Gay gene poor basis for acceptance

I usually have a hard time relating to people who commit suicide. “Flunked out of college, dumped by the girlfriend, face full of acne — yep, his life was tough,” I’ve found myself saying, “but doesn’t eating a blast-full of shotgun pellets sound even worse?” Not necessarily. In a recent Grand Forks Herald article, cyber officials infiltrated and busted a child porn ring called “w0nderland,” causing at least four of the members to off themselves in disgrace. Is this disgrace worth the shotgun blast? Tough to say. I wondered if there was a genetic basis for pedophilia? I wondered if it mattered.
For instance, what if scientists discovered a “pedophilia gene?” Would this make the pedophilia seem any less perverse or allow us to excuse the perpetrators any more? Seems silly to think so. What about homosexuality? As of late, many gay activists have been advocating the spending of vast sums of money and energy in trying to find a genetic link to homosexuality. Searching the Web, I found a recent article entitled, “Born or Bred? The debate over the Cause of Homosexuality.” In it, the author posits: “If homosexuality is biological, how can society condemn it?”
In the article, Dr. Dean Hamer was one researcher who aimed to prove that a genetic cause exists. In a study released in 1993, he and several colleagues linked homosexuality to the X chromosome. Hamer, an open supporter of gay rights, obviously thought that his “discovery” promoted the progression of gay rights in our society, although the study actually offered little proof for a genetic link.
But even if studies like this were more conclusive, would they further the cause of gay rights? To me such efforts seem like a waste of time and money.
For one thing, as indicated by my pedophile hypothetical, genetic causes don’t necessarily justify behavior. (And for the record, I am in no way equating pedophilia with homosexuality. I am only refuting a biological basis as an explanation for behavior). For instance, in 1984, a Denmark study suggested a genetic linkage to crime. In the study, the crime records of 14,427 adoptees were examined. Fifteen percent of the adopted children whose adoptive, but not biological, parents had committed at least one crime also committed a crime. At the same time, 20 percent of the adoptees whose biological, but not adoptive, parents committed at least one crime also committed a crime. Though this study proves little, it seems to indicate that there might be some sort of genetic influence on some criminals. Does this allow us to view crime as more tolerable? Of course not.
A crime is a crime. It’s never tolerable.
At best, some criminals may be treated a little differently. By this logic, homosexuals can, at best, win people’s sympathy, not acceptance. That is, their behavior still wouldn’t be considered tolerable if a genetic link was discovered.
In June at the University, cultural studies scholar Michelle Lekas expressed a similar sentiment in a debate about the merits of worrying about a genetic linkage to homosexuality. “I can’t help it” has never been a legitimate plea for oppressed groups in the past, she said, pointing out the plight of African-Americans.
Perhaps this is a good thing. For one, just because someone can’t help being a certain way (i.e., violent) doesn’t necessarily excuse their behavior. More importantly, helplessness is a lame reason to excuse an oppressed group in the first place! To do so presupposes that their being what they are is merely “excusable,” not “acceptable.” (Sure, he’s black, but he can’t help it, so I guess it’s OK.)
It doesn’t matter whether homosexuality is environmental, biological, voodoo-imposed or downright pretended. In order to drive this point home, let’s take a look at the opposite end of the spectrum: nurture.
What if science concluded that homosexuality was wholly caused by social forces? Big deal. Social psychologists have found that adherence to social forces is so common that it can be considered a biological factor in and of itself.
The theory of “cognitive dissonance” is an example of a seemingly biologically-derived adherence to social pressures. The basic premise behind the theory is simple: Nobody wants to be thought of as a fool.
This sole fear dictates more of our thoughts and actions than one might think. For instance, scientists have found that members of fraternities with the cruellest initiation rituals are also consistently more loyal than those who are subjected to lesser traumas. Why is this?
Most likely because nobody in their right mind would want to subject themselves to physical or mental torture for no reason. Only a fool would do such a thing. So people who suffer through more traumatizing initiation rituals modify their attitudes to fit their behavior in a way that seems rational. (Why did I allow them to blindfold me and force me to jump, from a chair, onto what I thought would be a bunch of pins and needles? Because fraternity X is totally awesome!).
How does this relate to why studying the causes for homosexuality is fruitless? “Cognitive dissonance” has been deemed a psychological constant, so it seems to be as real or biological as the existence of a nose or a foot. But, different from a nose or a foot, “cognitive dissonance” is an invisible human trait triggered by social forces like the fear of feeling like a fool. (One cannot be a fool alone on a desert island.) Therefore, humans are genetically coded to be affected in certain ways by their social environment. In other words, if homosexuality is caused by a gene, it’s biological. If it’s caused by social forces, it’s still biological. One biological factor shouldn’t be more excusable than another.
Maybe someone is gay because being so makes him or her feel more loved. Maybe someone is gay because of a certain triggering experience. Maybe someone is gay because he or she was born with a certain gene. The possible causes are endless, and all biological even when social, so it is pointless to try and decipher the exact causes to justify sexual orientation.
If gay rights activists hope to gain ground by proving a genetic link to homosexuality, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Such research, when done for the sake of pressing an agenda, is a futile waste of time and energy that could be better spent. If research concludes that there is a genetic cause, big deal. This will allow homosexuals to say “we can’t help it,” but this hasn’t worked in the past, and probably shouldn’t, because helplessness shouldn’t justify every action, and helplessness is a sorry reason for people to be “excused.” If research concludes that the cause is entirely social, big deal. There’s reason to believe social causes are every bit as tangible and legitimate as genetic causes. Either way, it’s time and money ill-spent. The fact of the matter is, gay rights activists have to take the harder, but more sensible, route: explaining why homosexuality is more acceptable (not excusable) than freakish things like pedophilia, regardless of the origins.
Rob Kuznia’s column appears every Tuesday. Send comments to [email protected]