Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why We Should Stop The Search For The "Gay Gene."

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The Basics: In this time, with human development where it is at, continued research into finding genetic markers for homosexuality is a dangerous idea with entirely foreseeable negative consequences.

All day, I've been preoccupied with writing an article which I was persuaded against writing by a good argument by someone I deeply respect. One of my (heretofore unmentioned) purposes with the first article was to collect comments that would help illustrate my points for this article. As it stands, I am confident I can make my point without illustrating how immature commenters can be when facing an unpopular or audacious opinion they had never before encountered.

I have long been an advocate and supporter of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Civil Rights. I am proud to be a part of the fight for equality. I have long noted that two of the big reasons that the LGBT Civil Rights Movement has been so slow to achieve demonstrable gains are the lack of a single, clear, leader and an inability to unify a very fractious base. Unlike the Evangelical Christian Movement, liberals have a wide array of opinions on all sorts of issues and are not browbeaten (or excommunicated) for voicing an opinion contrary to dogma (whatwith there being no single, established dogma for the left). For example, while I have been a longtime supporter of LGBT Civil Rights, I have never been an advocate of research that is searching for the "gay gene."

The Issue

Peripheral to many arguments about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered rights is the the question of what is the cause of LGBT "behaviors" or "lifestyles?" The answer to that question tends to come down to variations of "nature vs. nurture." The "nurture" argument is that people choose to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgendered. The "nature" argument is that LGBT people are "born that way." "Born that way" is, scientifically, the phenotype for a genetic sequence (genotype).

To investigate a genotype, scientific exploration is necessary. In the world today, there are many scientists - geneticists, sociologists, psychologists, and genealogists (usually with other, more widely recognized scientific backgrounds) - working on the search for the genetic markers that are common in homosexuals and different from the same genetic markers in heterosexuals. I argue that the search for the gay gene (or, more likely, gay gene sequence) is one that is a foreseeably bad idea with more potential for abuse than it has potential benefits.

The Schools Of Thought

The basis for my original discontent with the search for the gay gene sequence has its roots in hearing years of unsatisfying answers to why being gay by choice was a bad thing. I recall very vividly, decades ago, while working on my Junior Thesis on LGBT rights, interviewing a local gay activist. He rhetorically asked, "Who would choose to be gay?" And he answered his own question with a number of answers that illustrated a strong conflict from the super-ego; he noted that people discriminated against him, pop culture made jokes about his lifestyle, and his own government did not protect his inherent human rights. Even at the time, that answer was unsatisfying to me.

The "nurture" argument says that we, as human beings of intelligence and emotional realization, choose who we love. I'm big into Freedom Of Choice. What I've never yet heard is a compelling argument for homosexuality being a choice that does not rely strongly on the idea that because it is not a choice made by the populous majority and is not popular with a number of people in authority (both religious and governmental). In other words, the most-common argument against homosexuality being a choice seems to be "other people won't like the choice you make and they won't like you as a result." That viewpoint prioritizes the comfort of other people and the role of societal conformity over the joy that comes from loving whomever one chooses. So much of the angst young gay people encounter seems to come in the form of pressure to conform and fear of being different (or rejected) as opposed to a strong doubt about their feelings of love. So, while some young LGBT people certainly do not understand how or why they feel attraction, the pressure against coming out usually comes from others imposing their viewpoint upon them. Even the Kinsey scale supports the idea that attraction is not absolute and can fall along a wide continuum of choices that individuals make, regardless of what other people think.

The most compelling reason to instantly discount LGBT attraction as a matter of choice is the heteronormative culture that dominates U.S. culture. When faced with questions about "choosing to be gay," those asking such questions are opened to the question of "when did you choose to be heterosexual?" While that seems like a question with a simple answer, because the heteronormal culture so vastly outnumbers the LGBT or non-sexual culture, the formative experiences on heterosexuals cannot easily be measured (i.e. an argument could be made that heterosexuals "choose" to be heterosexuals through constant reinforcement of heterosexual relationships, modeling in the media, and positive interactions from parents who give positive reinforcement to young people as they engage in youthful heterosexual relationship-building).

So, it becomes very easy to make a compelling exploration into the "nature" causes of LGBT behaviors and desires. "We love who we love;" by choice or because we are born that way. Between the Kinsey scale and the complications of genetics (there are several genetic markers that control skin pigmentation, not just a single gene to make someone white, brown, deeper black, or any other ethnicity), logic suggests that if humans are genetically "wired" for sexuality, the keys to that are in our DNA.

But the search for the genetic causes of homosexuality are being pursued without a clear understanding of how that information will be used and who will have access to it.

The Foreseeable Abuse

The quest to map the human genome is a laudable one. Anything that increases our understanding of the universe and how it works is beneficial to the development of humanity as a species. However, human technological advancement has not been paralleled by human psychological and sociological development. One need only look at the proliferation of nuclear weapons throughout the world to recognize that with freedom of choice comes the potential for individuals or groups to make terrible decisions. While the United States developed destructive nuclear technologies and corporate interests quickly took control of the means to develop those technologies, the world is at the mercy of nations that use the argument "if our god wants us to have this technology, we will get it and deploy it upon our enemies in that god's name!" And the world became enslaved to its own fears about how any nation with the technology might react as borders, administrations and alliances changed.

The nuclear technology argument is an excellent analogy for the search for the gay gene sequence. While nuclear power has potential to be safely developed (even if we haven't yet figured out how to dispose of spent nuclear materials in a safe way!), it is hard to see the demonstrable benefit of finding the gay gene sequence. Just as using the first nuclear bombs to attempt to end World War II was a shortsighted goal for developing atomic bombs, one could see the benefit for the ostracized gay teenager returning to the family that kicked him to the curb with the paperwork that shows the repressed parents that he has a medically-proven reason for being gay. If that were the end-all of the discovery of the gay gene sequence, it might be worth the pursuit of that knowledge.

Human history, especially U.S. History, is replete with examples of how progress has been met by reactionary elements to undo such progress and repress individuals who achieve legal and societal equality. Those who want to apply science to find a root, genetic, cause for sexual behavior seem to want to pursue that knowledge without the realistic expectation of how it will be used. Consider the following three scenarios:

1. Proof To The Uninitiated/Disproof To The Adopted. Whenever talking about LGBT Civil Rights, there are a number of absolutes that people like to throw around. In denial of the Kinsey Spectrum, many people like to lump people into one or two boxes. Advocates of LGBT Civil Rights like to deny any causality reasons for homosexuality, just as some enemies of reason like to combat with the same sense of absolutism. So, regardless of any genetic cause to non-heterosexual behaviors, it would be ridiculous to assert that there are never, ever psychological causes. An abuse victim who is continually abused by members of the opposite sex and are rescued from such abuse by a member of the same sex would have a strong psychologically-valid attraction to members of the same sex. Is it the most common "cause" of LGBT behaviors? Certainly not. But should the "gayness" of those who do get into LGBT relationships for non-genetic causes have their "gayness" judged and disputed? Trying to find a single cause and claim it is the only cause is somewhat ridiculous, but for the sake of argument, let's say that LGBT behaviors are all a function of genetics. If the gay gene sequence is discovered, any testing that is used to prove or disprove homosexuality can have consequences both profound and esoteric.

Take the abuse victim. She survives decades of abuse by an authoritarian man and is rescued by a woman who empowers her. The survivor and rescuer develop a romantic relationship and are happy. One day, after the gay gene sequence is discovered, they are compelled by Alabama's government to get tested and learn that the survivor is not genetically gay and Alabama revokes their wedding license. By having a medically-provable "condition" for homosexuality, institutions can easily be corrupted by reactionary elements - i.e. your gay marriage is not legal because you are not legally gay. If that seems far-fetched, consider how reactionary elements have tirelessly worked to undermine abortion rights following the Supreme Court decision on Roe Vs. Wade.

But consider the other side. As previously mentioned, we have no way to currently measure the effect environment plays on heterosexual development. The search for the gay gene sequence has failed to take into serious consideration what effect it could have on society to be "genetically gay." Just as a gay marriage could conceivably be nullified when a married person is proven to be not - genetically - gay, it is entirely foreseeable that the exact opposite would be true. What happens to the conservative mythical version of the family when heterosexual parents who have been married for twenty-five years have their marriage legally dissolved because it turns out they are both genetically gay? And what kind of world is created when there is a statue of limitations to that (i.e. the parents are not forced to get divorced because they have been married so long, but their grandchildren are not allowed to marry by choice, but are forced to marry based on premarital genetic testing)? While plenty of us liberals would love to see the Evangelical Christian Movement cut down by genetic testing revealing that a significant percentage of the hatemongers are, in fact, genetically gay, that moment of euphoria pales in comparison to the profound societal implications represented by the revelation of unactualized homosexuals and the denial of benefits/rights to behavioral non-heterosexuals.

2. Treatment. Societal collapse is hardly a reason to deny scientific progress, but among certain subcultures, the nightmare scenario is all too real a potential. The discovery of the gay gene offers a very real threat to LGBT individuals in the form of "treatment." The search for discovery is not free. The companies that are investing in the search for the gay gene sequence are likely to be motivated more by a sense of profit motive than altruism. In other words, the discovery of the gay gene sequence is not, inherently, profitable. As a result, the discovery of the gay gene sequence represents the most real chance for extremists to eliminate the undesirable phenotype.

As distasteful as Evangelical "re-education" camps are now to anyone who supports LGBT Civil Rights, consider the horrifying notion of parents medicating their gay children to repress the phenotype. With the discovery of the gay gene sequence, LGBT individuals may be scientifically identified. With that, their "condition" may be treated and medical treatment is far less likely to be clumsy and ineffective as "reprogramming."

One of the greatest scientific achievements since the discovery of DNA has been the development of gene therapy. Cystic Fibrosis used to be lethal; in my lifetime, the average life expectancy of a child born with CF has doubled. The developing technology being used to treat and, hopefully, eventually cure Cystic Fibrosis is gene therapy. The theory behind gene therapy is that a treatment can be engineered based on targeting specific genetic markers and either treating conditions with a given phenotype based on attaching that treatment to the specific genetic marker (i.e. a compound that breaks down excessive lung mucus when it attaches to tissues that contain the genetic markers that cause Cystic Fibrosis) or (further out) resequencing DNA to stop the causes of the problem (i.e. a genetically-engineered virus is created, which finds cells that contain the Cystic Fibrosis genes and rewrite them so the lungs stop over-producing mucus). Carry that argument into the search for the gay gene sequence and the implications are terrible. A genetically-engineered "treatment" that targets the gay gene sequence could be administered on unsuspecting gay children (or adults) in an attempt to alter their "deviant" behavior. Again, while this seems like it might just be an extreme reaction that is more akin to science fiction than reality, consider the Evangelicals who send their children to LGBT "reprogramming" camps and ask yourself if it seems like those same people would not try to medicate the gay out of their kids if they had the opportunity?

3. Eugenics. Which leads to the final, horrifying probability to come out of the discovery of the gay gene sequence. If the companies that invest in discovering the gay gene sequence can't make money on treatment, it seems a pretty fair bet that they would make money off testing. While there might be that momentary sense of delight in the idea that the discovery of the gay gene sequence could form a real schism in the Evangelical Right between the anti-gay and anti-abortion elements, the consequences are more longer-lasting than the delight. Evangelicals who fear they might have an LGBT child could get tested and discover their offspring's sexuality shortly after conception. It is horiffic to think that some bigots would suddenly become pro-choice in order to abort their genetically gay offspring and the implications to LGBT and Women's Rights are staggering.

But it is foreseeable that within our lifetime, gene therapy will reach the point where a still-dividing zygote or an embryo in the early stages of development will be treatable with DNA resequencing treatment. In other words, if genetic testing reveals that your embryo has all the markers for Cystic Fibrosis, those specific sequences can be targeted by a genetically engineered virus that resplices that part of the sequence (that is still decades away, but it is a goal intended to make lives better and eliminate a debilitating disease). If that technology is developed without parallel social development of rationalism and tolerance, it is entirely foreseeable that reactionary eugenicists would offer to "cure" LGBT behaviors before the embryo is developed. While there are scientific consensuses, victims of overbearing dogma have been proven to capitulate to dogma over reason. In short, recent historical evidence would illustrate a trend of theist scientists to use their developments to support dogma, as opposed to supporting the proven argument that genetic diversity is overwhelmingly good for a species.


Science is an incredible tool for progress and the benefits of understanding the universe around us usually outweigh the threats that applying those discoveries can represent. For LGBT people and for humanity at large, the potential abuses to the discovery of the gay gene vastly outweigh the benefits of the knowledge we could achieve. When humanity has either grown enough to accept all people, regardless of a single defining characteristic they possess, or is safe from the disastrous consequences of that knowledge, we should be free to discover for the sake of discovery, including concluding the search for the gay gene sequence. That means that until enough off-planet human colonies are successfully established or until the reactionary elements whose homophobia might drive them to eliminate their scapegoat population through the application of scientific discovery, the search for the gay gene sequence should be suspended.

For other articles, please check out my articles on:
Why Modern Libertarianism Is Disastrous For The United States
An Open Letter To Senator Elizabeth Warren
It Is Time To Abolish The "Minimum Hourly Wage For Tipped Employees"

For other reviews, please check out my Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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