The gay gene – Friend or foe?

In the last two weeks we have had announcements that a pool of genes has been found on the X chromosome that are related to being gay, according to New Scientist and The Independent, with further research being announced to taking place in the UK at the University of Essex, thanks to PinkNews, all using twins to do genetic comparison. As a community, many of us have long argued that our sexuality is something innate, but is it necessarily a good thing that we establish a specific gay gene?

One of my favourite science fiction authors is Keith Hartman because he poses various questions about sexuality and its role in the future, with one of my favourite series about a ‘Gumshoe Gorilla’. It suggests that in the next 50 years a gay gene will be found and the books details what will happen afterwards. His theory in the books – that finding a gay gene will lead to targeted abortions during pregnancy for carriers of that gene, which leads to a further quashing of LGBT+ people in society at large – is not entirely unfounded. We know that in Nazi Germany, for example, scientists were trying to find a gay gene to remove gay people from society. The leap that religious or conservative communities that haven’t progressed as far with equalities is not that far detached, especially given the controversy over ‘designer babies’ and genetic screening for disabilities.

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The flip side to this is that the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, which determines what psychologically healthy behaviour is and what isn’t, was edited in 1986 to remove all mention of homosexuality as an illness (bar one oblique reference under ‘distress at one’s sexual orientation’) after it was declassified as a psychological illness in 1973. The chances of this being undone in our lifetimes are incredibly unlikely, and there are numerous mental illnesses that have had to be removed due to strides forwards in equalities. One example is the removal of ‘hysteria’, which was thought to only attack women who were too anxious, and which has been replaced with ‘somatoform disorder’.

We insist on pinning a genetic attachment to something that has always been thought of as psychological because psychology is seen as too wishy-washy, focusing on sociological components rather than scientific ones like neuroscience. Psychology can also be changed and, if queerness was due to psychology, that would imply there is a ‘gay cure’. 30 years ago it was common place to assume that gender and sexuality could be changed easily with therapy, but now it is known not to be the case, whereas no one has argued with gravitational theory for centuries.

The problem is that genetics, neuroscience, and other forms of biological psychology ignore the role that society has to play in development. For example, in Russia you can bet that as we speak there are more LGBT+ people in the closet today than there were even five years ago as a result of violence and discrimination against LGBT+ people. And as with somatoform disorder, psychological stress can cause physical problems.

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Discussions like this are cyclic, but while it is nice to turn around and be able to firmly say to Uganda, ‘We have proof that you can’t change us from being gay at birth,’ what’s to stop them testing for gays and killing them off before the chance to be born?

As Keith Hartman’s protagonist says in ‘The Gumshoe, The Witch, and The Virtual Corpse’: ‘You all make a lot of noise about being pro-life, but in the clinch [where the child tests positive for being gay]… you make “exceptions”. Not the Catholics, though. You gotta love the Pope. She may be a reactionary old cow, but at least she’s consistent.’

Image from JoeForAmerica.com