The 'No Gay Gene' Study Terrifies Me
When I saw the headline, I must admit, my heart sank.
“NO GAY GENE, says major study.” It was front page or major news in the UK, Australia and America at the end of last week. And it scared the hell out of me.
If there’s no gay gene, it emboldens homophobes who’ll misuse the data that led to that oversimplified headline claim.
They’ll cite it as evidence that dogged campaigns for equality are just facilitating an indulgent, flippant, contrary lifestyle choice, rather than something somebody cannot help because they were born with it.
Any evidence strengthening claims the anti-gay lobby likes to make that being gay is a choice will lead them to say: why on earth are we bending over backwards to facilitate some flight of fancy, as fickley selected as somebody’s preference for a mocha over a flat white?
And if being LGBTQI is presented as a choice, it strengthens the case for so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ which still isn’t banned in Australia despite a big Change.org campaign led by conversion therapy survivor Chris Csabs.
It is, of course, infinitely more complicated than that.
Let me catch you up on the science. In a nutshell, Aussie and international researchers who analysed survey responses from people about their same-sex sexual behaviour deduced that there’s no single gay gene. We can now lay rest to that claim with some confidence.
Dr James Morandini from the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology summarises it well: There are instead "multiple gene variants that each predict some small amount of the variance in whether someone has engaged in same-sex sexual encounters in the past.”
Those five variants account for between eight percent and 25 percent of same-sex sexual behaviour, according to this study.
Surmised concisely, in the age-old nature vs nurture debate, this survey suggests genetics (nature) is responsible for up to a quarter of the influence on whether someone has gay sex.
This is BIG news for various reasons.
First, the study itself is significant. It’s one of the largest ever studies to date examining genetic contributions to same-sex sexual behaviour. Almost half a million people were surveyed (470,000); that’s a vast sample, so conclusions drawn from the date are given more gravitas.
It’s groundbreaking because that nature vs nurture debate has long fascinated people, and we now know more about why some people are gay and others aren’t.
Dr Brendan Zietsch from the University of Queensland’s School of Psychology says: "It has long been clear that a person’s sexual preference -- whether they prefer male or female sexual partners or both -- is influenced by his or her genetic makeup.
"What has been elusive is knowledge of what specific gene, or genes, are involved... Individually, each of these genes has only a very small effect, but their combined effect is substantial."
And he says anyone who has met identical twins where one is gay and the other straight would’ve had their curiosity piqued: here are two people with identical ‘nature’ and, at least remarkably similar ‘nurture.’
It’s perhaps counterintuitive that the study has in some ways downplayed the role nature plays in sexual orientation.
For me, being gay *feels* innate in a way I can only explain by saying I’d be surprised if environmental factors (the age-old, often mocked ‘mum didn’t bake enough cakes’ argument) played any major role.
I often retort that, if I were to have been able to have *chosen* a ‘lifestyle,’ as I was entering puberty, the very last I’d have chosen was one that singled me out for humiliation in the classroom, hate crime on the street and unequal treatment in the eyes of the law.
It’s why I object to the phrase ‘sexual preference’. This was the opposite of my preference. My preference was to be treated equally and to be safe. And, back when I was a teen, that wasn’t what happened.
‘Sexual orientation’ felt more accurate to me because my attraction for the same sex was indeed like a compass - it points south because of nature dictating that is south, not because the compass ‘prefers’ the south.
How I feel, though, should only count for so much -- even for me. I accept environmental factors infused with genetic factors may have played a subliminal role in my orientation.
It’s important to make the distinction that ‘nurture’ doesn’t always imply ‘choice.’ There could be environmental or social factors which interplay in minute but significant ways with what we now know are five genetic variants that point my sexual orientation into a certain direction which, despite all the praying as a teen and homophobia as a young adult, remains, for me, fixed.
It’s also ethically contentious to have published this study. It has stirred debate. LGBTQI scientists such as Steven Reilly have expressed concern its publication could lead to further discrimination because it “ could easily be misconstrued” in an unequal world.
That goes both ways. Underplaying the genetic factor plays into the hands of conversation therapists and homophobes who deride same-sex attraction as a mere ‘lifestyle choice.’
But recognising the fact that up to 25 percent of same-sex attraction is ‘nature’ leads to fears of genetic engineering attempts to eradicate those five identified genetic variants which we now know make being gay more likely.
It appalls me to type this, but as late as 1993, the Daily Mail reported news of US scientists making the first definitive evidence of a genetic link to homosexuality with the headline: ‘Abortion hope after ‘gay genes’ findings.’
A great reaction came from Dr Traude Beilharz at Monash University’s Biochemistry Department: "Taylor Swift tells us that ‘shade never made anyone less gay’ and neither will this research. From Proust to 50 Shades we know that human desire is complicated. And for that we can be GLAAD! Diversity brings the colour to life on earth.”
That complexity webs further when social factors are taken into account. I wrote for 10 daily before about how there could be many more gay people than the often quoted 10 percent figure, due to the ever-expanding LGBTQI+ initialism -- a result of Gen Z being more sexually diverse, fewer closeted people and a broadening of the Kinsey scale.
If being gay does turn out to be more nurture than nature, would that even matter? Would it mean they should be treated less equally? Of course not.
One thing no study will change is this: if a pill was invented tomorrow that could instantly turn me straight, would I take it?
Deborah Cox has the answer: