Last week, a study of genome markers of homosexuals was published in the August edition of Science. It hit media headlines around the world.
Normally, genetic research is not front page news but this research went viral in the news media across the planet.
SCIENCE THAT GENUFLECTS TO IDEOLOGY
This article deals with what the researchers Ganna et al (2019) discovered. But it’s first worthwhile considering the political influences that now exert a gravitational pull on science. Especially science that addresses identity shibboleths.
Ganna et al’s (2019) genetic research into human sexuality seems to have unleashed all kinds of political and moral anxieties. Some responses have almost verged on panic. Other responses sound like a Trotskyist call to revolution.
Such anxieties exist because the field of human sexuality is now ideological. It is less rooted in science or medical observation than ever. As such, it is a live grenade issue that can quickly blow up should the “wrong” thing be said. This is especially true within academia which is home to a large number of academics and students with a hair trigger response for the slightest suggestion that their orthodoxy is being challenged.
This means that even a scientific investigation of human sexuality cannot survive today unless it adopts as its premises the nostrums, attitudes, virtues, conclusions, platitudes, and even language of what has become cultural orthodoxy. As we shall see, Ganna et al (2019) play by the gender rules. To violate these rules would jeopardise any scientist’s career, or virtually guarantee that their work would die a scholarly death of endless rejection from journal publication.
Therefore, in one sense, all current scientific research into human sexuality is now dishonest. Honest scientific research never excludes the possibility of a conclusion because it would upset people, and it does not grasp for a particular virtue in order to remain on favourable terms with a crowd. To the contrary, the scientific method requires the researcher to follow the hard evidence even if it leads to uncomfortable revelations or ridicule.
It is bitterly ironic that one of the icons of scientific inquiry – the much-lionised Galileo – is reverenced precisely because he “followed the evidence” even though it landed him in hot water with church authorities. He saw the planets move. His evidence overturned the prevalent Aristotelian philosophy that said they did not.
Such an approach today is no longer possible for an academic who wants to be reputable and conduct study into human sexuality. Or at least, it is very dangerous. There are conclusions that the scientist must not reach and so must be removed from the table a priori. Any finding that threatens the political certainties upon which an identity group claims its legitimacy is automatically assumed to be wrong.
Ideological academics will quickly disparage any research that hits too close to home.
This was highlighted by the comments of Dr Haire, a gay bioethicist at the University of New South Wales who was asked for her view about the research. From her comments recorded by the media, she seemed less concerned about the reliability of the findings and more concerned that the research had taken place at all. Her response is a model of irrational argumentation that makes no sense, yet no doubt would resonate among many of the graduates of higher education.
She said: “I think that there are many very, very good reasons to be highly concerned about studies that look into a genetic basis of same sex-sexual attraction. Currently there are more than 70 countries in the world that criminalise same-sex sexual practices. And in about 12 of them laws can be used to put people to death for their sexuality.”
Dr Haire went on to say that she believes this sort of genetic study presents “dangers” and therefore should not be carried out.
Nevertheless, Dr Haire offered no explanation to justify her claim that any causal relationship exists between investigating genetic markers and the criminalisation of homosexuality in 70 countries. The closest she came was when she told the media that she was worried about some kind of “genetic key” that could be used against homosexual people in these benighted countries at some point in the future. But this seems extremely far-fetched. To argue that research is “dangerous” because some country somewhere might develop an illiberal future technology is a clear exercise at grasping at straws. On that basis all research would have ruled out. Such an extreme application of the cautionary principle would literally shut down scientific inquiry.
For instance, is a genetic study of child misbehaviour dangerous because some countries still use corporal discipline in schools? After all, who knows if they might invent some machine that detects the gene and gives the child shock therapy! What about a genetic study of the digestive biology of different ethnic peoples? Is this dangerous because some countries have racial tensions?
Dr Haire further argues that there’s lots of other things to research, and there is no great demand for this sort of genetic research. It is obvious that this argument is hollow. It could be made about any scientific study, many of which are extremely expensive, extremely esoteric and utterly irrelevant to people outside of academia. Genetic studies of human sexuality at least have the virtue of being relevant to many people and offer meaningful input into moral and political debates. But, one suspects that is precisely why Dr Haire is so obviously keen to delegitimise this material.
Contrary to her empty claims, one suspects her true objections lie not in the principle that the research is dangerous to people on some harebrained notion that it could create a dystopian future, but rather because such research is dangerous to ideology. It says a great deal when ideologues are worried about science.
Fortunately, the researchers Ganna et al (2019) have bent over backwards to forestall the sorts of concerns Dr Haire sketched out. At the very beginning of their published findings, they eagerly establish that they are allied and sympathetic to the LGBTQ movement. For example, they include an insert that discusses something called “othering” and a lengthy exculpatory paragraph on the term “non-heterosexual”. They use this term, the paper explains, to aid only in readability. They do not wish anyone to imagine that they are involved in “othering”.
In a later insert, the researchers state that they engaged with “LGBTQ advocacy groups” in order to explain the limitations of their study. They also go out of their way to strongly affirm contemporary sexual philosophy by explaining that their results point to the “richness and diversity of human sexuality” and that this study cannot possibly be used for “discrimination on the basis of sexual identity of attraction”.
It is a strange thing to find in a scientific paper that the authors have felt it necessary to contact political and social advocacy groups prior to publication. Not only that, but to do so with the express purpose of explaining how limited their study was. Perhaps this was a shrewd political move by the researchers so they did not end up pilloried by those groups for being anti-LGBTQ, or it was motivated by a careerist concern that no taint should mark their political standing within academia.
The researchers further mention that their work “potentially has civil and political ramifications for sexual minority groups”, which is surely an odd statement for dispassionate genetic researchers to make insofar as it is completely false. The odds of genetic research having any “political ramifications” in Western nations is absolutely zero. The chances of it having political ramifications outside of the West where social freedom is already at a low ebb, is also very remote. As for “civil ramifications”, one wonders what these might be. Perhaps the possibility that their work might initiate a debate on homosexuality itself.
All these disclaimers show a deep awareness of a political backdrop to their research. The researchers are not exactly dispassionate, impartial parties. The disclaimers are also intended to mollify their readership. It is a way for the researchers to nail their political and social bona fides to the wall. In essence, the researchers are announcing, “We are compassionate and understanding. We are one of you – liberal academics. We are not doing this study with misguided motives like those sorts of people we are all allied against.” It is a peculiar thing to find in a scholarly paper.
Later, the researchers again demonstrate a conscious awareness of their vulnerability to political attack, this time from transgender activists. They seek to head this off at the pass by explaining that they did not include transgender, intersex, or “other important persons and groups within the queer community” in their study, but they do not explain why. Nonetheless, they are keen to affirm the “importance” of these groups and to indicate they want to include them in an upcoming study. It is as close to an apology that you could expect to find in a paper purporting to be scholarly.
THE GAY GENE HYPOTHESIS IN THE EARLY MILLENNIUM
So why does this genetic research matter so much?
Anyone who can remember the same-sex marriage debates in the early 2000’s will recall the importance of the “gay gene” hypothesis in furthering and shaping the discussion around homosexuality. Although genetic science could not (at that time) confirm or deny the existence of a gay gene, a lot of geneticists strongly hinted that it must exist. A lot of discussion flatly assumed a genetic basis for homosexuality.
A typical set-up would involve a glittering talk show host. They would invite a homosexual person onto their show to talk about the struggles of being gay. The homosexual person would arrive to thunderous applause – perhaps even a standing ovation. There would be tears; painful stories; villains in the form of stern religious parents, and then as the emotion reached its climax, the interviewee would sadly observe, “And all because I was born this way”. Sometimes the line would be delivered with anger rather than pathos: “I want to tell Mr X that he should walk a mile in my shoes! Let him be born this way and survive as proudly as I have!”
Future historians will conclude that the gay gene hypothesis helped sway political and social belief of an entire culture. It provided the theoretical basis for the argument that homosexuality is a characteristic as immutable as skin colour. People are “born gay”, activists asserted, just like a person is born with blonde or black hair. A homosexual cannot “become gay” as a result of upbringing or environment. It is not something they (or anyone else) chooses. It is a sexual orientation foisted upon them from the womb.
At a time when even left-wing presidents and political leaders opposed same-sex marriage and when homosexuality was not a widely celebrated attribute, the gay gene hypothesis had utility. It made guilt-stricken parents of homosexuals feel better. It detached choice from sexual behaviour. It helped to galvanise popular anger. After all, why should people be punished for something outside of their control? It even provided a way to tackle religion. Liberal theologians argued that genetics proved that people were created homosexual or heterosexual by God. It also became a pivotal argument for the legitimacy of same- sex marriage.
Since then, the gay gene hypothesis has formed the basis for an emergent architecture of other policies. For example, the push to criminalise “conversion therapies” draws much of its force from the premise that homosexuality is immutable. Because it is an innate characteristic – e.g. one is born homosexual – and equal to any other innate characteristic like eye colour, no amount of therapy will ever be able to change it. In fact, such therapy will always prove to be harmful because it will make the patient repress their true self in favour of a fictitious one. Without the slightest shred of genetic data, the American Psychological Association has led the charge in this area, always with the assumption that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic.
The latest research by Ganna et al (2019) demonstrates that the gay gene hypothesis is false. Indeed, the researchers flatly state that there is no gay gene. After examining a population sample of 500,000 people, they were unable to identify the existence of a special gene that by itself determines whether a person is inclined toward homosexuality. There is no “on” or “off” switch in the genes.
THE DEMOLITION OF THE ICONS: THE KINSEY SCALE
Instead, the researchers found a range of genetic markers that had some correlation to homosexuality. Yet the researchers state that even these genetic markers lack predictive power. In other words, if a scientist had a map of a person’s genetic markers they would not be able to determine from that information alone whether he or she practised homosexual sexual behaviour. To put this more bluntly, a person could possess all of the identified genetic markers and still be heterosexual.
As a result of these findings, the researchers were forced to leave a very wide latitude for environmental and sociocultural inputs into homosexual sexual behaviour. If genetics alone lacks predictive force for a selected sexual behaviour, then the shortfall can only be explained by environmental factors. This indicates that homosexual sexual behaviour within a population can change based on social and cultural elements. This is not exactly a welcome discovery for obvious reasons, and the researchers are quick to say that these sociocultural inputs may simply influence the genes within those populations. (Even though they cannot find genes that can predict homosexual sexual behaviour.)
The researchers identify five genetic markers that have a statistically significant correlation with homosexual sexual behaviour, yet even the five markers accounted for less than 1% of variation in homosexual behaviour. Taken together, all of the markers included in the study could potentially only account for 8 – 25% of variation.
Worse still, from an activist’s point of view, among the significant genetic markers, there are biological implications and parallels that further call into question the framework of gender ideology. In particular, the researchers take a potshot – a small shot, but a significant one – at the celebrated Kinsey Scale. Developed by Alfred Kinsey and used by researchers as a method of measuring homosexuality on a scale of 0 – 6, the Kinsey Scale has been an icon of sexuality research for decades. The researchers explicitly state that the results of this genetic study call such tools “into question”, mainly because in the estimation of Ganna et al (2019) any bipolar continua are too basic.
The Kinsey Scale was always an unsound tool based on questionable data, but it derived from an era where there were just two sexual possibilities: heterosexuality and homosexuality. Sexuality researchers at the time naturally developed bipolar scales that reflected their zeitgeist. On the other hand, we have arrived in a new era with more than 50 genders and people who fluidly move between genders. It is not surprising that sexuality researchers now think the old tools are too simple and are “discovering” that more complex scholarly architecture is now needed.
SEXUAL GENETICS ARE NOT STRONGER THAN CULTURE
Other findings from the genetic study are also politically inconvenient.
For example, in their final published results, Ganna et al (2019) include a graph that shows the number of people reporting a homosexual experience has risen every year since 1938 until 1970. Their data does not extend backwards past 1938 or forward beyond 1970 presumably because their sample population did not include anyone born earlier or later than these years. The graph shows a consistent upward trend over these decades in homosexual sexual experience. There is no reason not to think that the upward trend is not ongoing.
This graph does not show that the number of exclusive homosexuals within the population is increasing. It only shows that the number of people who report any homosexual sexual experience is increasing. This experience could range from penetrative sexual activity, to other homosexual encounters like oral sex.
What this data shows is that people born in 1940 had relatively low levels of homosexual sexual activity. Slightly more than 2% of males and about 0.75% of females. In contrast, nearly 8% of males born in 1970 and just over 6% of females said they had experienced homosexual activity. The data shows that over a 30 year span, there had been a 400% increase in male homosexual encounters and a greater than 600% increase in female homosexual encounters within the sample population.
The researchers rightly point out – albeit weakly – that this suggests a sociocultural dimension to homosexual behaviour. It is difficult to come to any other deduction. For example, it would be highly unlikely that these figures could be replicated in the Middle East where there is a strong cultural and social disapproval of homosexuality.
This data set does great damage to the gay gene hypothesis. For we have long been told by gay activists that genetics is stronger than culture. This is why homosexual behaviour must socially affirmed, for homosexual activity cannot be repressed by sociocultural constraint. The individual will always suffer under a repressive regimen since the gay gene will drive a person onward with inexpressible potency to express his homosexuality in one form or another.
Now it turns out that the prevalence of homosexual sexual behaviour is not fixed at all. It can vary significantly from generation to generation, and in all likelihood, from culture to culture. Moreover, the most likely explanation for this variation has nothing to do with genetics. It is explicable mostly by sociocultural atmosphere. As the three sample societies in the study have grown more liberal and governments have repealed sexuality laws, it has enabled or even emboldened homosexual experimentation.
If there is a genetic basis to homosexual sexual activity there should be no great variation in homosexual activity from generation to generation. To quote Richard Dawkins, we “dance to the music” of our genes. Since genes are stronger than culture, they will express themselves without regard for culture. Thus, if a person is genetically predisposed to be intolerant to dairy foods, this genetic predisposition will express itself regardless of how much dairy food is celebrated by his country. This data set seriously undermines this premise. The study shows that the genetic basis for homosexuality is weak – if not non-existent – and therefore culture may well prove to be the single most predominant input in shaping sexual behaviour.
MENTAL HEALTH AND HOMOSEXUAL SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR
The study strays into territory that activists have traditionally fought against with great ferocity: the association of homosexuality with mental illness. In their opposition, the activists have a powerful ally in the form of the American Psychological Association who have long rejected the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder. It is important to note that Ganna et al (2019) do not claim that homosexuality is a mental illness. Nonetheless, they do show that it has a statistical correlation with a range of disorders.
As part of their study, Ganna et al (2019) correlated homosexual sexual behaviour with a range of personality traits and disorders. They did this, ostensibly, to evaluate the mental risks among people reporting homosexual sexual activity. They found statistically significant correlations between homosexual sexual activity (whether done exclusively or experimentally) and some of their pre-selected traits.
Smoking – particularly smoking cannabis – presented a significant correlation with homosexual sexual activity, nearly greater than all other correlations. (Interestingly, cannabis use is more strongly linked to female homosexual sexual behaviour than it is to male homosexual behaviour, although both are significant.)
Why smoking drugs should correlate so highly with homosexual sexual behaviour is not explored by the researchers.
Ganna et al (2019) found a negative correlation between “subjective well-being” and homosexual behaviour. In other words, people who report homosexual behaviour also report a lesser sense of well-being than other respondents in the study who never engaged in homosexual sexual behaviour. The researchers also found positive correlations between homosexual behaviour and ADHD, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, loneliness, and numbers of sexual partners.
Th researchers correlated only a small sampling of pre-selected traits and disorders. Obviously a great many others were not included. The type of correlations provide some insight as to why activists are so reluctant for this kind of study to be performed. It does not show this population as a picture of mental health. Even supposing a hypothetical homosexual respondent had just two of the pre-selected traits, they would not only be less likely to enjoy overall happiness and contentment, but also less likely to be as healthy and well-functioning than the average study respondent.
The researchers are careful to avoid making any conclusions about this data set that would suggest that anything innate in homosexuality itself could be a problem. They certainly do not attempt to ascribe a cause and effect relationship to this data, preferring to let it sit in scholarly silence. Like the shapes of galactic nebulae, this data cannot be explained, it just is. Their studious avoidance of any interpretation of the data is justified by a claim of scientific agnosticism. Ganna et al (2019) forcefully state: “We emphasize that the causal processes underlying these genetic correlations are unclear and could be generated by environmental factors relating to prejudice against individuals engaging in same-sex sexual behavior, among other possibilities”.
The researchers promise more discussion on this in their supplementary materials, (which are far less likely to be read by the media or the public). There, they first preface their remarks with the need for “sensitivity” on the topic and then plunge into a discussion that is unwittingly devastating to contemporary gender theory.
First, they explain that the genetic correlations are real linkages between paired traits. For example, major depressive disorder (trait 1) is positively paired with homosexual behaviour (trait 2). These traits must exist in a relationship with each other since an increase in one trait will also tend to increase the second.
To explain the relationship, Ganna et al (2019) briefly mention the possibility that both traits may be the biological products of another unknown genetic variant. This is known as pleiotropy, in which several apparently unrelated traits are influenced by one gene. They theorise that “antagonistically linked sex hormone and stress hormone systems” may be involved in the development of both homosexual sexual behaviour and psychiatric disorders. This is obviously a deeply troubling conclusion because it suggests a common genetic origin – if one exists – of both homosexual sexual behaviour and psychiatric illness. Disentangling the first from the second would be difficult if true.
As a final possibility, they mention that one trait may actually cause the second. This possibility receives no discussion at all. The researchers immediately speculate that a causal relationship could be “mediated by environmental influences”. They conjecture that homosexual sexual behaviour results in prejudice and discrimination. This, in turn, gives rise to psychiatric disorder. In a genetic study, this could make it seem there was a casual genetic relationship when the true source of the trait was environmental all the time.
This is surely a dishonest conclusion that does not make even a passable effort to engage with their own datum. It seems to draw more from popular politics than logical inference. For among the correlations studied by Ganna et al (2019) were ADHD, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. None of these conditions have ever been shown to be caused by environmental factors. To put it bluntly, no amount of environmental prejudice will make someone schizophrenic.
Both explanations are equally problematic from a political standpoint. To deduce that mental deficits may contribute to homosexual sexual behaviour renders the sexuality a product of psychiatric disorder. On the other hand, to theorise that homosexual sexual behaviour could be a pleiotrophic effect alongside of mental disorder suggests that both homosexual sexual behaviour and psychiatric disorder are aberrant. That both are unintended side-effects of a puzzling gene interaction.
The researchers did not apparently consider the possibility that homosexual sexual behaviour may contribute to psychiatric disorder. There is no discussion of this at all in either their paper or the supplementary materials.
Ganna et al’s (2019) suggestion that “environmental factors relating to prejudice against individuals engaging in same-sex behaviour” might explain the relationship between some mental disorders and homosexuality is increasingly difficult to sustain in a culture where homosexual people are affirmed and celebrated (e.g. pride parades), given equal rights, access to family privileges, and are legally protected.
The view that society’s prejudice drives mental disorder among LGBTQ people has long been used as an explanation for the prevalence of mental disorder within this population, and as a rallying cry for greater political protection and privilege. But if mental disorder continues to be correlated with homosexuality at a high rate even within some of the most homosexual-friendly societies in the world – a Swedish sample was used in the study – then this hypothesis quickly loses force.
HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOUR AND EVOLUTION
Ganna et al (2019) include a data graphic that shows an inverse relationship between the number of same-sex partners a person has and the number of children they have. The more same-sex partners, the fewer the children.
The average number of children for male homosexuals who never have sex with women is around 0.4%. For exclusively female homosexuals it is around 0.6%. This is not unexpected since homosexual couples who never have sex with the opposite gender cannot produce children without expensive fertility support, a gamete donor, or the involvement of a third, opposite-sex person.
It is oddly naive to find something so obvious given so much time in a scientific paper, as if this were an entirely unforeseen discovery. Ganna et al (2019) write: “individuals who reported same-sex sexual behavior had on average fewer offspring than those of individuals who engaged exclusively in heterosexual behavior, even for individuals reporting only a minority of same-sex partners”. They point out that this reduction in the number of children is equal to, or greater than the reduction in fertility found in other traits that are also linked to lower fertility. It turns out that having sex only with someone of the same gender is very bad for reproduction. Or, put bluntly: homosexuality causes infertility.
Ganna et al (2019) briefly note that the lack of children among homosexuals calls into question the “evolutionary maintenance of the trait”, although they opt against any discussion of this. This may well be a sensible sidestep for geneticists who are engaged in the supremely ridiculous task of trying to find a genetic basis for homosexuality within a population they have discovered does not reproduce.
For the past decade the gay gene hypothesis has gradually dwindled in importance.
This is due to two developments.
Firstly, the success of homosexual political aims have made the appeal to genetic science mostly irrelevant. Same-sex marriage laws have been passed by most Western nations and the wholehearted embrace of homosexuality within the mainstream social ecology represents a clear triumph. Everything from Burger King to Harvard supports the LGBTQ movement. Everyone from prime ministers to corporate executives are eager to be seen as allies of the community. The LGBTQ movement has won the culture with or without science.
But secondly, the quiet disappearance of the gay gene hypothesis has coincided with the rise of the extremely disparate transgender movement and the explosion of sexual identities connected with it. The gay gene hypothesis was already ageing when the transgender movement unwittingly laid the axe to it.
They recognised that the hypothesis has spoiled on the shelf like old milk. It arose in a binary era when you were either homosexual or heterosexual. It no longer fits the zeitgeist of times. Worse, not only is the hypothesis no longer useful but it is a potential impediment to the transgender movement.
Since the early 2000’s, gender ideology has gone through a complete rewrite by the transgender movement. Back then, the main concept was a binary sexual identity. Today, the main concept is fluidity.
From the vantage point of 2019, there is something touchingly retrograde about the gay gene hypothesis. It belongs to a different political era, one in which science – even junk science – was grasped at as an evidentiary foundation. But that was then. This is now. The ideology that once demanded from genetics the discovery of a gay gene has been nearly completely displaced by the idea of gender fluidity.
If gender is fluid, and a person’s gender and orientation can be altered by their own fiat without any need for an external measure or authority outside of themselves, then there is no longer any need for a gay gene. Indeed, as Dr Haire noted, such genetic research is actually quite dangerous – terminal, really – to contemporary transgender ideology.
For if sexual identity was a product of genes, people might have to prove that there is an objective biological foundation to their gender identity. It opens questions as to whether a person’s orientation is biological or psychological. This is inimical to the current fashion that insists a person must be accepted for whatever they say they are. Personal autonomy is the stated goal of current gender ideology. To make one’s identity subject to a biological reality would tend to diminish that autonomy. Great academic effort has been invested in elevating the mind over matter and this is directly at odds with the old thinking that suggested matter actually made the mind.
Within the sexual “rainbow”, there are people who claim to switch freely between genders while others claim to reside primarily in one gender but sometimes express the other. Some people want to receive surgical changes so that they become a simulacrum of the opposite sex, while others do not want to be surgically changed but want to dress, behave, and be treated as if they were the other sex.
These flying fragments of gender and sexual identities are the shrapnel that has blown the legs off the gay gene hypothesis and made it the unwelcome, flatulent uncle in academia. It explains why the gay gene hypothesis had quietly slipped off the radar and genetic research into homosexuality had all but stopped. Now it returns in an odorous cloud and no matter how sensitive or progressive its authors, it invariably casts a cloud.
The good news for gender theorists is that most people do not care about having an opinion grounded in science anymore. Ideology and belief has achieved a total ascendancy over objective evidence right across the fields of human endeavour. Indeed, ideology itself is evidence in the minds of many people today.
While this study by Ganna et al (2019) devastates the gay gene hypothesis of the early 2000’s, it has arrived too late to be of any use to conservatives, religious people, or opponents of same-sex marriage. A great edifice has already been built on the gay gene foundation. Science can put cracks and dents in that foundation, and might even explode dynamite on it, but the edifice remains. The ideology has hardened enough to survive a few inconvenient genetic findings, and the culture has been conquered.
A welter of articles have recently appeared on the study. They come to a range of conclusions and positions.
Gay Gene theories belong in the past (The Guardian, 30 August 2019)
Retiring the Gay Gene Hypothesis (DNA Science)
No Single Gay Gene (Medscape, 4 September 2019)