January 12, 2005

Deafness and male homosexuality


A clue to a cause of male homosexuality? A reader writes:

I've been reading your articles on homosexuality with interest as of late. I'm 25 years old, gay, and have been out of the closet and therefore in the gay community to some degree since the age of 16. One thing that I have noticed that I have always thought people ought to do a study on is the shockingly high number of people in the gay community who were born deaf. I'm not the only gay person to make note of this; at least three of my friends have had the same independent realization. One would never imagine that, in a relatively small city such as Baltimore, a social club for "gay deaf bears" could fill up a moderately-sized bar with its monthly outings, but I saw this myself regularly when I worked as a barback. Perhaps deafness and homosexuality are two possible long-term consequences of an infection by the same "gay germ".

On the other hand, one could argue that deafness, like effeminacy, might lead to early alienation from same-sex peers among boys, which develops into homosexual attraction during the hormonal onrush of puberty.

I had never heard of this before, but an article in The Advocate says:

Many deaf gay people actually find it easier than hearing people to recognize and accept their sexuality, a fact that may explain the impression that a disproportionate number of deaf people are gay. Everybody has a theory on this one: Gallaudet French and Spanish instructor Buck Rogers believes deaf gay children are sheltered from much of the mainstream culture's verbal homophobia by not hearing it. Others say homoerotic feelings are more easily manifested and acted on because many deaf children are educated in group homes and seek comfort because they feel abandoned by their parents. Still others suspect the process of coping with being deaf makes acceptance of yet another difference more natural.

Gregory Cochran replies:

If this higher incidence of homosexuality among the deaf is real, and we can pin it on the approximately half of deaf people who used to have rubella-caused deafness, game over. The vaccine was licensed in 1969: I would guess that rubella deafness was rare after 1975. So this connection should, if it exists at all, exist in gay men 35 and over. (By the way, kids with rubella infections who got them in utero are ~50 times more likely to have type-I diabetes.)

So, that would raise the question of the average age of deaf gays -- is it higher than average among gays? Is there a sharp fall off under 35 or so? Gay deaf organizations could be contacted.

Generally speaking, I don't see much evidence for a higher than normal number of medical syndromes among male homosexuals, so I was surprised to hear about this possible connection to deafness. The only thing instantly noticeable in a sizable fraction of gay men is the famous "lissssp" (it's not a "lithp," or a Daffy Duck-style "lishp," but a sibilant "lissssp"), which bedevils gay men's choruses across America, but a lisp is hardly a major problem like deafness is.

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1 comment:

Si5 said...

I worked with young deaf people and the trend seems to continue judging by the number of out gay kids at a very small school, so not linked to rubella / vaccines. Most we're not boarding pupils,so I don't think it is to do with that either.

More likely to be social IMO - different anyway so not such a big deal and also deaf culture is hugely more direct, accepting and open.