Evolution, animals, and gay behavior

Today’s New York Times Magazine has a long article by Jon Mooallem, “Can Animals Be Gay?,” that discusses recent observations of same-sex sexual behavior in animals.  It’s a pretty good piece, showing the minefield that is animal research on homosexuality.  On one hand you have researchers with a more ideological agenda, studying or describing phenomena in the hopes that they’ll somehow vindicate gay behavior in humans (see my review of Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow); on the other hand are researchers who explicitly disavow any connection between their studies of same-sex sexual behavior in animals and gay behavior in humans.

The polarization around this work is equally strong among laypeople.  Mooallem describes one study of a mutation that produces same-sex courtship in Drosophila males:

In 2007, for instance, the University of Illinois neurobiologist David Featherstone and several colleagues, while searching for new drug treatments for Lou Gehrig’s disease, happened upon a discovery: a specific protein mutation in the brain of male fruit flies made the flies try to have sex with other males. What the mutation did, more specifically, was tweak the fruit flies’ sense of smell, making them attracted to male pheromones — mounting other males was the end result. To Featherstone, how fruit flies smell doesn’t seem to have anything to do with human sexuality. “We didn’t think about the societal implications — we’re just a bunch of dorky biologists,” he told me recently. Still, after publishing a paper describing this mutation, he received a flood of phone calls and e-mail messages presuming that he could, and would, translate this new knowledge into a way of changing people’s sexual orientations. One e-mail message compared him with Dr. Josef Mengele, noting “the direct line that leads from studies like this to compulsory eradication of gay sexuality . . . whether [by] burnings at the stake or injections with chemical suppressants. You,” the writer added, “just placed a log on the pyre.” (Earlier that year, PETA and the former tennis star Martina Navratilova, among others, were waging similar attacks on a scientific study of gay sheep, presuming it was a precursor to developing a “treatment” for shutting off homosexuality in human fetuses.)

And, in talking to gay people, I find some who would prefer that human homosexuality be shown to be genetic, so that they won’t be derided for making a supposedly immoral “choice” and can impute their behavior to a genetic imperative.  Other gays would prefer a more “nurture-ist” finding, since they envision a kind of pogrom or eugenics program if gay behavior were found to be genetic.  And there are those, myself included, who think that the question is irrelevant, since the morality seeing gays as having equal rights does not depend on any genetic or evolutionary basis. (Or, if you take a Sam-Harris-an approach to the question, you can say that our well being is best served if we don’t discriminate against gay people or legally regulate the sexual behavior of consenting adults).

Can animal studies really inform work on human homosexuality? I’m not an expert in this area, but Mooallem doesn’t paint an optimistic picture.  He shows, and I had guessed this, that “gay” behavior in animals (by this I mean “same-sex” sexual behavior) is a grab-bag of diverse phenomena that don’t support a single evolutionary explanation.  Some same-sex behavior, such as the occasional tendency of males to mount other males, could simply be a byproduct of a general tendency for males to copulate with anything moving, which is itself adaptive since sperm is cheap. (Some flies, for example, will try to copulate with balls of wax, and some orchids, to gain pollination, have flowers mimicking female bees, with which overstimulated males try to mate).  In other cases  same-sex behavior may have evolutionary roots, reflecting specific adaptations.  Mooallem describes “lesbian” behavior in albatrosses in Hawaii, for instance, in which pairs of females will nest together (sans males) to incubate a single egg.  While this behavior isn’t yet understood, it may reflect the advantage of brooding an egg even when you’re not sure it’s yours, just because there’s a dearth of males in the population and it’s better to have half a chance of producing an offspring than no chance at all.  In other cases, like the polymorphous sexuality in bonobo chimps, sexual behavior may have been co-opted into forms of social bonding. I wouldn’t expect, for instance, that same-sex mounting in Drosophila would have an evolutionary explanation similar to that of male mammals fellating each other.

So we shouldn’t hold out a lot of hope that these kinds of studies will shed much illumination on human homosexuality.  It may, but I’m not hopeful.  For one things, humans have a rich and mercurial culture that is unlike anything seen in animals.  Social stigma or conventions can change quite quickly, and this can affect the propensity of same-sex behavior.  Was prolific gay behavior in ancient Athens the same thing, biologically, as the behavior of gays in 1930s Chicago? Who knows?

The controversy about the roots of gay behavior in our culture is often couched as a dichotomy: is it genetic or is it a “choice”?  Because I’m a physical determinist who believes that there’s no such thing as true free will or a genuine “choice”, I prefer to couch the dichotomy as one of nature versus nurture: are there genes whose presence results in gay behavior, or is that behavior entirely due to environmental influences, including social pressures and the behavior of one’s peers?  The most likely answer is “both.”  There is some evidence that homosexual behavior in our species has a genetic basis, but we don’t know much about this, and of course how genes produce traits depends, with few exceptions, on the relevant environments. “Gay” genes may show environmental effects on expressivity (the degree to which gay behavior actually appears when one has “gay genes”) and penetrance (is such behavior even seen at all when one has the genes?).

If one is making an argument that gay behavior has an adaptive evolutionary basis, as do some evolutionary psychologists, then one must answer at least three questions.  These questions, while crucial for any argument about the evolution of human behaviors, are almost never addressed in any work of evolutionary psychology, and the second two aren’t touched by Mooallem.

1.  Does gay behavior have a genetic basis? As I said above, we don’t know much about this, but there are indications that there is some genetic basis in some people.  That doesn’t mean, however, that all gay behavior stems from “gay genes.”  Even if there’s a genetic basis, there is likely a strong interaction with the environment, too, so that one may not be able to impute gay behavior to simply “genes” or “environment.” Complicating this is the additional possibility that some same-sex behaviors may reflect genes or gene-environment interaction, while others  could entirely reflect differences in the environment, perhaps based on neurological or hormonal factors not produced by mutations in the DNA.

If the answer to this first question is “no,” then there is no need to go further with explaining an adaptive basis for homosexuality. Without genes there couldn’t be an adaptive basis for the trait.  If it’s “yes”—that is, there is at least a partial genetic basis for some gay behavior, you can proceed to question #2.

2. If the behavior is “adaptive,” how is it adaptive? That is, how, exactly, do gay people leave more copies of their “gay genes” than non-gay people?  For that is what is implied by saying that the behavior is “adaptive.” Since homosexuality seems patently maladaptive from an evolutionary point of view—presumably gay people don’t leave as many offspring as their non-gay confreres—how come those genes are hanging around in the population?  We’d expect natural selection to eliminate them.

Mooallem notes two possibilities.  One, originally suggested by E. O. Wilson, is kin selection.  As Mooallem notes:

In a paper published earlier this year, Vasey and one of his graduate students at the University of Lethbridge, Doug P. VanderLaan, report that fa’afafine [this is a group of males in Samoa who engage in same-sex behavior] are markedly more willing to help raise their nieces and nephews than typical Samoan uncles: they’re more willing to baby-sit, help pay school and medical expenses and so on. Furthermore, this heightened altruism and affection is focused only on the fa’afafine’s nieces and nephews. They don’t just love kids in general. They are a kind of superuncle. This offers support for a hypothesis that has been toyed around with speculatively since the ’70s, when E. O. Wilson raised it: If a key perspective of evolutionary biology urges us to understand homosexuality in any species as a beneficial adaptation — if the point of life is to pass on one’s genes — then maybe the role of gay individuals is to somehow help their family members generate more offspring. Those family members will, after all, share a lot of the same genes.

This would seem to be the prediction of “adaptive homosexuality” that is most easily tested.  It’s not hard to determine whether gay people have more brothers and sisters (or nieces and nephews) than non-gay people, a finding necessary to support the “kin selection” theory.  And it has to be more than just a one-for-one replacement with you because, according to kin selection theory, related individuals are devalued by their degree of genetic relationship to the gay person.  If a gay person is, as Wilson posited, the human equivalent of a bird “helper at the nest” (birds like Florida scrub jays who forgo reproduction for a while to help their parents raise brothers and sisters), one can make calculations about whether the outcome is “adaptive.”  If I become gay and have no offspring, for example, I’d have to help mom and pop raise produce at least two more brothers and sisters than non-gay people, because each brother or sister carries only half my genes.  I suspect the “kin selection” idea is wrong, but it would be relatively easy to get the data.

Complicating this explanation, however, is the evolutionary-psychology idea that whatever evolutionary forces promoted the evolution of “gay genes” occurred in the distant past, on the African savanna where most of our evolution took place.  Measuring current evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of homosexuality might having nothing to say about why it evolved (if it did evolve) in the first place.  This evocation of an unrecoverable past, while it might be true, makes much of the speculation in evolutionary psychology untestable.  Can’t find an adaptive advantage in modern society? That’s ok—there was probably an advantage several million years ago.

Mooallem raises a different possibility for how “gay genes” might be selected for:

Vasey and VanderLaan have also shown that mothers of fa’afafine have more kids than other Samoan women. And this fact supports a separate, existing hypothesis: maybe there’s a collection of genes that, when expressed in a male, make him gay but when expressed in a woman, make her more fertile. Like Wilson’s theory, this idea was also meant to explain how homosexuality is maintained in a species and not pushed out by the invisible hand of Darwinian evolution. But unlike Wilson’s hypothesis, it doesn’t try to find a sneaky way to explain homosexuality as an evolutionary adaptation; instead, it imagines homosexuality as a byproduct of an adaptation. It’s not too different from how Vasey explains why his female macaques insistently mount one another.

This may also be true, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.  That’s because of question #3, to wit:

3. Are the genes for gay behavior supposed to be fixed in populations or are they polymorphic? That is, do we all have genes that, under the right circumstances, cause us to have same-sex sexual behavior, or are those genes polymorphic—that is, do some individuals have them while others don’t?  This latter possibility is what evolutionary psychologists often suggest; and this possibility is required for studies that purport to show that gay behavior has a genetic basis. After all, if we all have gay genes, there’s no genetic variation among people to study and thus no way of demonstrating a genetic basis to gay-ness!  And if gay genes are polymorphic, why are they polymorphic?  Population-genetic studies show that only under very restricted circumstances can natural selection itself promote the existence of genetic polymorphisms in natural populations.  Just showing that gay behavior is sometimes adaptive, or has adaptive side effects, is not enough to explain the persistence of “gay genes” in populations.

Mooallem’s idea that gay genes are maladaptive in males but adaptive in females doesn’t fully answer this question.  Genes that are adaptive in one sex but not in the other don’t automatically become polymorphic in a population.  In most cases, they’ll either be wiped out of a population (if the disadvantage in males is larger than the advantage in females), or be fixed in a population, so that everyone has them (advantage in females much stronger than disadvantage in males).  To explain a polymorphism, the balance between male and female fitness has to be of a very specific character so that, for example, “heterozygotes” (individuals carrying one gay gene and one non-gay gene) have a net advantage in the population.  This is by no means the inexorable result if gay genes are maladaptive in males and adaptive in females (or vice versa).

***

Answering these three questions is a tall order.  Question 1, whether homosexuality has a genetic basis, is perhaps the easiest to answer.  The other two questions, involving the so-called “adaptive” basis for homosexuality, will be very difficult to answer. In fact, I don’t think—given the difficulties of studying a socially-conditioned behavior in a population on which you can’t do experiments—that they’ll ever be answered to our satisfaction.

In the end, I suppose I’m not much interested in the evolutionary roots of gay behavior.  Yes, it would be nice to know, but, given the problems I’ve described above, we’ll likely never know for sure, and perhaps should spend our time studying more tractable questions.  The data at hand already show that same-sex behavior in animals is a mixed bag of heterogeneous stuff, and may not illuminate homosexuality in humans.  Most of the researchers described in Mooallem’s article seem to recognize this.

And of course, no matter what the evolutionary roots of homosexual behavior are, those are irrelevant (apologies to Sam Harris here) to how we regard gays.  Infanticide is “normal” in some species like lions and langurs, but we condemn it and punish it in humans.   What is “natural,” “genetic,” or “adaptive” has little relevance, to me at least, to the question of what is right.  It’s simply the moral thing to do to ensure that gays have equal rights, regardless of whether same-sex behavior rests on genes, the environment, or both.  Perhaps finding a genetic basis for homosexuality would make some Christians and Mulims stop condemning gays as immoral, but what if homosexuality turns out to be largely a product of environments?  Making your morality depend on such answers is simply a bad way to proceed.

Anyway, read Mooallem’s article. It’s a remarkably good piece of science reporting.

26 Comments

  1. bric
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    As you say, same-sex behaviour in animals is a mixed bag of heterogeneous stuff, and actually the same is true for humans even within one culture. If the only fact you know about someone is that they are gay, you know remarkably little about them: you couldn’t even predict their specific sexual behaviour. So expecting there to be a universal determinant of any sort is simply unproductive; we are men and women who are inclined to do a variety of things emotionally and physically that are not done by the majority of the population: that’s it. Whether we do these things for genetic, or environmental, or aesthetic reasons, or from plain cussedness, is irrelevant. Prick us, we bleed.

  2. Posted April 4, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    I think that finding a genetic basis for homosexuality will make some Christians feel vindicated that it’s a curse and affliction. These are the same individuals who don’t know how to interpret the mechanisms of plate tectonics.

    Sexuality, as you pointed out, should be a social behavior involving love, proclivity, and fluidity among consenting adults. Whatever discoveries surface in the lab will surely be misappropriated by the general public.

    • Becca Stareyes
      Posted April 4, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Except if it isn’t genetically based, they’d probably just say it’s Satan pushing people to sin or something. At this point, they’ve already made up their minds that ‘homosexuality = bad’, therefore, whatever else they learn will be interpreted in that light.

      Which is a shame, because I’d like to think we can get these people to stop being asses to other people.

  3. Posted April 4, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    What of the possibility that it is adaptively neutral? My working theory, given all the research on this area (of which I have read a lot) is as follows:

    1. Base assumption: In humans, sexual behavior and orientation are not the same thing, mainly because our brains evolved to be so complex and agentive in motivating behavior (i.e., the primary source of our adaptive flexibility within an individual lifetime). Behavior and orientation can overlap and be the same in any given individual, but the social and cultural environment within which the individual lives, and individual choices, can and do greatly affect whether or not the orientation expresses in actual sexual behavior. Behavior and orientation have to be carefully treated as separate, if overlapping, categories of analysis in human sexual studies. In a nut shell, humans have sex for a multitude of reasons, nearly none of which are orientation. There are hundreds of social, cultural, economic, religious, aesthetic reasons for people to have sex counter their orientation.

    2. Given present research on human orientation across cultures, our current best understanding is this: 2-4% of women are primarily homosexual; 4-6% of men are primarily homosexual; a smaller as yet unquantified percent of people are bisexual; and there are also a small percent of people whose orientation changes during their lifetime. Research is showing that there is a strong difference between males and females, with females being far more likely to have a bisexual orientation or to experience a change in orientation as they age; whereas males seem to be, given present research, far more likely to be fixed in their orientation throughout a lifetime.

    2. Like all human traits, sexual orientation (not behavior) emerges in the gene-environment relationship. (Perhaps I’ve misunderstood the science here, but I can’t think of a single human trait that does not phenotypically express in a gene-environment relationship.) Because human brains develop in a complex cascade of gene switches within environments (both chemical/hormonal within the womb, and then sensory-rich environments after birth), there is no way to separate gene from environment.

    3. Sexual dimporphism and sexual reproduction give massive adaptive advantages through gene recombination which gives intergenerational genetic diversity and greater chances of survival in changing environments. High School biology.

    4. It looks like, at least in human males, homosexual orientation (not behavior) sexual orientation is a developmental phenomenon, that is, that the brain develops sexual orientation (and probably gender identity) in utero and in very early years after birth. There are some strong correlations to birth mother’s biology (birth order studies) and connections to other known developmental traits like handedness. Twin studies using recent methods that corrected for earlier methodological problems still show at least a 50% heritability of orientation (compared to approx. 35% for handedness). Etc. Etc.

    5. When comparing with the sexual behavior of the rest of the mammalian world (we really have no way to test for orientation in animals other than observing their behavior), it seems then that homosexuality (either behavior or orientation) is a statistically normal outcome of sexually reproducing, sexually dimorphous organisms. The adaptive advantage of sexual reproduction is so great that the maladaptiveness of being homosexually oriented is rendered effectively nil statistically. (Also, in both humans and animals, it seems that homosexually oriented individuals still mate and reproduce, so it’s entirely reasonable that there is no maladaptiveness at all in being homosexually oriented because it doesn’t preclude reproduction or the rearing of young).

    So my current position is that homosexual orientation is adapatively neutral. Human reproduction will always produce homosexual orientation in a small percentage of the population; but that trait does not negatively impact the adaptability of the species. [As a side note, I find the current arguments for the adaptability of homosexuality to be quite thin in their evidence and while I think it's an interesting hypothesis, I don't currently buy it.]

  4. Bill Gilliland
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I think you’re being too narrow when you frame the evolutionary problem as why these genes persist when they cause individuals to have exclusive same-sex relationships. These genes have many other effects, and saying the only possible outcome of these genes is gay/not gay is a false dichotomy.

    Having same-sex proclivities does not preclude having opposite-sex sex. In the majority of cases of animal same-sex behavior documented in Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance most individuals would be classified as functionally bisexual.

    Therefore, there are many possible evolutionary explanations that would not require the full two-extra-cousins level of benefit to explain the persistence of alleles.

    •  Same-sex nookie could improve social cohesion (sensu bonobos) but does not preclude opposite-sex reproductive success.

    • Alleles that increase the rate of successful mating with conspecifics might be directly favored, even if they have the side effect of some carriers failing to ever reproduce due to exclusive same-sex attraction. The evolutionary cost of these individuals would be analogous to sickle-cell anemia carriers being protected from malaria at the cost of losing homozygous progeny.

    • Same-sex behavior may be advantageous at certain life stages; for instance younger males may offer sexual favors in exchange for protection or rewards from older males.

    I agree with your conclusion that it shouldn’t matter who people are attracted to, but I don’t think it’s so clear cut that this behavior is maladaptive. The idea of sexual orientation wasn’t invented until the mid-1800s, and many people who were strongly attracted to the same sex still had progeny. Remember, even Dan Savage had a girlfriend once!

  5. Posted April 4, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    @Bill: Your second point making the analogy to sickle-cell is a much more succinct and pointed version of what I was saying in my comment. Also, I have only recently begun thinking about the social advantages to same-sex behavior (e.g., life stage and group cohesion), but I think it’s a promising line of thought/research. Thanks for the insight.

  6. Posted April 4, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I have a lay-person level question to act: couldn’t some features have appeared just due to randomness/genetic noise? Not every behavior carries a genetic advantage, no?

  7. MadScientist
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    I would say that it is not by any means a clear choice, but why would anyone want to imagine that it must be purely genetic? For me what’s important is that the homosexuals have always been in society, get over it and let them live; don’t believe the lies of religion that there is somehow something horribly wrong with them.

    • Josh Slocum
      Posted April 5, 2010 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      No, it’s not that it’s merely not clear, or that’s it’s highly controversial whether sexual orientation is a choice. It isn’t a “choice” at all, any more than one can choose to like or dislike any stimuli. If you find cilantro revolting, you can’t just “choose” to love the taste. And no, I’m not making an analogy to foods that are acquired tastes, I’m making an analogy to stimuli one finds innately and strongly pleasurable or not pleasurable.

      We can choose to participate in physical sex acts, even with those to whom we are not attracted, but we cannot choose to be innately aroused by them the way we’re aroused by the usual objects of our desire.

  8. Launcher
    Posted April 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    I’d recommend the work of Bruce McFadden, who studies the effects of androgens (sex hormones) in hyenas and other species on expressed traits related to sexuality. Check out:

    http://www.psy.utexas.edu/psy/faculty/Mcfadden/pdfs/PerspectivesGalleys.pdf

    • Launcher
      Posted April 4, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

      Oh darn, it’s Dennis McFadden.

  9. Posted April 5, 2010 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    All of these “gay gene” discussions tend to ignore bisexuality. (Which in fact is also the term that should be applied to most “gay” animals).

    The “Samoan” hypothesis for adaptivity also ignores lesbians, which I think invalidates it since AFAIK the percentage of homosexual people in the population is pretty much the same for men and women.

  10. Kevin
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    It appears to me that you left out an important choice – developmental issues.

    For example, I know of researchers looking into the effects of influenza in first trimester pregnancy as being associated with the development of schizophrenia in the child later in life.

    This would not be “genetic” by any stretch of the imagination, nor would it involve questions of “nurture”.

    It could just be a roll of the dice. A surge of cytokines at just the right spot in fetal development and the dice is effectively cast.

    Respectfully.

    • Launcher
      Posted April 5, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Right. A talk I saw by Dennis McFadden a few years ago (see link in my previous comment above) focused on the development period, when the fetus is being bombarded by a variety of hormones: not just the mother’s, but any twin’s hormones as well, which apparently can influence future sexual identity in humans (e.g. if a fraternal twin is of the opposite sex).

      • Bill
        Posted April 8, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        There is a fair amount of research showing that gay men tend to have more older brothers on average. Some have speculated that a mother’s having had previous male children causes this type of developmental effect on the fetus.

        • Launcher
          Posted April 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

          That’s interesting – hormonal effects that linger in the mother between gestations.

  11. Leigh Jackson
    Posted April 5, 2010 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Great blog Jerry. What strikes me from reading all the contributions is that our understanding of the phenomenon of sex in the animal kingdom is far from complete!

    It is undeniable that there has been a sea-change in western societies over the last few decades in attitudes towards homosexuality. The Roman Catholic Church, conservative Anglican denominations and evangelical churches have fought a rear-guard battle against this change.

    Hatred of homosexuals demonstrates the iniquity of Christianity in practice.

  12. Posted April 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    This is a good, reasoned post. The fact that gay behavior (whatever one wants to call it) is widespread among animals should by itself be reason enough to show that we needn’t search for human-specific evolutionary mechanisms. It’s enough that ‘gays’ often also have children, that this behavior is complex so that any selective effect is so small as to be counteracted by drift and mutation (keeping relevant variation in the population)

    There is a problem with Hamilton’s ideas, which were basically developed on the basis of Mendelian two-state, high-penetrance thinking. If I’m gay but the ‘gay’ allele makes me help my siblings have more children, that would only really work if they are not also gay identical by descent with me (i.e., carrying the same allele). If they do, I’m not really able to help them have more kids.

    And if I help my non-gay siblings (that is, those who do not share my gay-genotype), I will be fostering all the genes I have….except my ‘gay’ genotype.

    So many of what seem to be plausible arguments are (1) unnecessary and (2) won’t work

    • Posted April 7, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      It’s exceedingly unlikely that there could be a “gay gene” for obvious reasons of reproductive fitness. You don’t mention the far more controversial (but also more plausible) speculative theory that the cause of male homosexuality is an external pathogen. As you said, the truth or not of this theory or any other should have no bearing on the legal rights of gays, but that doesn’t stop it from being a hot potato. Here’s my take on the politics and impact of this theory if it turns out to be true.

  13. djb
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    We are a bizarre society in this sense of “gay animals” and utilizing this as a justification for it being “natural”. Science had exceptions to every rule, but even in the “gay” animals, while feelings are there, so are the parts for “natural” sex too….so which is right?

    And if we are going to utilize this “exception to the rule” mentality then polygamy HAS to be okay (though oddly the “civil rights” coalitions never say that this is a right…uhm…)as Gorillas, Lions, and many other animals typically have the MALE with many many “wives”! Animals also “naturally” kill each other – sometimes it has been found for sport or fun – so this should be acceptable in humans too right? And animals, some of those mentioned above, eat meat ONLY – so are vegetarians and anti-meat people wrong? Are they fighting against a natural way (those PETA freaks who take days off work to protest dog killers, BUT NEVER take a day off work to protest a child killer or molester – explain that!)

    And let’s go on. My cat licks his ass clean – so why do we people need toilet paper anymore? Can’t we go green (or brown) and save paper?

    Monkeys throw their poop at each other -so should we be arrested if I throw my poop at someone else whether in anger or for fun? I bet I would be. But it is found in nature.

    Or back to cats. If we have a retarded or disabled child, should we MAKE the mom eat that child. Thats what cats and many creatures do!

    Oh we could go on with more example, but the bottom line is, especially when it comes to gay marriage, and I am not saying it is right or wrong, but saying above that we cannot take SOME logic and only apply it where and when it fits us. If we have a brain or genetic defect, then we HAVE to child molesters do their thing without recourse because after all “they feel the way they do”. And the same with polygamists, serial killers, thieves, etc., because after all genetic and neurological defects are found in many. If it is genetic where do we have the right to deny them their feelings? I mean logic is logic right?

    Oh…I get it…we can use it when it benefits the ME…but ignore the rest…

  14. djb
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    And as a medical provider who interviews and counsels patients all day, the often initial experience in boys and men is often “abuse” wherein their first sexual experience with another person, usually, and almost always a male in those cases, is often the basis for “homosexuality”. Sex is like a hit if heroin – ONE DOSE, or the first experience, literally changes a PET Scan (the brain itself) forever.

    And so many women fit the Rosie mold – fat or overweight, not very attractive, not “sought after” in school by the opposite sex, hate themselves (in her case apparently everyone else too), history of male abuse, bad relationships, etc and then they are suddenly “always been gay”. Uh Uh.

    Now not everyone fits the mold the same (like Rosie), but there is an incredible high incident of the “male” look in women – often one partner literally dresses like a male, cuts her hair like a male, wears male cologne, but the other partner is more feminine – so is this evidence of “penis fear’ – they actually want a male, but don’t want the parts?

    And men…..this ice skater (nothing like a stereotype uh?)Johnny Weir can wear female clothing WHILE performing at the olympics and act like a woman, yet the snowboarder takes an off competition picture where a girl is kissing his medal that hangs a bit low, but he has to go home. So CAN we show our sexuality or not….or only if you’re gay?

    • Bill
      Posted April 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Lord, I hope no one I know ever gets “interviewed” or “counseled” by a poorly informed “medical provider” such as djb.

  15. Bill
    Posted April 8, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this terrific post. It summarizes very nicely why I’ve always been uncomfortable with putting too much stock in the search for a biological basis for homosexuality. Even if all the scientific issues could be explained to everyone’s satisfaction, the ethical and political questions would still remain. Even if homosexuality were 100 percent genetically determined, these questions would remain. There was a controversial stage play in the 1990s called Twilight of the Golds. The premise was that a genetic test for homosexuality had been discovered, and much of the plot centers around whether the main character will abort her fetus as a result of the test. The play highlighted in a very disturbing way one of the points you are making here, which is that having a biological or medical explanation for a phenomenon does not make the associated social and political issues go away, and might even lead to new ones.

  16. Andreas
    Posted June 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Personally I find this interesting as in raising a lot of interesting questions.
    How does transvestites play into the mix? Or men and women that are turned on by same sex dressing as opposite sex etc.
    Then we have transsexuals (pre operated) that is a somewhat popular fantasy. Does that constitute gay behaviour or heterosexual or even bisexual?

    Wonder when and if evolutionary psychology will come up with an explanation for transvestism.

  17. S Green
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    While you want to equate many actions of animals and humans to find whether it is “moral” or not, there are many considerations that you fail at acknowledging for survival of a species.

    In the animal world, where animals don’t seem to have the same rules as humans, they can mate multiple times and with multiple partners throughout their life time, and as such, being gay does not affect the gene pool of how many males or females are available.

    Also, in many species, only the alpha male gets the pick of the herd of females, and if that animal species is social in the least, then they will seek companionship where they can get it.

    Humans, for the last 1000 or so years, have had one to one in most societies by law. This has led us to necessarily think about what activities will pass along our genes to future generations, and so homosexual orientation is detrimental to that cause.

    There are other animal things that humans don’t normally do, and trying to explain homosexual as right through the research that animals are homosexual is wrong. Most animals, are bi-sexual, and have multiple relationships throughout their lives. They may be devoted for one season to one another, but the next season, they often pair with yet a different animal.

    I have read and re-read trying to understand what is going on. I’ve also read that some people consider certain things to be homosexual behavior which may not be related to sexual actitives at all. People and social animals need companionships of more than sexual partners throughout their lives. NOt all cuddling is sexual even among animals. Not all displays of affection is for the intent of having sex. People over sexualize meanings, and then try to attribute ‘homosexual’ behaviors where it may or may not be relevant.

    It is NOT homosexual for a father to care about and hold a son and comfort him. It is not homosexual for a sister to hold and comfort her sister for the same reason. It is this kind of overgeneralization of not knowing what the facts are, but only seeing a behavior that has led science down many hypothetical roads which are not always true.

    It is also not necessarily homosexual behavior for friends to take care of each other and to love each other. The end truth of whether it is homosexual has to do with what the goal and what happens in the bedroom occurs. If the goal is sex, or the end result is sex, then it is clearly homosexual, but many actions that can lead to that end, are not always towards that end, and should not be considered homosexual.

    That is what really gets under my skin is that people seem to always relate things that are not necessarily the right conclusions, and then because you show tenderness to someone the same sex, you MUST be bisexual or Gay. It is NOT the same thing.

    Caring and Love are important to every human on earth. We do not withhold this tenderness strictly based on the way someone is built. There is a specific course of action which is restricted, and in that course of action, we have a choice in whether we participate in that action or not. Hugging is not attraction sexually, but having sexual intercourse is. comforting someone is not related to sexuality, but trying to stimulate the nerves in sexual organs is.

    I know this is all opinion, but recently, a lot of the ‘reports’ I’ve been reading feel slanted in opinion rather than necessarily fact becuase people read into it what they want when they make conclusions.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Coyne directed us to this paper and points out some of the difficulties in assigning a genetic reason to this [...]

  2. [...] fraught feild of animal sexuality studies Posted on April 5, 2010 by Bento Via Jerry Coyne: Today’s New York Times Magazine has a long article by Jon Mooallem, “Can Animals Be Gay?,” [...]

  3. [...] of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne wrote a good article, that includes a takedown of a form of Natural Law reasoning on the other side of the debate: the [...]

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