Is your index finger longer than your ring finger?

Do you remember in High School, when your friends would compare the length of their index fingers and their ring fingers to see who was gay? Well now scientists are researching these traits as well.
A New York Magazine article, written by a self-identified gay male author, delves into the research behind supposedly “gay” traits–hair whorls, fingertip lengths, handed-ness, thumbprint density and even penis size. All this research, which purports to prove how gay men and lesbian women compare to their heterosexual counterparts (gay men’s penises are thicker and longer than heterosexual men’s, lesbian’s ears function more like heterosexual men’s ears do) come to the big conclusion we’ve all been waiting for:

‘We’re reaching a consensus on a broad question,’ says J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University. ‘Is sexual orientation ‘something we’re born with or something we largely acquire through social experience? The answer is clear. It’s something we’re born with.’

Apparently the scientific community is reaching a consensus that the LGBTQ community definitively has not. There are still two very distinct camps–the social constructionists and the biological essentialists, who have been debating not only the construction of sex and gender, but sexual orientation. Once this decision has been made by the scientific community, the obvious next step is well how or when is it biologically determined?
The theme that keeps returning in this research is the pregnant woman and her interaction with the fetus. (Sound familiar?) Some surveys have shown that for every son that a woman has, the next one is 33% more likely than the one who came before him to be gay. A quote from one researcher of the biological origins of “gayness,” (to use the author’s terminology) Sven Bocklandt, is particularly telling:

Every man and every woman has all the genes to make a vagina and womb and penis and testicles. In the same way, arguably, every man and woman has the genetic code for the brain networks that make you attracted to men and to women. You activate one or the other–and if you activate the wrong one, you’re gay.


So, let’s just leave the homophobia in this statement aside for a moment (the author of the New York Mag article gives it significant attention) and focus instead on what really annoys me about these studies (or at least the way the media has been writing them up, because admittedly, I haven’t read all of them myself). They mostly focus on gay men, and when it comes to the discussion of women and their sexuality, the underlying theme is…well we don’t really understand women, but they don’t really seem to have a sexual orientation.
To quote Michael Bailey again:

I don’t understand female partner choices very well, and neither does anyone else…What I do think it’s time to do is admit that female sexuality looks in some ways very different from male sexuality, and that there is no clear analog in women of men’s directed sexual-arousal pattern, which I think is their sexual orientation. I am not sure that women don’t have a sexual orientation, but it is certainly unclear that they do.

You can see my ranting about a similar NYTimes article (although admittedly less thoughtful than this one) about women’s sexual orientation here.

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55 Comments

  1. HFarmer
    Posted August 18, 2007 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    There was a comment above about how there seemed to be a lack of research on causes of lesbianism. Well I looked and found that the same team that looked at homosexuality in the study I referenced above also did a study of lesbians.
    Brain response to putative pheromones in lesbian women Hans Berglund*, Per Lindström{dagger}, and Ivanka Savic
    It’s a short paper the results were:
    “As opposed to our previous study groups, the lesbian subjects did not show a differentiated pattern of activation with AND and EST; they engaged the amygdala and the piriform and the insular cortices (the classical odor-processing circuits) when smelling both of these compounds (Table 1 and Fig. 1). In the HeW, however, smelling of AND was processed by the anterior hypothalamus, whereas smelling of EST involved the olfactory regions; the pattern of activation in HeM was reciprocal to the pattern in HeW (Table 1 and Fig. 1). In contrast to the two steroids, and in accordance with several previous studies of odor stimulation (15, 25–32), activation with OO yielded similar clusters in all three groups of subjects, covering the amygdala, the piriform and insular cortices, as well as minor portions of the anterior cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices (Table 1 and Fig. 1).”

  2. HFarmer
    Posted August 18, 2007 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    It seems my longer response has not yet been posted.

  3. HFarmer
    Posted August 19, 2007 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I commented earlier and refered to a longer reply that had not appeared here. I put that reply on my own webpage.
    http://www.geocities.com/hontasfx/Contemplations/response.html
    Basically in it I use the example of a study done on homosexual men…
    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/102/20/7356
    To suggest a way of testing some of the claims that Bailey and Blanchard have made in the past.
    Please, Ad hominem attacks on a persons character will not settle anything. Nobody is perfect and we all have skeletons. “people in glass houses…”

  4. Boo
    Posted August 21, 2007 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    “Please, Ad hominem attacks on a persons character will not settle anything. Nobody is perfect and we all have skeletons. “people in glass houses…”"
    Constructing strawmen to knock down also will not settle anything. That wasn’t the first time you ignored what I actually wrote in favor of “reading between the lines.”
    As to your summation of my points:
    1. Not quite. Blanchard’s core autogynephilia scale does not measure arousal based on crossdressing, it asks if one has ever been aroused while picturing various parts of one’s anatomy. If you ever had a sexual fantasy involving, say, a hot guy/gal grabbing your ass or carressing your breast (or even kissing you, for that matter), it would read as AG on the scale even though it’s not fetishistic.
    2. Yes
    3. Yes, as also evidenced by Bailey’s description of trolling bars like Crobar and El Gato Negro for research subjects at 2am, and Blanchard’s being in a position to control the behavior and statements of his research subjects through his monopolistic control over government-subsidized transition services, and that he assumed mtf transsexuals could be defined as male-bodied individuals who claimed to have “felt like a woman.”
    The study idea isn’t bad, IF brain-imaging has been shown to be a reliable indicator of sexual arousal (it would also be a good way to test the “ex-gays,” in that case).

  5. Boo
    Posted August 21, 2007 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Btw HFarmer, according to the bio on your website, your background in science and your sexual experiences with two women would type you as AGP, according to those who believe in such things. Me, I think it’s hooey.

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