For the longest time, it was assumed by science that there was not a single gene that caused homosexuality. The reason is a gay gene would make the person less sexually fit and therefore less likely to reproduce and pass on the gene. It does not take much of a disadvantage for a trait to disappear from the pool over enough time. If such a gene did exist, so it was thought, it would have disappeared from the human gene pool a long time ago and homosexuality with it. Therefore, something else must be at work.
Human societies have, for the most part, assumed homosexuality was to some degree a choice. Like an excessive desire for drink or criminality, that natural inclination could be controlled with enough determination. Like alcoholism or criminality, homosexuality came to be seen as a moral failing. On the other hand, there was always that sense that like alcoholism or criminality, some people are born bad. For whatever reason, they lacked the mechanisms to control their passions or the will to do so.
The source of this divide is the philosophical argument that there are facts that can be tested and values that are purely opinion. A scientific theory is one that can be tested, while an ethical proposition cannot. If something cannot be tested and possibly falsified, it is not science. In the case of something like human traits, it means there is either a biological mechanism to explain it completely or it is purely a social construct with no biological root. Traits fell on either side of the fact-value divide.
As in moral philosophy, the fact-value divide with regards to human traits is starting to come apart, as science gives us a greater understanding of human genetics. For example, complex human traits like intelligence are not the result of a single gene, but the result of many genes. In the case of intelligence, science has identified 55 alleles that influence general intelligence. How these switches are set influences intelligence, but the combinations are also an important factor.
In the case of homosexuality, it is starting to look like it may be the result of both a combination of genetics and environmental factors. A recent study has found two SNPs that influenced both male and female homosexuality. These are not the “gay genes” some thought existed, but two “switches” that have a strong association with homosexuality in men and women. That means homosexuals tend to have these two markers, but it does not mean all people with them are gay.
As with intelligence, something as complex as human sexuality probably has many genes that influence the trait. It could also mean other traits come along with the ride, as they are also associated with the set of genes that cause homosexuality. It’s entirely possible that this set of genes is responsible for a range of behaviors that are often associated with homosexuals. In other words, the attraction to the same sex is just one result of many from a set of genes turned on or off in the person.
A useful way of thinking about this is to imagine genes that cause someone to become an alcoholic. Let’s say ten genes positively or negatively influence a person’s propensity to alcoholism. If all ten switches are on, you will be a serious drunk. If all ten switches are off, you will be a teetotaler. Then there are the combinations in between. Alcoholism is therefore a spectrum. The person’s ability to control their drinking will depend upon where they fall on the spectrum and their access to alcohol.
That last part is where the either/or way of thinking falls apart. Someone with a lot of the drunk switches set to on, but living in a society without alcohol or one with severe repression of it, like Saudi Arabia, is less likely to be a drunk than the same person living in Ireland. In fact, that person with the high genetic propensity to alcoholism may never express those traits, because they are never exposed to alcohol. At the extremes, at least, environment can overcome nature with regards to behavior.
Now, bringing this back to a behavior like homosexuality, it is plausible that it is a spectrum, like the alcoholism example. Anyone who has been out in the world long enough knows that gays come in many varieties. At the one end are the flamboyant Milo Yiannopoulos types, while at the other end of the spectrum are the prudish Lindsey Graham types. In reality, homosexuality probably has more complexity than a linear range. Those switches result in a variety of manifestations.
What it means is that the trait is probably not purely biological. There’s a lot of evidence that homosexual males share more than two SNP’s. They also seem to share grooming stories in their youth. Homosexuals report a significantly higher rate of childhood molestation than do heterosexual men and women. This may simply be a downstream result of genetic factors, but it has been something science has observed for a long time, going back to when homosexuality was treated as a mental disorder.
This is where the fact-value divide closes. If it is a fact that some human traits fall along a range of propensity, based on genetics, then environment plays some role in how those traits are expressed. Put in terms of this topic, if homosexuality is a propensity, then cultural logic that discourages the activity will reduce the amount of homosexual activity in the society. This is the same logic behind banning alcohol. If it is hard to get alcohol, many people prone to alcoholism will never become drunks.
We may be seeing this put to the test with the youngest generation. There have been quite a few surveys indicating young people are the gayest generation. Here’s a story from last year on a survey of young people and sexual identity. Here is a post from the Progressive-adjacent blogger Audacious Epigone using recent survey data. According to that study, nearly 1-in-5 people under the age of thirty identify as something other than heterosexual. It appears that Gen-Z is super gay.
Now, such surveys should be treated with some skepticism. Young people are dumb and most are prone to repeating what they see in the media. Because the usual suspects tell them homosexuality is the best, many will claim to be some exotic sexuality as a moral signifier. The problem with surveys is respondents tend to tell the survey taker what they think is right. What these surveys may be picking up is the public reaction to the new morality being imposed on them by the usual suspects.
Even so, if sexuality, particularly homosexuality, is purely genetic, independent of environmental factors, then we should not see a real shift in homosexual activity when the culture changes. A study of venereal disease rates would probably be a good proxy to measure homosexual activity. If what the survey data suggests is true and we are seeing a real increase in homosexual activity, then it is not unreasonable to conclude that culture plays some role in the frequency of homosexuality.
That means debating these cultural issues is not only valid, but a necessary thing for every society. After all, if sexuality is purely natural, then debating the culture issues surrounding it is a waste of time. On the other hand, if culture matters a lot, then debating the morality surrounding sexuality is a primary concern. Do we want more homosexuals or fewer homosexuals becomes a valid topic of debate. Leaving it up to nature is no longer a justifiable response.
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