Monday, January 30, 2012



Genetic or Not, Gay Won’t Go Away

BORN this way.
Ben Wiseman

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Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Frank Bruni

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Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
That has long been one of the rallying cries of a movement, and sometimes the gist of its argument. Across decades of widespread ostracism, followed by years of patchwork acceptance and, most recently, moments of heady triumph, gay people invoked that phrase to explain why homophobia was unwarranted and discrimination senseless.
Lady Gaga even spun an anthem from it.
But is it the right mantra to cling to? The best tack to take?
Not for the actress Cynthia Nixon, 45, whose comments in The New York Times Magazine last Sunday raised those very questions.
For 15 years, until 2003, she was in a relationship with a man. They had two children together. She then formed a new family with a woman, to whom she’s engaged. And she told The Times’s Alex Witchel that homosexuality for her “is a choice.”
“For many people it’s not,” she conceded, but added that they “don’t get to define my gayness for me.”
They do get to fume, though. Last week some did. They complained that she represented a minority of those in same-sex relationships and that she had furthermore handed a cudgel to our opponents, who might now cite her professed malleability as they make their case that incentives to change, not equal rights, are what we need.
But while her critics have good reason to worry about how her words will be construed and used, they have no right to demand the kind of silence and conformity from Nixon that gay people have justly rebelled against. She’s entitled to her own truth and manner of expressing it.
 Besides which, there are problems with some gay advocates’ insistence that homosexuality be discussed and regarded as something ingrained at the first breath.
By hinging a whole movement on a conclusion that hasn’t been — and perhaps won’t be — scientifically pinpointed and proved beyond all doubt, they hitch it to a moving target. The exact dynamics through which someone winds up gay are “still an open question,” said Clinton Anderson, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office of the American Psychological Association. “There is substantial evidence of various connections between genes, brain, hormones and sexual identity,” he said. “But those do not amount to a simple picture that A leads to B.”
One landmark study looked at gay men’s brothers and found that 52 percent of identical twin brothers were also gay, in contrast with only 22 percent of nonidentical twin brothers and 11 percent of adoptive, genetically unrelated brothers. Heredity more than environment seemed to be calling the shots.
Other research has posited or identified common anatomical and chromosomal traits among gay men or lesbians, and there’s discussion of a gay gene or, rather, set of genes in the mix. The push to isolate it is entwined with the belief that establishing that sexual orientation is like skin color — an immutable matter of biology — will make homophobia as inexcusable as racism and winnow the ranks of haters.
But bigotry isn’t rational. Finding a determinative biological quirk, deviation or marker could prompt religious extremists who now want gays in reparative psychotherapy to focus on medical interventions instead. And a person’s absence of agency over his or her concentration of melanin has hardly ended all discrimination against blacks.
What’s more, the born-this-way approach carries an unintended implication that the behavior of gays and lesbians needs biological grounding to evade condemnation. Why should it?
Our laws safeguard religious freedom, and that’s not because there’s a Presbyterian,Buddhist or Mormon gene. There’s only a tradition and theology that you elect or decline to follow. But this country has deemed worshiping in a way that feels consonant with who you are to be essential to a person’s humanity. So it’s protected.
Our laws also safeguard the right to bear arms: not exactly a biological imperative.
Among adults, the right to love whom you’re moved to love — and to express it through sex and maybe, yes, marriage — is surely as vital to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a Glock. And it’s a lot less likely to cause injury, if that’s a deciding factor: how a person’s actions affect the community around him or her.
I USE the words “moved to love” in an effort to define the significant, important territory between “born this way” and choice. That solid ground covers “built this way,” “oriented this way,” and “evolved this way”; it incorporates the possibility of a potent biological predisposition mingling with other factors beyond anyone’s ready control; and it probably applies to Nixon herself. In a Daily Beast interview after the Times article appeared, she clarified that she has experienced an unforced, undeniable attraction to individuals of both sexes. In other words, she’s bisexual, not whimsical. She just happens not to like that term, she said.
In any case, concentrating on how she ended up like that misses the point.
“Most people’s sexual attractions are pretty much fixed” once they take root, said Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who has written extensively about homosexuality. In light of both that and the unanswered questions about what fixes them, there’s more wisdom and less harm in accepting and respecting homosexuality than not.
We don’t need to be born this way to refute the ludicrous assertion that homosexuality poses some special threat to the stability of the American family. We need only note that heterosexuality — as practiced by the likes of Newt Gingrich and John Edwards, for example — isn’t any lucky charm, and yet no one’s trying to heal the straights.
We don’t need to be born this way to call out Chris Christie, currently trying to avoidresponsibility for a decision about same-sex marriage in New Jersey, for being a political wimp. Andrew Cuomo showed courage and foresight in fighting successfully for such legislation in New York. Christie, who fancies himself a dauntless brawler, should do the same in the state next door.
I honestly have no idea if I was born this way. My memory doesn’t stretch to the crib.
But I know that from the moment I felt romantic stirrings, it was Timmy, not Tammy, who could have me walking on air or wallowing in torch songs and tubs of ice cream. These feelings gelled early, and my considerable fear of society’s censure was no match for them.
I know that being in a same-sex relationship feels as central and natural to me as my loyalty to my father, my pride in my siblings’ accomplishments and my protectiveness of their children — all emotions that I didn’t exit the womb with but will not soon shake.
And I know that I’m a saner, kinder person this way than trapped in a contrivance or a lie. Surely that’s not just to my advantage but to society’s, too.


gp said...

Seems to me that most of the fuss about the actress is over semantics. Clearly she's bisexual, chooses to call herself gay because she's in a full-time same sex relationship. Obviously she's correct in saying that she chose to be gay given the way she uses the word. Even she acknowledges that it's not necessarily a choice for other gay people.

With regard to Christie, he's not being a political wimp, he's being a bigot, just as Schwarzenegger was when he vetoed a marriage equality bill in California. As one of the New Jersey legislators properly observed, you don't put fundamental human rights up for a vote. I somehow doubt that Christie would veto a bill that provided that Roman Catholics should have the same marriage rights as other citizens of the state if the current laws restricted those marriage rights.

Coop said...

I'm glad that Frank Bruni wrote this.
He's telling it like it is.
And why is it so important that Cynthia Nixon utter the buzzwords. Love is love is love.
Equal rights! Don't bother me with details.

Stew said...

Born this way?!
I've been finely crafted and perfected over years so that I am perfect. This don't just happen on accident.

Richard said...

How funny you should post this today, Justin. I regularly correspond via email with my female high school steady. She knows that I am gay. Today she emailed me about this NYT article and I have spent the better part of the day responding to her emails about the findings of current research in this area.

Equally as important as the question of whether there is a genetic origin of homosexuality, however, is Bruni's observation that to some people it won't make a difference. Even if there is utterly convincing scientific proof that we are who we are because of genes or hormonal influences in the womb, some people will still hate queers. And, unfortunately, there's no medicine to cure that.


Funny Richard to say that we were
molded the way we are in the womb..
Aunt in Beverly Hills Ca., took me
to a doctor out there in '73, and
he said that the benign tumor that
took out my eye, was started with
myself in the womb of my mother.
I don't think he told her that, for
I never mentioned it to her.

GreginAdelaide said...

"One landmark study looked at gay men’s brothers and found that 52 percent of identical twin brothers were also gay, in contrast with only 22 percent of nonidentical twin brothers and 11 percent of adoptive, genetically unrelated brothers."

That statement confuses me.

What is the percentage of non-identical brothers that are gay?
Or is that a irrelevant statistic?

I would have thought the omission of such an overwhelmingly significant majority group would be irresponsible when using statistics to demonstrate a point?

Besides, I'd be interested to know the percentage of nonidentical brothers, raised in the same household and within a year or four of each other who are both gay?

Or did I miss something here?

JustinO'Shea said...

Greg. . .the answers to your question[s] are quoted in your comment.

52 percent of identical twin brothers were also gay, in contrast with only 22 percent of nonidentical twin brothers [who are gay] and 11 percent of adoptive, genetically unrelated brothers[are gay]."


. . . .justin

JustinO'Shea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JustinO'Shea said...

Sorry. . .this deleted was a repeat of the previous comment. ;-)

JustinO'Shea said...

Sorry. . .this deleted was a repeat of the previous comment. ;-)

Richard said...

Justin, your answer to Greg is incorrect. He asked about non-twin brothers; i.e. male siblings who were not in the womb at the same time.

JustinO'Shea said...

Sorry about that. . .guess i was still asleep. . .or not enough sleep.
Sorry, Greg, . . .I guess the wordings here are not as clear as they could be. I never "saw" the non-twin issue.

Thanks, Richard, for the correction.

GreginAdelaide said...

Thanks Richard.
It seems I did not miss anything.... but the author did.
His statistics are not particularly meaningful......and when I see some error, oversight or omission like in any article I do wonder at the credibility of rest of it.

Coop said...

This op-ed piece helps confirm my belief that there's a "gay intelligentsia" that thinks it can decide what is best for us. Shut up and sing along to paraphrase Laura Ingram. Shouldn't we homos stand up for each other? Cynthia and her mate are in love and that's what counts.

I don't like someone else defining me That's kind of why I'm QUEER and not "gay". I'll stop griping. :-}

GreginAdelaide said...

Hmmm...interesting, Coop.

As for labels, well, it seems it depends on where you live that gives a final twist to your own label.....take yourself out of that environment and you may find that the label you were happy to be stuck with in your own world, environment, has different connotations in the new environment.

I, as a person, don't wish to be judged by a label, only by who I am.

I'm not queer, I'm not gay, I'm not a bender, I'm not a poof, I'm not a QUEER, ......... I'm not even a homosexual.

I'm just a male who prefers company of other males, a male who feels "Love" (whatever that is, but we'll leave that one for later...heehee) I am a male who only wishes to have physical contact of a sexual nature with other males.
Full stop.

Sorry that I've steered off the subject, but labels can be damaging.

Rant over.