This month’s podcast somewhat accompanies this post.
It’s been a long time coming: my response to the HP’s second argument in our series of blogger debates. For those of you new to the blog, the blogger debates between Hispanic Pundit and I evolved out of last year’s election. While I saw many progressives talking of either migrating north or “strengthening the base,” there seemed to be very little effort of reaching across the aisle to understand the other side.
Or maybe better put, of transcending the entire notion of two sides and an aisle and getting to the meaty heart of the issues rather than the sound bite rhetoric of left versus right. For that reason, I asked HP if he’d be kind enough to take part in a series of debates about real issues that seem to divide the country in a manner that doesn’t fall back on stereotypes and “my side versus your side” generalizations.
I can’t say we’ve been successful in staying away from those sorts of generalizations, but I do believe we have so far done in important service (at least to ourselves) in better understanding positions we disagree with and the roots of those positions. If you are interested in reading the debate HP and I already had over abortion you can read both his side and my own. (comment on those posts are still open)
When introducing his argument on why unborn fetuses deserve the same legal protection as born babies, HP brought up the civil rights movement and extending legal protection to those previously thought unfit. In fact, I will go a step further and say previously thought biologically unfit. That is, it was assumed a black man or woman was not deserving of the same legal protection and “privileges” of a white man or woman because they were biologically inferior. Studies of IQ, cranium size, and other “genetic” tests were compiled as evidence. Likewise, an important cornerstone of the pro-choice movement is that fetuses (especially first and second trimester) are biologically inferior to their born counterparts. Here it is consciousness and perception of pain which seem to be most important.
So it seemed only natural to extend this same line of thinking to protest the discrimination of homosexuals in US legal code (which, though beyond the scope of this debate, is much more than gay marriage). But then HP made an important point which first cracked up at what I thought was his ignorance, but has since made me seriously question the foundations of our sexuality. He said that homosexuality was not a definition of someone’s biological make up – or how they are born – but rather by their behavior. Go ahead, laugh, I did too. Is this guy from the 19th century or what, I asked myself. Then, I countered his comment asking, does that mean heterosexuals are also defined only by their behavior. His reply was “sure would.”
Don’t ask me how we get into this conversation, but at one time or another, I’ve asked nearly all of my ex-girlfriends and a good number of friends if they’ve ever had an erotic dream with someone of the same sex. Almost every one of the girls admitted that yes. Not surprisingly, only one guy friend of mine admitted the same. I think I probably first got the idea of asking when I read somewhere that some psychologists actually believe that humans – as a species – are to varying degrees, bisexual.
Now let’s think about what we want out of laws. We want to be able to behave as freely and naturally as possible without causing harm to others right? We must come to a compromise. I should be able to drive as fast as I’d like on a freeway so long as it doesn’t put others in danger. So in California we come to a compromise around 70 mph and in Utah around 55. But I cannot for the life of me figure out how two men or two women married and raising a family could possibly cause harm to others. Perhaps you may be bothered by homosexuality, but certainly not harmed.
In terms of the debate, my position doesn’t change whether you believe homosexuality is biologically determined or a psychological choice: your either discriminating against someone’s DNA or their behavior. Neither one is something that should be practiced in America or any other country. HP asks, why extend the meaning of a tradition that has endured millenia. I ask, why wouldn’t you? That much seems simple enough. But what I really hope to get out of this conversation (and I hope everyone comments uninhibitedly and respectfully) is what you believe the nature of homosexuality is? And for that matter, what the nature of heterosexuality is?
Blog buddy Myke seems to agree with HP’s definition of homosexuality – in other words, if you do, you are:
Have you ever noticed there are degrees of gayness? I don’t mean like you can be say 70% homosexual and 30% heterosexual or vice versa or anything like that. To me, you’re either gay or you’re not. It’s simple, if you’d sleep with men, you’re gay. If you adamantly wouldn’t, you’re not. Plain and simple. That’s not to say that even if you are gay, you wouldn’t ever sleep with a woman, either. Some would. Some very much do. However, I do firmly believe that a heterosexual man would simply NOT sleep with another man, period. Simple distinction.
Up until 1973 homosexuality was seen – according to the APA – as a psychiatric disorder which should be treated. Then:
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) after intense debate. They stated that homosexuality “does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder.” Effectively, this saw its official acceptance as a viable sexual orientation and saw the increase in gay liberation throughout the Western world.
Many other associations across the world followed suit soon after. The American Psychoanalytic Association made similar steps and began accepting openly homosexual men and women. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that the World Health Organization ceased to classify homosexuality as a mental disorder, followed by the UK Government in 1994, and the Chinese Psychiatric Association in 2001.1
As Steven Kotler points out, there are generally two foundations to the idea that homosexuality is abnormal while heterosexuality is normal:
The first came from the Bible. The King James Version of Leviticus 18:22 is quite clear: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: It is abomination.”
Darwin, whose theory of evolution says that all life originated from a common ancestor, made the other frequently cited argument against homosexuality. The reason the tree of life is so varied is because reproduction is an inexact process. Mutations arise that either help or hinder existence. Helpful ones create new lineages; harmful ones die off.
While I can’t argue with the first, many studies have been done in response to Darwin’s assertion that homosexuality is an “abberation.”
Author Bruce Bahemihl, in his book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and natural diversity, has cataloged over 200 vertebrate species in which same-sex genital contact regularly occurs. In some species, homosexuality is not very common – around 1 to 10 per cent of all mating. In others, such a bonobos, homosexual mating occurs as often as heterosexual mating. In some species only males participate, in others only females, in still others both sexes.
In humans, moreover, homosexuality is much too common for it to be considered a genetic aberration.
According to this website:
43% of Americans believe that ‘young homosexuals became that way because of older homosexuals’
But as J.M. Bailey pointed out as early as 1992:
No one has ever found a postnatal social environmental influence for homosexual orientation – and they have looked plenty’
There seems to be plenty of evidence to support the theory that our sexual orientation and/or preference is genetically determined:
One of the most frequently cited studies of homosexuality was that of Kallmann in 1952. He reported a one hundred percent concordance in identical twins for homosexuality, and only twelve percent concordance in fraternal twins.
Furthermore, sexual orientation in fruit flies has been changed by replacing a single gene. (Zhang SD. Odenwald WF. Misexpression of the white (w) gene triggers male-male courtship in Drosophila. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 92(12):5525-9, 1995 Jun 6)
And in the most thorough collection of research revealing the genetic correlation with sexual orientation, Dean Hamer found that the DNA marker Xq28 on the X chromosome is more prevalent in homosexuals than heterosexuals. (Hu S. Pattatucci AM. Patterson C. Li L. Fulker DW. Cherny SS. Kruglyak L. Hamer DH. Linkage between sexual orientation and chromosome Xq28 in males but not in females. Nature Genetics. 11(3):248-56, 1995 Nov.; Hamer, D.H.. S. Hu, V.L. Magnuson, N. Hu and A.M.L. Pattatucci, “A Linkage Between DNA Markers on the X Chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation.” Science 261(1993): 321-27.)
Not surprisingly, as the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality is quick to point out, there is more at hand than one’s DNA. If I were to have sex with a guy … let’s say, just for experimentation … then according to both HP and Myke, I should be considered gay because of my action. Even if I will never, my entire life, have sex or even thoughts of sex again with a man. Furthermore, where do bisexuals fit in?
Taking all of the science into account, it is tempting to conclude – as this undergraduate student did in 1994 – that our sexual orientation and/or preference is 50% genetic and 50% constructed. This makes sense to me and would explain why many men consider themselves straight and even remain married to their wives while having sex with other men. The same, of course, is also true with women. It would also explain why some groups claim success in “curing” homosexuality and why many straight men have sex with other men in prison.
I know that I feel 100% heterosexual. I am wildly attracted to women (one in particular) and have never once had any erotic thought, desire, or dream of a man. So I would assume that genetically I am heterosexual, but I have also been raised in a society and culture where it was very clear during my sexual development that I should be staring at, touching, and whistling at women, but never men. If it were the other way around, I can’t say with any certainty I wouldn’t also have relations with men. Reading Beat literature of the 1950’s is interesting because they formed a small community where sexual definitions were questioned. And you end up having someone who seems the quintessential heterosexual American male – Jack Kerouac – having sexual relations with both men and women.
In terms of my debate with HP, however, what is most important to keep in mind is that whether our sexual preference/orientation is biologically determined or socially constructed, no one should be negated the 1,049 benefits of marriage either way. I will answer his own arguments (which I realize I don’t even bring up here) one by one as a comment on his post, but what I’d like to see discussed on this post are reactions, ideas, comments, and violent dissent about how our sexual orientation and/or preference is formed. If there is new or different research or theory out there, please bring it up. Let’s help enlighten each other on a topic that doesn’t get dissected enough – whether it be because of political correctness or lethargy or just apathy.
Finally, as a progressive, I’ve got to say this feels like a hopeful and optimistic time to be writing this post. If our great-great-great-grandchildren do in fact read our blogs 150 years down the road I hope they will look back at the discussions taking place today in Massachusetts, South Africa, D.C., Spain, and Holland and see that they mark the long overdue change of tide when humans started accepting humans as humans. Have at it.