Old Research Takes New Direction

Scientists Seek “Gay” Facts

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 evidence—some more silly-sounding than serious—that homosexuals may be simultaneously more feminine and more masculine, respectively. The stereotypes—that lesbians tend to commit to relationships early and have little interest in casual sex; that gay men have more sexual partners than their counterparts—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 data—in which 5,000 men answered detailed questions about their sex lives, practices, fantasies, and, it turns out, measurements of their erect organs—along sexual-orientation lines. Gay men’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, doesn’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 other—and if you activate the wrong one, you’re gay.

Of this, France writes:

I can’t ignore Bocklandt’s use of the word wrong in relation to gay genetic codes. I don’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 Bocklandt’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:

It’s not playing with the number of toes you have; it’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 don’t want to get mushy, but it’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…

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  • Ash

    I don’t need to know why I, or anyone else for that matter, am gay. The search for a cause of gayness has always troubled me. It’s essentially a search for a cure, an explanation for how biology could have fucked up so tragically. And there are many orientations in addition to gay and straight, so really these studies are futile because there will always be queer people, fluid people, curious people, open people, uber-sexual people.

  • Mr. B

    Thank you, Ash.

    The direction of hair whorls? Dear god, they’re really reaching.

  • Martini-boy

    _The Sexual Spectrum: Exploring Human Diversity_ by Olive Skene Johnson (recommendable) deals with a lot of this stuff already. The measurement of penis sizes, finger lengths, etc etc are laid out quite clearly in the book. Whether or not it is true (aka universal/common enough to be considered so)is rather iffy. Exceptions abound.

    Nonetheless, when tracking the progress of this ‘gay research’ we must alway have in the back of our minds the popular ‘science’ of Anthropometry (study of body types)and Physiognomy (study of facial features), which was used to determine the moral character of individuals during much of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    My two cents there.

  • Alexa

    So bisexuals have, what, a zigzag line?

  • Mr. B

    Oh, didn’t you hear, Alexa? They don’t exist. Except for women, who are apparently ALL bisexual. Apparently only us boys get a “real” orientation.

  • Paul Raposo

    I used to be all for learning the “why” of homosexuality. But lately is seems that all the wrong people are interested in our biology. I think Ash stated it best.

    “They don’t exist.”

    Oh, Mr B. Always stirring up the shit.

  • Mr. B

    Shit-stirring, Paul? Moi?

    Why. I was only referring to the article. J. Michael Bailey and his associates are the ones who use their “research” to try to disprove the existence of bisexuality. Well, in men, anyway. For women, he maintains that “I don’t yet understand female partner choices very well, and neither does anyone else…What I do think it’s time to do is admit that female sexuality looks in some ways very different from male sexuality, and that there is no clear analog in women of men’s directed sexual-arousal pattern, which I think is their sexual orientation. I am not sure that women don’t have a sexual orientation, but it is certainly unclear that they do.”

    But then, maybe lesbians want some straight male scientist (who’s okay with genetic engineering so that parents can be free “to raise the sort of children they want to raise,” BTW) to determine that they’ve really liked men all along.

  • Paul Raposo

    “I was only referring to the article. J. Michael Bailey”

    Ah. That says it all. Bailey is a douchebag who also seems to have issues with transgendered people too.


    I thought you were referring to me and our debate a while back 8^(

    Arrogant, ‘eh!

  • Mr. B

    No, Paul, I actually like you. :) Methinks Bailey protests too much. And yeah, his views on transgendered people are even more douchbaggerous.

  • Martini-boy

    By the way, that clockwise / counterclockwise bit of info, as you can IMAGINE, will certainly be stretched to infer bad morality in us homos.

    Clockwise = the RIGHT way for time to tick.
    Counterclockwise = the WRONG way, the backward way.

    Really, could they not have been termed “left-bound whorl” or “right-bound whorl”? SHEESH!

  • Paul Raposo

    “No, Paul, I actually like you. :)”

    Oh, Mr. B!

    There was a story on 20/20 where Bailey used selctive clips of gay adults as kids; little girls playing with boys toys and little boys playing with dolls; and used this as “proof” that homosexuality begins at a young age and is based on our enviroment, rather than biology.

    All of this dick’s work seems to be based on trying to figure out what causes homosexuality, so that it may be stamped out. Yet he claims he’s not anti-gay.

  • Paul Raposo

    “Really, could they not have been termed “left-bound whorl” or “right-bound whorl”? SHEESH!”

    The funny thing is, I have a relative with two “crowns” as hairstylists call them, going in both clockwise and counter clockwise directions. I guess that makes him bisexual.

  • Martini-boy

    You should ask him, Paul!
    I know I would.

  • SpragueD

    Besides recounting a lot of bad science with little criticism, the article is politically regressive because it fosters the notion that queer folk are practically a separate species — a “third sex” as Simon LaVey says. Bad news.


  • Malach Leopold

    Very thought-provoking! I’d like to invite you to republish this entry as a posting on the SRI Open Forum. My firm, Marc J. Lane Investment Management, Inc., hosts the online community bulletin board called The SRI Open Forum (just Google the name to find it) which was built as the central location for the free exchange of ideas and experiences around everything related to socially responsible investing, corporate governance, environmental issues, social enterprise, etc. I invite you to visit the site, and feel free to republish this article as a posting. Hope to see you there!

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