The Collinses and the future of epigenetics

Recently Jason Collins became the first current athlete in major professional sports in the US to come out as gay. This earned him the cover of Sports Illustrated and more attention than he ever received for actually playing basketball. Reaction of other athletes and the general public to the announcement seems to be extremely supportive.

A less covered aspect of this story is that Jason has an identical twin brother, Jarron, who is also an NBA veteran and who spent many years underperforming for my Utah Jazz. Jarron is straight and claims to have had no idea whatsoever that his twin brother is gay until very recently. Jarron and Jason have never publicly confirmed or disproven that they are monozygotic (identical) twins. My understanding of twins is that, especially as they grow older, identical twins prefer to emphasize their individuality rather than their genetic commonality, causing them to reject the “identical” moniker. For a variety of reasons, identical twins have slight variations in appearance that usually allow them to be differentiated by people who are paying attention, even though they have the same genes. But most people who have watched the Collins over the years would find it shocking if they were not monozygotic (more shocking than one of them being gay, actually).

There is a long history of studying variation in genetic phenotypes with twin studies . Homosexuality has always proven a genetic puzzle because it lowers reproductive fitness and, therefore, should die out over time. A recent study in the Quarterly Review of Biology (University of Chicago Press) says, “Pedigree and twin studies indicate that homosexuality has substantial heritability in both sexes, yet concordance between identical twins is low and molecular studies have failed to find associated DNA markers.” Thus, if the “born this way” mantra is true, it is clearly more complicated than a simple genetic story.

This same study offers a different account of the biological origins of homosexuality. The authors propose an epigenetic model of sexual orientation. Epigenetic studies (which try to understand how genes are expressed) are all the rage now (just last week I was at an NBER conference where there was an interesting paper on epigenetics and cognitive development in rhesus monkies), and many biosocial phenomena are thought to result from the combination of genes and the environment, where the prenatal environment of the developing fetus is particularly important. It seems that epi-markers are often heritable, which would account for observed heritability in the absence of DNA markers.

I have read a variety of twin research over my career, since twin studies are quite common in economics. Dabbling into this genetic research on homosexuality, I am struck by how little there has been in the past couple of decades, especially given the importance of gay rights as a social concern. But perhaps the politics explains the lack of science. It would be disconcerting, at least, to embark on a field of study where an increasingly large group of politically motivated, influential and often angry people are already convinced they know the answer: sexual orientation is innate and immutable. The activist community wants acceptance, not understanding.  Hence, most people will avoid doing science that will cause people to hate them if they get unpopular answers (or, even worse, label them as hateful for even asking the questions).

Both the innate and immutable claims might prove to be true, but as more and more people buy the hype, the science gets harder and harder to do.  What if, perchance, this new epigenetic research leads to a medical or other treatment (perhaps prenatal hormonal therapies) that could “turn off” the development of homosexual orientation in utero or sometime thereafter? How would this affect the gay rights movement?

Shouldn’t even people who are gay rights activists be in favor of the development of knowledge that might lead to such a discovery? A consistent theme I hear when homosexuals tell their stories about coming out is how hard it was to admit, first to themselves and then to others, that they are gay. Many of them tell stories of great pain and anguish prior to coming out (and sometimes thereafter).  Wouldn’t eliminating that pain be wonderful?

The obvious response to this is that it isn’t homosexuality that causes the pain, but is instead the “homophobic culture” we live in. Fair enough.  But consider the thought experiment where the culture is completely accepting of homosexuality. It seems that even in this homophilic wonderland, there are compelling reasons to prevent homosexuality. First of all, the desire to create biological children that are related to both parents seems a powerful (and biologically rooted) urge. Second, mate selection is much harder for homosexuals purely for statistical reasons.  Third, the social self-sorting of homosexuals into urban environments, where mate selection is easier, can be costly, especially for individuals who don’t like those environments for other reasons. Finally, there is always stress (sometimes a lot) for growing up as a minority, whether minority status is defined, by race, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality.

In short, a central claim of the gay rights movement is that homosexuals do not choose to be gay. But if they could, would they? If there were a simple treatment that their mothers could have chosen, wouldn’t it be desirable? Sure, many activists are going to say, “No Way. Gay life is wonderful. We are proud of who we are.” I believe they are sincere. Yet I wonder, even for that group, what they would tell their mothers to do if they could go back in time.  Would not even people who are completely accepting of homosexuality choose heterosexuality for their children if given the option?  Certainly some would not, but I wager that the overwhelming majority would.

I know this language of “prevention” drives many people nuts. Homosexuality is not a deviation, not abnormal, not a disease, not something that needs to be fixed, etc., etc. Yes, yes, I know this rhetoric. But that’s what it is: political rhetoric. It used to be that large majorities of people (including scientists) had never even entertained the notion that homosexuality could have biological origins. Indeed, Franz Kallman, one of the earliest (and widely cited) advocates of genetic origins began his 1952 study in The American Journal of Human Genetics with the claim that “an allusion to a possible relationship between sex and organic inheritance is unlikely to provoke more than a polite smile of skepticism.” Yet his findings comparing monozygotic and dizygotic twins were quite striking, suggesting strongly that genetic origins are important. As most do, Kallman concludes his study with a plea for more research: “The urgency of such work is undeniable as long as this aberrant type of behavior continues to be an inexhaustible source of unhappiness, discontentment, and a distorted sense of human values” (p. 146). This from the guy who is fighting to get people to take genetic origins of sexual orientation seriously!

Since that time, public and scientific opinion has shifted considerably. But it is important to note that the science has never followed a pathway that supports the “innate and immutable” story. That mantra is political, not scientific. As the study cited earlier reminds us, the genetic concordance of homosexuality in identical twins is low, much less than 50% in most studies. The new epigenetic story is at its heart an environmental story, and environments can be changed (genes can, too).

My worry is that the quest to understand will be squashed before it really gets started. It would be a shame if acceptance and tolerance crowd out inquiry.  When politics drives out scientific inquiry, nobody wins.

77 thoughts on “The Collinses and the future of epigenetics

  1. Excellent article. Parents of homosexual children that I know are terribly saddened by the discovery. Not that they don’t love their kids anyway, but it has so many ramifications and I am certain that given the option, most prospective parents would choose to eliminate homosexuality in utero if it were possible.

    1. As you apparently are not the parent of a gay child, I would appreciate your not speaking for those of us who are. My son is gay and came out to me when he was 19, but let there be NO doubt, I knew he was gay when he was two. I would not change any of this. It would be like changing his eye color. Step away from things you cannot comprehend.

      1. I can understand you love your son very much. But I find this idea that you wouldn’t change anything about him if you could very strange. I adore my kids just the way there are, but there are definitely things about each of them that I would change if I could.

      2. I agree with you KR. Its dumbfounding that parents think they would change their children (often to their own benefit emotionally or otherwise). Why not accept them and help them grow in who they are? Why must the child conform to the parent’s “wisdom” (which is often lacking anyhow).

  2. “Homosexuality is not a deviation, not abnormal, not a disease, not something that needs to be fixed, etc., etc. Yes, yes, I know this rhetoric. But that’s what it is: political rhetoric.”

    From the Church’s website: “No one fully knows the root causes of same-sex attraction. Each experience is different. Latter-day Saints recognize the enormous complexity of this matter. We simply don’t have all the answers. Attraction to those of the same sex, however, should not be viewed as a *disease or illness.*” (emphasis added)

    http://www.mormonsandgays.org/

    You should write Church headquarters and tell them to stop preaching this wrongheaded “political rhetoric” about our gay brothers and sisters not suffering from a disease or illness. Better yet, maybe you should stop writing posts that demonstrate a stunning lack of empathy on the pain many people feel on this issue, contribute to the idea that being gay is something that needs to be fixed, and directly contradict your own church’s teachings.

    1. Your use of this political rhetoric is a nice illustration of my point: instead of pursuing evidence about a hard question, just decide the answer in advance and publicly bad-mouth those who would dare to question your politically imposed consensus. Just shout down people as “haters” and there is no need for actual arguments; its an old strategy, but still an effective one.

      A main point I make is that there is huge amount of pain associated with this issue. My conjecture is that it rather obvious to most reasonable people, therefore, that it would be very desirable to have methods to prevent homosexuality from ever occurring in the first place or to potentially reverse it (I’m absolutely not arguing for any of the past “therapies” here, which seem to be mostly damaging to people). However, this would require open-minded study of the topic–not assuming the answer. Individuals can always (and should always) be treated with love and respect. But to establish political walls against learning about the origins of homosexuality is a pretty “hateful” thing to do to people, in my view. We can love and accept people without accepting the unfounded rhetoric.

      As I very clearly stated, the innate and immutable hypothesis may prove, through scientific inquiry, to be entirely true. But that inquiry is far from complete. My personal view is that the old psychological theories espoused by Freud and others have little to contribute, but that biological research has some promise. The idea that people “decide to be gay” seems silly, as a general rule. Whatever the causal factors are, they seem to be deeply ingrained in people and powerful. So, in a sense, I’ve already accepted the innate part almost fully. The “born this way” view seems to be pretty accurate given the overwhelming number of personal accounts that suggest that to be the case.

      The “political rhetoric” (which is a pejorative term only in the case when the political rhetoric is used to displace other types of rhetoric that may prove fruitful) I refer to is damaging because it severely constrains our ability to understand and talk about an atypical aspect of the human experience not because the substance of the rhetoric is obviously flawed. The rhetoric may or may not be true, but it exists for political reasons, not scientific ones. This is by (political) design, of course. Label all the terminology that points to preventing or correcting homosexuality as hateful (or “stunningly lacking in empathy”), and there is no way to talk reasonably about causal factors. I am well aware that there is no known disease or illness, for instance, that has been shown to lead to homosexuality, and I would never claim that there is. But given that we know so little about the biological causal factors, the political rhetoric that insists that everyone buys into homosexuality as typical phenotypic variation (such as blue eyes or curly hair) is profoundly unhelpful.

      The truly sad irony is that this political rhetoric stands in the way of a potential pathway to alleviating some of the pain that you ostensibly care about.

      [PS: political rhetoric is simply rhetoric designed to achieve political ends. Political ends can be many things and are often admirable, such as the promotion of civil rights.]

      1. You label the idea that being gay is not the result of a disease or illness as “political rhetoric.” Since you teach at a church-sponsored university, I pointed out that our church dismisses the idea the disease or illness causes same sex attraction. You ignored the point, choosing instead to write a lengthy screed that pokes at strawmen without actually addressing the quote that I posted. I’ll ask again: do you believe that the Church is guilty of preaching “political rhetoric”?

        Your blithe way of dismissing such an important issue—“Yes, yes, I know this rhetoric. But that’s what it is: political rhetoric”—is what I found to be lacking empathy. Just because you say it is “political rhetoric” doesn’t mean that it is actually rhetoric and nothing more. I don’t believe it happens to be rhetoric, particularly when the identity of millions of people is wrapped up in the concept. Turns out, the Church agrees with me and not you, so I was wondering what you thought about that fact.

        Your conclusion highlights my point that you believe the Church is misguided: “The truly sad irony is that this political rhetoric stands in the way of a potential pathway to alleviating some of the pain that you ostensibly care about.” It isn’t me you are arguing with here. It is the Church, which teaches that being gay is not caused by a “disease or illness.” You should let the Church know that, in your view, they are standing in the way of “alleviating pain.”

      2. The whole disease/illness language is politically charged on all sides. Whether or not the language used by the LDS church is politically motivated is a question for you to ask someone who speaks for the church (and if you wait a little bit, the official language will probably change again, as it has many times in the past). There are internet forums for people who are interested in talking about the religious aspects of this issue.

        Personally, I don’t like disease/illness language regarding homosexuality, and I do not use it because there is not sufficient evidence that it is a disease or that it is not (and such definitions are inherently subjective anyway). There are fights over many other issues that have been treated as mental health disorders in the past and are no longer or conditions that are have not been treated as disorders in the past but now are. Alcoholism used to be treated as a moral failing; now it is considered as a disease. Some advocates for autism spectrum disorders don’t like the disease label, either. They are arguing for treating autism disorders as just different kinds of normal (the analogies to homosexuality are interesting). Some deaf people get very offended if people suggest that they have a disorder. The politics of what is a disease and what isn’t are highly charged and often don’t have that much to do with scientific knowledge.

        But this whole issue is only incidentally related to the point I was arguing. If you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that I wasn’t drawing a line between political rhetoric and truth. There is nothing inherently untruthful about political rhetoric. What I am arguing is that a particular line of rhetoric, that homosexuality is “not a deviation, not abnormal, not a disease, not something that needs to be fixed, etc., etc.” is not motivated for the most part by scientific understanding, but by politics. Pretty much whatever terms one puts into the “etc., etc.,” will be opposed for political reasons. Given how little we know about the biological roots of homosexuality, it is premature to say whether or not it is a pathogentic outcome of some biological agent or not. If it is innate, it is the result of something more than just genes. What, then? The epigenetic story is one intriguing possibility.

        I don’t want to use disparaging terms to describe homosexuals (and I don’t think that a disease label is necessarily more disparaging in this case than it would be for alcoholics or diabetics), but pretty much any term that indicates something other than complete normality is opposed by the politically correct. I can understand why they feel this way (which is why I brought up that people would hate my argument). The basic idea–that homosexuality is something that most people would want to prevent or avoid if possible–will offend the political advocates regardless of what language I were to use, from the most benign to the most vile. Your jumping on the disease term is an example of that very thing.

      3. And, I totally agree that “the identity of millions of people is wrapped up” with homosexuality–which is exactly why it is an issue that cries out for objective scientific inquiry that isn’t obstructed by political agendas!

        I don’t have a problem with the church’s statement that you quote above, especially the spirit in which it is given. If I were writing it, I’d change the “No one fully knows about the root causes…” to “No one knows much at all…”

      4. “If you had been paying attention, you would have noticed that I wasn’t drawing a line between political rhetoric and truth.”

        Ah yes, the “not paying attention” trope. If I’d paid better attention, surely I’d agree by now.

        “If there were a simple treatment that their mothers could have chosen [to make their children heterosexual], wouldn’t it be desirable?”

        Many different members of society have suffered pain and discrimination and continue to do so. Surely you agree that it is easier to be male than female in much of the world and that being female causes all kinds of heartache, discrimination, etc. Should then medical engineers be researching how to switch genders for those mothers who are worried about the pain their kids are going to have to endure?

        What about race? Many minorities suffer needless discrimination. Maybe their parents think if *only* their kids could be born white or a member of whichever class happens to be in power, then their kids will avoid judgment, scorn, derision, and pain and get ahead in life.

        No, we don’t do that. Or at least, the folks I tend to interact with don’t do that. And it isn’t because these kinds of ideas are just political rhetoric. It’s because we are talking about social engineering that denies the normality of their human experience and their identity. Instead, we focus on creating a world where those divisions that contribute to that pain and disempowerment no longer exist.

        So too with being gay. Rather than lamenting the lack of medical research that would allow parents to tinker with their kids’ genetic codes, we promote marriage equality, anti-discrimination legislation, acceptance of LGBT communities, and, yes, celebrate the breaking of the sports barrier by Jason Collins.

        Others use his annoncement to complain about the lack of eugenics for gay people. Of course, if people saw being gay as just another “normal” way of being human, there wouldn’t be any need for parents to feel angst about their kids’ futures or for college professors to wonder about using medical research to change them.

      5. OK, finally some arguments.

        I don’t consider the race question at all analogous to gender or sexuality, so I don’t have anything to say about it here. What if black people wanted to have white children or white people wanted to have black children? Never given that much thought, honestly.

        On the issue of choosing the gender of one’s child, I don’t have any problem with that as long as methods don’t end up killing unborn children or hurting them. Many people (including probably some who you consider morally worthy to be your friends), go through a variety of methods to try to influence sex selection of their offspring (mostly to no avail). Personally, I wanted girls more than boys, but I ended up with mostly boys. I’m still happy with my kids.

        You raise a good point about males have advantages that females don’t and genders being valued by some cultures differently. That is what leads to the horror of sex-selective abortion (that, and limitations on family size). But having BOTH males and females in the population leads to obvious social benefits, such as the ability to propogate the species. I don’t see any such social advantages accruing to having homosexuality in a population. How, for instance, would a population that consisted of no people with homosexual orientation benefit from introducing homosexual orientation?

        I can understand the moral value of treating homosexuals with the love, dignity and respect that is due to anyone. But I don’t see the benefits of homosexuality itself, holding other factors constant, and I think there are considerable costs. I identified a few of those costs, namely the inability to have children that are the biological offspring of two parents. I would add to my previous list the idea that children generally benefit from having both a mother and a father (though the jury is still out on that one, to a large degree). Finally, I think there are benefits to the society of men and women coming together, working through the difficulties of building a life with the “other.” (And please don’t retreat to the 1970s feminist arguments that men and women are essentially the same except for the ways they are socialized; no serious person who as looked at any research in the past quarter century believes that any more). I don’t see any such benefit from homosexual relationships.

        You may consider these claims and others to be weak or non-existent, and I consider them rather obvious. But what are the benefits of homosexuality? Don’t give me the argument for being true to oneself or authentic, because that is not what I’m talking about. Can we agree that eliminating premature death from the population would be a good thing and that releasing life-threatening viruses into the population would be a bad thing? I think we can talk about human characteristics that have positive and negative value in the population without smear tactics, like making charges of homophobia or eugenics or other ways of dismissing arguments by calling people haters.

      6. For those who _are_ homosexual, can you imagine the pain at reading there is a desire to strike something that is at your essence from existence? It seems many homosexuals are happy as is. I agree, we can eliminate suffering by eliminating bigotry. As far as science to discover causes, I am all for that.

  3. “A consistent theme I hear when homosexuals tell their stories about coming out is how hard it was to admit, first to themselves and then to others, that they are gay. Many of them tell stories of great pain and anguish prior to coming out (and sometimes thereafter). Wouldn’t eliminating that pain be wonderful?”

    Yes, if “eliminating that pain” meant that homosexuals could live as their authentic selves without worry of judgment, ridicule and harassment, among others, which is where much of that pain stems from. Shouldn’t a primary focus be on fixing what is really broken?? How about eliminating the “us versus them” mentality (this could apply to a myriad of situations and not just hetero versus homosexual)? Why don’t we get rid of the words and actions that exclude our LGBTQ brothers and sisters that are so often heard and seen in our families, our wards, and throughout our communities?

    You wrote, “In short, a central claim of the gay rights movement is that homosexuals do not choose to be gay. But if they could, would they? If there were a simple treatment that their mothers could have chosen, wouldn’t it be desirable?” Desireable for you, correct?

    And if you’re going to speak to the desire “to have methods to prevent homosexuality from ever occurring in the first place,” don’t you think you should rewrite that last sentence above to read, “Wouldn’t eliminating homosexuals be wonderful?”

    1. I’m not sure anyone, gay or straight, really knows what their “authentic self” is. But as to living without judgment, ridicule or harassment, that I would definitely support.

      As to your last point, seriously? (so much for living without judgment, ridicule or harassment!)

  4. Sven, if what you say is true (no one really knowing what their authentic self is), then aren’t we all wandering around clueless? That seems a huge stretch.

    And yes, seriously. My last comment was in fact a question. You mentioned “preventing pain,” and the “desirability” of mothers to choose a hetero orientation, as well as “prevention.” By those statements and your article, are you or are you not saying that eliminating homesexuals/homosexuality would be wonderful or desirable for you?

    1. Are we all walking around clueless? To a large degree, yes. As Paul said, we all “see through a glass darkly,” though I’m NOT saying that is what explains homosexual orientation. It seems to me that most people are pretty clear about their orientation, though some people seem to go through a realization process that can take some time.

      As to the question of eliminating homosexuals, I can’t decide whether you are just trying to be really obtuse or really insulting. If I said I wanted to prevent people from having red hair, would you say I want to “eliminate red-haired people,” like I were advocating some sort of final solution or holocaust? Gee whiz.

      If you read my post you will note that the claim is that homosexuality is a human characteristic that most anyone would want to prevent or reverse. It can make life very painful because of the harassment and rejection you mention. But even in a world where there was none of that abuse or discrimination, it would not be desirable for the reasons I mention (the most important being the issue of children). I will not re-post those claims, since you can actually read them above, if you’d like to take the time.

      A counter argument to my position would be to say, “No, I think homosexuality is a desirable characteristic for people to have because of reasons A, B, and C.” For example, people in committed homosexual relationships probably would not want their orientation altered because they want to remain attracted to their partner. That sort of claim would actually be a rebuttal argument (though not to the point about prevention). This stuff about “do you want to eliminate homosexuals?” or the “do you think homosexuality is a disease” by DMH above is just willful misunderstanding and contempt.

      1. You complain that someone is willfully misreading you and then, in the same sentence, willfully misquote me. I never asked you “do you think homosexuality is a disease.” You labelled something as political rhetoric. I pointed out that none other than the church you worship at and that pays your salary doesn’t think it is rhetoric. Either that, or the church is teaching something that is nothing more than “political rhetoric” as you label it.

        But hey, spin that as you may; it’s your blog. Something about a pot and a kettle.

      2. OK, I’ll grant you that one. I misquoted.

        Regarding your original question, let me restate in a hopefully more helpful way. I don’t have any problem with the church’s statement about homosexuality not being the result of disease, since I don’t think the disease language is helpful or useful. I would disagree with the church if it said, “scientific research has shown that homosexuality is not a disease,” since there is no scientific foundation for that statement (just as there is no scientific foundation for saying it is a disease).

        So, yes, the church is using rhetoric that is a subset of the larger political rhetoric central to the gay rights movement these days.

        Whether they are doing that for political reasons, well, you’ll have to ask them.

        [And whether something is a disease is not is really a social/political question, not a scientific one. No one thinks of having freckles as a disease, even though the causes are biological. But if freckles were socially disadvantageous or had other negative consequences, it would make sense to think of them as a disease. But my frustration is that this is all so completely tangential.]

  5. Gee whiz is right. I never stated or used the word holocaust and my question to you, (“Are you or are you not saying that eliminating homesexuals/homosexuality would be wonderful or desirable for you?”) was not meant in the literal sense of eliminating human beings, but surely you were smart enough to know that. I could rephrase the question, to be more clear, (i.e. “Is eliminating the homosexual orientation desirable for you?”) but there’s no point, really, because any questions (from either DMH or myself) are just viewed as contemptuous.

    1. So, now that you want to be clear instead of using the phrase (on two occasions) about “eliminating homosexuals,” I can give you a clear answer:

      Yes, it would be desirable to eliminate homosexual orientation from the population, assuming there are no great costs/risks to doing so. Arguments against that claim would be valuable and interesting to hear (I’m still waiting.)

      Isn’t that clearly a main point I was making in my post? Did we need all this back and forth to be clear about that?

      Now, I think in some cases it would not be desirable to eliminate that orientation from people who have built their lives around it. This is why I emphasized the prevention aspect. Believe it or not, I want gays to live happy and full lives, not cause them more pain.

      People want to make anti-gay bias and discrimination a relic of the past. What if we had a simple, costless way to make homosexual orientation a relic of the past? Would that be desirable? Clearly (again).

      I’d be interested in hearing arguments to the contrary.

  6. im not going to delve into the specifics of your post, mostly because i couldnt care less how you made your point; rather, it is your conclusion, that there is no real point to homosexuality other than adverse conditions for those who endure it and those who surround them, that bothers me.

    sure, we could try to eradicate homosexuality because its such a difficult issue to deal with on all sides. but, and correct me if im wrong, the point of this life from LDS doctrinal perspectives is to learn from such adversity. you said that you dont like the disease comparison to homosexuality, so why are you treating it like a disease, fit to be eradicated? as far as i know, and im no scientist, there are no other physical or psychological characteristics other than disease/birth defects that we attempt to avoid in utero. positing a solution to affect in utero ones sexual orientation sounds more and more like you are treating this as a disease.

    on another note, why is usefulness to the species even an issue? left-handedness does nothing for humans, other than complicate baseball and elementary school seating charts, but we havent tried to eliminate that based on its unusefulness or difficulty in accommodation. i have brown hair. that makes it difficult to color it light blonde, or to look like the standard Caucasian mold, or even to not stand out like a sore thumb in Provo. however, we havent tried to eliminate in utero brown hair because it causes difficulties to brunettes in their lifetime, nor because it makes me less desirable as a mate among my LDS peers. to me, homosexuality is no different. yes, it presents challenges, but so does being straight and single and lefthanded and brunette. yes it is a political hot topic, but that doesnt mean we should just try to find ways around the issue by suggesting a future without it.

    also, your article presupposes that there are only two sexualities-straight or gay. i suggest that this is incorrect. while it may be generally or mostly true, there are at least two additional categories-bi and trans. so your suggestion that we eliminate homosexuality leaves the question begging-how do we work with those who dont identify as either straight or gay? those lines are very blurry, try as we might to ignore them.

    1. “Why is usefulness to the species even an issue?” This is a very, very good point.

      Someone once wrote: “In my mind, the reason anything has value is because it is valued. The reason our questions about what is right and our striving to do what is right have value is because we are valued.”

      Who was that person? Oh yeah, it was you, Prof. Wilson. So going off of your reasoning, because I value my gay friends, family, and colleagues, they have inherent value. Why then do I need to question making them better or more normal? Is it because they will be more valuable or have even more usefulness?
      https://pileusblog.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/for-god-so-loved-the-world/

  7. Has anyone brought up the broader issues of gene therapy? You know, this idea that wouldn’t we all be better off if could eliminate: obesity, funny/bad teeth, baldness, cracked heels, excessive hairiness, IQ below a certain level, etc., etc? I guess I’m in favor of a great deal of diversity. I’ve heard that’s good for the gene pool. And I’m in favor of it as it relates to gender and sexuality.

    You’ve seen this little buddy?

    My understanding is that homosexuality is just one aspect of a really complex set of gender issues. Based on my experience with people of a wide variety of gender expressions and orientations, I say–no, eliminating this one aspect of human diversity would be a really simplistic and wrong-headed step to take.

  8. Sven, quite funny that I had to clarify. In the simplest of terms, no more homosexual orientation equals no more homosexuals, right? But I digress. You mentioned people wanting to “make anti-gay bias and discrimination a relic of the past” but then go on to say that, in essence, the more appropriate choice would be to make homosexual orientation a relic of the past, To me that sounds too much like, “We don’t have to change our attitudes or feelings or actions…we just have to get rid of ‘your kind’ and voila! Problem solved!” With that type of approach, what or who is next? Not only is that thought frightening, it’s heartbreaking.

  9. I tend to agree with the basic premise here that researchers should continue seeking answers to what determines a person’s sexuality. However, I disagree with the attitude that the purpose for the research should be to potentially prevent homosexuality. Defining the culture in such a narrow way limits progress. I’m sure people would love to find the root cause for sexual identity because we all want to understand ourselves and each other better. Doing it for any other person lends potential bias and should be avoided.

  10. Some interesting comments accumulating here. A persistent thread is the idea that we need more love for all God’s children, whoever they may be. I couldn’t agree more, so I don’t have much more to say on that thread.

    I love all my own children and will continue to do so and value the good that is in them regardless of their orientation, choices, attitudes, or behaviors. That doesn’t mean I will “accept” everything about them, nor will I necessarily accept what they do or what they believe. I will always respect their right to live as they please, and I will love them regardless of how they choose to do so. But I imagine there will always be things I wish I could change about them and the world they live in. And there will, of course, always be many things I’d like to change about myself.

    Loving people is the most important way to change the world, but not the only way. We can appreciate the diversity of the human experience without accepting everything about the human condition as being desirable (should we value that diversity that leads to billions living in poverty, for instance?). Diversity by itself has no value. Diversity in things that that are good (or at least not harmful) has value.

    Another way to change the world is to remove obstacles that stand in the way of people flourishing to the fullest extent possible. The honest pursuit of knowledge is one of the best ways I know of to knock down such obstacles.

    1. “diversity by itself has no value. Diversity in things that are good (or at least not harmful) has value.”

      says who? the human race is diverse in a plethora of ways, and what a middle-class american defines as having no value is totally different from what a family living in a third world country would define as having no value. how we can say “this physical thing is patently valueless to EVERYONE” to anything other than a disease seems impossible.

      after having read your bio though, this makes sense-you are an economist. in your world, everything is dictated by cost/benefit. however, in my limited though authentic experience, no human being actually applies these kinds of “rational” judgments to most of life. noone acts exclusively in their own best interests or strictly because something has value. and if noone acts exclusively based on value, then how can we (as a whole) make judgments based only on one perception of what is valueless? you cant. your argument cant stand because it assumes that value is static across the board according to your value judgment.

    2. How can people flourish as a whole when society thinks it’s appropriate to eliminate perceived obstacles based on nothing more than the human tendency to discriminate against those who differ from us? So much of this post seems to indicate he’s operating under the idea that there is an ideal human standard we should all become in order to have an ideal society. Would Van Gogh have been better off dying of old age with both ears intact, having lived a life with less obstacles and less to separate him from the crowd and less starry nights? I’d take perceived abnormalities over homogenization any day. As far as I can tell, homosexuality is not a harmful obstacle, but pompous bigots definitely are.

  11. “Shouldn’t even people who are gay rights activists be in favor of the development of knowledge that might lead to such a discovery? A consistent theme I hear when homosexuals tell their stories about coming out is how hard it was to admit, first to themselves and then to others, that they are gay. Many of them tell stories of great pain and anguish prior to coming out (and sometimes thereafter). Wouldn’t eliminating that pain be wonderful?”

    Sven,
    I’m not sure that anyone, no matter how painful their childhood, would advocate trying to come up with a genetic means to eradicate themselves. Nor do I think, in this day and age, that homosexuality inherently prevents passing on genetic material to the next generation, nor does it prevent people from becoming parents. So, no. I cannot imagine any scenario where any member of the LGBT community would advocate this sort of study. This is admittedly a failure of my imagination, but I would tend to think that anyone so self-loathing that self-eradication (or eradication of all future people like his or her self) seems desirable should be given therapy, not a match and lighter fluid.

  12. It is easy to talk like this when you don’t know anyone who is personally affected. This isn’t just science, it’s people’s lives. You *must* remember this at all times when studying humans. “It would be a shame if acceptance and tolerance crowd out inquiry,” you say. I propose that the very opposite is true. Love and compassion must *always* come first, so that when the science comes, it will not be misused. It is not wrong to remain silent on an issue if you cannot address it in a humane way. Remember what your mother told you.

  13. Here’s a question I have. The fact that homosexuality has always existed in about the same percentages indicates that it is not a threat to the species. Why then bother with trying to prevent it? If it’s a problem, evolution would eventually take care of it, but that hasn’t occurred. Being homosexual isn’t a huge disadvantage and has even been privileged in some cultures throughout history.

    I am interested to see what science yields in terms of causes (although the point that orientation is not as simple as “gay” or “straight” is key to conducting such scientific inquiry). But what one does with that information is the political. Eugenics is using science to serve a political aim. I have mixed feelings on eugenics, but I’m all for scientific inquiry. Knowledge is power. What we then do with that power is political.

  14. What surprises me as I read this is the way you’re phrasing the arguments of those who disagree with you: their rhetoric is “political,” where yours, presumably, is neutral and apolitical. That’s an argument fit for cable news, not a university professor! The entire question of gene therapy and whether it’s a good idea in any circumstance is based on political concerns (not necessarily on strictly partisan ones, but definitely in the broader sense of how society ought to govern itself), so to pretend that your perspective here is somehow free of that while your opponents are being rampantly “political” is frustrating to read and strikes me as disingenuous.

    1. Casey, I would never pretend to be neutral or apolitical. As I said a few times, political rhetoric isn’t bad or untruthful. I engage in political rhetoric all the time on this blog (that is sort of the point of having a blog). The important question is not whether rhetoric is political or not; the question is whether the arguments made are strong. Are the foundations strong? Are the empirical facts in question transparent? Do the conclusions follow from the premises? Those kind of things.

      I appreciate it when people point out that when I make weak arguments (which I do with some regularity, I’ll have you know). But on topics like this, most comments boil down to “I’m right; you’re a hater.” That is wearisome and not something I’m very interested in engaging.

      What I don’t like is when political rhetoric is used to shut down or put in place of scientific inquiry or civil discussion. The “different variety of normal” rhetoric is largely carrying the day in America, which I don’t think is in society’s best interest or in the interests of people who identify as homosexuals, in the long run. I have little doubt that “different variety of normal” rhetoric will continue to increase in influence. This is happening both through changing minds and through shutting down dissent. But however successful the rhetoric is politically, the biology is what it is–and we don’t really know that much yet about that biology, unfortunately.

      I would fight tooth and nail any type of state-sponsored eugenic agenda that is coercive in any way. And you are indeed right that anything related to gene therapy, genetic modification or changing the epigenetic environment opens up a whole host of political concerns and reasons to be concerned about state power. But it is also opening up many opportunities.

  15. Well I’d totally agree that it’s interesting and worthwhile to imagine what it might mean if science found a way to genetically ensure some kind of “straightness.” And I also agree that whatever exactly “political rhetoric” means, it shouldn’t shut down civil discussion (although that seems to conflate “political” with “strident”, since I think all civil discussion is political by nature!) Unfortunately, I’m not with you when you talk about “different variety or normal” rhetoric being problematic, especially when you’re talking in terms of biology. The term “normal” has a very troublesome scientific history, since in early 20th century became closely aligned with eugenic thought and strict behavior controls (for example, “abnormal” girls who were institutionalized for being too promiscuous).

    So when I read that “different variety of normal” rhetoric is increasing influence by means of shutting down dissent, I bristle a little because shutting down dissent is precisely the point of establishing any kind of “normalcy.” Even if society returned to whatever the opposite of “different varieties of normal” is, by definition we’d still be shutting down dissent. That’s probably why you’re drawing some more heated responses: you seem to be telling people who have historically been on the fringe of society that everybody’s better off if they stay there. Given the history of “normalcy” and still-prevalent rhetoric of “curing” gayness in some circles, it’s also easy to imagine how more, let’s say, “political” viewpoints might co-opt what you’re saying to do real harm to gay people. Unlike hypothetical conjecture about what a more tolerant society may become in the future, we have very real, very concrete, and very recent historical examples of what the reverse leads to, and a lot of folks like me wouldn’t be happy to go back to it!

    1. Good points here. I would say that the term “normal” is inherently a political term, one used by both sides of the debate in political ways. We haven’t established the normality of homosexuality through science, nor could we ever hope to do so, really, because at its heart it isn’t an objective scientific term, I would argue. It is a political one. So lets all agree when we are talking about what is normal or desirable or good or bad or sickness or disease or health, we are making fundamentally political statements. I am all for that kind of clarity. My arguments have certainly not been apolitical. Our biological terminology changes because our politics changes. The problem is when people pretend their political agendas are not political or to pretend that they are founded in science when they are not.

      I’m trying to make my political agenda transparent here. I think that what empirical evidence we have suggests that homosexuality is a regularly occurring trait across human populations that seems to have strong biological influences that are probably the result of genes being expressed different ways in different environments (almost all the old nature/nuture debates are dead as research has shown that many genetic traits are a function of both the genome and the epigenetic environment, so the new line of research I cited in the post is not very surprising). But I don’t think same gender attraction is a desirable or even benign human trait. Is the word desirable loaded with a political agenda that assumes things about the good that not everyone agrees with and that are potentially contestable? You bet it is!

      I’m also aware that people don’t like to hear this argument, that they think it is unkind or insensitive towards gays. I get that. No lone likes to hear a message that something they consider core to who they are is an undesirable trait. I would respond that we are all full of desirable and undesirable traits. I have many undesirable traits, for instance. Some of those traits we can potentially change, others not. Many are poorly understood. Those traits which touch on important issues such as sexual attraction are worthy of exploration.

      I don’t make these arguments because I seek to make gay people feel bad or deny them basic rights in some way (as you note, we’ve had more than enough of that in the world already). I’m just trying to improve the world in whatever ways I can in my little corner of it. I think the political rhetoric (there I go again!) of “different varieties of normal” when it comes to sexual attraction is on balance harmful in the long run.

  16. Well, we can probably agree to disagree on whether homosexuality is desirable,benign, or harmful. As a straight guy it’s something I can only approach at an abstract level anyway. Certainly there are religious considerations here which we haven’t touched on, and that’s a whole other can of worms. Regardless, there’s certainly no reason not to let science have its say, and I guess we’ll all see how that plays out. I always appreciate a blogger willing to respond substantively to comments, though.

    1. Thanks. For me, the non-religious aspects of this question constitute enough of a can of worms already!

  17. Wild.

    If you had a choice, would you go back and change anything like this? I thought about this and at first said, yes, I’d have 20-20 vision. Or be more coordinated (it really sucked to be the last one picked every time). But maybe not, because my life doesn’t exactly suck, and I’d guess that those “shortcomings” pushed me to be better at other things.

    Baby days are long gone, but if I had a choice and could have blocked a kid’s “gayness”, would I have? Maybe where I was then I would have, but hopefully I would have given it enough thought to get to where I am now. And now I don’t think so, because it defines so much of who a person is and I would never want to change that.

    Also, here’s an interesting take: The author says the science should be pursued and if it is biological, then rather than change society to be more accepting (because it’s not a choice), he’s saying to “fix” it. But here’s the rub: if you believe in God, then you are saying that you should change what God made. But if God made gay, then how is gay bad? If you don’t believe in God, then it’s a non-issue other than the question about when/if you should play God.

    1. So, here is a list of things that people seem to be born with: athletic ability, musical talent, depression, blue eyes, psychopathic disorder, long legs, heart murmurs, language facility, alcoholism, red hair, 20/20 vision, a good sense of humor, a pretty face, a susceptibility to acne, …, do you get the point?

      Would you accept everything on this list as good and desirable just “because God made it,” or would you try to change some of them if you had the option. If you agree that there are things we are born with that are definitely bad news, which is your criteria for determining what we should try to change and what we should just let be?

      As for me, if I could prevent some of the things on the list, I definitely would.

      PS: And although I still don’t want to get into religious discussions on this, I’m intrigued by what religious faith would be believe that God is so weak that his plan could be undermined by mere mortals trying to play at being God. Trying to change sexual orientation may be against God’s will for any number of other reasons, but is it really possible to subvert God’s plan in this way. He is God, after all. No?

  18. Honestly, it shouldn’t matter if people are born gay or not because there isn’t anything wrong with being gay.

  19. I think that the general thrust of this post highlights a major faux pas that gay rights activists have made. Namely: so much of this is focused on “born this way” argumentation. And I think that’s the faux pas of gay rights activists; they have so often focused so much on “born this way” that they have neglected that the origins of homosexuality are actually irrelevant — really, the question is whether homosexuality as an attribute is undesirable, neutral, or desirable.

    And the case that gay rights activists should be making is that at worst, homosexuality is a neutral attribute. Of course, the gay rights activists should be arguing that homosexuality is as desirable as heterosexualtiy — in other words, when we speak about the benefits of companionship, these benefits are similar between men and women as between men and between women.

    So, for example, when I see this from the original post:

    It would be disconcerting, at least, to embark on a field of study where an increasingly large group of politically motivated, influential and often angry people are already convinced they know the answer: sexual orientation is innate and immutable.

    I think that what the “increasingly large group” are “already convinced they know the answer” to is not necessarily that sexual orientation is innate and immutable…but that in the case of homosexuality, it is good (or, at minimum, netural). And they know this because they see that their gay and lesbian sons, daughters, friends, etc., are just as fulfilled and productive as they are when they can pursue the relationships they wish as any straight folks are.

    If we focus on origins, we miss the fact that what we are really talking about is the acceptability or value of homosexuality. I suspect that the author of this piece probably doesn’t see much value in homosexuality, and because of that, trying to remove it seems like a no-brainer. I feel that much of this article is steeped in heteronormative and/or heterosexist assumptions…and even when it tries to step away from these assumptions, it still falls prey to these assumptions. I’ll point out a few examples from this quoted selection

    The obvious response to this is that it isn’t homosexuality that causes the pain, but is instead the “homophobic culture” we live in. Fair enough. But consider the thought experiment where the culture is completely accepting of homosexuality. It seems that even in this homophilic wonderland, there are compelling reasons to prevent homosexuality. First of all, the desire to create biological children that are related to both parents seems a powerful (and biologically rooted) urge. Second, mate selection is much harder for homosexuals purely for statistical reasons. Third, the social self-sorting of homosexuals into urban environments, where mate selection is easier, can be costly, especially for individuals who don’t like those environments for other reasons. Finally, there is always stress (sometimes a lot) for growing up as a minority, whether minority status is defined, by race, religion, ethnicity, or sexuality.

    Sven, I commend you on trying to imagine what a homophilic culture would be like. However, it seems to me that there are still assumptions here that really would be more seen in a heteronormative culture.

    1) The “first” response you have is that the desire to create biological children would give us compelling reason to prevent homosexuality. But this seems strange for several reasons. Firstly, gay people are perfectly capable of having biological children. If a gay person were so motivated to have a child of his or her own biology, s/he could do that. But it seems to me that however “biologically rooted” or “powerful” this urge is, many folks are perfectly happy with having children that are not biologically related to both parents — either through adoption, surrogacy, a child from a previous relationship, etc.,

    2) The mate selection issue seems to reveal problems in your homophilic example. If we are discussing the possibility of changing one’s sexuality (for example, environmentally or epigenetically), then why would we only talk about the possibility of changing someone who is gay into someone who is straight? The homophilic society, presumably, would value procedures that could turn straight people gay.

    And, let’s address the elephant in the room — bisexual people. So, certainly, couldn’t we consider as well the possibility of turning straight and gay people bisexual? This would seem to be optimal if we are talking about a statistical selection process.

    If this is the case, then in a homophilic society where all these possibilities would be valued equally, then it would appear that mate selection would NOT be much harder for statistical reasons. After all, in a homophilic society, straight folks would also see value in being bisexual instead of limiting their options.

    3) Given that point 2 falls, point 3 would fall as well. I would argue further that part of the reason that mate selection is more difficult in a non-urban environment vs. an urban environment is related to the heteronormative/heterosexist underpinnings of our own society. For example, presumably, urban areas (in a heteronormative society) tend to be friendlier to homosexuality than non-urban areas. But in our homophilic society, we wouldn’t have this discrepancy.

    4) It seems to me that stress is a part of life. And certainly, we should work at managing stress and decreasing stress — but the question is where. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that you are suggesting that we should decrease stress by removing the minority. But I would push back and argue that perhaps we should address stress by changing the stressing society. For example, with religious minorities, we would not say that the religious minority should just convert to a majority religion. Similarly, with racial minorities, most folks would not say that it would be better if we could turn racial minorities into the majority race. Rather, we say that society should be modified to not discriminate against racial and religious minorities.

    The real question is whether or not we believe the attribute in question to be undesirable, neural, or desirable. Many people today believe that race and religion are a neutral attributes — this is why we wouldn’t consider that we should change someone’s race or religion.

    From this essay, it appears that the author does not believe sexuality to be a neutral attribute — so this would explain why he would rather that attribute be changed and removed if possible.

    1. Hey, very thoughtful response, Andrew. You make some excellent points I will have to think about. Your comment on causing people to be bisexual on efficiency grounds is very clever.

      “The real question is whether or not we believe the attribute in question to be undesirable, neural, or desirable.” I couldn’t agree more.

      I think the probability of coming up with means to keep homosexuality from occurring is small. But the probability of transforming the world into a homophilic wonderland is next to nil. So, given the world as it is or as it is likely to become, why would we preserve the homosexuality trait?

      1. Sven,

        Thanks for the quick response, Sven!

        With respect to transforming the world into a homophilic wonderland, then I’ll answer with two ways:

        1) I’ll make the comparison to racial minorities again. Suppose someone said, “I think the probability of coming up with means to keep racial minorities from occurring is small. But the probability of transforming the world into an anti-racist/racially accepting wonderland is next to nil. So, given the world as it is or as it is likely to become, why would we preserve racial minorities?”

        Perhaps you might disagree with this comparison, but one reason I like it is because in some senses, I actually do think that transforming the world into an anti-racist wonderland is a very difficult task…perhaps completely unlikely, given human nature about in-group/out-group psychology and sociology.

        In fact, if this comparison has problems, the problems lie in the fact that while it is probably very difficult to change society, it would be comparatively much easier to prevent racial minorities — racial minorities are not born in normal distribution across all segments of society, after all. Unlike with gay folks, where you can get gay folks in any family, any segment of society, etc., racial minorities are born to racial minorities.

        Nevertheless, most people in 2013 would not say that we ought to prevent racial minorities. Since there is nothing wrong with racial minorities, that doesn’t even cross most people’s minds, despite the challenges of living in often racist conditions. We don’t have to ask “why would we preserve racial minorities”? In fact, we instead would probably ask, “Why would we go out of our way to prevent racial minorities?” And I think that for most people, no answer would be satisfactory.

        Likewise, with sexual minorities, the question becomes whether we find non-hetero orientations to be desirable, neutral, or undesirable. And like with races, this question is going to be a question of values. Like, science can’t say what races “should” be promoted. Likewise, science can’t say what sexualities should be promoted.

        But here’s what we can say. We can look at the lives of gay and lesbian people. We can see that they are successful, happy, lead fulfilling lives and raise well-adjusted families.

        So, that’s my first response.

        Here’s my second.

        2) There’s a funny thing about history and time, and you can especially see it with the racial minority situation. 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, or whatever time ago, you might have said, “The probability of transforming the world into a minority-friendly wonderland is next to nil.” And I grant, as I did in point 1, that things aren’t perfect. (At best, we approach a wonderland asymptotically…never hitting that upper limit).

        Yet…things have certainly changed. And, what’s more, things have certainly improved. I don’t want to say that having a black president has eliminated racism, but…we have a black president. It would have been unthinkable decades ago.

        On the case of sexual minorities, we see similar trends. Gay marriage would have bee unthinkable decades ago. Now, the news of a new state passing gay marriage seems par for the course.

        But OK, OK, let me take another shot at answering your question. Please forgive me if I have lost you:

        So, given the world as it is or as it is likely to become, why would we preserve the homosexuality trait?

        I think homosexuality makes us stronger as a society, and homosexuality makes gay individuals stronger as individuals. In some sense, struggle and opposition builds character. If it is true that minorities experience opposition from their minority status, I think that makes them stronger than those people of the majority who are not similarly challenged. (I think that everyone has some area where they face adversity, so we all have our strengths.) They have something to teach the world about enduring to the end.

        But similarly, homosexuality makes us stronger as a society, because it gives us a chance (as does the existence of racial minorities, of religious minorities, etc.,) to determine how we will perform when we are faced with the “other”. Will we shun the other? Or will we try to understand the other and try to embrace him/her in his/her difference?

        In homosexuality we have a particular gift not commonly found. We have a trait that is not in itself harmful to anyone and yet which seems to provide a considerable difference. This is, in my opinion, the ideal combination.

      2. Hmmm, very thoughtful again, Andrew. I’ll have to ponder these points for awhile and possibly respond more in depth later (though I’m usually happy to give commentators the last word).

        My problem with drawing too many comparisons to the issue of racial identity is that race is a socially profound yet biologically trivial characteristic of humanity.

        Sexuality (both gender and attraction, which are also strongly inter-related) is both socially and biologically profound–if it weren’t we’d know much more about it. People like to say, “well, people came to accept inter-racial marriage, why not gay marriage?” Perhaps we should, but it is very, very much not the same thing.

        Does it make sense to say that in the homophilic world homosexuality will cause people to “struggle,” as you say? If everyone is accepting, where does the struggle come from? Wouldn’t the existence of struggle in such a world indicate something undesirable?

      3. Sven,

        Thanks for responding again. I know I’m long-winded, and I apologize.

        You point out the differences between race and sexuality as being that one is biologically profound and one is not. I would venture, however, to say that to speak of “profundity” is speaking of the *sociological* aspect, because our values are sociological. In other words, whether or not race is a big deal (or whether or not race’s biological aspect are considered a big deal) is actually a sociological matter. So, for example, race realists will believe that race is not biologically trivial. They will think that the hard science backs them up on that.

        Like what matters to us about race is not whatever is biologically the case about race — we have racism *even if* race is biologically trivial. Race is a big issue in society *even* if it is trivial. That’s precisely because society cares about what is *socially* profound.

        When you speak of sexuality being biologically profound, this isn’t really a biological statement. This is a sociological statement about biology.

        Does it make sense to say that in the homophilic world homosexuality will cause people to “struggle,” as you say? If everyone is accepting, where does the struggle come from? Wouldn’t the existence of struggle in such a world indicate something undesirable?

        Great response. In my three answers before, I was trying to cover several bases: 1) does it matter if creating an homophilic society is difficult? [My answer: no; it doesn’t matter in other minority situations either. And I’m not saying the task will be easy, only that it will be worth it.] 2) Is creating a homophilic society difficult? [My answer: Probably so, but that doesn’t mean we can’t improve things immensely] 3) Why should we continue trying? [My answer: because even if we don’t ever get there, the *process* is a process that strengthens us all.]

        So, my point 3 is kinda assuming that the homophilic world has not yet been achieved (and may not be achieved). In the homophilic world (as with the anti-racist world), it’s true that homosexuality (as with race) would not cause people to struggle — there would doubtlessly be other areas of struggle — and those areas of struggle would indicate something to change.

        The question — as it always is — is what needs to change. Is it the individual, or is it the social system around?

  20. This post both angers me and saddens me. It is obvious, Sven, you have never truly known a member of the gay community. I would never change one single thing about my son. The points in your post are, honestly, a bunch of malarky. Many of those points have already been shown as inaccurate, but I am particularly offended on multiple levels about your comment about gay parents not being able to create biological children. Because, what? Children that are mine biologically are so superior to adopted children?

    I could go on, but I won’t. However, as an academic, you should know quoting a study that is more than ten years old is just as reliable as quoting wikipedia.

    1. Um, the study I point to came out 5 months ago (Dec. 2012), so I’m not sure what you are referring to.

      People can love adopted children as much as a biological child, for sure. But a strong desire to reproduce is pretty fundamental to our species; just talk with anyone (male or female) who has wanted to have a child but can’t. I don’t think that is refutable.

      1. “Franz Kallman, one of the earliest (and widely cited) advocates of genetic origins began his 1952 study in The American Journal of Human Genetics with the claim that “an allusion to a possible relationship between sex and organic inheritance is unlikely to provoke more than a polite smile of skepticism.”

        Could be wrong. Pretty sure that says 1952. Seriously outdated research.But change is hard, I know.

      2. You see, that was my point in that part of the post–illustrating how the views of scientists have changed over time. Back in the early 1950s, hardly anyone, even among the scientific elite, took the idea that homosexuality had biological origins very seriously.

        It took studies like that 1952 study to start to change minds. That study, by the way, suggested a much stronger role for a genetic basis than scientists believe today. So, if you want to preach the “born that way” hypothesis, you’d be much better off sticking to the 1952 study and ignoring the research since then!

        The main study I was quoting about epigenetic research comes from 2012. I doubt that the authors of that study would like anything that I’m saying.

  21. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have s scientific study of superstition, er, I mean Religion.

    1. There are, actually. I vaguely remember that scientists have even identified genes that may be related to a person’s inclination to be religious.

      And psychologists have done work on religious personality types. Within any culture, there seem to be people more inclined to religiousity than others.

      Sorry, I don’t have any references for you. But that research should not be too hard to find if you want to look for it.

      1. If we could perform gene therapy (if it’s genetic) or epigenetic therapy (if it’s epigenetic), or make a therapy/plan of intervention (environmental), or engineer a surgery or medication (neurological) to remove a person’s inclination to be religious, would you want that research to be done?

        It would remove religious conflict, after all, right. It would remove the stress of having to deal with people of other faiths and possibly being a minority faith yourself.

        …I suspect that you might find there to be aspects of religion that are worth keeping independently of the potential for stress and harm, though.

  22. And if we could do research to prevent homosexuals, then imagine the other undesirable traits we could prevent: left handedness, red hair, attached ear lobes, and the epicanthic eye fold.

    It is a kinder, gentler way to cleanse and eliminate the undesirables. We will tolerate the lefties and gingers among us but simply prevent new ones from being born thereby saving them from the difficulties of being different. And once we rid ourselves of the gays, those with freckles, etc., then we can talk about those races and religions that should be prevented.

    I thought Prop 8 was pretty low, but arguing for research to prevent gay people from existing in the first place? This may fly at BYU or in LDS circles but it has no place in my life or the lives of those I care about.

    1. Ben, the world of genetic design is coming whether you or I like it or not, so we better get used to it.

      Are you saying that if the gay people you know and care about had been born straight, you wouldn’t still love them?

      If someone you love is straight turns out to be gay, are you not going to still love him/her? Do they all of the sudden become a different person to you? Or, isn’t it more like you learn something about them you didn’t know, but they are still the same people?

      If someone you love who you think is gay turns out not to be gay (as happens sometimes) do you stop loving them? Do they become a different person?

      This language you use of “preventing gay people from existing in the first place” is very unhelpful. The issue is preventing one characteristic, albeit an important and complex one, not “eliminating homosexuals,” as an earlier commentator kept saying.

      If homosexuality were prevented in utero, the baby would still be born and would be in almost all ways the same person. He or she would still exist! They would be different, to be sure, but still in most ways the same person.

      Isn’t that part of the standard gay rights rhetoric: “people are basically the same, some just have a homosexual orientation which is as normal as a heterosexual orientation.”

      But when the issue of preventing that orientation arises, all of a sudden the rhetoric shifts to, “homosexuality is the central, defining characteristic of the person that reaches into every aspect of their life.” So, its sort of like people with your views are shifting the arguments as it suits them.

      If homosexuality is such an enormous part of one’s identity, isn’t that more of reason to prevent it if possible, not less? That seems extremely stressful to live that way (and I realize that the importance of sexuality in one’s life varies tremendously both within the homosexual and heterosexual groups).

      As many people of my generation have, I’ve shifted my views regarding homosexuality over my life considerably. This is mostly through listening to gay people tell their stories. When they do, they seem pretty much like straight people to me, worthy of the same love and respect.

      Many gay people go through life facing extreme hardships due to abuse and discrimination; those experiences often shape who they are considerably. There is no doubt about that.

      But, suppose that weren’t the case. Suppose we could look at two versions of the same person: one straight, one gay (sort of like the twins example I started with). Would they be radically different people?

      If that person were you, and you could make a decision which of those versions to be, why would you pick the gay version over straight version? Or why would you pick your child to be gay over straight?

      That is what I’m interested in understanding better. I don’t think very many people, if they were honest, would pick to be the gay person for a variety of reasons or to choose for the child to be gay for reasons quite independent of the hostile world that gays face.

      I understand that given that we are who we are, it is best to show love and respect to people gay or straight. I understand that those who have gay friends and loved ones don’t want to send the message that there is something wrong with their loved ones, that their love for them is less than it would be if they were straight.

      But that is not the issue I’m trying to get at.

      1. Sven, that is so messed up in so many ways. The arrogance is perhaps the most appalling.

      2. I’m not Ben, but since I now receive all the follow-up comment replies, I’ll say a few things here.

        One thing I want to point out that a lot of who we are is affected by a sum total of things — experiences, genetics, epigenetics, neurology, and so on. I’ll get to that later in the comment, but for now…

        If someone you love is straight turns out to be gay, are not going to still love him/her? Do they all of the sudden become a different person to you? Or, isn’t it more like you learn something about them you didn’t know, but they are still the same people?

        One things that you might not know if you don’t know a lot of gay people is that this is precisely the experience many gay people have in our society when they come out. They become aware that 1) the closeted facade that they were presenting is a vastly different person than the non-closeted self they previously had not been presenting but which they now are…and 2) that many people do view them as very different people before and after.

        Perhaps this is the consequence of living in a heterosexist world, but the coming out process, for a number of possible reasons, does reveal someone to be “totally different.” It’s usually not like finding out that someone likes a particularly interesting food.

        And I think part of the reason is because of something you said in response to an earlier comment of mine. People perceive sexuality to be “biologically profound.” But people probably don’t perceive one’s like of pistachio (for example) ice cream to be profound, either in a biological OR a sociological sense.

        This language you use of “preventing gay people from existing in the first place” is very unhelpful. The issue is preventing one characteristic, albeit an important and complex one, not “eliminating homosexuals,” as an earlier commentator kept saying.

        I guess really, this is a question of how simple you think sexuality is as a characteristic. On the one hand, you call it “one” characteristic…but on the other, you call it an “important and complex one.” But isn’t it possible that sexuality a) isn’t just “one” characteristic and/or b) that it affects other characteristics? Even if this is not a biological effect but more of a sociological effect, then if people are defined by “experiences, genetics, epigenetics, neurology, etc.,” (as I mentioned above), then this one characteristic could seem to have a domino effect.

        I mean, in our society, our sexuality is seen not just as affecting sexual relationships, but non-sexual social relationships as well. Our sexuality is often implicated in our hobbies (however stereotypical this may be), our gender presentation, jobs, etc.,

        If homosexuality were prevented in utero, the baby would still be born and would be in almost all ways the same person. He or she would still exist! They would be different, to be sure, but still in most ways the same person.

        I guess the issue is that if sexuality impacts all of those other things (whether biologically or sociologically), then if homosexuality were prevented in utero, it wouldn’t necessarily be the case that the baby “would be in almost all ways the same person.” At the very least, he would have different experiences as a result of a different sexuality, and THAT would lead to a very different person alone.

        Isn’t that part of the standard gay rights rhetoric: “people are basically the same, some just have a homosexual orientation which is as normal as a heterosexual orientation.”

        I guess one question would be: is there ONE consistent, standard for gay rights rhetoric? My guess would be no. Similarly, there isn’t “one feminism.” There isn’t “one religious viewpoint” (for any given religion — though many religions try to assert an orthodoxy.)

        But a second question would be: is it inconsistent to say “people are basically the same, some just have a homosexual orientation which is as normal as a heterosexual orientation” and say “homosexuality is the central, defining characteristic of the person that reaches into every aspect of their life.””

        I don’t think it is inconsistent. After all, we could say that *both* heterosexuality and homosexuality are central defining characteristics of people that reach into every aspect of their life. Then, it would be true that “people are basically the same.”

        So, for example, we could say, “All people seek beauty. Their sexuality is a characteristic that reaches into this part what someone will find beautiful. All people seek companionship. Their sexuality is a characteristic that reaches into this aspect of their life. All people seek friendship. Their sexuality is a characteristic that reaches into this aspect of their life.”

        ^These would be traits that sexuality defines and reaches down into.

        It would then be consistent to say, “And whether a person is heterosexual or homosexual, they will be essentially the same in seeking these things.”

        If homosexuality is such an enormous part of one’s identity, isn’t that more of reason to prevent it if possible, not less? That seems extremely stressful to live that way (and I realize that the importance of sexuality in one’s life varies tremendously both within the homosexual and heterosexual groups).

        This is only if you think homosexuality is undesirable. We could make this about any other characteristic: “If one’s religion is such an enormous part of one’s identity, isn’t that more of a reason to prevent it if possible, not less? That seems extremely stressful to live that way (and I realize the importance of one’s religion in one’s life varies tremendously both within majority religion and minority religious groups.”

        ^but most people wouldn’t think about trying to prevent religion. Even if there is stress from being in a religion (especially a minority religion)…even if there is stress from converting…people think it’s worth it.

      3. Andrew, you are right that it is a complex characteristic, and maybe “one characteristic” isn’t the right way to think about it at all.

        Other research has shown that homosexuality is correlated with other things, particularly related to gender, but I won’t go there now.

        I’ve pondered the question of who would I be if I had been born gay. I really have no idea, just as I imagine that gay people would have a hard time answering the question the other way around. My guess is that I’d be largely the same in the most important ways–but such counterfactuals are always sticky.

        Thanks for your very useful comments, again. So far you’ve given me lots more to think about, though I doubt I’ll stick my toes again in this pond for awhile. There is definitely a lot of deep-seeded pain here (that, I already knew, but it is good to be reminded). I wish you and yours well.

  23. Sven:

    I can’t go there with you. The underlying reason that you ask the question at all is because gays and lesbians do not fit your worldview. Rather than working to change that worldview, fighting for legal equality and making the road easier for your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters (and even if you think that you are), you are going down the road of preventing the problem to begin with (because clearly gay people are such an imposition).

    Would Jews choose not to be Jewish under the Nazi regime? I would hope so for their sake, but that would only because I would place more value on their lives than principle: it is a false choice. Would Jewish people in Tel Aviv choose not to be Jews? Why on earth would they want to make a decision like that?

    I was raised LDS in an anti-Mormon community. That was difficult. Did that make me not want to be Mormon? No. I work with left handed people. Would they choose to be right handed? I have asked them and they said no. In the same way, a gay teen who has GAs for parents may well wish he wasn’t gay (because then his parents would love him more) while the committed gay or lesbian couple raising children would never think of asking such a question.

    I disagree with you on the point about my comment regarding the prevention of homosexuality being unhelpful–that is exactly What we are discussing. You do not see homosexuals like me being as good or as desirable as people like you. If you did, there would be no reason to have this conversation.

    This is the kind of conversation that I remember having at BYU. It is also the reason why I left.

      1. You say that Sven, but I don;t think you know what it means. I would be willing to bet Ben has a better understanding of your worldview than you give him credit for.

  24. I am sure that African Americans suffer terribly because of their race due to the racism. I propose that we seek out technologies to remove the African genes from unborn African Americans and replace them with European genes, so that they can grow up and not have to suffer the racism from being African American.

    I am also sure the people who are very tall (over 6 ft 6 inches) suffer because of their height. There may be a few basketball players who benefit, but the rest of them suffer from chronic back pain, discomfort in airplanes and theatres and the shame of blocking the view of other people at concerts. Let’s try to find the gene to eliminate this abnormality.

    In fact, there is just plain too much human diversity. We should find the genes that cause all this diversity and eliminate it. That is surely what God would want us to do… I am sure God didn’t mean to create homosexuality, blackness or tallness. Let’s fix that.

  25. There is a lot of pain being a woman. Your choices are limited, your role in most Christian religions, especially yours, often reinforces that. Women are typically less muscular, so physically weaker. I propose we save all these poor women the pain of their situation and fix it with prenatal hormone therapy and gene manipulation. And while you’re at it, make sure all those boys who are born are blond, blue-eyed, have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and good teeth. Then the world will be a much better place. Right?

    1. Exactly. Let’s all focus on perfecting everyone’s bodies with the best of all genetic possibilities, as determined by societal majorities with no regards to the perfecting of the soul. It brings to mind the scripture in John 9, after the pharisees ask Jesus “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Of course the wonderful message follows, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
      I am inclined to believe that this scripture not only indicates a premortal life, but premortal appointments to what may be seen as unfavorable or unnatural genetic traits as part of the human condition for the benefit of our souls. Should we all become genetically ideal, I have no doubt our human experience would be proportionately lacking. Still, even just to imagine a “fix” for homosexuality, I have to wonder if this would only create homosexuality to be viewed as another affliction of the poor. As long a science must continue to suck on the federal teat and prostitute itself out for the profit of largely untaxed corporations, progress will exist almost exclusively for the affluent. This nutty professor is one of the many reasons I would never counsel my child to attend BYU. In fact, my uncle had been pressuring my cousin to accept a scholarship there, but I have linked this blog on Facebook and I am proud to say that I think she will be studying at a more uplifting campus in Cambridge instead

  26. Wow, so it appears that your question has been answered.

    No.

    Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

  27. Hey Sven,

    While you’re playing God… How about locating the missing brain cells/genes in people who chose to follow heinous cults like yours. It must be truly painful being part of such a ridiculous minority. Perhaps you could re-instate the missing cells/genes prior to birth ensuring a future free of deluded morons and prevent another generation from being ripped off by such a ludicrous, fraudulent after life insurance policy.

    Given there’s homosexual behaviour in a small percentage of practically every species of animal on the Earth, who exactly do you think you are to mess with nature? As they say… Those who can’t, teach.

    Perhaps GOD created homosexuals to compensate for obnoxious over breeding morons?

  28. I don’t completely support the way Sven is going about it, but I do want to say that I support the general assertion that scientists should do more research into the causes of homosexuality. I think the statement that this causes a lot of pain is accurate, and part of the mission of both science and medicine is to gain knowledge in the service of preventing human pain, whether emotional or physical.

    I am gay, and it isn’t easy a lot of the time. Some of the things Sven brought up resonated with me: it’s tough when such a small percentage of people are gay, because there’s such a small pool of potential people to have relationships with, and it’s so hard to find nice guys who are genuinely interested in more than hooking up. Also, I don’t want to have to move to a large city just for that purpose (although this is changing, thankfully).

    For me, it’s complicated. That is, most of the time I wouldn’t change anything about myself. But on occasion I do think of it like I would acne or any other physical ailment, and at those times, if I could, I probably would go back in time and tell my parents to try the treatment this thought experiment presents.

    I’m not saying I’m typical of all gay people. But that’s the entire point – some people would probably do this, and many would not, and who are we to deny other people what they feel is the right decision for them? I think having the option is important.

    Mostly, I’m tired of other people feeling moral outrage on my behalf. Let us speak for ourselves instead of using us in some kind of political game. For all the posters who have tried to grapple with these questions kindly and intelligently, thank you. For everyone else, let me fight (and choose) my own battles.

  29. Sven,

    I certainly don’t have a window into your mind or your understanding, but it seems highly unlikely that you yourself had very much personal experience with either family or close friends who are gay/experience same gender attraction, whichever mode of description you prefer. I realize this is somewhat of a logical leap to make such a jump, but I feel like if you knew me personally and my journey, you wouldn’t be hypothesizing about a cure or prevention for what you view as some kind of undesirable state of being influenced by either by biology or environment or some mix of the two.

    I feel like you’ve given a rather cursory review of the “LGBT” experience, and have failed to fully evaluate the full range and depth of that experience beyond it being simply a source of pain. I also feel like your referencing of scientific literature as being scarce is completely inappropriate. While we may not have come to an understanding of whatever influences might lead to the development of homosexuality, there certainly has been a consistent effort to evaluate homosexuality and same gender relationships, and it hasn’t just stopped because society has decided to be “tolerant”.

    You also seem to have failed to recognize the contributions to that “gay” individuals make to society, both historically and currently. I think before you reduce our contribution to simply a failure to procreate (at least in the context of a male-female monogomous relationship, which it appears your assumption is the preferred and biologically most valuable construct), you might evaluate and consider what value we might actually have.

    You yourself recognize its hard to disassociate sexuality from other characteristics of a person and I agree that any idea we might have is anecdotal or conjecture. (That’s not exactly an evaluation that any scientific study could offer.) I can’t sort out what parts of my person-hood have been influenced or may even be directly linked to whatever complex factors resulted in my experiencing of the desire for love, attachment, intimacy, companionship or sexual desire being different than yours. However, it seems clear in examining my own person and in getting to know many others, that to carve out homosexual from our experience would be to somehow remove a part of our soul and a very critical part of who we are, perhaps most importantly to me personally is my sensitivity an empathy for others. I’m not sure that would have survived whatever measures we might someday to discover to “eliminate” homosexuality. I would argue that the onus is on you to somehow prove that such measures wouldn’t cause more harm than good. Positing the question begs a rather detailed evaluation of the homosexual experience and I find it somewhat surprising how easily and quickly you’ve decided “gay” has no biological or societal value.

    You say that genetic manipulation and selection is coming, and is inevitable. All the more reason to challenge your line of thinking and evaluate if our own potential failures in perspective, insight, or possibly misguided value judgement need to be checked.

    I have heard the “pill” analogy multiple times. What if there was one pill that could have changed this part of me? I have friends who answer differently, and I myself have had different periods of my life where my wishes have morphed and changed. However, it seems like the more I have been able to be fully open and honest about my experience without fear of punishment, ostracisim, prejudice or whatever broad range of “intolerance” I’ve encountered from “society” and from people in my own personal life, I have come to value this part of who I am more and more. So if we’re talking politics and societal constricts, I would argue that until society is able to fully embrace and love homosexuals without using religious constructs to justify marginalization of my experience and placing my desires for companionship as somehow less than the heterosexual norm, then we better be extremely careful about taking on the role of God and carving out that pervasive experience of a good portion of our population.

    I would venture our lives and existence, and even our human relationships go much further beyond simply an inability to procreate with our partner of choice (without technological assistance). I would ask you to make a little more effort to understand the experience and value of homosexuals, and instead of responding in a way that dismisses the counter arguments and questions that people have posited you take a step back and evaluate your own inherent biases.

  30. It’s called eugenics. The Nazis already tried this. How about we just accept and love everyone as God has created them? Maybe that’s the lesson we are supposed to learn, not to try and eliminate the undesirables.

    1. Besides, if we are trying to change the DNA God created, aren’t we then going against nature? Why not allow one to be born as God created them? What next – we turn off disabled genes? This is like Gattaca. Instead of changing the baby how about we as humans change our aggressive behavior towards LGBT?

  31. Also, reading this article about a potential model for explaining the presence of homosexuality through epigentics, rather than polymorphism inheritance, it gives a pretty good description of how and why such a trait might persist in the complex interplay and balance between all the many factors that lead to gender and possibly sexual preferences, and specifically describes how “fitness” on individual levels might be sacrificed (e.g. not procreating) to allow for such a complex system and adaptability to persist, perhaps even resulting in genitalia modification over time within a species. To me that’s more of an argument that homosexuality is a normal, expected, outgrowth of biology, which leaves the argument you are making to be simply determining whether or not we should step in to intervene and ensure, assuming this model holds, that epigentics are manipulated in such a way that we only get the discrete and binary extremes of male and female gender. That essentially is a sociopolitical discussion and one that requires a number of judgments regarding the value of such an intervention, which would require an analysis much further than a discussion on procreative activities. If homosexuals can have happy, satisfying, healthy lives and relationships on the same level as heterosexuals, which they can, then why would we intervene? As a gay man, and especially as a gay member of an incredibly condemning community on this subject (latter-day saints), I would of course like the pain caused by so many people’s fear and judgment to be removed, but I would not ask or want to be changed to meet their demands.

  32. At some point, we are going to have the ability to manipulate our own DNA. We’re already doing it, but have yet to fine tune the process and make it safe. I believe this will allow us to relieve tremendous amounts of suffering, and zi think we as a society will have to decide what is appropriate and what is not. God may have made us, but we are imperfect beings and what if we could directly change DNA instead of using a mix of chemicals to try and modulate the pathways that result from errors in our DNA? I think the question here is if “Gay” should be considered an imperfection in biology that should be “fixed”. I don’t think it is, and the only arguments I’ve heard that it is are based on theological doctrines and primarily from individuals who have failed to fully appreciate or understand the experience and feelings of a gay person, but perhaps someday someone will prove me wrong.

  33. Your incredibly ignorant blog reminds me why I was so happy to leave the LDS so-called church. It never ceases to amaze me how Mormons can put their brain on hold and find ways to justify the hateful death-causing words of Boyd K Packer. Utah has 8 times the national rate of gay youth suicide. You and your kind share the blame.

  34. Don’t most Mormons claim that their lives are made more difficult by discrimination against them? Does that mean we should try to scientifically eradicate belief in Mormonism? His argument that anything uncomfortable- (any minority trait, basically) -anything that the majority of people would prefer not to have around, should be genetically removed is really stupid. I’d be more comfortable if I were a little taller, btw, but I’m ok with short people existing. I guess he probably doesn’t believe in evolution. So the argument that genetic mutations advance the species, and those like homosexuality that have persisted over time are likely advantageous to the whole species is a moot point?

  35. I don’t think the innate and immutable will be proved to be true at all (and I am wondering if you are just being political correct by even saying that). I don’t think that’s even been proved to be true so far let alone now, when we have far more knowledge on how ‘mutable’ things can be- The Kinsey institute and researchers there, have plenty of *current* research that indicates the next generation is becoming more fluid as our culture changes (meaning even the immutable 3%- or whatever stat you prefer, is becoming more fluid too). “Our epigenome responds dynamically with experience” or “culture drives the genome” or “behaviour changes biology” are interesting concepts (so yes, of course it is biological just as much as environmental). In any case, we do know belief, thought patterns, culture, lifestyle and experience can change and direct gene expression (and that is observable, whereas finding a ‘gay gene’ has been a little harder). So I suppose if you believe it to be true, and then act on that truth; that we are innate and immutable, it will be so. Belief is a powerful thing….Turns out what we say, do, experience, teach etc… really does have an effect; right down to gene expression. Epigenetics combined with cognitive and sensory development (ie. child development), brain plasticity and culture… it’s an interesting concept no?

  36. I am a gay man, and my family and some friends do know about me. I have gone through a lot with dealing with everything over this time. I personally feel that its extremely important to continue research on epi-genetics to try and find what aspects cause homosexuality. I am fortunate that my family is ok with me how I am, and friends accepting as well; however, I personally wish that I never had to deal with it. I would much have preferred that chance to have a wife and children. Sure there is always adoption, but for me personally…having that child of blood like my own mother and father had me is something I always wish I could have had, but not once in my life have I ever had that single attraction to a female. And even now after all I’ve been through, and even through the acceptance…it still does not feel right to me. I feel the gay community lost something and does not have the same foundation that straight couples have had. Granted times are different and even that is faltering. I just encourage scientists out there to continue their research and that maybe one day a child wont have to endure such a life. Sure, some love being gay and thats fine. I do not. I would switch in a heartbeat. But unfortunately that ability does not exist. And everyone always tries to push their own feelings on this issue. Yet they don’t live in my shoes, I don’t live in theirs…So instead of realizing some would rather be 1 way and the other would rather be another…there becomes an argument and someone loses.

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