I've been thinking about the "nature or nurture" debate in regard to myself a lot lately. I feel I have a somewhat unique experience to relate, but the experience has left me sitting on the fence with regards to homosexuality as a genetic trait or a learned behavior.

In the nature corner we have the following experiences:

  • The second memory I can recall (when I was three years old) was one of powerful attraction to an image of a man in a book. It must have been pretty overwhelming to impress itself that strongly in my tiny toddler brain.
  • I'm adopted, and I've met my very large birthfamily. My oldest birthsister is a lesbian, one of my brothers is gay and another brother is bisexual. That's four kids out of six, all raised in completely different environments (everyone was adopted out when I was born) who aren't all that straight.
  • Most every gay person I know (and I felt this way until I met my birth sibs in '94) sincerely feel they were "born that way". That love and sex with their own gender felt far more natural to them than the same feelings and actions towards the other gender.

    In the nurture corner we have the following experiences:

  • I played doctor as a little boy. A lot. With members of both genders. I always got busted by a parent when with a girl, but as chance would have it, my escapades with other boys were never found out. When discovered with girls, there was usually a lot of negative reinforcement (ie, the opportunities for me to be alone with a girl were removed) that what I was doing wasn't right for someone my age. Since I had no kind of message like that in my experience with boys, who's to say this didn't tip the scales for me?
  • My two brothers from my birthfamily? They, and a third brother, were all adopted into the same home (rare, but it happens). The father in that family sexually molested them from day one. In honest discussion with the three, they all admitted as to how what happened felt good even though they knew it was wrong. They then propagated their father's behavior with their friends, and continued having sex with guys on into adulthood. I find most guys who've been exposed to some sort of same-sex contact early in life tend to be more, uh, non-gender-selective when choosing a sex partner, no matter the circumstances of that initial contact, good or bad.
  • My sister has also spent most of her life in some form of correctional facility, and has had extremely limited contact with men. Prison sex is overwhelmingly homosexual, since one of one's own gender is often the only choice available.

    Some days, that second memory of mine hits me, and it's so strong that I just can't believe it's not genetic in nature. But that feeling will be balanced out a few days later by the image of my parents towering over me, telling me what I did with my (female) friend was wrong, dirty, disgusting, and evil. I recall the sheer terror they instilled in me (not to mention, often losing a female friend over it), and it's very easy for me to understand how a mind, if crafty enough, could continue a certain disapproved behavior, but ensure that the chance of discovery is minimized by selecting partners and circumstances far from the baleful parental eye.

    Thus, I'm forced to conclude that even with all the evidence I've accrued in my life, it's still too close to call.

    Saige: I propose that one's genes make up the source code of the program of a human being, while their life experiences (including those while in the womb) make up the bug fixes and the patches. To me, the two are inseparable.

    Not that there's anything wrong with that. :-)

  • You forget that being "born that way" is not necessarily the same as being genetic. The genes are like a set of instructions - if the instructions are flawed then you won't get a correct result (and not to suggest that homosexuality is a flaw or anything like that of course), but correct instructions do not guarantee that the result will match those instructions.

    Pregnancy is like any other natural process, full of imperfections, variables, random occurences. The path from conception to birth is a long one, with plenty of opportunities for things to occur to shape the life to come of the person. Hormones are often present to guide the development, and more and more people are believing in the theory that the brain is just as receptive to them as the body is, and that it may be more fragile in when it expects those hormoes as to how it develops. (Abnormal timing of hormone releases, and unusual amounts (possibly due to stress) are one of the big theories around transgenderism, with some people thinking sexual orientation can also be affected in the same manner),

    Regardless, it doesn't matter that much where it came from, since it's how it is, and it sure can't be changed (no matter what some people try to believe).

    Oh yeah, biological does not mean genetic.

         It is nothing short of absurd to credit a psychological phenomenon to purely one source. Since conception, a lot of things have influenced our twisted little minds, be it chemicals and neuron synapses created because of scarring emotional impact or in response to genetic coding - they have the same effect. Some people turn gay, certainly this weighs more on the nurture side - WolfDaddy's earliest memory points towards genetic influence. In nature, especially in psychology, few things are black and white; again this is reflected in the wide range of sexual emotions. From those men who are honestly offended by a picture of a naked male to those who don't even glance at women, there is a lot of room for variation. In a way, everyone is a unique blend of these variables, creating an equally unique result.

    P.S. I'm not gay, but I'm equally unsure it's genetic.
    To imply that homosexuality is genetic is to be in some degree of ignorance of what should be a rather obvious fact:

    Gay folks aren't exactly multiplying like bunnies. In fact, they don't seem to be able to reproduce with one another at all.

    Admittedly, some gay people do have kids (obviously with those of the opposite sex), and some people have kids before realizing they're gay. The fact of the matter, though, is that if there were a "gay gene" floating around, homosexuality would probably not be so common as it is today, as being unlikely or psychologically unable to mate with the opposite sex does not exactly predispose an organism toward evolutionary success.

    What I think is incredibly likely to be the cause of some homosexuality is a tendency, genetically, (in males, in this case) toward psychological and physical features inclined more towards femininity, psychological introversion, and/or perhaps sexual submissiveness. This may explain why you often see large concentrations of homosexuality in one family or another, while you may see very few in a different family tree.

    However, I think it highly unlikely that all or even most cases of homosexuality are entirely the result of predisposition at birth. As is the case with virtually every aspect of the human mind, a combination of genetic and environmental factors mold the sexual psyche, and so lead one person to be adamantly heterosexual and another to be entirely unable to bring themselves to copulate with someone of another sex (an extreme, but a not-so-uncommon one).

    Many gender psychologists have gone so far as to speculate that humans, as primarily cerebrally controlled animals, are "born" bisexual (though Freudians and others say that up until five or six they are entirely asexual, psychologically), and that sexual disposition is later determined by socioenvironmental factors and the biological and psychological habits that have been developed over the individual's life span to-date.

    I might be led to wonder whether the fact that 2/3 of WolfDaddy's birth siblings are gay or lesbian has something to do with the probable damage to a sense of personal identity and sense of belonging that probably occurs during the childhood of adopted children. I would be incredibly curious to find statistics pertaining to the tendency toward homosexuality in adopted children.

    Post script: I am bisexual, if anyone is curious or thinks that my statements were too frank or were in some way offensive to the gay community. I am not a huge advocate of gay pride, or "anything pride" for that matter--what you are or choose to be is what you are or choose to be, and value judgements concerning the same are unnecessary and superficial.
    Update, 7/13/02: Tlogmer says re I'm gay, but I'm not sure it's genetic. : There's a possibility you seemed to be unaware of -- there could be several genes that in isolation all do positive things but when present together greatly increase the chance of homosexuality -- this is how disorders like sickle-cell anemia occur (not so say homosexuality is a disorder)

    From a conversational, evolutionary standpoint, it is quite a disorder, I think, and that's an interesting point to make. I hadn't thought of it, but it's entirely sound.

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