The search for gay genes: should homosexual people support it?

The efforts of scientists attempting to identify “homosexual genes” are part of a long and problematic tradition of research focused on how minority groups are genetically different.

(rihaij / Pixabay)

For many of us, the attractions of gay sex are pretty obvious. But some scientists continue to wonder why people do it. If gay sex is not reproductive, why hasn’t natural selection eliminated all homosexuals? Why, after all this time of evolution, is not everyone straight?

More and more people believe that sexuality is biologically inborn. Sexual preferences shouldn’t be changed and they can’t be that simple. Through the famous refrain of Gaga, we are “born that way”. Indeed, scientists may have helped promote these beliefs. Some say not only that genes largely decide your sexuality, but also that genes help explain why homosexuals exist.

Concrete example: a recent paper published in Nature Human Behavior investigated whether genes associated with same-sex sex are also associated with more reproductive sex. Specifically, its scientists were curious whether “gay genes” in heterosexuals could help straight people have sex with more partners. They found it to be, because genetic markers found in homosexuals have also been found in those who see themselves as open to new experiences and at risk. In a nutshell, gay genes can exist because they help straight guys get over their inhibitions and fuck more. This could explain why evolution has not yet succeeded in eliminating homosexuals.

At this point, you might laugh like us. But on a more serious note, this study is not unique for this research team. In 2019, the same team published a study in Science on genes associated with having ever had same-sex sex. The study was highly publicized, receiving coverage from Nature, NY Times, NPR and Slate. Outlets, citing the study’s authors, proclaimed it was the death knell for the “gay gene.”

Far from it, the study went from looking for a single gay gene to finding many gay genes. Like the recent Nature Human Behavior study, the Science 2019 study was a “genome-wide association study” (GWAS). Using sophisticated statistics, the latest technology, and a large dataset involving half a million people, the 2019 study concluded that there are five genes significantly associated with having previously had homosexual sex and that the cumulative effects of thousands genes could help explain differences in sexual behavior. In other words, while the “gay gene” may be dead, long live the “gay genome”.

Genetic research on sexuality and other complex behavioral traits is developing rapidly. Some LGBTQ + defenders Claim it shows that being homosexual is “natural” and “not a choice”, and that the proliferation of sexual genetic research is something to directly celebrate.

However, we believe the implications of this research are much more complicated. While the Nature Human Behavior and Science studies were both conducted by LGBTQ + scientists with good intentions, they join a long and problematic tradition of research aimed at showing how minority groups are genetically different.

gay-genes-is-homosexuality-a-choice
A celebration in San Francisco after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits in June 2013. (David Goehring / Flickr)

Genetic research on homosexuality began in earnest in the 1990s. Scientists have claimed that genes for X chromosomes are associated with male homosexuality. Long before that, “eugenics”, or social movements to control human reproduction in order to increase the “physical fitness” of national populations, has played a role in the oppression of homosexuals. Research into eugenics reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to the forced sterilization and genocide of not only queer people, but also Jews and people with disabilities in Nazi Germany, and largely blacks, brunettes and immigrants to the United States. during World War II, eugenic policies and movements continued to haunt LGBTQ + communities.

Today, most research agrees that a person’s sexuality is shaped by a combination of social, biological and environmental factors. Yet many on the political spectrum continue to describe sexual preferences as biologically innate and fixed at birth. Some researchers suggest that those who believe that sexual preferences are innate tend to have more tolerant attitudes towards gays and lesbians.

Others argue that “born this way” does not actually increase people’s tolerance for sexual minorities. Instead, it is used to rationalize whatever beliefs people already have about sex, whether conservative or liberal. On the one hand, this has helped defend beliefs that gay people are less fit biologically, and therefore suitable targets for reproductive control. On the other hand, “born this way” arguments have given considerable support to LGBTQ + advocacy. Campaigns to legally ban conversion therapy, a form of medical abuse that seeks to change someone’s sexual orientation, have successfully used “born this way” rhetoric to bolster their cases.

Either way, increasing “tolerance” towards queer people is not the point. Instead of being tolerated, gay people should be fully accepted, embraced and celebrated. feminist scholar Suzanna Walters reminds us that attitudes of tolerance towards sexual minorities can do more harm than good by implicitly altering them. It is telling that although there has been a search for a gay gene for a long time, “no one is looking for a hetero gene.” Scientists do not feel the need to explain the existence of heterosexuals because it is assumed that heterosexuals belong. On the other hand, sexual minorities need a raison d’être to belong.

Political scientist Joanna Wuest also notes that despite helping to ban conversion therapy, “born this way” arguments sometimes conflict with queer people’s own experiences. Numerous radical queers view their gender identity as a political choice. Meanwhile, those with fluid identities and those who have long questioned their sexuality find it difficult to identify with an image of sexuality as stable, fixed, and innate. As political scientist Nina Hagel writing, “Born this way” can support “untenable ideals of self-knowledge”. This can force people to get trapped on one side or pick a side before they’re ready to do so.

Scientists do not feel the need to explain the existence of heterosexuals because it is assumed that heterosexuals belong. On the other hand, sexual minorities need an evolutionary logic to belong.

Shortly after the publication of Science 2019 study, an application claiming to be based on the study was developed which offered a “How gay are you?””Genetic testing via the online genetic prediction platform GenePlaza. We already see Technology under development that allows parents to choose embryos based on embryo genomes and associated health risks. It is therefore no exaggeration to be concerned as well that genetic research on sexuality could possibly be used to develop tools for screening and eliminating “homosexual embryos”.

We’re not saying scientists should shy away from researching sexuality. Many of us are naturally curious about where our desires come from, and science can help us understand ourselves better as long as their research meets high standards. We say there is no guarantee that today’s search for a gay genome will support queer release. Believing that sexuality is biologically innate may lead some to view LGBTQ + people as biologically unfit. It is difficult to know, because the political consequences of science often depend in a complex way on the historical context. But for every person who uses ‘born this way’ to win legal battles for gay rights, we know there is someone else who is using it to portray gay people as bad seeds of the race. human.

Gay people should not uncritically celebrate the research that gives new life to “born this way” arguments. Genetic research on sexuality is still In progress (and at this point a little laughable). Either way, while there is strong evidence that we have yet to see, the idea that being gay is natural does not guarantee gay rights. It is high time to shift the struggle for LGBTQ + recognition and survival from the “nature versus culture” debate and into new directions. Millennials might have loved Lady Gaga, but a lot of us are up to chanting a new slogan.

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