Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beyond the Gay Gene

Twenty years ago, it was all the rage to discuss the possibility of there being a gay gene. Predictably, this became a matter of great debate with neither side willing to budge. It made the cover of more than one weekly news magazine. One side was convinced that LGBTs were biologically predisposed and the other believed that queer identity was strictly environmental in nature. Seeking to split the difference, the official line became this--biological and environmental aspects were responsible, a compromise decision designed to please everyone, while it pleased absolutely no one.

I have explored this issue for myself, in ways that everyone who is not strictly straight does. Bolstering my case is the fact that one of my sisters is also bisexual herself. She’s partnered mainly with men in her life, but while not in a monogamous relationship, she consistently returns to women. During one of our last conversations, she noted that she’s had long-term, though sporadic lesbian sexual relationships for years. Her exact words were, “I guess I still need it.” I’ve felt the same way myself with my own homosexual relationships.

In sixth grade gym class, I was required to dress out in front of other boys my age. Puberty had arrived with great fanfare, and I imagine my testosterone level registered through the roof. At a locker nearby was a boy my age that seemed to be looking at me out of the corner of his eye. As for myself, I made a silent note of what color underwear he had on every day, but gave myself plausibility denial should I ever be caught staring back. Everyone else was too busy trying to dress out before the bell rang, signifying we should now be ready to line up for roll call.

The crucial element in this biological detective story is likely my maternal grandfather. Immediately after birth, he was given up for adoption to the Catholic Church. Birmingham, Alabama, in the early Twentieth Century was a melting pot of immigrants who arrived to work in the steel mills. From what I do know, it is my theory that his birth parents knew the likelihood that the child would struggle with severe mental illness and might not be heterosexual. In those days, it was likely that any child born would be cared for by his or her parents, so there must have been a strongly compelling reason they felt they had to give him up.

Finding records of his adoption have been fruitless. Some years ago, I went as far as to contact a Catholic priest in charge of genealogy and birth records. He told me that if any information remained, the best I could hope for was confirmation that he’d been illegitimate, but not much beyond that. I waited for months for a reply and never received it. Educated guesses remain, but indisputable proof remains elusive.

Personally, I think that everyone who does not identity as heterosexual has a strong genetic history to back up who they are and what they are. Though this is not a hard and fast rule, many gay men and gay women share a particular physical look, vocal tone, and mannerisms. They may even find family members and other relatives in their immediate environment who confirm who they are. It should be noted, as well, that many LBGTs do not have these distinguishing characteristics and can competently pass for straight without much issue. Unless they closely observed my behavior and interests, few could pick me out of a lineup. I could always deny who I am for the sake of self-preservation. I’m certain other bisexuals have done the same thing.

Much of my mother’s family is closed off and not willing to discuss matters like these. I wonder how many of them harbor secrets regarding their sexual orientation. Bisexuality can be concealed in a way that homosexuality cannot. What I have already figured out is the manner by which my close relatives conceal their mental illness. Many are heavy drinkers, using alcohol to conceal their fears and phobias. My uncles are products of the rugged masculinity of the 1950’s, a time where every trace of effeminacy was to be hidden and never shown to others.

All I have going for me are educated guesses. If societal taboos had been less prominent in an older age, I might have more evidence. Like a scientist, I run my experiments and record my results, even if I’m not sure what they really mean. If the pace of acceptance towards those who are LGBT continues at a rapid clip, we might be farther along in our collective understanding. I can’t conclusively rule out environmental factors, but I believe in something close to a gay gene. There might be multiple gay genes in sequence, because easy answers regarding human biology are rare.

The Nazis tried to genetically eradicate homosexuals along with others they dubbed social inferiors. I was once afraid the identification of a gay gene might be used to isolate it and remove it from DNA sequences. We have never firmly established why homosexuality in any form even exists, though some have proposed it as a particularly persistent genetic mutation. The real reason may never be known, but I hope we have scientific confirmation with our own lifetime. Until that day, myself and others live our lives in a more tolerant age, although in no less perplexing fashion.

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