Monday, May 2

Born This Way... Not Completely

I recently took the time to actually read the landmark psychological studies that claimed to have found substantial causative links from genetics and congenital (inborn) traits to homosexuality. And the results weren't exactly what I had expected.

I know just as much as the next person that I didn't choose to be attracted to men or not attracted to women. The only other option in my mind was being "born this way" - which meant that attraction would be deeply rooted in genes.

But the studies that have been published don't substantiate being born gay... on the contrary, they highlight inborn tendencies as only a part of a much larger picture that determines, over time, sexual attraction.

The first study I looked at was the twin study - conducted in 1991 by Bailey and Pillard and published in the Archives of General Psychology. Their study was titled "A Genetic Study of Male Sexual Orientation" and recruited gay identical twins to enter the study with their siblings, determining the correlation between genes and homosexuality. If homosexuality is inborn and caused exclusively by genetics, then twins who share exact DNA will both be either homosexual or heterosexual.

The original study found a concordance rate of 52% - which meant that 52% of homosexual twins were both homosexual. The study was picked up by the media, but was heavily criticized by the scientific community for selection bias. Bailey did another, more rigorous study in 2000 using a better methodology that avoided bias, and found a concordance of about 20% (depending on your definition of homosexuality).

When a host of other psychological factors have higher concordance rates than 20%, it's pretty obvious from the study that homosexuality is not "inborn"... but 20% is still significant since it is higher than the average rate of homosexuality... which means that it is definitely influenced by genetic factors.

There were a few other studies that claimed to have found genetic links, but each had major scientific flaws and have since been refuted by studies which tried to replicate results. There was the the brain research by LeVay which claimed that certain areas of the brain were different in homosexual men, but the study was performed on men who had died primarily of AIDS, and didn't correct for potential issues in brain function caused by habit. Brain researchers have known that the brain alters significantly based on an individual's actions, and the part of the brain studied could have easily been altered by homosexual activity, instead of being a cause of homosexual attraction. Other studies have shown the differences in the brain that LeVay found to be insignificant, and LeVay never replicated his study. There was also the genetic study done by Hamer ("A Linkage between DNA markers on the x chromosome and male sexual orientation," Science 261, July 1993)... but the findings of the study were declared statistically insignificant by the inventor of the methodology used in the evaluation - which means that it could have been caused by sample size or a number of other issues... and that Hamer and his colleagues didn't completely understand the method they were using. As added proof, another much larger study on the exact same topic showed that there was no significant link between inheritance on the x-chromosome and homosexuality (Rice, et al - "Male Homosexuality: Absence of Linkage to Microsatellite Markers at XQ28," Science 284, 1999).

All in all, the studies I read, when taken in context with other research done to substantiate or refute them, came up with a very different picture than I originally thought. Maybe it's because I've known that I didn't choose this trial.... but I always thought it was something inborn. But the research is clear. Being attracted to guys isn't something that came 100% from my genetics. The studies on twins, brain chemistry, and genetic linking prove one thing: I wasn't born gay. No one was.

Yes, there are definitely factors that are caused by genetics. I was probably born with a huge number of predispositions and preferences that, with time, outside influences, cultural impressions, and every other factor, developed into an attraction for guys. And while the non-genetic factors may have been out of my control as much as the genetic ones... the realization that homosexuality isn't just determined by genetics, but is very strongly influenced by other factors (as established especially in the twin studies, where 80% of brothers of homosexual twins were not homosexual) gives me hope. Science has shown that even deeply rooted patterns in the brain can change, even in those whose brains have finished developing, with significant changes in environment. Men can learn new languages, or overcome alcoholism, or change professions and personality traits once thought to be immutable. And it obviously happens.

I don't know exactly what it will take - if it's something that science can find or if it's a miracle that will need the help of God... and even if it's possible, I don't know if it will happen. Science has known about a lot of things that don't always work. But it's there... and I think that gives me greater hope and faith than anything. Because if those twins were born with certain inborn tendencies, but somehow took a different path and became heterosexual, even when their identical twins became homosexual, then maybe, with God at my side, I can find that path, someday, too.


  1. Excellent research. What I have found, is that most have temptations that are more difficult for them than any other. For some it is sex, some with same gender and some with the opposite, but not within their own relationship. Some food, or other damaging substances. Some it is the thrill, or computer games, or whatever. I think at the root is the same thing, a deep need to connect, to feel good. I'd love to do more research on this, but I have so many projects. . . you see, I'm addicted to knowledge!

    Keep the faith brother. Know that you make a difference.

  2. Correlation does not necessarily indicate causation.

  3. Anon:

    I agree. Even if the studies showed 100% concordance, it wouldn't necessarily mean complete genetic causation. As 0% wouldn't mean lack of genetic effect. But what it does mean is that it is not completely caused by genetics - the whole point of the post.

  4. That takes courage for you to publish something different than what you thought!

  5. I think you did some very excellent research, and I want to say I am proud of you but that is almost the wrong word. I think I am more of impressed. You have managed to maintain a very open mind to your entire situation, and I respect deeply what you are doing. I only wish your attitude and resilience reflected in more of us, since we all have trials. I wish you the best of luck.

  6. First, thanks for the work you put into studying and processing all of those studies. That has been something I've been doing lately to try and understand my personal health issues, and it's paid huge dividends. That means, also, that I understand how much work it entails.

    Second, one important factor to consider in relation to published scientific studies is known as publishing bias; the fact that sponsors of studies tend to only publish those studies that further their agenda. A drug company, for instance, that hopes to sell cholesterol medication is far more likely to publish a study linking cholesterol to heart disease than a study that shows little-to-no correlation.

    This brings to light a lot of the studies on homosexuality, since, it's been the accepted stance of most institutions that there is nothing deviant or unhealthy with homosexuality far before many studies were even conducted on the matter. Basically, it was an adoption due to social change and pressure rather than scientific evidence. Thus, many of the published studies are basically backup to a previously decided position. That can make research on any controversial topic very difficult.

    Anyhow, my intuition is that environment is a much greater impact us than we perceive. And it's true; you aren't responsible for much of it. Therefore, to feel guilty about the possibility that you could've contributed to the issue is useless and distracting. The good news from understanding the impact of environment is that, in many ways, you can alter or use your environment to benefit you. People probably thought the high winds on the oceans were a real bummer and made travel difficult until they discovered that they could use it to their advantage with sails.

    This idea of using environment to change behavior and habit has been on my mind a lot, and I've had success with it. Thanks for reminding me of it. I love the blog and appreciate your work!


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