August 16, 2005

"What Makes People Gay?"

Masculine and effeminate identical twins: Here's the beginning of a reasonable article on the various theories floating around for the cause of male homosexuality. J. Michael Bailey's latest finding from the Australian twin registry is that in only about 20% of male identical twin pairs where at least one twin is homosexual the other is homosexual too. So discordant pairs like Patrick and Thomas are more common than not.

What Makes People Gay?
The debate has always been that it was either all in the child's upbringing or all in the genes. But what if it's something else?
By Neil Swidey in the Boston Globe:

With crystal-blue eyes, wavy hair, and freshly scrubbed faces, the boys look as though they stepped out of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog. They are 7-year-old twins. I'll call them Thomas and Patrick; their parents agreed to let me meet the boys as long as I didn't use their real names.

Spend five seconds with them, and there can be no doubt that they are identical twins - so identical even they can't tell each other apart in photographs. Spend five minutes with them, and their profound differences begin to emerge.

Patrick is social, thoughtful, attentive. He repeatedly addresses me by name. Thomas is physical, spontaneous, a bit distracted. Just minutes after meeting me outside a coffee shop, he punches me in the upper arm, yells, "Gray punch buggy!" and then points to a Volkswagen Beetle cruising past us. It's a hard punch. They horse around like typical brothers, but Patrick's punches are less forceful and his voice is higher. Thomas charges at his brother, arms flexed in front of him like a mini-bodybuilder. The differences are subtle - they're 7-year-old boys, after all - but they are there.

When the twins were 2, Patrick found his mother's shoes. He liked wearing them. Thomas tried on his father's once but didn't see the point.

When they were 3, Thomas blurted out that toy guns were his favorite things. Patrick piped up that his were the Barbie dolls he discovered at day care.

When the twins were 5, Thomas announced he was going to be a monster for Halloween. Patrick said he was going to be a princess. Thomas said he couldn't do that, because other kids would laugh at him. Patrick seemed puzzled. "Then I'll be Batman," he said.

Their mother - intelligent, warm, and open-minded - found herself conflicted. She wanted Patrick - whose playmates have always been girls, never boys - to be himself, but she worried his feminine behavior would expose him to ridicule and pain. She decided to allow him free expression at home while setting some limits in public.

That worked until last year, when a school official called to say Patrick was making his classmates uncomfortable. He kept insisting that he was a girl.

Patrick exhibits behavior called childhood gender nonconformity, or CGN. This doesn't describe a boy who has a doll somewhere in his toy collection or tried on his sister's Snow White outfit once, but rather one who consistently exhibits a host of strongly feminine traits and interests while avoiding boy-typical behavior like rough-and-tumble play. There's been considerable research into this phenomenon, particularly in males, including a study that followed boys from an early age into early adulthood. The data suggest there is a very good chance Patrick will grow up to be homosexual. Not all homosexual men show this extremely feminine behavior as young boys. But the research indicates that, of the boys who do exhibit CGN, about 75 percent of them - perhaps more - turn out to be gay or bisexual.

What makes the case of Patrick and Thomas so fascinating is that it calls into question both of the dominant theories in the long-running debate over what makes people gay: nature or nurture, genes or learned behavior. As identical twins, Patrick and Thomas began as genetic clones. From the moment they came out of their mother's womb, their environment was about as close to identical as possible - being fed, changed, and plopped into their car seats the same way, having similar relationships with the same nurturing father and mother. Yet before either boy could talk, one showed highly feminine traits while the other appeared to be "all boy," as the moms at the playgrounds say with apologetic shrugs.

"That my sons were different the second they were born, there is no question about it," says the twins' mother. [More]

Gregory Cochran suggests that the best way to test the popular gay gene theory is to clone gay sheep. Although you hear a lot from propagandists about how common homosexuality is among animals, exclusive male homosexuality is quite rare. Rams are one of very few animals where a measurable percentage of males will ignore a female in heat who has been tied to a fence. It drives sheep ranchers crazy. They might have a superb specimen of a ram, a real Greg Louganis of the sheep world, that they want to mate with as many ewes as possible, but he doesn't have eyes for ewe -- just rams.

Anyway, we've known how to clone sheep since Dolly back in the 1990s, so we could clone a bunch of gay rams and see how their clones turned out. If they are all gay, that suggests that there is a gay gene or genes. If not, that suggests the environment or random breakdowns play a role, such as Greg's gay germ theory or something else.

So, why do Christian and Jewish churches dislike the idea that male homosexuality is innate? Well, within their institutional memories, most homosexual behavior was not. It's pretty clear that in Greek and Roman time, homosexual behavior wasn't much at all like modern Castro Street homosexuality. To a very large extent, it was an indulgence practiced by the powerful on the weak: what we think of as child molestation, prison rape, and sexual harassment. (Modern homosexuals often fail to realize that they would have been scorned in Athens as womanish for wanting to please another man.) Even at it's least abusive, ancient homosexuality reflected youthful male-male infatuations that only flourished when women were sequestered or despised. The triumph of Jerusalem over Athens came both by negative sanctions on vice but also by the increased status of women under Christianity, which made companionate marriage the ideal.

My best guess is that due to the success of Christianity at stigmatizing homosexual vice, we are left then, largely, with men who are innately homosexual. But that also explains why Christians and orthodox Jews have a hard time agreeing that homosexual behavior stems from innate homosexual orientations -- in their historical experience, most homosexual behavior was not an innate orientation, but was controllable by social sanctions.

I suspect that after the gay movement achieves gay marriage, they'll quickly realize they just wanted it because they were told they couldn't have it. So, they'll look around for some new goal. In the long run, they'll probably try to revive the ancient world's attitudes toward homosexuality.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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