Science

Born Gay (as Gay as the Wind Blows)

A new study apparently supports the “Born Gay” theory, toppling the previously popular “Chooses to Subject Self to Lifetime of Discrimination and Ridicule Just to Anger God” theory. Surprise!

This is pretty interesting. I’ve read in the past about a theory of homosexuality related to the number of siblings one has, and this study does seem to show a correlation. This doesn’t mean that the two things are necessarily intertwined, but it is compelling evidence for a genetic biological (thanks to Loon for the correction) root to sexuality — even men with older siblings who had been raised apart from those siblings fell in line with the statistics.

If such a theory is proven to be true, I can just imagine the response of bigoted religious zealots who are currently using the Bible to try to stop same sex marriage from becoming a reality in the US. In public, I’m sure they’ll still be crying that the science is wrong and that gays are morally bankrupt hellbound perverts; but in private, they’ll be slipping on a condom for fear that their first few boys used up all the hetero magic.

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So as predicted, the science experiment is put off another day. I’m going to start asking around to see if someone else has a remote since Motoko can’t be trusted to remember.

Also, I want to give everyone a head’s up that I’m jetting to Europe on Saturday for two weeks, which may explain why I can’t hold a solid thought in my head for longer than 30 seconds. Seriously, this blog post took four hours and included no fewer than 83 Meditteranean-hued daydreams.

Because I’m not certain when I’ll be near a computer, guest bloggers will be helping me out. More info on that in the next few days.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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14 Comments

  1. "in private, they’ll be slipping on a condom"

    Thank FSM it's in private. I'm not prudish, but if they start doing that sort of thing in public I might feel some objections coming on.

    Also: Rebecca, whereabouts in Europe? US EURO-PEOPLE NEED AN ITINERARY. Well, I think it would be handy for all your blog-stalkers, at least.

  2. "If such a theory is proven to be true, I can just imagine the response of bigoted religious zealots who are currently using the Bible to try to stop same sex marriage from becoming a reality in the US. In public, I’m sure they’ll still be crying that the science is wrong…."

    Why the heck not? After all, they do it for evolution…women's rights…environmental sciences…human rights in general…. Stuff like that.

  3. Mmmm… the Med… Hope it's an actual vacation for you with none of that pesky work stuff mixed in! Spent a very fun couple of weeks on Ibiza as a kid and made several trips to the southern Italian coast. Loads of fun!

    Also, I'm insanely jealous. MY vacation this year will consist of: painting my house. Oh yay.

    So, by that study there should be a huge number of gay catholics… which would actually help explain much of their unreasonable homophobic behaviour. Interesting. ;)

  4. Argh!

    I must make what will probably seem like a nitpick. This study (and it is only one study, but that's another point) shows no evidence for homosexuality being genetic or heritable. It shows evidence that homosexuality is biological- that's different. If it were genetic, we'd eventually find a gene or two that were correlated to homosexuality. This is instead (I think, there may be something technical that I'm not aware of) an example of what's called "maternal effect," which is an effect on the fetus caused not by the fetus's genes, but by the conditions of the womb it was gestated in.

    Also, I'd be very interested to see if there are any environmental factors common to gay men and gay women (other than moving to the Castro)

  5. Altho this has nothing to do with gender identity, Frank Sulloway has contended for quite awhile that birth order impacts on other aspects of personality.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birth_order
    It doesn't seem surprising that there would be an effect related to time spent in the womb previously occupied by an older sibling.

    Bon Voyage, Rebecca! If you are going to Florence, I understand the Uffizi Gallery is not to be missed.
    http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/english/musei/u

  6. I see Loon already made the point I was going to make, but it's not a nitpick. Environmental effects start before birth, too, which is why it can be so hard to separate them from true genetic effects.

    Anyway, I don't see the study in any of the recent PNAS tables of contents online. Do you know if it is actually available anywhere? I hesitate to draw too much of a conclusion from secondary sources, given how prone they are to misinterpretation of scientific data.

  7. Very interesting. I too am curious as to how the fundies will integrate this new information into their "choose to be Gay" premise. I doubt it will be terribly surprising, though.

  8. Indeed, there's a few theories suggesting that the influence of testosterone and oestrogene on the fetus decide sexual preference later in life. As such, there could very well be a link with the number of siblings preceding you.

    Of course, you just know that if such theories are ever found to be right, the fundies are going to start blaming the women for poisoning their boys in the womb and making them stray from the hetero path.

  9. I know that genetic has now been corrected to biological…

    but i just want to point out that a genetic cause for predisposition to homosexuality would probably not survive natural selection that well

    :)

  10. Simon: That's only if you assume there is one gene "for" gayness and it's a 'have-it-or-don't-have-it' issue. But genetics is much more complicated than that. Genes interact with others; there are two copies of every gene (except in the sex chromosomes in men); too many factors that MIGHT favour having one copy of the "gay" gene (allele) and one copy of the "not gay" allele. When two "gay" alleles meet together in a genome, then homosexuality might be the result for that child. But for people who have one "gay" allele and one "not gay" allele, they develop into heterosexuals and no one knows they are carrying the "gay" allele that might combine with another "gay" allele when they next create a child.

    I'm not saying that's how it works, but it's a mechanism for potentially unfavourable stuff to continue existing in the population.

    For real examples of this, look at the malaria/sickle-cell issue, and the cystic fibrosis/anti-bacterial issue. Those ar both the results of the 'bad' alleles being maintained in a population because when you only have one of them, you are actually at an advantage over those who have none. The unfortunate people who have two copies of the 'bad' alleles (and, therefore, the illness) are the price that natural selection seems willing to pay because the reward is so high.

  11. And there is also the "kin selection" possibility : Gay people help take care of their nephews and nieces, give them an edge somehow, so that the "gay gene" (by which I of course mean "whatever genetic component helps determine sexual orientation") would be indirectly advantageous.

    Also the "extreme in a continuum" possibility : Gayness is just the extreme end of, say, sociability (it is good for people to get along with people of their own sex, and gay people are the end of the bell curve).

    Mind, those are just possibilities I heard, nothing scientifically verified that I know of.

    Though I'd say the "order of birth" effect would tend to confirm that kin selection plays a role.

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