Monday, May 24, 2010

Homophobia: The Untold Story pt. 2

Okay so apparently all of our first day's drivel was just the intro, and we're only now getting into Part 1 of 6 Homosexuality: The Untold Story ? The phantom gene (yes, that question mark is on the page.) Here we go.
Americans are addicted to sound bites. "Short, simple, predigested, emotion-laden, one-stop conclusions," writes Jeffrey Satinover in the book, Same Sex Attraction: A Parents Guide. "We have neither the time nor the ability to sort through the primary information for ourselves in order to arrive at our own considered conclusions. As a result, the deep complexity of the scientific research into homosexuality is easy for people to misinterpret and easier still to misuse."
We're starting with a claim - "Americans are addicted to sound bites." As evidence of this claim, we're given the fact that Satinover (lol) said it. Well, let's check this guy out, and his book. Okay, well his Wikipedia page is flagged for not having good secondary sources, and right now it reads like the "About Me" from his own website. But it looks like he's written a couple books about "Bible codes" (oooh numerology!) and one on quantum physics, and he is of course an MD (and thus, highly qualified to answer theological and quantum physics questions?) *Sniff, sniff* I smell narcissism.
For instance, consider the gay gene. Almost everyone believes it exists. Homosexuals were "born that way," right?
No the first, yes to the second.
Not according to the science. Once inside the venerated halls of disciplined study, one discovers the radical truth ? there is no gay gene.
Homosexuality doesn't reside in a single gene, but in a complex of genes. Again, thanks for questioning your own truth claims - it's comical. (Yes, I imagine it's an html error, and that was supposed to be a dash or something, but it's still funny.)
However, in the absence of actual discovery, newspaper headlines frequently allude to the unfound gene in ways that make it sound real. Consider the October, 2003 Reuters headlines "Sexual Identity Hard-Wired by Genetics." The title sounds much more convincing than the actual facts, even though the article opens with the statement, "Sexual identity is wired into the genes, which discounts the concept that homosexuality and transgender sexuality is a choice. ?" Not until one reads the article does one realize that the headline and opening sentence have absolutely nothing to do with the study being reported.
Very often, writers don't get to pick the headlines; that's the Editor's job. (Kathryn Joyce did not pick the title for this article about me.) Now let's also look at something: our author Susan is trying to equate a single gene (like the "gay gene") with genetics which is the interplay of all our genes. Genes do not work in a vacuum. I don't know that there's a single gene for obsessive compulsive disorder, although it is genetic. Even height works on an interplay of genes, which is why we don't have a binary "tall vs. short" population, but people across a spectrum of heights. Why should sexuality (or gender) be any different?
In reality, the story is about a University of California, Los Angeles, study of the developmental differences between male and female brains. According to Ray Waller of the National Association for Research and Therapy on Homosexuality (NARTH) the study did nothing more than confirm what had already been known to science, that genes play a role in creating differences between male and female brains. The lead researcher, Dr. Eric Valain, said, "This is not about finding the gay gene." In fact, the word homosexuality is not even mentioned in the study.
Okay, well homosexuality isn't mentioned in the title of the article either, which is what you were objecting to. (So I guess now we're only down to one sentence?) What I don't know from the information provided so far, is what the study authors mean by "sexual identity" - does that mean sexual orientation or gender identity? The two are not the same, by any means. So, I'll do some quick research on this myself.

While the original article URL I found is dead, I was able to glean this quote,
"Our findings may help answer an important question - why do we feel male or female?" Dr. Eric Vilain, a genetics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Sexual identity is rooted in every person's biology before birth and springs from a variation in our individual genome."
Oh look, he's not talking about orientation - he's talking about feeling male or female, and where that identity comes from. This conflating of sexual identity with fits with the (erroneous) "ex-gay" concept that gay men just need to be more manly. But gender identity (sexual identity) is not the same as orientation, OR as gender presentation (sex organs.) So it's important to note that Susan isn't talking about an applicable study here. (No wonder it fails to address homosexuality to our satisfaction - it's not about that!)
News services echoed Reuters, most of them omitting one of the most salient facts about the study ? it was conducted on mice. "There is no animal model that accurately reflects human sexuality," said Dr. A. Dean Byrd of NARTH. "Pigs don't date, ducks don't go to church, and mice don't fall in love."
Ugh, NARTH. That's the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. In other words, they are a highly vested interest that makes money off of making gay people feel terrible about themselves. They make me sick (and sad.) Also, it is not rare or silly to conduct experiments on mice, as they are incredibly close to us genetically. Also, we've been studying the same "families" of mice for several generations now, and know quite a lot about these mice. It's important in laboratory conditions to reduce variables, and these mice are lab mice, not garden rats. Fewer variables are introduced, leading to higher validity of the study. That makes sense.

As for the idea that since ducks don't date, studies of human behavior via the study of animal behavior is nonsense, it is only because such studies have been done that this doodoo head can make such a statement. And while pigs may not date, they do have mating rituals, like most (all?) sexual animals. Ducks sure don't go to church, but neither do atheists. It has no effect on our orientation (or anyone else's) regardless. And I'm not sure if mice fall in love (while our genes are similar, their brains are very tiny by comparison) but monkeys do. We are all related, quack-doctor-religious-bigot-dude.
Where rumors start, the truth departs, but it is not irretrievable.
As long as people hold truth-departed beliefs as religious, the truth seems somewhat irretrievable. (For example, I doubt Susan will ever be convinced of any truth that conflicts with her primary delusion.)
The truth about the search for the gay gene begins in 1991 at the Salk Institute in San Diego with a scientist named Simon LeVay. LeVay reported that a group of neurons in the hypothalamic region of the human brain appeared to be twice as large in heterosexual men than in homosexual men.
Okay, I've done my research, but we'll let Susan say a bit more first.
The hypothalamus is a part of the brain involved in the regulation of sexual behavior in non-human primates. Other studies showed that these neurons were larger in men than women. For this reason, LeVay concluded that sexual orientation had a biological basis.
Okay, now here Susan is misrepresenting LaVay's findings. He did not actually "conclude" anything with certainty (science hedges its bets until all the data is in.) Here's what he said about the media attention his study garnered:
It’s important to stress what I didn’t find. I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay. I didn’t show that gay men are born that way, the most common mistake people make in interpreting my work. Nor did I locate a gay center in the brain. The INAH3 is less likely to be the sole gay nucleus of the brain than a part of a chain of nuclei engaged in men and women's sexual behavior.
Oh, so in other words, this also isn't what Susan claims it is. Wow, her honesty is really stunning (and such a great witness to that objective moral law giver she worships!) Also, why does she assume the hypo has a different function in human primates, versus non-human primates? (Why specify "non-human" without saying what it does in us, if it's something different?)
The study, however, had three major flaws that would later completely discredit it.
Really? And what evidence do you have that the study was completely discredited - your word? Because seriously, that has no purchase power at this point.
First, LeVay claimed to have been comparing the brains of 19 homosexual men and 16 heterosexual men. However, he was never able to confirm that all of the heterosexual men were indeed heterosexual. Six had died of AIDS, a disease whose transmission is often associated with homosexual behavior. Second, all the brain samples he took from homosexual men were taken from men who had died of AIDS, which raises the question whether the size of the neurons was related to AIDS. Third, LeVay concluded that the size difference in neurons explained homosexuality, but this was not a legitimate conclusion. Homosexual behavior may have been the cause, rather than the effect of the different in neuron size.
First, again, we have Susan's erroneous claim (lie) that LaVay claimed or concluded that the hypothalomous proved anything about homosexuality. Second, LaVay himself addressed those very concerns in his book Queer Science.
But it is important to stress several limitations of the study. The observations were made on adults who had already been sexually active for a number of years. To make a really compelling case, one would have to show that these neuroanatomical differences existed early in life - preferably at birth. Without such data, there is always at least the theoretical possibility that the structural differences are actually the result of differences in sexual behavior - perhaps on the 'use it or lose it' principle. Furthermore, even if the differences in the hypothalamus arise before birth, they might still come about from a variety of causes, including genetic differences, differences in stress exposure, and many others. It is possible that the development of INAH3 (and perhaps other brain regions) represents a 'final common path' in the determination of sexual orientation, a path to which innumerable prior factors may contribute.

Another limitation arises because most of the gay men whose brains I studied died of complications of AIDS. Although I am confident that the small size of INAH3 in these men was not an effect of the disease, there is always the possibility that gay men who die of AIDS are not representative of the entire population of gay men. For example, they might have a stronger preference for receptive anal intercourse, the major risk factor for acquiring HIV infection. Thus, if one wished, one could make the argument that structural differences in INAH3 relate more to actual behavioral patterns of copulation rather than to sexual orientation as such. It will not be possible to settle this issue definitively until some method becomes available to measure the size of INAH3 in living people who can be interviewed in detail about their sexuality."
In other words, this was cadavar research, and as such had certain limitations on his ability to interview the subjects (they were all dead and stuff) and also they were adults. Gee, it really doesn't seem like the things Susan is claiming LaVay "concluded" were really such firm statements, and more the general scientific talk of, "possibly" and "might" and "further research is needed." Susan, you lose this round. Epically.
As widely as this study was publicized, there was not a peep about the paper LeVay recently published wherein he backs away from his hoped-for hypothesis that science can explain homosexuality. Appearing in the Spanish journal, Reverso, LeVay admitted, "Science cannot tell us what constitutes core identity." In other words, it can't tell us who we are, a homosexual or a heterosexual.
First of all, science almost certainly can explain homosexuality (and heterosexuality, and maybe even bisexuality) to us, even if it has not conclusively done so yet. Biology is the study of living things - we are living things. I don't doubt it can shed light on what we are, and why we behave or identify in certain ways. I have a feeling Susan and her ilk are content to "move the goal post" and keep demanding more and more specific evidence, or evidence of a kind impossible to produce, so that they can hold onto their beliefs in the face of the evidence that does exist at this time.

Second, she's chosen to redefine "core identity' as homosexuality vs. heterosexuality. My bi-ness is not my core identity. Being female isn't either, although that's closer. My point is that I don't know that LaVay meant sexual orientation when he said "core identity" and I have no real reason to trust Susan's spin on things, at this point.
Another study was done in 1991 by John M. Bailey and Richard C. Pillard and published in the Archives of General Psychiatry (48: 1089-1096) determining a genetic cause for homosexuality after finding it was more likely for identical twins to both be homosexual than it was for fraternal or adopted brothers.
What's with the early years on this study? The "outraged Christians" news stories she used (skewed) at the start were from the early 2000s, but her studies are from at least ten years before. These were the *first* studies on homosexuality. Science is progressive. As we learn more and more about the world, ourselves, the galaxy; as we conduct experiments and perform studies, we improve our knowledge and findings. (And when I say "we" I don't actually mean myself. I mean credible scientists.) Anywho, moving on -
The study found that 29 of 56 pairs (52 percent) of the identical twins were both homosexual; 12 of 54 of the fraternal twins were both homosexual and six of 57 of adopted twins were both homosexual.
I'm not sure if these are the exact numbers from the study, but let's just move on (research gets boring.)
Again, problems with the study arise. First, if homosexuality is genetically determined, why didn't all of the identical twins share the same sexual orientation. How does one explain the 48 percent who did not?
Are you serious? Heterosexuality is vastly more common than heterosexuality, and yet you act as if it is strange that a (significantly smaller) percentage of these twins-of-gay-men would heterosexual.
How valid could the study be, when it was determined that the test sample was not random. Researchers could not rule out the fact that they had recruited twins who were both gay by advertising in homosexual newspapers and magazines rather than from material used by the general public.
Okay, at this moment I'm going to say something that applies across science and life and "they say" situations. One faulty study, or flawed study, or small sample size, or whatever, does not invalidate an entire field of science or a major theory. Climate change is not a conspiracy, evolution is a fact, and sexual orientation is probably determined before birth. Whether this particular study was conducted well or not does not tell us about all the research, certainly not the most recent research.

We don't have one study we point to and say, "Ah ha! This proves it." What we have are a myriad of studies, peer-reviewed and examined and tested and repeated and refined and improved, that suggest, across a broad spectrum of physiological and genetic indicators, scientific consensus. Even if it were not at all genetic, being gay isn't wrong. Sure, Susan tried to scare us about all the Christians not being able to practice their Christian bigotry in the workplace, and she quoted some psychologist quack from the boonies who basically said gayness gives people AIDS. (Okay, so I'm exaggerating for summation.) But at this point Susan has given no moral or ethical reason why a person who finds themselves attracted to another person with the same genitals, they should desire to change it. As far as I can tell, the biggest problem being gay is people being assholes about it.
In the year 2000, Bailey and his colleagues repeated the experiment, but with twins recruited from the Australian Twin Registry. This time, only 20 percent of the twins shared the same homosexual orientation, rather than the more convincing 52 percent.
Sigh, let's go Google. From his Wikipedia page, it looks like there is some controversy surrounding Bailey, though he is well-respected by researchers. Many of his interpretations of data are seen as negative towards transsexual women, and he has a tendency to use small sample size. I don't know if this guy is using good methodology or not. What I do know is that most scientists are, and that through the peer-review process, the ones who aren't get tossed by the wayside. What matters isn't one study, or one scientist. It's the scientific community.
The last and most publicized study was published by Dean Hamer, et al, at the National Institute of Health. Forty pairs of homosexual brothers were studied. It was found that some cases of homosexuality could be linked to a specific region on the human X chromosome inherited from the mother. This study was criticized and Hamer was actually under investigation for alleged fraud, but was eventually cleared of the charges. More importantly, no one has been able to replicate the study.
From SkepticTank, "in 1993, an NIH researcher found a stretch of DNA on the X chromosome that seemed to harbor one or more genes affecting sexual orientation." Now why exactly is this a study that couldn't be replicated, or is that claim even true? If Hamer was cleared of the charges, why bring it up, other than in a (blatant) attempt to discredit the research so your audience doesn't need to think for themselves?

Let's get to the main point here, the one that really matters: Whether or not sexual orientation is solely genetic, genetic and environmental (either prenatal environment or living environment,) or solely environmental doesn't matter. The fact is, some percentage of humans desire love, intimacy, affection, and partnership with people of the same sex. Most of them report having little or no choice in their desires; they feel they were born gay. I was attracted to boys at a young age, and I remember admiring Joshua Funderburk while I sat on top of the monkey bars. I also remember admiring Lindsay Hall down the street. I'm bi, and as far as I know, I always have been.

I'll get through more of this tomorrow. It's loooooooooong.

Peace be with you (also with me!)