Monday, April 21, 2014

Not Born That Way

Are gays and lesbians born that way? Surprisingly, at least to me, many LGBT scholars are answering with a resounding "No." David Benkoff, who is himself a gay writer, has an interesting piece on this featured at The Daily Caller. Here's his lede:
Virtually no serious person disputes that in our society, people generally experience their gay or straight orientations as unchosen and unchangeable. But the LGBT community goes further, portraying itself as a naturally arising subset of every human population, with homosexuality being etched into some people’s DNA.

Are gays indeed born that way? The question has immense political, social, and cultural repercussions. For example, some of the debate over applying the Constitution’s equal protection clause to gays and lesbians focuses on whether gayness is an inborn characteristic. And the major argument gays and lesbians have made for religious affirmation has been, “God made me this way.”

Thus, if it’s proven sexual orientations are not innate, much of the scaffolding upon which today’s LGBT movement has been built would begin to crumble. Given the stakes, most gays and lesbians are dismissive or hostile toward anyone who doesn’t think being gay is an essential, natural characteristic of some members of the human race. But a surprising group of people doesn’t think that – namely, scholars of gay history and anthropology. They’re almost all LGBT themselves, and they have decisively shown that gayness is a product of Western society originating about 150 years ago.
In what follows Benkoff reviews much of what these scholars are saying about whether homosexuality is innate or socially constructed and concludes that overwhelming evidence supports the latter.

He writes:
Journalists trumpet every biological study that even hints that gayness and straightness might be hard-wired, but they show little interest in the abundant social-science research showing that sexual orientation cannot be innate. The scholars I interviewed for this essay were variously dismayed or appalled by this trend.

For example, historian Dr. Martin Duberman, founder of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, said “no good scientific work establishes that people are born gay or straight.” And cultural anthropologist Dr. Esther Newton (University of Michigan) called one study linking sexual orientation to biological traits ludicrous: “Any anthropologist who has looked cross-culturally (knows) it’s impossible that that’s true, because sexuality is structured in such different ways in different cultures.”

While biology certainly plays a role in sexual behavior, no “gay gene” has been found, and whatever natural-science data exists for inborn sexual orientations is preliminary and disputed. So to date, the totality of the scholarly research on homosexuality indicates gayness is much more socio-cultural than biological.
Homosexuals, both male and female, as well as their sympathizers, are likely to resist arguments like Benkoff's. If homosexual behavior is not genetically determined but is freely chosen then it has a moral dimension and this is problematic for a lot of gays. Indeed, one reason why some gays are hostile to the Catholic church (and some protestant denominations) is because they insist on holding gays morally accountable for their behavior, and they persist in viewing that behavior as sinful.

Benkoff thinks there's nothing wrong with being gay, of course, but if he's correct that homosexual behavior is chosen and not genetically determined then those who wish to say that there's something morally deficient in it have been handed a victory in at least that aspect of the overall controversy.

Read the rest of his article at the link.