Wednesday, June 27, 2007

There's No Gay Gene

The biggest thing upsetting the CRC-PFOX contingent right now is the idea that the Montgomery County schools would say that sexual orientation is "innate." There's no real argument otherwise, everybody knows it's innate, but this just drives them over the edge. They love to repeat the statement "there is no gay gene," over and over again, as if genetic and innate were the same thing.

The Toronto Star had a nice calm story this week about genetics and sexual orientation. How much of it can I include here? Let's see...
Gay men believe their sexual orientation is inextricably bound up with their very being. It is not a choice – let alone the "wrong choice," as religious and political critics have counter-claimed for years.

Many believe they simply were "born that way," and long for proof that their sexual proclivity is biological or genetic, a variation, not a deviation, of human nature. And how can an innate instinct be the subject of discrimination?

But just as many gay men don't want to know. It's a predisposition, they say, what does it matter what kind? If science delves into the cause, then bet on it, someone will set about finding a "cure." More to the point, they argue, determining the why of homosexuality won't end prejudice.

"The emphasis on finding a biological cause is much more widespread among activists in the U.S. than in Canada," says political scientist David Rayside, director of the University of Toronto's Sexual Diversity Centre.

"Most people here don't care or think the fight for gay rights shouldn't hinge on finding a cause." Hunting the gay gene

Interesting to contrast the US and Canada. I think we'll hear more about that in the comments.

I have talked to people who think this is a huge deal. I personally don't think it matters that much -- for instance, I think it is proper to respect a person's religion, even though that is obviously a choice and not something that is innate. It doesn't mean I should discriminate against them on the basis of their religion. But sexual orientation is different, it's not something a person chooses, it's clearly got a biological aspect to it, and that would, I think, entirely justify rejection of variation in sexual orientation as a dimension for judging people morally.
Theories have been floated for more than a century on what triggers homosexuality. Nurture – a psychologically troubled relationship between parents and child – held top billing until the start of the 1990s, when the tide shifted toward nature.

Two American scientists set the research and the debate in motion.

In 1991, Simon LeVay, a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in California, examined the brains of 41 individuals; 19 gay men who died of AIDS, 16 heterosexuals of drugs-related AIDS and six women, of whom one had died of the disease.

Already aware that certain areas of the brain are bigger in men than in women, LeVay checked to see if there was a size variation with the gay men.

To his surprise, he found that one grouping of cells associated with sexual activity was twice as large in straight men as it was in both gays and women.

LeVay emphasized that his work didn't show "how or when sexual orientation is determined, only that it is an aspect of human nature that can be studied by biologists." But the media ran with it, playing down widespread criticism that he hadn't factored in the effect of AIDS on the brain.

Yeah man, that's just a start. One study with a few dozen subjects is not going to answer this question. For one thing, this is pure correlation, and you know what they say.

The story then talks about a study by Dean Hamer, who found some places on the chromosome that seemed to correlate with sexual orientation. The newspapers all went on about a "gay gene" being found.
Wrongly so, said the genetics community. The coverage was inflated, simplistic and misleading. No "gay gene" had been found, nor ever would be. Why? Because behavioural genetics is much more complex than "Mendelian" genetics. In other words, traits such as eye colour are 100 per cent inheritable but the genetic contribution to various behaviours, aggression, shyness, extroversion and so on, is considerably less, below 50 per cent.

Ruth Hubbard, Harvard emeritus professor of biology and biochemistry and author of Exploding the Gene Myth, has said that searching for a gay gene "is not even a worthwhile pursuit.

"I don't think there is any single gene that governs any complex human behaviour. There are genetic components in everything we do, and it is foolish to say genes are not involved, but I don't think they are decisive."

I saw the CRC's resident MD give a talk once where she showed data from a twin study that found that when a twin was gay he was ten times more likely than average to have a gay brother. She argued that the data actually showed that sexual orientation is not genetic, because if it was, they would both be gay a hundred percent of the time. Just goes to show you, people see things differently.

Ooh, there is something deliciously ironic in this next sentence:
By the end of the '90s, interest in the hunt for a gay gene had waned. Why, skeptics asked, would there be one when it plays no role in the evolutionary scheme of things?

This next guy has been at the center of a lot of the recent discussion; his name was first mentioned by a conservative writer as supporting their view that orientation is a choice, but he then explained: "The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality."
Since then, the scientific consensus is that sexual proclivity is influenced, but not hardwired, by DNA. Geneticist Francis Collins, head of the international Human Genome Project, has written that "whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations."

But the debate hasn't entirely gone away, or, indeed, all of the research. Next year at Northwestern University, 1,000 pairs of gay brothers will be studied to see if Hamer's X-chromosome findings finally can be reproduced. (Driven by AIDS, as well, critics would argue, by cultural bias, science has focused overwhelmingly on men, not gay women.) U of T's Rayside is leery about yet another study, concerned at society's increasing temptation to interpret all kinds of human behaviours in biological, particularly genetic, terms.

"These scientists think they're doing good, but they don't realize there's a political component to their work. It contributes to the trend toward genetic selection."

I suppose there's always the threat that knowledge will be used for foul purpose, but I don't see that as a good reason to remain ignorant. Who knows, maybe they'll find the gene that causes people to use knowledge for foul purpose, and use that knowledge to make people nice.


Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

This discussion simply points out how superficially educated so many of our citizens are. All they apparently remember, and this includes Ruth Jacobs, M.D., is Mendel and his peas, so "genetics" get so overly simplified it becomes basically meaningless. The new field of evo-devo, for instance (Evolutionary developmental biology) is showing us today how just a few regulatory genes, arranged in an intricate web with a hierarchy of control, has led to the development of much of the diversity of life.

In human sexual development there are at least 54 distinct genes involved before there are any hormones flowing, and the time, place and context of their activation/inactivation is crucial to the process. It's fair to say that there are at least dozens of gay/straight genes, with a similar number of male/female genes.

June 27, 2007 10:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Jim has just clearly demonstrated, there is no proof that homosexuality is innate, and plenty of reason to think it might not be. Bizarre that Jim keeps thinking Collins supports the TTF position when he says unequivocally that what only a predisposition is innate; a predetermination is not. The nature of the predisposition is unknown and thus may turn wrong when certain external stresses are present, the predisposition making homosexuality an easiest adaption. It also could well be resistable and subject to correction by therapy.

Jim's unscientific assertion that "everybody just knows" homosexuality is innate is now what the MCPS curriculum says, flippantly inserted by the infamous O'Neill at the last moment.

And then there is pseudo-scientist, Dr Beyer, who defends this assault on rationality.

What a collection of kooks!

June 27, 2007 10:52 AM  
Anonymous David S. Fishback said...

See this excerpt from

Guidance for the Clinician in Rendering Pediatric Care
Barbara L. Frankowski, MD, MPH; and the Committee on Adolescence
Sexual Orientation and Adolescents

Human sexual orientation most likely exists as a continuum from solely heterosexual to solely homosexual.

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association reclassified homosexuality as a sexual orientation or expression and not a mental disorder.

The mechanisms for the development of a articular sexual orientation remain unclear, but the current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice; that is, individuals do not choose to be homosexual or heterosexual. A variety of theories about the influences on sexual orientation have been proposed. Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental
[capitalization added).

June 27, 2007 12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The mechanisms for the development of a articular sexual orientation remain unclear,"


"but the current literature and most scholars in the field state that one’s sexual orientation is not a choice;"


"A variety of theories about the influences on sexual orientation have been proposed."

What are they and, besides conjecture, what are they based on?

"Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental

Other than political correctness, why have social, moral and personal factors been excluded as possibilities?


Irrelevant, and undocumented anyway. Rather than just repeating this, why can no one explain why they think this? If they have basis, teach that, not how popular a theory is among scientists.

When you get down to it, scientists don't think we have a choice in anything we do. It's the nature of science to deny the reality of anything beyond the material world. That's led to a lot of suffering in the world.

June 27, 2007 1:05 PM  
Anonymous youwish said...

I grew up on a dairy farm and was around the manliest man you can think of during my upbringing. I was never abused, or molested (blah blah blah, as PFOX would have it). I had a very loving family, my parents are still happily married, but I knew I was different than other people... I realized I was "gay" when I was young but lived in such a hateful conservative area and could not come out in any way. When I did finally come out in high school, I was abused both physically and mentally by other students, harassed, etc... but my parents remain who they've always been: loving and accepting of who God wanted me to be. I wish everyone could have parents like that.

June 27, 2007 1:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BOSTON (June 27) - A trial that opened more than a year ago has become bogged down in Boston federal court. There have been hundreds of hours of testimony from witnesses, including 10 medical specialists paid tens of thousands of dollars. The judge himself even hired an expert to help him make sense of it.

The question at the center of the case: Should a murderer serving life in prison get a sex-change operation at taxpayer expense?

The case of Michelle - formerly Robert - Kosilek is being closely watched across the country by advocates for other inmates who want to undergo a sex change. Transgender inmates in other states have sued prison officials, and not one has succeeded in persuading a judge to order a sex-change operation.

The Massachusetts Correction Department is vigorously fighting Kosilek 's request for surgery, saying it would create a security nightmare and make Kosilek a target for sexual assault.

An Associated Press review of the case, including figures obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and interviews, found that the Correction Department and its outside health care provider have spent more than $52,000 on experts to testify about an operation that would cost about $20,000.

The duration and expense of the case have outraged some lawmakers who insist that taxpayers should not have to pay for inmates to have surgery that most private insurers reject as elective.

"They are prisoners. They are there because they've broken the law," said Republican state Sen. Scott Brown, who unsuccessfully introduced a bill to ban sex-change surgery for inmates. "Other folks, people who want to get these types of surgeries, they have to go through their insurance carrier or save up for it and do it independently. Yet if you are in prison, you can do it for nothing? That doesn't make a lot of sense."

But advocates say in some cases - such as that of Kosilek , who has twice attempted suicide - sex-change surgery is as much a medical necessity as treatment for diabetes or high blood pressure.

"The duty belongs to the prison to figure out how to fulfill its constitutional obligations to both provide adequate medical care and provide a fundamental security for all inmates," said Cole Thaler, an attorney with Lambda Legal, a gay- and transgender-rights group.

Kosilek , 58, was convicted of strangling his wife in 1990. He claimed he killed her in self-defense after she spilled boiling tea on his genitals.

Robert Kosilek legally changed his name to Michelle in 1993, and has sued the Correction Department twice, arguing that its refusal to allow a sex-change operation violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

In 2002, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf ruled that Kosilek was entitled to medical treatment for gender identity disorder, but stopped short of ordering the surgery. Kosilek sued again in 2005, arguing that the hormone treatments, laser hair removal and psychotherapy she has received since Wolf's ruling have not relieved her anxiety and depression.

"I would not want to continue existing like this," Kosilek testified.

Kosilek 's second trial, which began in May 2006, has featured expert testimony from 10 doctors, psychiatrists and psychotherapists. Wolf has not indicated when he will rule.

The Correction Department has spent about $33,000 on two experts it retained to evaluate Kosilek . Both Cynthia Osborne, a Baltimore psychotherapist, and Chester Schmidt, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University, said Kosilek does not need the surgery. Schmidt's fee alone was $350 per hour.

Two other doctors retained and paid for by the department's outside health provider, the University of Massachusetts Correctional Health Program, at a cost of just under $19,000 said they believe the surgery is medically necessary for Kosilek . Two other doctors who work for the health provider agreed with that.

In addition, two psychiatrists who testified for Kosilek recommended the surgery. A Boston law firm representing Kosilek for free paid for those experts but would not disclose the cost.

In Wisconsin, five inmates sued after the Legislature passed a law that bars Correction Department funding for hormone treatments or sex-change surgery. The case is expected to go to trial in October.

Those who argue against allowing the surgery say it could open the floodgates to other inmates who want sex-change operations or other treatments considered elective.

In Massachusetts, 10 inmates have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder and are receiving hormone treatments. Two other inmates besides Kosilek have asked for sex-change surgery.

Corrections officials say their decision to deny the surgery has nothing to do with costs or the politics of crime. They cite the testimony of their experts and Kosilek herself that her feelings of depression have diminished since she began taking hormones.

Former Commissioner Kathleen Dennehy testified that allowing Kosilek to complete the transformation into a woman would present a security problem. Whether she stays in a male prison or is transferred to a female prison, she could become a target for sexual assault, Dennehy testified.

Dennehy also said prison officials cannot be influenced by Kosilek 's talk of suicide.

"The department does not negotiate or respond to threats of harm or suicide in an effort to barter," she said. "You couldn't run a prison with that kind of leveraging going on."

June 27, 2007 5:31 PM  
Anonymous t said...

Hey, Anon-

I bet you had a sex change... you just seem so hateful.

June 27, 2007 6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
Hey, goofball Anon- Dr Beyer has degrees from Cornell and UPenn. You have degrees from what- Wiki U?

Did you come over here after Yahooboards closed?

June 27, 2007 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I bet you had a sex change... you just seem so hateful."

Interesting remark.

June 27, 2007 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Hey, goofball Anon- Dr Beyer has degrees from Cornell and UPenn. You have degrees from what- Wiki U?"

George Bush has an Ivy League degree. And yet you and the good doctor think he's a blithering idiot.

June 28, 2007 1:35 AM  
Anonymous David S. Fishback said...

I do not pretend to know how "smart" or how "well educated" our current President is. But we all know the difference between those admitted to Yale solely as legacies and those admitted on their own merit.

George W. Bush was the speaker at the 2001 Yale graduation of my older son (he was not a legacy). The President bragged about how he was a C Student at Yale, and still became President (not, of course, even alluding to the fact that his rise was largely -- or even almost entirely -- the result of his well-connected father's friends).

Ann Richards' 1988 comment about George H.W. Bush is more apt to the son: "He was born on third base, but thinks he hit a triple."

June 28, 2007 6:33 AM  
Anonymous Aunt Bea said...

"George Bush has an Ivy League degree. And yet you and the good doctor think he's a blithering idiot."

That's because he is a bliterhing idiot. He barely got by with his C average and was a rabble rousing frat boy. If it was not for Yale's legacy admission policy, which he now opposes, Dumbya never would have gotten in.

Bush drew attention, as he has in the past, to the fact that he followed his father into Yale University, even though he was a mediocre student. When he returned to Yale to deliver a commencement address in 2001, a few months after taking office, Bush was self-deprecating about his academic performance during his college days. "And to the C students, I say, 'You, too, can be president of the United States,' " he said then.

Yesterday, Bush again noted his family's ties to Yale, where his grandfather, who became a U.S. senator, went to college and his daughter Barbara received a degree this year. "Yeah, yeah. I thought you were referring to my legacy," he said when a journalist pressed him for his views on the admissions practice.

June 28, 2007 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea-not anon
You, GA, on the other hand, think GB is a genius. Perhaps compared to you?
GB had no jobs except for what Daddy got him and probably even GB senior is sorry now- I know most of the country is.

I read right wing websites- and they don't support him either anymore- seeing Iraq being a disaster(not for the same reason I do), immigration reform and the impression on these sites that he is now cozying up to militant Islamic groups.

Pretty soon, GA, you will be his only fan.

June 28, 2007 8:50 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

In regards to the original post:

A pastor I was seeing several years ago for conversion therapy, after several months said to me:

"Robert, God made you the way you are, and God loves you the way you are."

That's all the explanation I need.


June 28, 2007 12:15 PM  
Blogger Randi Schimnosky said...

Anonymous said "[Gayness] also could well be resistable and subject to correction by therapy.

Such "therapy" has been tried for over 50 years and has failed miserably. The studies by Shidlo and Shroeder and Spitzer show that this "therapy" is almost always, if not always, a failure. That alone testifies to gayness being innate.

Anonymous said "Other than political correctness, why have social, moral and personal factors been excluded as possibilities?"
For precisely the reasons I mentioned above as well as the fact that pop-psych theories of gayness like distant fathers don't stand up to scrutiny. If distant fathers caused gayness there should have been a boom in gays after World War II because of all the absent fathers, there wasn't, thus discounting this theory altogether.

Anonymous said "[That biologically based theories of gayness have been favoured by experts is]Irrelevant, and undocumented anyway. Rather than just repeating this, why can no one explain why they think this? If they have basis, teach that, not how popular a theory is among scientists.

All manner of independent studies have pointed to gayness as being biologically based. None of them by themselves make the case, but taken as a whole the conclusion to most experts is all but certain, that gayness is biologically based. If it weren't there wouldn't be studies showing that gays have finger lengths more simllar to women than to heterosexual men, different fingerprint density than heterosexual men, hair worls that go the opposite direction of heterosexuals, different eye blink rates, hearing response, startle response, female typical reaction to pheromonmes in gay men, gay men produce differnt odours than straight men, mothers with same chromosone deactivation are much more likely to give birth to gays, men with more older biological brothers (living with them or not) are much more likely to be gay, and no doubt a varitety of other correlations I've forgotten.

June 29, 2007 11:37 AM  
Blogger Randi Schimnosky said...

Jim notes the work of Simon Levay who discovered a grouping of cells associated with sexual activity was twice as large in straight men as it was in both gays and women. While the anti-gays have insisted that this was due to the men being infected with HIV studies of gay sheep have shown the same size differentials in the same brains structure. This makes it virtually certain that AIDS did not cause the size differential, but rather that the different brain structure causes men to be gay.

There you go anonymous, yet another solid reason why most experts favour a biological explanation for gayness.

June 29, 2007 11:43 AM  

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