Tuesday, April 10, 2007

New York Times story on homosexuality and biology

On Tuesday, April 10, 2007, The New York Times featured a “Science Times” section D with the title “Desire” and led off with an important article by Nicholas Wade, “Pas de Deux of Sexuality Is Written In the Genes”. The article contained a lot of discussion of “brain wiring” and gender, the sizes of various parts of the brain in the sexes, and the effects of puberty. According to the article, gay men really do have a slightly different brain wiring (from either straight men or straight women). There is some evidence that sons born after older brothers (and the more older brothers the more likely) may be more likely to be homosexual. Ironically, that would comport with ancient patriarchal traditions favoring the first born son (and even the importance of that with the Passover). There is a theory that an immune response in the female deters the “masculinization” of the brains of subsequent sons in some cases, although no specific immune chemical has been found, and finding one that was “treatable” would raise profound ethical questions. There is another theory that a gene that increases fertility in women may increase the chance that some males will be inherit “gay genes.”

I grew up in the 1950s, and it was common for many families to have one or more male members who did not marry or have children. This was really much more common then than anyone would admit.

Sexual orientation in females seems less clear cut, and seems more reactive and less “hard wired” or at least “firmware wired.”

This leaves us, then, with the cultural (and religious) efforts to attribute a “moral” judgment about homosexuality, particularly in men, and particularly the idea that it gets associated with a refusal to create and accept “family responsibility.” Laura Schlesinger at one point came to call it a "biological error", an obvious pejorative that would inspire pity, not individual respect. That will be developed more in future posts. As noted in a recent post about Asperger’s (not necessarily itself associated with homosexuality), some people seem to have less need to validate themselves through social reaction and position and are more inclined to follow their own instincts and ideas, regardless of the approval of others.

Chandler Burr wrote an important book about this in 1996 (“A Separate Creation”), reviewed here.

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