Born: August 25
Current Residence: Portland, Oregon, USA

11/9/03: Greetings-

After reading Gayle's live journal, I decided to look into this group. To introduce myself, I'm John (or Heron in most non- professional 'net interactions). I'm bisexual and generally assume that the reason I am is reading various Darkover books (by Marion Zimmer Bradley) in my mid teens and finding that bisexuality (and for that matter polyamory) seemed to make a great deal of sense. In any case, to further introduce myself here's an essay on genetics and sexual preference that I wrote a couple of years ago and hope that people here might be at least somewhat interested in. I'm not claiming the following is in any way true, but I believe the arguments are at least reasonable. Comments welcome.

Gay Genes or Learned Behavior:

First off, let me state that I do not believe in genetic determinism of human behavior. At most, I would be willing to admit that there might exist genetic predispositions in some direction or another (perhaps some people become alcoholics more easily than others due to genetic factors). However, a predisposition is not the same thing as a genetic mandate to act in a certain way and there is currently no evidence that any such predispositions even exist. Also, while the following essay is about sexual preference, I suspect that the same point may also apply to gender identity and likely many other qualities about people.

Anyway, could sexual preference be learned behavior? Clearly this learning takes place at a very young age, and is not learned or taught at a conscious level. Let us examine what other behaviors are similar. One which comes to mind, is food preference. While this seems a highly trivial example, I believe that it is not. Certainly, many people have fairly broad food preferences, as well as a number of foods which they prefer not to eat but will eat if little else is available. However, everyone also has a large list of items which are not considered to be edible.

In most of the First World, this list includes insects, worms, arachnids and other similar creatures. Most US residents are utterly repulsed by the idea of eating a large well- cooked spider, and are even more disgusted with the thought of eating a living, squirming grub. I would like all First World resident reading this piece to consider how they would feel if they were confronted by such a creature and told to eat it. Having studied anthropology for many years, I know that most US residents honestly cannot bring themselves to eat such fare and that many of those who attempt to do so will rapidly vomit. A significant number of people will honestly starve to death rather than eat such a meal. Other cultures have similar limits. In most of Asia eating a rare, juicy hamburger is a disgusting thought. Various Amazonian tribes consider peanut butter about as appetizing as human waste (which they feel it strongly resembles). However, these limits are purely cultural. In the jungles of South America, roast spider is a part of many meals, and large live grubs are regarded by many societies as a special taste treat. Similarly, many Americans love peanut butter, and very few consider it to be completely inedible.

That does this discussion have to do with sexual preference? Perhaps these preferences are comparable. Many people also are disgusted at the idea of having sex with someone they consider to be the inappropriate gender, and a few will even become physically sick if they attempt to do so. Both food preference and sexual preference are powerful imperatives (starving to death rather than eating an item that another culture considers to be food seems to me to be as strong a drive as anything involving sexual preference). No one has ever claimed that food preferences are in any way genetic. Certainly some people are lactose intolerant or allergic to a some foods, but the physical limits still don't explain why many US residents literally can't eat live bugs or why most Amazonian natives literally can't eat peanut butter.

Also, consider an analogy... Someone from the US is lost in a jungle; they have no food and are very hungry. They know that they are likely to starve to death if they don't find food, and all they can find is grubs. In this situation some people (but not all) will eat the grubs and survive. However, almost no one then returns to civilization having developed a taste for grubs. Similarly, in isolated single-sex environments, like single sex boarding schools, prisons, or most naval ships before the 1990s, a significant number of people engage in homosexual behavior. When faced with no other access to sex, these people choose to have sex outside their normal range rather than remain celibate. When such people leave this single sex environment the vast majority cease this behavior and go back to having sex with the folks they had it with before. These two cases seem to me to be comparable. It is interesting to note that frequent exposure to strongly non-preferred foods or sexual partners almost never changes someone's preference, even if the preferred foods or members of the preferred gender are unavailable for several years. Clearly, both of these preferences are highly resilient.

So, how can something which is learned and not in any way genetic or otherwise innate in us be so durable? Consider another analogy, language. My native language is English, in college I studied two tonal languages, Mandarin Chinese, and Thai. I have heard from every instructor of these languages I have ever known that native speakers of non-tonal languages can never be as proficient with tonal languages as native speakers if they start learning the language after the age of 9 or 10. While this evidence is merely anecdotal, it is supported by two facts:

1) Speakers of tonal and non-tonal languages use different portions of their brains to process speech. According to our (admittedly rudimentary) knowledge of the brain, the speakers of tonal languages process speech in the same location that their brains process music. If a speaker of a non-tonal language attempts to learn a tonal language, in almost all cases their brain will continue to process the tonal language in the region which it processes other languages. Lacking the way to process the language, fluency is impaired.

2) Until 1999 most Westerners assumed that perfect pitch was a rare, likely inborn quality which a few people were blessed with. This proves to be completely untrue. Most speakers of tonal (largely Asian) languages have perfect pitch (it quite shocks me that no Western researcher discovered this fact earlier than last year). Lest anyone attempt to add genetics to this situation, people of Asian ancestry who learn a non-tonal language as their first language are no more likely to have perfect pitch than anyone else, and they process language in the same place as other speakers of non-tonal languages.

The only known genetic component to language acquisition is the ability of young humans learn any language easily. However, the particular language that is learned has profound and possibly permanent affects on the structure of an individual's brain. Perhaps sexual preference has similar effects.

The only remaining question is if sexual preference is learned behavior why do homophobic cultures produce homosexuals and bisexuals? There does seem evidence that sexual preference is affected by overt cultural programming. Ancient Greece glorified male homosexuality and denigrated heterosexual sex for any purpose other than procreation. Most Ancient Greek men were bisexual and many of them preferred homosexual relationships. In contrast, most of the modern First World is moderately to strongly homophobic and homosexuality is much rarer than it was in Ancient Greece.

However, some people are gay and bi despite culture programming to the contrary. Why? Food preferences are also somewhat variable. Many Westerners are disgusted by sushi, while many other Westerners love it. I have met people who literally could not eat raw fish, the idea disgusted them. However, I and many others love it. We were not taught this preference by our culture. Instead, for some reason we developed this preference despite cultural programming to the contrary.

Clearly cultural programming is clearly never perfect on any subject, and sexuality is one of the areas where the results appear to be moderately variable. In any learning of this sort, which is both early and unconscious, numerous subtle and often seemingly trivial factors can influence the learning process. I have no idea of the exact circumstance which make some people straight and others gay or bi, we may never know the exact reasons. Being able to deconstruct culture at that level is a task that no one has managed for any topic, much less one as complex and controversial as sexual preference. However, it does seem possible that sexual preference falls belongs on the list of highly durable learned behaviors. It also seems equally possible that other factors like gender identity could also fall into this same category.

From the standpoint of this group, if my argument is correct, then just as some people can teach themselves to appreciate cuisines far different from what they were raised with, others can presumably teach themselves a different sexual preference.


11/9/02: [T]he idea that just because something is inborn people won't be discriminated against is obviously foolish in the face of racism, as is claiming that proving that it is a choice will automatically encourage discrimination - while there are still problems, religious freedom is actually fairly real in most of the US, even for us pagans and religion is clearly and obviously a choice.

[F]or some reason the US has been obsessed about people's supposed inborn limitations for the entire 20th century and even before. The origins of this may well be the attempts at "scientific racism" done shortly before the Civil War (where various alleged scientists attempted to prove that black people were a separate [and inferior] species). The desire to prove that everything from "criminal tendencies" to homosexuality are inborn seems to be exceedingly American.

Speaking of which, were any of the various foolish studies performed to "prove" that homosexuality is inborn performed outside of the US by non-US trained researchers? All the ones I can remember were done in the US and I just realized that I have no idea what the status of this issue is in other First World nations.

Does anyone have any info on this?

11/26/02: Apollo and The Midnighter in The Authority (started by comics genius Warren Ellis) [are also in a same-sex relationship]. I also ran across a wonderful little publication a few weeks back - "Out in Comics", a free infocomic about queer folk in comics (www.outincomics.com).

I was deeply amused at how I got it. I was buying comics at the local (very cool) comic shop and the person at the counter offered me a copy. I still wonder if she did that to everyone who came in, or of the fact that I was wearing gold nail polish, and a fair amount of jewelry had anything to do with that offer :)

3/29/03: Or for yet more proof that Scalia is a deeply scary person, comment from various justices on this case:

Excerpts From Arguments Before the Supreme Court

One of my reactions to his comments is to wonder what the heck *is* wrong with bigamy (IMHO, nothing, I'm polyamorous as well as QBC).

7/12/03: I'm impressed, that phenomenon presents the same sort of challenge to social constructionists as truly vile hate speech does to free speech advocates - how far is too far.

I'm deeply disturbed by the idea that someone would wish to remove their limbs (which I find puzzling given that several of my close friends are transsexuals and I have no problem with SRS surgery). After I read that (quite excellent) article, I had a mixture of three reactions:

1) Visceral horror and a conviction that anyone who wanted to have their limbs amputated was sick and needed psychological help

2) A somewhat uncomfortable understanding of how closely this phenomena parallelled the questions of gender identity.

3) An awareness that my beliefs about personal choice and responsibility means that by my own morals, these people should have access to the surgeries they want.

Thank you for posting this article, it is definitely thought-provoking.

7/14/03: In general, society does its best to prevent people from obtaining SRS. In the cases of the people I've talked to the primary reason they wanted surgery had little to do with gender attitudes in society and mostly involved the fact that they felt that their bodies were physically *wrong* for them. It's difficult for anyone who had not experienced this sensation to understand, but its no less real and should not be dismissed by offensive comments like "socially pressured genital mutilation".

7/17/03: We should accept the full range of human diversity, even if some of the options squick the hell out of us. The fact that the people interviewed who actually hacked off limbs were happy with their decision months or years later suggests that they *really* want this done and so I do not believe that it is right to stop them.

7/18/03: Given some people who wish to have altered bodies (people with apotemnophilia) are not being pressured into doing so by social norms, it seems not unreasonable to assume that other people who also feel the need to change their bodies (ie transsexuals) are also not merely victims of social pressure.


Back to QueerByChoice Member Profiles
Add or Change Your QueerByChoice Member Profile
Back to the QueerByChoice.com Homepage

Quotes from list members are © 1999-2009 by their authors.
The rest of the site is © 1999-2009 by Gayle Madwin. All rights reserved.