Homosexuality Page 2
It is important to remember that although homosexuals and heterosexuals may be "sex-reversed" in some ways, in other ways they are not.
For example, neither gay nor straight men tend to be confused on the subject of what sex they are: male.
LeVay says, "It's not just that you look down and see you have a penis and you say, 'Oh, I'm a boy. Great.' I think there must be some internal representation of what sex you are, independent of these external signals like the appearance of your body.
I think most gay men are aware of some degree of femininity in themselves, yet there is no reversal of gender identity." Gay men and straight men also seem to display an identical strong drive for multiple sexual partners; lesbians and straight women seem to be alike in favoring fewer sexual partners.
The evidence from hormonal research may circumstantially implicate biology in sexual orientation, but it is far from conclusive.
William Byne raises a warning flag: "If the prenatal-hormone hypothesis were correct, then one might expect to see in a large proportion of homosexuals evidence of prenatal endocrine disturbance, such as genital or gonadal abnormalities.
But we simply don't find this." Moreover, the hormonal research does not answer the question of ultimate cause. If hormones help to influence sexual orientation, what is influencing the hormones?
THE GENETIC QUESTn 1963 Kulbir Gill, a visiting scientist from India working at Yale University, was conducting research into genetic causes of female sterility.
His experiments involved exposing the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, that workhorse of genetic research, to X-rays, and observing the behavior of the resulting offspring. Gill noticed that a certain group of mutant male flies were courting other males, following each other and vibrating their wings to make characteristic courtship "songs."
Gill published his findings in a short note in the publication Drosophila Information Service and then returned to the question of female sterility.
A decade later Jeffrey Hall, a biologist at Brandeis University, followed up on Gill's odd discovery. Every discovered Drosophila gene mutation is given a name, and Gill had called his mutation "fruity."
Hall, considering this name to be denigrating, redubbed it, still somewhat tongue-in-cheek, "fruitless."
Hall explains that the fruitless mutation produces two distinct behaviors. First, fruitless-bearing male flies, unlike non-mutant male flies, actively court other males as well as females, although for reasons that remain poorly understood, they are unable actually to achieve intercourse with members of either sex. Second, fruitless-bearing males elicit and are receptive to courtship from other males, which non-mutant males reject.
Fruit flies can live for two or three months, and this "bisexual" fly strain has existed behaviorally unchanged through hundreds of generations. Some gene mutations are lethal to flies; fruitless is not one of these, nor does it cause illness. It is, Hall says, a non-pathological genetic mutation that causes a consistent, complex behavior. And fruitless displays an anatomical sexual dimorphism, bringing LeVay's study to mind.
In the abdomen of male Drosophila flies there is a muscle, the so-called muscle of Lawrence, whose function is unknown; female fruit flies don't have it, and neither do fruitless males.
Although fruitless flies don't mate, the perpetuation of the fruitless trait is made possible by the fact that it is recessive--a full pair of the mutations is needed for fruitless behavior to be expressed. When males that carry a single fruitless gene mate with a fruitless-carrying female, a percentage of their offspring will carry the full pair and display typical fruitless behavior.
If a genetic component of homosexuality in human beings exists, it could possibly operate by means of a comparable mechanism.
THE RAMIFICATIONS OF SCIENCE
That does it all mean?
As we have seen, scientists must sift for their conclusions through ambiguous results from a disparate group of studies that are excruciatingly difficult to interpret. Yet even at this relatively early date, out of the web of complexities it is becoming ever clearer that biological factors play a role in determining human sexual orientation.
RichardGreen said to me, "I suspect that at least in your lifetime we will find a gene that contributes substantially to sexual orientation."
Michael Bailey says, "I would—and have—bet my career on homosexuality's being biologically determined." The pace of neurobiological and genetic research is only increasing. The search is not without its opponents. Some, recalling earlier psychiatric "treatments" for homosexuality, discern in the biological quest the seeds of genocide.
They conjure up the spectre of the surgical or chemical "rewiring" of gay people, or of abortions of fetal homosexuals who have been hunted down in the womb. "I think all of us working in this field," Pattatucci says, "have delusions of grandeur in thinking we can control the way this knowledge will be used." Certainly the potential for abuse is there, but that is true of much biomedical knowledge. It is no reason to forswear knowledge of ourselves, particularly when the potential benefits are great.
Some benefits could be indirect. Laura Allen points out, for example, that there are many now-mysterious diseases—autism, dyslexia, schizophrenia—that affect men and women differently, hiding inside parts of the human mind and body that we cannot penetrate.
Neurobiological research into sexual differentiation may help us to understand and cure these diseases, as well as to unlock other mysteries—the mysteries of sexuality.
And then there is the question with which we began—that of the acceptance of gay people in American society.
The challenge posed by homosexuality is one of inclusion, and, as Evelyn Hooker would say, the facts must be allowed to speak. Five decades of psychiatric evidence demonstrates that homosexuality is immutable, and non-pathological, and a growing body of more recent evidence implicates biology in the development of sexual orientation.
Some would ask: How can one justify discriminating against people on the basis of such a characteristic? And many would answer:One cannot. Yet it would be wise to acknowledge that science can be a rickety platform on which to erect an edifice of rights.
Science can enlighten, can instruct, can expose the mythologies we sometimes live by. It can make objective distinctions—as, for example, between sexual pathology on the one hand and sexual orientation on the other. But we cannot rely on science to supply full answers to fundamental questions involving human rights, human freedom, and human tolerance.
The issue of gay people in American life did not arise in the laboratory. The principles needed to resolve it will not arise there either.