Overlook the Gay Gene

The gay debate extends far beyond the trite “nature vs. nurture” battle

In a fortuitous prelude to Gaypril—the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance’s awareness month—open lists were abuzz before spring break about the recent Life Sciences 1b lecture on the genetics of homosexuality.

I attended the hour-long case study in the hope of hearing an earth shattering revelation, or, at least, 21st century Scopesian protesters decrying the end of education.

Not surprisingly, neither occurred, and Professor Maryellen Ruvulo concluded the placid lecture by saying, “My guess is that there probably is [a genetic explanation] for homosexuality, but scientists haven’t found it yet.”

Although the winner of the rat race to find this trait will find fame and will contribute greatly to the study of human genomes, I fear that the value that researchers and gay activists have placed on the science of homosexuality is grossly exaggerated.

The pioneer in the field, Dr. Simon LeVay, told Newsweek Magazine in 1992 that he felt “as a gay man, if I didn’t find anything, I would give up a scientific career altogether.”

This myopic lust for a genetic explanation of homosexuality—while based on genuinely benevolent intentions—overlooks the most important cultural means of improving homosexuals’ status in society, and could even be disastrous for the very group that the research intends to benefit.

As Americans have witnessed in the incessant questioning of Darwinian evolution, society does not embrace science if the subject matter is entrenched in culture or religion. Even worse for this issue of homosexuality, the science could be damaging in major ways.

Firstly, what science might find as a genetic explanation for homosexuality—a mutated chromosome, an enlarged polymorphic marker, or a peculiar hypothalamus—could be used as a means of eliminating the sexual orientation. Pregnant women currently test their fetuses for diseases like Down Syndrome and abort these children if they are so inclined; they might not hesitate to do the same to avoid a gay child.

Even more likely, the scientific explanation will further imprison homosexuals in the semantic grouping so feared by philosopher Michel Foucault in his groundbreaking trilogy, The History of Sexuality. Foucault deftly traces the interpretations of sexuality since ancient Greece and argues that the modern world’s vague conception of homosexuality was constructed through dialogue into an accepted “rule of law.”

But if science were to find a binary innateness between homosexuality and heterosexuality, the assumptions currently associated with homosexuals would be solidified. Homosexuals who acted like or appeared similar to heterosexuals would be viewed as aberrations, and society would probably not hesitate to quickly lump even children into broad categories. These social constructs would only intensify the manipulative and sad pressure on children to view themselves in light of sexual norms.

Instead of waiting for genetics to clear homosexuality’s taboo, the most advantageous avenue is redoubling support for awareness events like Gaypril. On a wider level, activists should urge those like the once-liberal Pope Benedict XVI to continue the reformation of the Catholic Church, or lobby the Food and Drug Administration to remove gay men from its “banned blood” list, and, in doing so, not promote untrue and defamatory stereotypes of them.

The focus should not be on science, but, as biologist Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling of Brown University said in 2001, on homosexuality as an “ethical and moral question.”

Until that question is sorted out in American society, I won’t be too anxious to attend another Life Sciences lecture.

Andrew D. Fine ’09, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Stoughton Hall.