September 18, 2010

The Origins of Orientation

Justin Katz

I suppose it's generally been taken differently, coming from a politically and theologically conservative traditionalist like me, but it looks like the thinking about the origins of homosexuality are moving toward what I've long contended to be the case (here presented by research psychologist Jesse Bering, who is, himself, gay):

Another caveat is that researchers in this area readily concede that there are probably multiple—and no doubt very complicated—developmental routes to adult homosexuality. Heritable, biological factors interact with environmental experiences to produce phenotypic outcomes, and this is no less true for sexual orientation than it is for any other within-population variable. Since the prospective and retrospective data discussed in the foregoing studies often reveal very early emerging traits in prehomosexuals, however, those children who show pronounced sex-atypical behaviors may have "more" of a genetic loading to their homosexuality, whereas gay adults who were sex-typical as children might trace their homosexuality more directly to particular childhood experiences. For example, in a rather stunning case of what I'll call "say-it-isn't-so science"—science that produces data that rebel against popular, politically correct, or emotionally appealing sentiments—controversial new findings published earlier this year in the Archives of Sexual Behavior hint intriguingly that men—but not women—who were sexually abused as children are significantly more likely than non-abused males to have had homosexual relationships as adults. Whatever the causal route, however, none of this implies, whatsoever, that sexual orientation is a choice. In fact it implies quite the opposite, since prepubertal erotic experiences can later consolidate into irreversible sexual orientations and preferences, as I discussed in a previous piece on the childhood origins of fetishes and paraphilias.

It is fashionable these days to say that one is "born gay," of course, but if we think about it a bit more critically, it's a bit odd, and probably nonsensical, to refer to a newborn infant, swaddled in blankets and still suckling on its mother's teats, as being homosexual. I appreciate the anti-discriminatory motives, but if we insist on using such politically correct parlance without consideration of more complex, postnatal developmental factors, are we really prepared to label newborns as being LGBT?

There is no "gay gene," although there are probably collections of heritable traits that make predisposition and socialization toward homosexuality so likely as to be indistinguishable from a biological certainty. But there are also a range of routes toward the same adult sexual preferences, spanning from what I've just described all the way to young (and not-so-young) adults who do, in fact, choose the lifestyle and identity group.

If it weren't for the current emphasis on identity politics, though, it'd all be a moot point. Discrimination against homosexuals is socially evaporating, and if we thought of public policy on its merits, rather than as a political football or battle ax, the question of whether the emotions and ways of life are "natural" would barely be relevant.

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I am reminded of one of my daughter's gay friends. He told me that he realized that he was gay when he was 8 years old. I am wondering how many 8 year olds(including him) know enough about sexual orientation to make such a determination.

I thnk he was just coming in the back door of I was "born that way".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at September 18, 2010 5:12 PM

So let's say it is a choice, and don't believe it is, a person should be able to make that choice or practice that lifestyle like a person chooses a religion and practices a religion. Either way, born or choice, there isno reason not to treat them as equals.
I do find it interesting that you seem hung up on this topic.

Posted by: Swazool at September 18, 2010 7:06 PM

I find it interesting that you don't realize how very close you came to repeating my position as your own.

I like your last sentence, especially. It's from a very old playbook... make me worry that I'll appear "hung up" on sexual orientation because I'm secretly confused or in the closet or something. Sorry, pal; I stopped being that insecure well before I hit my third child and 10th wedding anniversary.

I'll offer you this, though: I find homosexuality to be a fascinating topic, reaching, as it does, into science, society, culture, religion, politics, emotion, art, relationships, and so on. It's an excellent topic on which to learn objectivity and to discern the flaws in most people's attempts at logic.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 18, 2010 7:17 PM

I don't think it's a choice.
If it were,who would choose to be homosexual?
People are born that way- I am content to leave them alone and not make a big deal over it.
And no,I'm not hardly in the closet either.
It seems to be a difficult life.

Posted by: joe bernstein at September 18, 2010 10:02 PM

Even more interesting is the fact that you were insecure before the third child and 10 anniversary.
Wow, Justin you are stereotypical.

There are no gays that have been married or had kids.

FYI, Larry Craig isn't gay either. Eric Massa served in the Navy, he gotta be straight.

Posted by: Swaz at September 18, 2010 11:40 PM

Yup. You got me. Nobody can find an issue interesting on its merits. We've all gotta be acting out of deep-seated emotion. Unless we've got the perfect opinions, like you, that is.

Time to put the old playbook away. There's a whole world of thought and conversation to be discovered through the lens of empathy and sincere interest. Although, I'm not sure that such traits are possible if you've never been insecure in your life. Seeking and discovery are kinda difficult when you've always know that you were where and what you wanted to be.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 19, 2010 12:04 AM

Try to have a gay sexual experience.

Can't do it?

People with no predisposition, or gene if you will can't do it. Just can't. They might get sick, or violent or have some sort of problems if they go through with the act. That's proof enough for me that it's not a choice.

Posted by: michael at September 19, 2010 12:30 PM


All that really proves is that, in our current society, some people are at the solidly heterosexual end of the spectrum that runs from solidly homosexual (as if from birth) through bisexuals and those who are somewhat fluid. I should note, of course, that I don't take this to be a bell curve centered on the axis: the entire spectrum beyond "solidly heterosexual" probably fits within a sixth of the population or less. Although, some of this is cultural and can change over time.

As I said, it's a fascinating subject. Most of your commentary is psycho-social. "Problems if they go through with the act" are conditioned and can be unconditioned. Over time, society can make it a choice as it has in the past. (Ancient Greece comes to mind.)

But again, my point is that the "choice" versus "natural" debate is pretty much moot for most public policy purposes.

Posted by: Justin Katz at September 19, 2010 12:39 PM

Tea Party President finds Matthew Shepards murder amusing

The president of Montana's Tea Party Association appeared to joke on Facebook about the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard. In a discussion opposing gay marriage, Tim Ravndal expressed support for a commenter who wrote, "I think fruits are decorative. Hang them up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions."

Ravndal replied: "Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?"

Posted by: Sammy at September 19, 2010 2:39 PM

It's more Spammy from Sammy. People who condone violence and bigotry like Ravndal are not welcome in the Tea Party.

From the Helena Independent Record...

The president of the Big Sky Tea Party Association has been removed from his position and booted from the party after coming under fire for a post he made on his Facebook profile that implied he condones violence against homosexuals...

“We are extremely disappointed by Mr. Ravndal’s commentary,” wrote Walker, who could not be reached for this story. “The discussion in that Facebook conversation is entirely outside the position of the Big Sky Tea Party. Even though Mr. Ravndal was having a personal conversation and made no reference to our group, we felt strongly that swift and decisive action was required as we cannot accept that sort of behavior from within our membership, let alone from an officer of the corporation.

“We continually make it known that we will not tolerate bigoted dialog, behavior or messages at our functions, our meetings or within our ranks,” Walker continued. “If a person demonstrates bigotry relative to race, sex, ethnicity, etc. they are not welcome in our organization. The Tea Party movement is about standing up for individual freedom for everyone.”

Posted by: Andrew at September 19, 2010 3:32 PM

I really want to find this playbook.

I'll offer you this, though: I find religon to be a fascinating topic, reaching, as it does, into science, society, culture, politics, emotion, art, relationships, and so on. It's an excellent topic on which to learn objectivity and to discern the flaws in most people's attempts at logic.

So I guess we are similar, just replace homosexuality with religon.

You might find it interesting that I did my undergrad at a very catholic college, PC. One of my best friends from there was very serious about becoming a priest, even entered the seminary. He left because he felt the place was running rampant with homosexuals.

Posted by: Swazool at September 19, 2010 5:29 PM

2010 GOP Platform
Make homosexuality Illegal

At a time when gays have been gaining victories across the country, the Republican Party in Montana still wants to make homosexuality illegal.

The party adopted an official platform in June that keeps a long-held position in support of making homosexual acts illegal, a policy adopted after the Montana Supreme Court struck down such laws in 1997.

The fact that it's still the official party policy more than 12 years later, despite a tidal shift in public attitudes since then and the party's own pledge of support for individual freedoms,(FOR SOME)

But going against the grain is the Montana GOP statement, which falls under the "Crime" section of the GOP platform. It states: "We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal."

Montana GOP executive director Bowen Greenwood said that has been the position of the party since the state Supreme

Posted by: Sammy at September 19, 2010 7:00 PM

Swaz, Swazool

"There are no gays that have been married or had kids"

Of there are, I know of lots of them. It was just that it occurred before they "discovered" they were gay.

"He left because he felt the place was running rampant with homosexuals."

That is not an unusual complaint, I have heard it from several men who entered a seminary. There was a time when I thought it sour grapes over "many are called, but few are chosen". Now, I find it likely.

I have thought there was a lot of political correctness" in it, this since so many accept the term "homophobic". This implies a fear that probably doesn't exist, "anti Semitism" is not called "Jewiphobia" even though some anti-Semitism is based on "Jews taking over the world". I suspect "homo averse" might be more correct.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at September 19, 2010 9:06 PM
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