For over a century, biologists, psychologists, geneticists and general scientists have attempted to answer the question: “What makes someone gay?” Despite recent rights gains, gays still remain the scientific conundrum of our time. If, as we’re taught to believe, all living creatures must mate, why do some individual queers choose to love up on their own gender?
Though one would expect the trend to abate, New York‘s David France writes that new studies are opening up new avenues of “gay” research, including “seeming gay”.
A small constellation of researchers is specifically analyzing the traits and characteristics that, though more pronounced in some than in others, not only make us gay but also make us appear gay.
In addition to examining hair whorls, fingerprint density and voice tone, some scientists are getting to the meat of the situation:
There is also evidenceâ€”some more silly-sounding than seriousâ€”that homosexuals may be simultaneously more feminine and more masculine, respectively. The stereotypesâ€”that lesbians tend to commit to relationships early and have little interest in casual sex; that gay men have more sexual partners than their counterpartsâ€”turn out to be true. One study that supports the hyper-masculinity theory of male homosexuality involves penis size. An Ontario-based psychological researcher named Anthony Bogaert re-sorted Kinsey Institute dataâ€”in which 5,000 men answered detailed questions about their sex lives, practices, fantasies, and, it turns out, measurements of their erect organsâ€”along sexual-orientation lines. Gay menâ€™s penises were thicker (4.95 inches versus 4.80) and longer (6.32 inches versus 5.99). The measurements, it should be noted, were self-reported and perhaps involve reporting bias, but no one has done a study investigating whether gay men are more prone to exaggerating their assets, so, well, draw your own conclusions.
This and other research may help open the door to new, broader cultural views of gender. Masculinity and femininity don’t operate on the linear, but on a wide grid. Still, France notes, the advantages may be sullied by the damages:
If sexual orientation is biological, and we are learning to identify how it happens inside the uterus, doesnâ€™t it suggest a future in which gay people can be prevented?
France then cited Reverend Albert Mohler, who made headlines earlier this year for waxing philosophical on prenatal genocide:
If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.
With such nutters running around, no wonder a number of gay activists have spoken out against “gay” research”. One can even find prejudice in the most well-meaning doctor’s notes. France calls out UCLA research Sven Bocklandt’s casual comment:
…Every man and woman has the genetic code for the brain networks that make you attracted to men and to women. You activate one or the otherâ€”and if you activate the wrong one, youâ€™re gay.
Of this, France writes:
I canâ€™t ignore Bocklandtâ€™s use of the word wrong in relation to gay genetic codes. I donâ€™t believe Bocklandt has any agenda in his work beyond scientific exploration, nor do I have any reason to believe he is anti-gay.
As Bocklandtâ€™s slip of the tongue illustrates, subtle judgments abound in the field.
Considering the complexity of these studies, one can’t help but wonder whether or not they should be scrapped all together.
Yes, much of queerness’ dictated by social norms, but, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Matt Foreman, whose comments close France’s piece, says with regard to potential pharmaceutical prescriptions:
Itâ€™s not playing with the number of toes you have; itâ€™s really manipulating your very essence. So many people see gay people only in terms of sexual behavior, as opposed to what sexual orientation is really about, which is how you fit into the world. I donâ€™t want to get mushy, but itâ€™s about your soul.
Do we want to understand ourselves even if it means risking the safety of our future’s gay generations? It’s a tough call. Personally, we think variety’s the spice of biological life. A little mystery never hurt anyone…