti-homosexual also have even more or fetish against abortion.

The only people that could afford fMRI screening would be comparatively rich people in rich countries. And rich people are going to do what they want regardless of the "ethics" involved.

Besides I'm not sure the bulk of the worlds rich people, tending to be more educated, care all that much about homosexuality (outside of it's use as a political wedge issue) amongst their own classes anyway.

I think wringing our hands and crying that "X" research "might" lead to eugenics has become a fashionable form of hysteria. It's absolutely no different that the wingnuts freaking out over Stem cell research.
posted by tkchrist at 10:38 AM on June 17, 2008


People also choose how to dress in public, how to raise their children, which substances to ingest... and yet people are granted or denied certain rights in each of those cases, based purely on choice. I assume you have a similar problem with all such regulation?

I don't know, Krrrlson, because I don't know exactly what you mean. Could you explain?

I'll take a stab at it, though:

Drug laws - On the whole, dumb and counterproductive. If people want to ingest various substances, and that ingesting doesn't impinge on anyone's else's right to ingest or not, and doesn't compromise public safety (like, no, you can't be drunk or high when you're driving, for instance) then whatever.

Laws on raising kids - the laws exist to protect the kids, who have very limited legal and physical ways to protect themselves.

Dressing in public - I assume you mean laws governing public nudity? I live in San Francisco, and there are a number of public events where laws against public nudity are usually not enforced, and I'm fine with that. I mean, I've seen people naked that I really, really, really wish I hadn't seen naked, but it hasn't harmed me. As long as the naked person is not getting physical with me against my will, or trying to force me to be naked if I don't want to be, why should I care? They're the ones risking frostbite (or goosebumps, at least - San Francisco's usually got a lot more cold than warm).

If I've misinterpreted you, please let me know how I've done so.

And are suggesting that we should have rights based only on inborn traits?
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on June 17, 2008


China Beijing, Shanghai and the other major metropolitan areas of China are not Third World. The rest is most certainly quite third world. But that wasn't the point, the point was that selevtive abortions already occur around the world where screening is available. What makes you think that suddenly it will stop being used for suspected gay children?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:41 AM on June 17, 2008


My only hope is that being gay is a multitude of elusive factors that are impossible to control or fully identify until the time comes along that we're enlightened enough to recognize the beauty and strength that comes from diversity.

There is too much hate for studies like this.
posted by Craig at 10:42 AM on June 17, 2008


The people in these places most anti-homosexual also have even more or fetish against abortion.

Actually, that's just an American fundamentalist thing.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:48 AM on June 17, 2008


Actually, that's just an American fundamentalist thing.

It most certainly is not.

The Holy Quran says: "Kill not your children for fear of want; it is We who provide sustenance for them as well as for you; for verily killing them is a great sin."
(Chapter 17, Verse 31).

the point was that selevtive abortions already occur around the world where screening is available

fMRI screening is NOT available. And that, or gene screening of some sort if that gene is found, is what you would have to do. And that is NOT something any Third Word clinic is going to do.
posted by tkchrist at 11:06 AM on June 17, 2008


BTW. The term you are looking for is "Developing World" not Third World. Selective abortions are the least of the problems the Third Word has to worry about.
posted by tkchrist at 11:10 AM on June 17, 2008


"World"
posted by tkchrist at 11:10 AM on June 17, 2008



There is too much hate for studies like this.

People say the same thing about stem cell research.
posted by tkchrist at 11:12 AM on June 17, 2008


And are suggesting that we should have rights based only on inborn traits?

No. I think he is saying we already have some widely accepted laws, some even seen as "progressive," based on "inborn traits." I think he means that have that one criteria as your excluding category is somewhat short sighted.
posted by tkchrist at 11:14 AM on June 17, 2008


"once you recognize homosexuality as a genetic reality, it does create a theological dilemma"

Does this also go for my heterosexuality? I'm pretty sure it has a solid biological basis, and it is often telling me to do sexy sexy things with women, and not just a theoretical spouse.
posted by namespan at 11:17 AM on June 17, 2008


Does this also go for my heterosexuality? I'm pretty sure it has a solid biological basis, and it is often telling me to do sexy sexy things with women, and not just a theoretical spouse.

That horse left the stall a couple of thousand years ago.

See religion and by proxy the governments it spawns has perfected the manipulation tactic of installing guilt over biological traits you have little to no control over. It's a perfect self correcting system of control. You will ALWAYS fail. And thus you must return to the religious system for absolution and another guilt upgrade.
posted by tkchrist at 11:26 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


The basic problem with screening for homosexuality is that given the evidence from twin studies and evidence of birth order effects, it is highly unlikely that sexual orientation can be pinned down to a single deterministic loci or mutation similar to Cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell, or Parkinson's. Which, in general, is pretty frustrating about these discussions both from the point of view of genetics and behavioral sciences. For many traits its not an either/or, its a matter of teasing out the parts of complex multi-factoral models. A deterministic model which says that this mutation in that gene results in homosexuality is highly unlikely.

I don't think that even if a deterministic biological model were found that it would change much in terms of religious or cultural prejudice against homosexuality. Biological modes of treating homosexuality as a physical disorder akin to schizophrenia dominated the first half of the 20th century, and Christian theology is quite comfortable with the idea of an inborn taint that must be overcome through willpower.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:33 AM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


What does gay look like? Science keeps trying to figure that out
"...some scientists are, in a way, working on gaydar, the supposed ability to discern whether a person is homosexual by reading subtle cues from their appearance. Just don't refer to it that way. The preferred term is 'sexual orientation correlates.'

These scientists are searching for innate traits that might not appear to be related to sexual orientation or even to standard clichés. So measuring a subject's shoe size is permissible; asking about ownership of Barbra Streisand albums would be cheating. Some inborn traits might be expected if homosexuality is -- as most scientists believe -- rooted in biology, and they might provide clues about the biological origins of sexual orientation.

Finding and solidifying these links isn't easy. Studies contradict each other, and some promising paths don't pan out....Scientists don't always agree on how to interpret the results, and more progress has been made with regard to men than to women." [more...]
posted by ericb at 11:42 AM on June 17, 2008


I agree KirkJobSluder. But it's no reason to halt research, either. Facts are facts. The more we know the better. Evil doesn't need an excuse to continue. It will regardless. Truth is the enemy of evil.

Th e fear that science can be misused is no reason to stop doing science becuase the findings might be politically disagreeable. It's a very slippery slope.
posted by tkchrist at 11:47 AM on June 17, 2008


No. I think he is saying we already have some widely accepted laws, some even seen as "progressive," based on "inborn traits." I think he means that have that one criteria as your excluding category is somewhat short sighted.

Sorry, I'm still not getting this (I blame a smallness of sleep last night, and undercaffeination). While we may have some laws based on "inborn" traits, I'm still not getting with what that has to do with laws allowing/preventing choice-based traits.

Apologies for my slowness.
posted by rtha at 11:50 AM on June 17, 2008


Sorry, I'm still not getting this (I blame a smallness of sleep last night, and undercaffeination). While we may have some laws based on "inborn" traits, I'm still not getting with what that has to do with laws allowing/preventing choice-based traits.

Oh. I see what your saying. I dunno. He'll have to clarify that then.
posted by tkchrist at 12:30 PM on June 17, 2008


KirkJobSluder, I'm not sure what strawman you're referring to. I simply stated that I have no a priori preference for why people are the way they are.

grumblebee: Ugh. I'd kindly ask you to at least read the link I provided before offering asinine and pointless retorts.
posted by dsword at 12:51 PM on June 17, 2008


dsword: I'm sorry, I should have been more clear. The behavioral sciences have mostly rejected nature v. nurture as an overly simplistic dichotomy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:03 PM on June 17, 2008


fMRI screening is NOT available. And that, or gene screening of some sort if that gene is found, is what you would have to do. And that is NOT something any Third Word clinic is going to do.

No it's not, but again you seem to have missed the point, selective abortions occur, now, without fMRI screening, for such horrid deformations such as a foetus having a vagina. With a screen available for homosexuality, though it isn't now available, perspective parents could screen for homosexuality, but they can't yet because it isn't yet available, but if they could, since they already abort babies selectively around the world, they certainly would add "the gay" to the list of maladies.

The Holy Quran says: "Kill not your children for fear of want; it is We who provide sustenance for them as well as for you; for verily killing them is a great sin."
(Chapter 17, Verse 31).


Ah, yes, because the holy books are followed word-for-word in all parts of the world. Abortion, when the health of the mother or child is not only legal but fairly common in the Middle East. Illegal abortions are also fairly common there, but mainly as a form of birth control in a society where women are supposedly veiled and chaste, but in reality have almost as many "youthful indescretions" as western women and preventive birth control is restricted. In fact, the WHO estimates that one in ten pregnancies end in abortion in the Middle East and North Africa (looking for link).

Homosexuality, could it be readily screened for, though it isn't yet available, would undoubtedly be considered a physical or mental defect of the foetus and therefore legally terminable.

In China, homosexuality is not only illegal, but is seriously frowned upon. Abortion, however is legal and common. Again, there is no screen yet, but since they abort babies for health reasons such as the mother being pregnant or the foetus being female, I don't think it's much of a stretch to think that being homosexual would be grounds for termination.

BTW. The term you are looking for is "Developing World" not Third World. Selective abortions are the least of the problems the Third Word has to worry about.

yes, of course it is, but the term was yours, not mine.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:20 PM on June 17, 2008


There is too much hate for studies like this.
-
People say the same thing about stem cell research.
-
I agree KirkJobSluder. But it's no reason to halt research, either. Facts are facts. The more we know the better. Evil doesn't need an excuse to continue. It will regardless. Truth is the enemy of evil.
Th e fear that science can be misused is no reason to stop doing science becuase the findings might be politically disagreeable. It's a very slippery slope.

-
Your stance is not grounded in reality. You'll find this is not how science or medicine is conducted in the real world. This is people we're talking about, you can't just mess around like you would with drosophila. Research is guided by government money (politics) and more importantly ethics. This line of research seeks to (or could unintentionally) unmask and expose an embattled minority group to the very real potential for physical harm, even the equivalent of ethnic cleansing.

What if Iran was dumping research money into a scientific method of identifying gay people for the sole purpose of exterminating them. Obviously, that is unethical science. These Swedish researchers are on the same path, though they themselves are probably not interested in the murdering aspect. Do you not think that they have an ethical responsibility to think about how their research will be used? The scientific community has already answered that question.

Yep, ethics are subjective. The case of stem cells - pre-babies to some, lab materials for others. Is a lump of goo life? When does life start? These are subjective questions that can be debated. This is not subjective. If this was Iran we wouldn't be having this conversation because I would be dead.

...And I'm against that!
posted by Craig at 1:44 PM on June 17, 2008


Craig: It's interesting, but all of the people I knew who were involved in this kind of research back in my misspent youth in Biology were queer, out of the closet, and seeking to debunk therapeutic myths. Their view was that the behavioral disorder theory of sexual orientation was already harming gay and lesbian people, and validating the experience that some aspects of sexual orientation are determined at birth or a very young age would reduce the harms caused by misguided therapies seeking to change sexual orientation.

Pollomacho: Homosexuality, could it be readily screened for, though it isn't yet available, would undoubtedly be considered a physical or mental defect of the foetus and therefore legally terminable.

The problem is that so far, all of the evidence is pointing towards that mess of multi-factoral genetic models which makes a screening protocol highly unlikely.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:28 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


There was some documentary on satellite about homosexuality being detectable in very young children. They showed some video footage of some kids, and several showed mannerisms one would associate with homosexuality, effiminate behaviors and the wrist thing in boys and so on. And then they followed these kids through to adulthood, to see if the ones that had the gay mannerisms as very young children (like 3 or 4 years old in some case) turned out to be gay as adults. And by and large, they did.

That shows that homosexuality is either something one is (at least sometimes) born with, or it (sometimes) develops at a very early age. That also hurts the 'you can just choose your sexual preference' argument.

I don't see homosexuality as a flaw at all. There is homosexual behavior in lots of species; it's been around forever. In the case of humans, who knows, maybe it's Mother Nature pulling some strings and encouraging homosexuality...because our population is already so enormous. If we won't voluntarily curb our reproductive capabilities, maybe something in our genes reacts and expresses homosexuality in an attempt to keep us from reproducing ourselves into extinction. Note: I am not a scientist, and know of nothing that would support such a theory.
posted by jamstigator at 3:50 PM on June 17, 2008


Imagines gay friends snapping their fingers and saying: we already knew that, sugar!
posted by bwg at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2008


In the case of humans, who knows, maybe it's Mother Nature pulling some strings and encouraging homosexuality...because our population is already so enormous. If we won't voluntarily curb our reproductive capabilities, maybe something in our genes reacts and expresses homosexuality in an attempt to keep us from reproducing ourselves into extinction. Note: I am not a scientist, and know of nothing that would support such a theory.

You *might* find something to support that theory somewhat in anthropology - eg explanations of Fijian (?) transsexuals. Don't take it from me, though, because it's been so long that I can only remember the vague gist of it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:23 PM on June 17, 2008


It's not that I don't like the science on this, the attempt to determine whether homosexuality is genetic or whatever. But I dislike the tendency or excitement of gay and gay-friendly causes to hang so much on the proof that it is genetic. I can see that it helps with an argument that a non-gay person has a hard time understanding. However, there are a lot of people for whom no degree of scientific confidence would cast doubts on their religious mythology (in cases where such mythology is not conveniently adjusted). And I'm not at all satisfied with the notion that if homosexuality is genetic, that would justify my existence. Prejudice on the basis of sexuality is wrong even if that sexuality is 100% voluntary choice, and part of me feels like if we can argue it from that perspective it might save the next convenient target group a lot of trouble.
posted by troybob at 5:27 PM on June 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sexual Reorientation -- "The gay culture war is about to turn chemical."
"If the idea of chemically suppressing homosexuality in the womb horrifies you, I have bad news: You won't be in the room when it happens. Parents control medical decisions, and surveys indicate that the vast majority of them would be upset to learn that their child was gay. Already, millions are screening embryos and fetuses to eliminate those of the "wrong" sex. Do you think they won't screen for the 'wrong' sexual orientation, too?"
posted by ericb at 11:52 AM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


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