Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Nature, Nurture, and Homosexuality

I was telling a story the other day at a dinner party, not meaning to start a political discussion. Anyway, when my son was three, my wife enrolled him in a class called something like Beginning Movement. When the time came for me to bring him to class, his third time, it was clear to me that he didn't want to go. I dragged him there (not literally) and watched as several young girls pranced happily about in pink dance outfits. My son was not enjoying himself. I asked him if he wanted to leave. There was no waffling with his answer - we bolted out of there and never returned. End of story.

Or so I thought. An openly gay man at the party was certain that my three year old was incapable of deciding for himself whether he liked to dance around with little girls. Rather, I had poisened his mind to the idea and my son was simply trying to please dad. He was certain that he was correct and brushed aside my opposing point of view.

Afterwords, as I mused over this discussion, I realized that what the man was saying was that environmental influences - ie my supposed bias against dancing - were the sole cause of my sons rejection of dance. In other words, he was not predisposed - ie born with - a distaste for dance.

Yet I have heard the same individual claim that one's sexual orientation is predetirmined. And this view is commonly held by gay people and woe to those who challenge them.

Anyway, I am by no means certain on the whole nature/nurture question though I strongly suspect that both play a role in our development. And that is a perfectly acceptable point of view, until it is applied to people who are gay.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

How did you choose your sexual orientation?

Denis Navratil said...

I anticipated your question anon. The reason you ask, I suspect, is to imply that if one hasn't consciously chosen a sexual orientation, one must have been born either gay or straight. But this is a false choice. It is possible that one didn't choose his/her orientation but that the orientation was the result of environmental factors. So I don't think your question is relevant, but I will answer it nonetheless. I have no idea.

smallgovsam said...

Denis,

Organisms are born homosexual. The scientific literature is very conclusive. A 1999 peer-reviewed study by biologist Bruce Bagemihl found that homosexuality has been documented in over 1,500 species. These observations included mammals, birds, domesticated animals and even insects like dragonflies, fruit flies. So unless that fruit fly egg didn't get enough attention from Daddy or that sea gull was forced to go to a dancing class, its pretty obvious that nature, not nurture, is the cause of homosexuality.

The empirical studies are decisive. It's not as fun as waxing philosophically, I know. But science has a good method going for it.

Anonymous said...

One study does not provide conclusive evidence. What were the observations of animals that indicated "homosexuality" - amorous behavior? touching? penetration?

I suspect that there is genetic predisposition, much like some cancers. Over-underexpression of certain genes and gene families can predispose one to cancer but it then takes one or more environmental influences to trigger the cancer. Think of it this way - if you have one of ten (making up numbers here) "bad" genes, you might have to smoke and drink and not exercise and work with asbestos to get cancer. If you have six of the ten gens, you might only have to have radon in your home and smoke. If you have all ten, well, you may get cancer even if you exercise daily and eat the best diet of anyone on Earth.

Denis Navratil said...

So that's why there called fruit flies! If being labeled a fruit from day one isn't an environmental factor then I don't know what is.

OK, on a more serious note. Certainly there is homosexual activity in other species, but does this entirely negate the possibility of environmental influences? Is all observable behavior in species a result of predetirmined biological factors? If true, would the same hold true for humans? Is all observable human behavior the result of biology entirely? Do humans have free will?

Sorry to wax philosophical Sam but by no means am I convinced that homosexual activity among humans, or other observable behaviors, are completely uneffected by environmental factors. You could go "global warming" on me, cite various studies, conclude that the debate is over etc... but I am will remain unconvinced.

Denis Navratil said...

My point with this particular thread was not to offer a final answer on the nature/nurture question. Rather, it is to point out an inconsistency. That is, while most people conclude that environmental factors play a huge role in our lives, there are those who are convinced that environmental factors play no role whatsoever in the development of our sexuality. I am not sure why that is other than that people will often find reasons to believe what they want to believe. Now are we genetically predisposed to believe what we want, or are environmental factors at work....?

Anonymous said...

for your consideration:
Nature determines sexual orientation. Nurture determines how that orientation is expressed. ie; attraction to blonds, tall, skinny, older, younger, etc.

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