WHAT WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY
Scientific research on the roots of sexual orientation resembles the
search for evidence of life on Mars--insufficient proof but an enticement for further research.
Published: Thursday, October 3, 1996
By DANIEL B. CATON, Special to The Observer
You can hardly read this newspaper without encountering the conflict
between society and its homosexual component. Most of these altercations
involve little logic, but are based on primeval insecurities and justified
with ancient references; we fear what we do not understand and we turn
to sacred writings for support.
The phenomenon of homosexuality, and indeed the spectrum of sexual orientation,
is one that impacts everyone. It has been estimated that up to 10 percent
of the population could be in that area of the bell curve of sexuality
that we label homosexuality. Valid studies point to perhaps about 2 percent--still
large enough to allow for 5 million homosexuals in the United States, let
alone the rest of the world.
What do we know scientifically about the gay and lesbian phenomenon?
Sadly enough, there is still a paucity of research on homosexuality.
Let us review what is known, what has failed, and what logic might dictate:
- A study of gay brothers was published in "Science" on July
16, 1993, the day after the Pentagon was to have a new policy in place
regarding homosexuality. DNA linkage analysis was applied to 40 families
in which there were two gay brothers but no indication of a gay father.
The scientists found a 64 percent correlation between homosexual orientation
and the inheritance of markers on he "X" sex chromosome. They
did not find a "gay gene", but a linkage that indicated a 99
percent confidence level that "at least one subtype of male homosexual
orientation is genetically influenced.
- In 1981, Simon LeVay published a study, also in "Science",
in which he had examined brains of cadavers of gay and straight men. He
studied a region of the anterior hypothalamus, associated with sexual urges,
that had already been shown to be significantly larger in men than in women.
His initial blind study found a reduced volume in this area--gay men had
half the volume of the same region in the heterosexual men's brains. Criticized
that he had used men who had died of AIDS (which might affect the brain),
LeVay did a follow up work that revealed similar structures in gay men
who had died of cancer instead of AIDS.
- If gay behavior were only a psychological aberration, then psychiatrists
might ve able to significantly help homosexuals convert to a conventional
orientation. The psychiatric profession, while quite capable of helping
many people with various problems, was largely ineffective in such attempts.
At least the profession has taken the homosexuals out of the "electric
chair" of shock therapy and now attempts to help homosexuals live
with what they are.
- Interviews with gays and lesbians inevitably yield their recollection
of always having felt different, as far back as they can remember. The
labeling of homosexuality as an apparently chosen "lifestyle"
is an unfortunate and unsubstantiated designation. If sexual orientation
were a matter of conscious choice, why would anyone choose a sexual life
where every aspect would meet with hostility from most of the population?
This does not seem logical. And, if one chooses his or her preference,
can you remember making your choice? It seems likely that such a choice
is organic for heterosexuals, and would also be for gays. The jury is still
Sexuality will become increasingly open to scientific study as the Human
Genome Project maps the location of all three million bits of the digital
human genetic code. Studies of the interactions of various areas of the
genome and their chemical output signals will certainly lead to a greater
understanding of the "nature vs. nurture" debates in a wide variety
of human behaviors.
The status of scientific research on homosexuality resembles that for
the evidence of life on Mars, where several independent pieces of evidence
are each, by themselves, insufficient proof. Taken together, they offer
not a compelling case but an enticement for further research. We are going
back to Mars to find out for sure, and we are building the base of our
knowledge of genetic coding. We also should be looking inward on life as
hard as we are looking for it out there.
In both cases, we'd better prepare ourselves for the results.
© 1996 The Charlotte Observer and may not be republished without permission.
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