Identity / Life

The Gay Gene: Why Genetics Shouldn’t Matter

On Monday, a new study was published in which scientists claim to have further evidence that being gay may very well be genetic.

Here is a summary from New Scientist:

A genetic analysis of 409 pairs of gay brothers, including sets of twins, has provided the strongest evidence yet that gay people are born gay. The study clearly links sexual orientation in men with two regions of the human genome that have been implicated before, one on the X chromosome and one on chromosome 8.

Biological determinism has long been the chosen weapon for many moderate activists in the fight for acceptance by mainstream culture.

If there is a gay gene, then people should not deny us access to marriage, housing, employment, and healthcare.

If there is a gay gene, then conversion therapy is cruel because it is bound to be ineffective.

If there is a gay gene, then we are true victims when assaulted.

If there is a gay gene, then private businesses should be required to serve us regardless of the owners’ religious beliefs.

Because, if there is a gay gene, then those who believe in God must admit that we are God’s creation and worthy of love.

The ribbon that winds its way around each of those and ties equality in a nice bow is that we can’t help it.

When I came out 25 years ago, people often spoke of sexuality in terms of “sexual preference,” but few people use that phrase anymore, and I would argue that it is partly because people do not want to mention “preference” because it implies “choice.”

Even as a gay person, it’s tempting to espouse the idea that we are, in fact, born this way because it relieves us of any responsibility. We are innocent. And to the most bigoted, gay people then become more acceptable only because we are deserving of pity, victims of our biology.

I do not want mercy that comes from pity. I want equality that comes from respect.

I believe the issue is more complicated than the twists in our DNA and that we’ll eventually find that there are those who have a biological predisposition and those who do not.

Yes, I believe that–for some people–sexual orientation is a result of life experiences and environment.

Yes, I am saying that I believe it is a choice for some, maybe even for me.

At the time I came out, there were no other members in my family who identified as gay or lesbian. There weren’t even people I could point to and say, jokingly, that they just didn’t know. As far as I know, I was the first. 

I did not feel different than other girls until high school and that had more to do with my lack of dexterity with a curling iron than anything else. I did not have crushes on girls, and I was interested in boys. I dated a boy in high school and a few boys in college and loved being with them. In fact, I didn’t kiss a girl until after I’d taken courses in human sexuality and met a group of lesbians.

I could easily make a case that my exposure to the the culture of a liberal arts school, to feminism, and to gay and lesbian people led me to question my sexuality. It is entirely possible that I chose to be a lesbian.

So, if some people have the gene and some don’t but are still in same-sex relationships, do you think society would treat them the same? The answer is, of course, no.

And therein lies the danger in arguing for biological determinism.

A person’s worth should not be tied to what’s imprinted on their chromosomes but using genetics to justify equality does exactly that. Every person is worthy of respect and deserves to live with dignity – no explanation required.

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  1. Sometimes I feel like people treat me like I have a disability when they find out that I’m gay. My mom, for example, who was sad for my lesbian roommate in college (YES! She really was JUST my roommate) because she could “never have kids.” So for my mom, being gay was equal to be broken is some fundamental way, and gay people should be pitied, to your point.

    • I suppose pity is better than hostility but the underlying message is still that we are “other” and “less than.”

  2. I love this, Vikki. It’s a question that has worried me . . . there is at least as much to lose as there is to gain by placing the focus on genetics when what really matters is human dignity. Thank you.

  3. I hadn’t really thought about it that way before Vikki, thank you for giving me something else to think about.

    • I think it’s interesting to think about it and try to understand the underlying sentiments and then the implication of it all.

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  5. Dylan Flunker says:

    It’s funny, when I was wrestling with my identity and came out as bisexual and then as a dyke (my words for my identity at the time) I never worried so much about whether I was choosing to be gay or if it was in my genes. I think I just figured whether I chose to be queer or not I was. And I was happier that way.

    When I was realizing that I might be trans I was pretty distraught that I couldn’t point to a medical blood test or whatever and say “look, this proves it, I really am trans.” At the time I think that was really wrapped up in not yet having the tools to navigate accessing medical transition or coming out to my family and the world beyond my friend group. I’ve fortunately moved beyond that, I know we trans people are trans and can name our own identities and experiences because we know our selves and our bodies. Accessing medical transition can be so weird a disjointing at times because it requires “proving” to someone else that you are who you say you are.

    So anyways, I love this post and completely agree.

    • Obviously, your experience is even more complex than mine and I do understand the desire in your situation for something you could point to. My hope is that we are all moving beyond that.

  6. I’m glad to see this article. I too feel that in some ways I choose to be a lesbian. Although I did not choose to fall in love with the woman that is now my wife, I do choose to be in a relationship with her. My Mom asked me once if I really believed I could not find a man I loved as much as I love my now wife. I told her that it was entirely possible that there was a man in the world I would be happy to be married to, however I was in love with this person right here right now and choosing not to be with her because she is a woman is a dumb as choosing not to be with someone because they are not rich. In the end I love her, we make each other happy. She brings out the best in me and at the time I could not imagine my life without her. 13 years later and my feelings have only gotten stronger and I love her more than I thought possible. We should be able to respect each other and have equal rights gene or no gene. Although I appreciate that genetics has helped some people to see us as being made this way, I don’t think it is the whole story, as you noted here.
    One of my aunts met someone who refers to being gay as an affliction, like a cancer gene, or diabetes.

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