Sunday, February 07, 2010

Nature or nurture?

Just over a week ago, I went to a lecture titled "Nature, nurture or neither?" which was given by a geneticist. In this context, 'nature' means that a particular characteristic is determined only by someone’s genes, and 'nurture' means that a particular characteristic is determined only by someone’s environment.

Although the subject of gay genes didn't come up, similar questions about other characteristics did. For example, the question of whether particular genes relate to crime was mentioned. The lecturer was quite clear that it existed, namely the genes on the Y-chromosome, because being a criminal is very strongly correlated with being male! However, the lecturer was also equally clear about something else.

"It's almost never nurture or nature that gives rise to a particular characteristic," he said, "because it's pretty much always both!"

I think that makes a lot of sense. There's more gay action in all male environments, such as in prisons, or on board ships before women were allowed to be sailors. The environment definitely seems to affect the way that guys behave in those examples.

But another thing I've noticed is that a lot of gay men that I know were brought up in a very female environments, or come from families where the mother has a much stronger character than the father. My parents got divorced when I was around 10 years old, and after that, me and my sister were brought up by my mother. So I lived in a house with two females and no other males. Boyfriend T, ex-boyfriend P and ex-boyfriend S can also all tell stories which about how their childhood was dominated by females. It may be that we'd have ended up being straight if we'd been brought up in male environments, but because of something in our genes, being brought up in a female environment conditioned us to be gay. I don't know whether anyone can test this theory, but there's one thing that I'm sure about. Whatever the reason, by the time I was old enough to be interested in boys, I definitely didn't have any choice in the matter!

13 comments:

william disraeli said...

I find this interesting, as I've always found the opposite with any gay people I know, they've always come from extremely male environments - for example my brother (I come from a family of twelve - nine male - brought up by my father) or my friends from school (male boarding school, although that may be another thought all of its own...)

yoshi said...

I have also found it to be the opposite. I'm from a stable middle class family with two older brothers. My parents have been married almost 50 years. My boyfriend is also from a stable middle class family with one younger brother and parents have been married for some 40 years.

I simply don't buy that lack of a male figure in the household is the cause of someone being gay. I see plenty of examples of my straight friends being brought up by a single mother. While where you group up and under what circumstances shapes your personality and your outlook on the world I don't find that the evidence exists that it impacts someone's sexuality.

Furthermore - just because there is a lot of "gay action" in a particular environment - doesn't mean that person involved is gay. That's a rather shallow description of what being gay or straight is.

But in the end its a complicated subtle topic.

Paul said...

The more we learn about sexuality the more complex it gets. Some research has suggested that levels of testosterone in the womb effect ones orientation. It seems that women become less tolerant of testosterone with each male child born, and there is much data to show that homosexuality is less common in first sons than in their later siblings. However, this is only part of the picture. I am an only child, and gay, although my mother's sexuality was always a grey area. John Barrowman looked at some of these issues in a television program; you can find it on YOUTUBE.

roobs said...

I don't know GB, it's hard to draw anything definite from generalizations like these - at the end of the day, I think it all reflects wishful thinking; some sort of natural/unblameable justification for the position we've all unfortunately found ourselves in..

And who's to blame? Sometimes, as much as I try to forget it - I really do feel sorry for myself.

Then I think, "actually, straight ppl never have to justify or explain themselves, why do we have to?".

My limited 21 years of experience just seems to tell me that gay, lesbian, trans people seems to be a natural diversity of people that exist today. As long as there aren't any conclusive findings, we might be better accepting that there are some things that we can't understand or explain, and embracing all positive aspects of diversity that the world offers us.

close encounters said...

interesting subject ... often the way of testing these theories is to look at identical twins who have been brought up in different environments ... but i'm not sure how easy it would be to find appropriate examples !

Nine said...

Research into the whys and wherefores of homosexal behaviour is both interesting and potentially dangerous due to labelling. Imagine, for instance, that it was discovered that orientation was down to overproduction of hormone X by the mother during pregnancy. That'd be interesting to us as we could stick our hands up and say 'look, we're not mentally disfunctional, we're just part of nature's scheme'. Other people may have another take and decide that it's a birth defect which can be corrected during pregnancy!

Likewise, if it were shown to be nurture, that would suggest the possibility of reversal back to heterosexuality. Concerned parents might be keen to...

Ach. Watch the XMen movies. It's all in there!

Anonymous said...

That's an extremely old fashioned view of what 'causes' homosexuality that has long been discredited. It's been widely used by our opponents to 'blame' our mothers for making us gay. If you and your sister had been raised by your father, would she be a dyke? It's as silly as saying being gay is a lifestyle, whatever that is, or a choice that can be reversed with brainwashing. - Ian

DR said...

Or it could be just that gay men who were raised in predominantly-female-environment are more comfortable about being (and even self-accepting about being) gay--and so they're more visible...

ericwhitneyescort said...

more inclined to go along with DR myself.

Hedgie said...

I think it's the case that most researchers in the field are coming to the conclusion that homosexuality is largely biologically determined.

However, most of the biological markers don't apply in my case - I am the oldest son, and my index-to-ring finger ratios are supposedly 'straight'. I am however left-handed in orientation, which is apparently another indicator.

An interesting theory I have heard about recently is that females with homosexual offspring tend to be more fertile - i.e. have more children overall. The 'gene' goes down the maternal line and thus all female maternal relatives have it. I'm not sure this works out in my case either - my mum had three kids and her sister two; hardly impressive in Catholic families!

Dave said...

I identify with your comments.. many gay guys have a close relationship with their mother.. even being "mommy's boys" and I think the lack of a leading male figure or father in their life leads them to admiring or wanting a male role model and they find one in a gay relationship or wanting a gay relationship.

WranglerMan said...

Both nature and nurture determine one's sexuality, though your background is very different from my own. I grew up as the third of four sons in an upper-middle class, stable home environment. Both my oldest brother and I are gay. My two other brothers are not. Both parents were well educated and strong personalities. I'm still at a loss, though, to understand how the same set of circumstances can produce two gay sons and two straight ones!

Anthony Blake said...

I think its a mix of both. I think you are gay or bisexual by nature but I think it can be supressed or encouraged by nurture.