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Should Scientists Research Why People Are Gay? July 11, 2009

Posted by Geekgirl in Commentary.

Today’s blog is not about a piece of research, it’s about research itself. It’s Sunday, or soon will be, so why not have a science discussion in place of, or in addition to, a sermon. What are your thoughts on scientific or psychological research in this area?

As I’ve been screening the scientific literature for interesting research to share, I have come across papers that go back as far as the early sixties. It’s easy to see that the study of LGBT people has completely swung from “this is a disorder and a bad one at that” to a perspective that not only is this normal but these people are discriminated against”. This is very visible in papers published by psychologists and psychiatrists. That progress has to be great news for supporting an enlightened society. Of course, there are also the groups with an agenda, trying to use selective research, poorly conducted studies and their own opinions, then dressing it up like science. Focus on the Family and NARTH are notorious for this.

But what about the research on what makes a person gay or transgendered? My LGBT friends have mixed feelings about this. Sometimes they are fascinated, especially by the pieces that show photos of the brain and it is very easy to see that gay men have brain activity like straight women, and lesbians have brain activity like straight men. (If you are thinking “there are no brain photos on this blog, you are right. I may be a biologist but I’m a lousy blogger. Just today I learned how to post photos. So expect to see your brain on gay….any day.)

While all of us may be intrigued by research that explains who we are, there are legitimate fears raised both within the LGBT community and the scientific community. The Pope and conservative right wing faiths have already said that if it is proven that being gay is biological, and could be “cured” through a biological treatment, they would support this.

My friends don’t want to be fixed. As a scientist, I think the “fix” will never be found. I also know that any such fix done on an unborn child would require enormous research and proof to the FDA. Drug companies don’t even like to test their drugs on pregnant women when the drug is for the adult,  it’s expensive and no animal model can truly predict. No one wants to get sued for damaging a child. That’s just the dry, logical side of this question. To keep it try, imagine the expense to health insurance companies. Since there is no recognized disorder, what insurance company will pay for this? They don’t even pay for my husband’s Viagra (hope he’s not reading). Last, in the list of dry reasons why this doesn’t make sense, if the research was funded with public $, I think we would see a lot of people screaming where are the cures for cancer, Alzheimers and everything else under the sun.

Which leads to…. while this is certainly an interesting biological phenomena, is it worth studying? One could also argue that those research dollars could be better spent. And I would be right there with those voices. Except for one thing. It’s my opinion, and just my opinion, that the research can help that very large uninformed middle group, and maybe even intelligent right-wingers, understand that being gay is normal. Not a choice, not even a biological mistake. Just a variation in biology. Sexuality happens in our brains. Our genitalia are just anatomical.

Personally, it’s sad that we are not an intelligent, compassionate enough society to understand that there is nothing wrong with being gay. That we shouldn’t really need scientific research to give people full equality. I don’t know why government or religion has any right to limit freedoms that hurt nobody. There has not been one anti-gay argument that makes any sense to me, to my science side, to my human side, to my common sense side. But if they are going to keep lying, and we are using truth to fight them, then it seems this research could help.

Does scientific research help the LGBT cause or hurt it? I’ll post ALL comments unless they are filled with hate speech.



1. rick - July 11, 2009

Trying any hypothesis can be met with moral dilemma. Whether hurting the lgbt community or otherwise, the hypothesis itself should always be ethical….. And I am quite open to being hurt personally, so long as there is a clear and evident purpose (unlike those trials of the 60’s — born of ignorance)

2. jaysays - July 13, 2009

I think my primary concern is that if a biological source is isolated which could be located during a form of amniocentesis testing – then genocide will commence. I can’t help but wonder how many of the anti-abortion religious folks will suddenly say – hoover the “homo” out – should they find they are giving birth to a gay/transgender person.

3. Veronica Drantz, PhD - July 20, 2009

Why We Should Study Homosexual and Transsexual People

Here’s how I see it. Even if the researchers themselves only wanted to understand the biological basis of homosexuality, the data obtained would tell us much more. If we know the “cause” of homosexuality, then we also know the “cause” of heterosexuality. Comparing the physiology of “gay brains” to “straight brains” allows us to better understand both. There was a time when many people assumed that there was no other “biological” possibility than heterosexuality – that no particular brain structures or functions were involved in sexual orientation per se. Now it is generally agreed that different sexual orientations result from brain differences and furthermore, that those brain differences are innate. This is a major leap in understanding. If the research indicates that homosexuality is not a choice, then it also indicates that heterosexuality is not a choice. Everyone’s sexual orientation has a genetic, anatomical, and physiological basis. The research objective is to understand the biology of sexual orientation – in anybody and everybody, not only gay people. And not just people either – the other mammals too. Sexuality is ancient. The hypothalamic and limbic brain regions involved in sexual behavior are far more ancient than people and are likely much the same in all mammals. So the study of gay and lesbian people is basic biology.

Additionally, by comparing transsexual brains to typical brains, we can eventually understand the neuroscience of sexual identity and know the anatomical and physiological basis of a person’s sexual sensibility of self, whether female, male, or intersex in identity. Once more, the objective is to understand the biology of sexual identity in all people, and likely other mammals as well. Again, this is biology, and it is why the study of innate “core sexuality” is so fascinating to me.

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