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The question of whether or not a gay gene really exists

Alan Sanders, an associate professor of psychiatry at Northwestern, will be looking at the whole genome of about 1,000 gay brothers using the genetic marker technique that Hamer used. A sample that big should eliminate the statistical weaknesses that plagued Hamer. When two brothers come from the same mother and father, about 50 percent of their genes should be identical.

He has already started mapping the first 500 and estimates that by mid-2008 the world will know where—if anywhere—to find the gay gene. If either Bocklandt or Sanders is lucky enough to spot the genes responsible for homosexuality, there will most likely be more questions raised than answered.

The Real Story on Gay Genes

Even if social pressures through the ages led some gay men to have some children, the significantly lower rate of reproduction would eventually lead to the disappearance of the gene as Hamer does note in his book, The Science of Desire: Possible explanations abound, but an ingenious one was recently put to the test.

Perhaps, the theory goes, some genes, when found in men, make them more likely to be gay and when found in women make them more likely to have children. The increased number of grandchildren that a parent might have through such a superfertile daughter would offset whatever loss of genetic posterity comes from having a gay son. Whatever the mechanism, it turns out that an Italian study found that women with gay family members have more children than women with all straight relatives.

Andrea Camperio-Ciani, a professor of ethology and evolutionary psychology at the University of Padua, interviewed 98 gay men and 100 straight men and found that the mothers of gay men had an average of 2. That study has been criticized in some circles for the same old reason: The sample size was not big enough. But the man with the generous sample size hopes to answer that question too. How many do they have compared to the relatives of straight men?

  • We have some idea what it meant 200 years ago but not 10,000;
  • The increased number of grandchildren that a parent might have through such a superfertile daughter would offset whatever loss of genetic posterity comes from having a gay son;
  • Drowning out every voice that dares to question dominant cultural narratives is not the same thing as invalidating the arguments those voices are making;
  • How sharing a biological mother could induce homosexuality in men remains pure guesswork, however.

Wilson first put forward this idea of kin selection as an explanation for homosexuality in 1978, but for some time now it has been considered an unlikely scenario. Michael Bailey conducted a study in 2001 to find out if gay uncles treat their nephews and nieces any better than straight uncles treat theirs.

Thinking that Bailey did not control for the income level of the uncles surveyed—richer uncles tend to be more generous—Qazi Rahman, a professor of psychobiology at the University of East London, tried to replicate the study in England. But 21st-century Western society, and the homosexuals therein, could be something of an anomaly in human history, according to Paul Vasey, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. Another problem with kinship selection studies that look only in England and, in particular, the United States, is that kinship ties for homosexuals might not be as strong as they would be elsewhere.

These men, who grow up to dress and act like women and are extremely integrated into their society, would be offended to find themselves described as homosexual.

‘I am gay – but I wasn’t born this way’

To make sure that these traits do not merely reflect a more general fondness for all children, Vasey will soon head back to Samoa to refine and, with luck, replicate the study. The more intolerant the society, the more likely it is to maintain gay genes. This is especially true if gay genes are also responsible for making women more fecund. Imagine, for instance, that for every extra child that such a gay gene—carrying woman has, a gay man can have one fewer and the balance necessary for the survival of the gene is still maintained.

The more children he has, thanks to what his contemporaries demand of him, the less evolutionary pressure there is for his female counterpart to have more. One of the problems that none of the mathematical models take into account is that we have no idea what it meant to be gay 10,000 years ago. We have some idea what it meant 200 years ago but not 10,000.

Some homosexual men appear to have their sexuality oriented not by their DNA but by the environment they experienced in the womb. Ray Blanchard, a psychiatric researcher at the University of Toronto, found in 1996 that men with older brothers were more likely to be gay than those without.

  1. Some people might argue that I am innately bisexual, with the capacity to love both women and men. Michael Baum, a biologist at Boston University, got a more detailed look by studying ferrets, whose biology is well understood.
  2. One of the problems that none of the mathematical models take into account is that we have no idea what it meant to be gay 10,000 years ago.
  3. Drowning out every voice that dares to question dominant cultural narratives is not the same thing as invalidating the arguments those voices are making.
  4. Ray Blanchard, a psychiatric researcher at the University of Toronto, found in 1996 that men with older brothers were more likely to be gay than those without. The sexual categories were rigid.

His study showed that for every older brother a man has, his odds of being gay go up by 33 percent. But if some poor woman has 14 sons, the 15th would have a 50 percent chance of being gay.

  1. Even a hint of that option is enough to provoke an outcry among activists. And yet the available research does not support this view.
  2. Read more If you are enjoying this story, take a look at the other pieces in our Sexual Revolutions special series, including. You so obviously cannot be gay, was her implication, because this is good sex.
  3. Still, low testosterone or high testosterone could up the chance that a boy would grow up to be gay.

Most recently, in 2006, psychologist Tony Bogaert of Brock University in Ontario quashed the possibility that the older-brother effect results from boys having been teased, beaten, or otherwise affected by their older brothers. The statistics came back the same as they had in previous studies.

How sharing a biological mother could induce homosexuality in men remains pure guesswork, however. Bogaert and Blanchard hypothesize that with each male child the mother develops an immunity to certain male-specific proteins, like molecules relating to the Y chromosome.

Perhaps her body sees them as foreign and mounts an immune attack, which might alter certain structures of the male brain. Whatever the cause of homosexuality, be it genetic, hormonal, or even sociological, the result is a change somewhere in the brain. Simon LeVay, once a neurobiologist at the Salk Institute, thought he found that part of the brain in 1991.

Comparing the gray matter in the cadavers of gay and straight men, he found that an area in the anterior hypothalamus known as INAH-3 was smaller in gay menabout the size it is in women. Michael Baum, a biologist at Boston University, got a more detailed look by studying ferrets, whose biology is well understood. He has shown that the anterior hypothalamuses of gay and straight ferrets—as well as of male and female ferrets—are also of different sizes.

The structural distinctions have clear behavioral consequences. Ferrets find their mates primarily by odor. Creating a lesion in that part of the brain can make a male ferret approach other males.

Female ferrets dosed with testosterone early in life act masculine. Castrated male rats given ovarian steroids as adults go straight for other male rats, while others given testosterone still flirt with females however futile their propositions. Still, low testosterone or high testosterone could up the chance that a boy would grow up to be gay. No experiment has yet ruled that out.

If researchers do prove that testosterone can alter human sexual orientation—gay gene or no gay gene—the possibility of preventing homosexuality will become a reality. Even a hint of that option is enough to provoke an outcry among activists. Recently word got out that Charles Roselli, a physiologist at Oregon Health and Science University, was trying to find out how hormones affect the brains of gay sheep.

PETA roped tennis star and lesbian activist Martina Navratilova into writing a letter to the university, calling the research homophobic and cruel.

  • The sample size was not big enough;
  • Some people might argue that I am innately bisexual, with the capacity to love both women and men;
  • A sample that big should eliminate the statistical weaknesses that plagued Hamer;
  • No experiment has yet ruled that out.

They just want to know.