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Text last updated 25 January 2017
Links last updated 7 May 2017
What is this about?
Are we born gay, or is it a choice? What is the evidence either way? Scientists continue to study us – and continue to come up with conflicting answers and theories.
Dr Michael Bailey, of Northwestern University, has been studying 400 sets of twins to determine if some men are genetically pre-disposed to being gay. The study found that gay men shared genetic signatures on part of the X chromosome. “Sexual orientation has nothing to do with choice. Our findings suggest there may be genes at play – we found evidence for two sets that affect whether a man is gay or straight. But it is not completely determinative; there are certainly other environmental factors involved. The study shows that there are genes involved in male sexual orientation. Although this could one day lead to a pre-natal test for male sexual orientation, it would not be very accurate, as there are other factors that can influence the outcome,” said Dr Bailey.
Dr Alan Sanders, associate Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern University, who led the study, said, “We don’t think genetics is the whole story. It’s not. We have a gene that contributes to homosexuality but you could say it is linked to heterosexuality. It is the variation.”
Some researchers believe that male homosexuality may be due to a gene carried by mothers. Homosexuality as a trait would not last long, as it discourages sex with women and therefore procreation. But a correlation has been found between gay men and their mothers and maternal aunts, who tend to have significantly more children than the relatives of straight men. This is the ‘balancing selection hypothesis’, which suggest that a gene which leads to homosexuality also leads to high reproduction among their female relatives, so while the ‘gay gene’ may not get passed down directly, it will survive through the generations via the family.
Since the 1970s, scientists have believed that oestrogen and testosterone were wholly responsible for sexually organising the brain. The Vilain study found that hormones cannot explain everything about the sexual differences between male and female brains. For example, the two hemispheres of the brain appeared more symmetrical in females than in males. The symmetry may improve communication between both sides of the brain, leading to enhanced verbal expressiveness in females, an anatomical difference which may explain why women can sometimes articulate their feelings more easily than men. These discoveries lend credence to the idea that being transgender – feeling that one has been born into the body of the wrong sex – is a state of mind.
The book Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sexual Orientation, by Qazi Rahman and Glenn Wilson concluded that being gay is nothing to do with your relationship with your mother, your father, or your best friend at boarding school; it is all in the genes. Other studies do not necessarily confirm that view.
Research by the University of Tennessee and the University of Missouri-Colombia in 2016 concluded that a large number of college students may believe people are born gay, but also believe that this makes them fundamentally different as people. Unfortunately they also think they’re not ‘different’ to straight people in other ways, a belief which flings open the door to prejudice and discrimination.
In 1977, Gallup reported that just over 10% of Americans thought gayness was something you were born with; that number has steadily risen over time and is currently somewhere between 42% and 50%, depending on the poll. Throughout the same period, the number of Americans who believe homosexuality is “due to someone’s upbringing/environment” fell from just under 60% to 37%.
Further articles continually appear espousing different theories. Does your Activist believe any of them?
The key facts regarding being born gay are generally held to be:
We usually feel that we were always this way.
We are usually aware of it quite young, but take some years to accept ourselves.
A range of methods have been tried over the decades to turn homosexuals back into heterosexuals. They range from counselling programmes to aversion programmes and medical operations. None of them work at all. For more information, see our page on Gay Cure and Ex-gay.
Our sexuality may be fixed or fluid. Whichever, it is a given, not a choice. You don’t choose to be straight or gay, you discover your sexuality. So your sexuality, whatever it is, is normal and natural, and is a matter for you to decide; it is not of concern to anyone else.
So: are we born gay, or is it a choice? How do you, yourself, feel? Do you feel that you were born gay? Then you were. Do you feel that you chose to be gay? Then you did. We’re all individuals, after all.
Acts of Parliament
Daily Mail, 13 June 2012: ‘Gay gene’ survives through generations as female relatives of homosexual men ‘have more babies’
Time, 2 July 2006: Born Gay: The Brother Factor
Irish Independent, 14 Feb 2014: ‘Gay gene’ is only one part of the story in determining sexuality
Guardian, 24 July 2015: Gay genes: science is on the right track
Western Daily Press, 22 November 2015: People really are born gay or straight
Metro, 10 February 2016: Being gay belief could make people more homophobic
Independent, 13 April 2016: Half of all people could be carrying gay genes
BBC Futures, 27 June 2016: I am gay but I wasn’t born this way
Scientific American, April 2017: Cross cultural evidence for the genetics of homosexuality
Daily Mail, 27 September 2017: A third of 16-22 year olds say they are gay or bisexual