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.