Born Gay? - Island of Sanity

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Born Gay?


In 1991, researcher Simon LeVay published a paper in the journal Science in which he reported that he had found a biological basis for homosexuality.

The gist of LeVay's paper was this: He obtained tissue samples from the brains of 41 corpses in Los Angeles and New York. 19 of the corpses were classified as homosexual men, 16 as heterosexual men, and 6 as heterosexual women. LeVay found that a certain section of the brain known as "the third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus", or INAH3 for short, was about twice as large in the heterosexual men as in the homosexual men, and about the same size in the homosexual men as in the heterosexual women. Therefore, he concluded, a smaller INAH3 causes a man to become a homosexual.

The media reported this study as proving that homosexuality has a biological and genetic basis, that is, that some people are simply "born gay" and it is not a matter of personal choice. Therefore, it is unfair to discriminate against or criticize homosexuals, because they didn't choose to be this way, and it is perfectly natural.

All of which has so much wrong with it that I barely know where to begin.

Side note: Mr LeVay is openly homosexual. This doesn't mean that we should simply dismiss anything he says as "biased", of course, but it is fair to listen with some extra caution, as he has an obvious vested interest. Of course, the same could be said about me: I freely admit to being a conservative Christian and the Bible has some things to say about homosexuality, plus one of my best friends in college was a homosexual who eventually died of AIDS, so I'm coming to the table with some preconceptions myself. Especially on emotional and controversial subjects like this, the wise reader will examine the arguments of all sides carefully. But anyway ...

Let's start with the technical objections: There are some highly questionable things about the way this study was done, such as:

One: Mr LeVay's sample size was far too small to be meaningful for a serious biological study. His findings could simply be the normal random variation that you always expect to find among small groups of people. This point is especially telling given that, as LeVay admits, he did not find that all the homosexuals had smaller INAH3's than all the heterosexuals. Rather, the numbers for both groups overlapped: it was simply the average that was higher for the heterosexuals.Mr LeVay studied other parts of the brain as well, and found no statistically significant differences. For example, he says that he expected INAH2 to also show differences, but it did not.Pick a group of 40 or so friends or co-workers. Divide them into groups based on something that is unlikely to have a physical basis. Say, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, whatever other religions may be represented. Then observe hair and eye color, measure height and shoe size, find month of birth, and in general take all the statistics and measurements you can think of. It is quite likely that, with such a small group, sooner or later you will come up with some measurement, purely by chance, that turns out to be different for the Protestants than for the Catholics. All this proves is that if you take enough measurements on a small enough sample, sooner or later you'll find one that fits any desired "theory".

Two: Mr LeVay never explained in his paper how he determined the sexual orientation of the dead people. Presumably the dead people were not able to tell him. In his paper he refers to the heterosexual males and females as "presumed heterosexual", which rather implies that he was just guessing.

Three: All of the homosexuals in this study died of AIDS. This naturally brings up the question: Is a smaller INAH3 associated with homosexuality in general? Or is it a symptom of AIDS? Countering this line of argument, six of the heterosexual men also died of AIDS, and Mr LeVay reports that the size of INAH3 in the heterosexual AIDS victims was not significantly different from that in the heterosexual non-AIDS victims. Of course now we're down to sample sizes of ten and six.

But let's suppose that Mr LeVay's study is valid despite objections like these. Let's suppose it really is true that INAH3 is smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men. That still leaves some fundamental questions about the conclusions, such as:

Four: Mr LeVay simply assumes that a small INAH3 causes a man to be a homosexual. But surely it is equally plausible that the reverse is true: that being a homosexual causes a man to have a small INAH3. Consider: Suppose we measured the size of the biceps of weight-lifters versus that of non-weight-lifters. I expect that we would find that weight lifters have bigger biceps. Would it be fair to therefore conclude that being born with big biceps causes a man to become a weight lifter? Surely not. It would be much more sensible to conclude that regular weight-lifting increases the size of the biceps. If the INAH3 section of the brain is, indeed, associated with male heterosexual activity as Mr LeVay claims, then it is not at all hard to imagine that it might grow and develop as one "exercises" it by performing male heterosexual acts.

Five: But let's suppose we even grant this. For the sake of argument, let's suppose that we really are convinced that homosexuality is something that a person is born with. The moral conclusions don't follow at all!Suppose that someone proved that some people are just "born racists": that there is a "Klan gene", and that if someone is born with this gene, that he will inevitably grow up to be a racist. (Hey, this doesn't sound totally implausible: racism does tend to run in families.) Would it therefore follow that it is unjust to criticize racists because they can't help how they were born, and that we should accept racism as just another "alternative lifestyle"? It would surely be disappointing if we learned that some people will be racists no matter what anyone tries to do about it, that the problem of racism is virtually unsolvable. But this would not make racism right. Likewise, even if it were proven that some people are just "born gay", this would not make it right. It would just make it tragic.

© 2002 by Jay Johansen


Comments

PJ Oct 10, 2010

I know that there are a number of people who feel this is true. I myself, am not gay. I did have a debate several years with a friend, who said that GOD wouldn't let someone be born that way. I totally agree. yet, WHAT IF IS NOT GOD's fault? I remember saying to my friend, what if it is a BIRTH DEFECT? a child can be born with fetal alcohol syndrome, which I believe may be a birth defect. I am not an expert on Genetics by any means. But I believe babies are born with this problem because of the MOTHER'S DRINKING during pregnancy. I don't know at what stage of gestation this starts, yet I feel these kids are conceived normally, so at the moment of CONCEPTION, these kids are probably normal, and as the woman continues to drink, can cause this problem. so, is it God's fault they are born that way. No, I don't believe it. I recall saying that you are a Conservative Christian. So I suggested to my friend that what if it was caused by SOMETHING THE MOTHER DOES during her pregnancy, which may cause the problem of being GAY. I also said to my friend, what about kids who Feel different, or have those feelings at a very young age/you can't tell me they CHOOSE that lifestyle that young. Just an idea I thought you would like to gnaw on. There are many birth defects, NOT CAUSED BY GOD. he gives man a free will.the woman drinks, has a handicapped baby, women smoke, have problems, women use drugs, have kids born already addicted. terrible, yet NOT GOD' doing. sure, he is GOD,and could stop it. but HE allows us to do things that are not right. Hope what I said makes sense. It is just a Theory, or I should say theories.

Sasquatch May 23, 2014

Morality is a judgement of conscious action. It is quite literally impossible for an unwillful action to be either moral or immoral since such an action does not involve a decision. For example, if your child tripped and fell, breaking a plate in the process you would hardly punish the child for breaking the plate. But if the child willfully picked up the plate and smashed it you would undoubtedly punish him. The plate is equally broken in either case. The difference lies solely in the intent of the act. This is why prosecutors have to show motive in a trial. There is no logical basis for calling homosexuality immoral. Nobody is even harmed by it. How can something which causes no harm be immoral? An involuntary act which causes no harm... sneezing could be called immoral in that case.

This sort of thinking is why Christians are becoming marginalized. Y'all forget sage advice like "judge not lest ye be judged", "let the dead bury the dead", "let he who is without sin cast the first stone", and "live and let live". You forget that Christians are not called upon to create heaven on earth or to eradicate sin. If more Christians actually followed the teachings of Christ they would be as welcome as Buddhists or Taoists. Instead, y'all insist on torturing or burning anybody who disagrees with you. Surely you can see how that leads to resentment.

For the record, I consider homosexuality a birth defect. It is natural in the sense that it occurs throughout the animal kingdom. It is not a conscious choice. I don't consider it "right". But I don't consider it immoral because it doesn't affect anybody but the participants.

Jay Johansen May 25, 2014

You bring up several interesting issues here.

1. Is homosexuality a deliberate, willful act? If by "homosexuality" you mean "homosexual desires", I agree that it is not. We can't control our desires. But homosexual ACTS clearly are deliberate and willful. Oh, a person might say that the impulse was just so strong that he couldn't control it. But I doubt you would accept that as a justification for actions that you consider immoral. Suppose a group of Klansmen lynch an innocent black person. Perhaps their feelings of unease and dislike for other races are involuntary. But their action of chasing someone down and murdering him surely is voluntary. If they argued that they just couldn't help themselves because they were overcome by their feelings of racism, I don't think you'd accept that as absolving them from guilt. (Let me hasten to add that I am not equating homosexuality with murder. I am just seeking an example of feelings and actions to illustrate my point.)

2. RE no one is harmed: Who says that the definition of morality is whether or not someone is harmed? And what sort of "harm" counts? I think drunkenness and drug addiction are immoral, though neither directly harms anyone other than the person himself. Just like homosexuality. Homosexuality deprives someone of experiencing the joys of love and sex as God intended them. It hurts the person himself a great deal. It hurts his relationships with other people. If you really love a person, you want the best for him. Sometimes that means telling him that something he is doing is self-destructive.

3. Yes, it is true that at times Christians who have been in power have used that power to persecute their opponents. But if anyone is keeping score, Christians have surely been on the receiving end of persecution a lot more than on the delivering end. In most Moslem countries for most of history it has been a crime to become a Christian, punishable by torture and death. Atheist countries like Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China killed tens of millions of people, many of them for being Christians. Yes, the Spanish Inquisition was a terrible thing. In the course of 400 years they killed 4000 people. But they were amateurs compared to Stalin and Mao. If a day went by that Stalin didn't kill 4000 people, he probably would have had his minions hauled in and executed for failing to be zealous enough.

OF COURSE if Christians were more in agreement with popular opinion we would be less "marginalized". I see you quote some Bible verses. How about this one: "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (John 15:18-19) Christians are hated because we tell people things -- I would say "truths" -- that they don't want to hear. If people don't want to hear what some unpopular group has to say, I think the solution is greater tolerance and more open-mindedness. You apparently believe that the solution is for the unpopular people to shut up. :-)

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