Friday, April 24, 2009

Born gay?

This isn't gay bashing and shouldn't be understood that way. But I think it's fair game for critical discussion and it's ok for us heterosexuals to talk about the issue.

The rationale I hear most for the acceptance of homosexuality and, by extension, for the expansion of gay rights is that some folks are just "born gay." A relative, who is very conservative, recently said to me, "Science will soon prove that people are born gay. They cannot help it. Why would anyone choose that lifestyle. It's too hard."

Anyone who has had even a high school level psychology course is familiar with the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture. Are we born with certain traits? Does our environment shape who we become? Or are we a combination of predispositions and environment? The debate has never been completely resolved, but I've always understood that the medical and mental health communities long ago accepted the idea that we are born with certain traits and/or dispositions and our environment shapes us.

For whatever reason, though, that answer has not been good enough for some when it comes to the question of sexuality. If I were an alcoholic, no psychologist in his/her right mind would ignore environment in attempting to help me. There's not a decent professional out there who would say, "Ignore what happened in your past. You are an alcoholic purely by accident of birth, by random genetic dumb luck." So why do we do this with sexuality?

There's a very interesting article from CNN entitled "Why women are leaving men for other women."

It's just an article. Its (the article's) conclusions or assumptions really carry no wait as far as I am concerned. But it quotes some interesting studies that suggest that it's hardly a matter of genetics which orientation we choose or live out. If you find that notion offensive, take issue with the so-called experts.

Here are some interesting bits from the article, with emphasis added by me:

But experts like Binnie Klein, a Connecticut-based psychotherapist and lecturer in Yale's department of psychiatry, agree that alternative relationships are on the rise.

"It's clear that a change in sexual orientation is imaginable to more people than ever before, and there's more opportunity -- and acceptance -- to cross over the line," says Klein, noting that a half-dozen of her married female patients in the past few years have fallen in love with women. "Most are afraid that if they don't go for it, they'll end up with regrets.

* * *

Feminist philosopher Susan Bordo, Ph.D, a professor of English and gender and women's studies at the University of Kentucky and author of "Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body," also agrees that in the current environment, more women may be stepping out of the conventional gender box.

"When a taboo is lifted or diminished, it's going to leave people freer to pursue things," she says.

"So it makes sense that we would see women, for all sorts of reasons, walking through that door now that the culture has cracked it open. Of course, we shouldn't imagine that we're living in a world where all sexual choices are possible. Just look at the cast of 'The L Word' and it's clear that only a certain kind of lesbian -- slim and elegant or butch in just the right androgynous way -- is acceptable to mainstream


Over the past several decades, scientists have struggled in fits and starts to get a handle on sexual orientation. Born or bred? Can it change during one's lifetime?

A handful of studies in the 1990s, most of them focused on men, suggested that homosexuality is hardwired. In one study, researchers linked DNA markers in the Xq28 region of the X chromosome to gay males. But a subsequent larger study failed to replicate the results, leaving the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association to speculate that sexual orientation probably has multiple causes, including environmental, cognitive, and biological factors.

Today, however, a new line of research is beginning to approach sexual orientation as much less fixed than previously thought, especially when it comes to women. The idea that human sexuality forms a continuum has been around since 1948, when Alfred Kinsey introduced his famous seven-point scale, with zero representing complete heterosexuality, 6 signifying complete homosexuality, and bisexuality in the middle, where many of the men and women he interviewed fell.

The new buzz phrase coming out of contemporary studies is "sexual fluidity."

"People always ask me if this research means everyone is bisexual. No, it doesn't," says Lisa Diamond, Ph.D, associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah and author of the 2008 book "Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire."

"Fluidity represents a capacity to respond erotically in unexpected ways due to particular situations or relationships. It doesn't appear to be something a woman can control."

These aren't anti-gay right wingers drawing these conclusions. These are studies (or at least observations) done by highly educated folks at liberal institutions. Anyone questioning the validity of them would be hard-pressed to do so on the basis of some sort of anti-gay bias.

Are these conclusions valid? I certainly wouldn't die on that hill. I'll let the so-called experts defend their own work. They certainly are consistent with the very broad concept that who we are -- all aspects of our lives -- is shaped by many factors.

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