Gays and genetics
Gays and genetics
by Jennifer Vanasco - SGN Contributing Writer

In the worldview of evolutionary biology, if genes and behaviors aren't useful, they die out.

If you're Gay, you are less likely to produce biological children (or were, before IVF and the Gayby boom). So why does Gayness still exist?

I can think up a hundred answers to that question: an omnivorous sexuality that seems to exist in most creatures; the pressures of various ancient- and not-so-ancient sexually segregated societies; the rich and artistic communities Gay people tend to form; the wish to cultivate an outsider identity.

Science, so far, has come up with two.

Of course, what science is looking at is homosexuality, not Gayness - that is, they're specifically looking at why men have the urge to sleep with other men (women, it seems, are too complicated to figure out.).

Still, I don't like the question. Why does Gayness need to be explained? Why do scientists need to act like it's a problem, like diabetes, or - in a new paper - like sickle cell anemia?

We've heard before that evolution might have kept Gayness because Gay people are the actual village that raises the child, contributing extra helping hands.

In the most recent study, researchers point out something interesting: the rate of male homosexuality is low but stable throughout a range of societies; and the female relatives of Gay men produce more children than other women.

Journalist William Saletan in Slate asks, if this reasoning becomes common wisdom, "Would male androphilia [the attraction of men to other men] be treated like sickle-cell anemia - the unfortunate cost of a genetic mutation that's beneficial in other people? We medicate sickle cell anemia. Would we medicate homosexuality?"

That's what I worry about, too. In a press release, the scientists - of course - were jubilant. The study, they say, shows that "homosexuality should not be viewed as a detrimental trait (due to the reduced male fecundity it entails), but, rather, should be considered within the wider evolutionary framework of a characteristic with [female] gender-specific benefits." Look! Homosexuality is natural! And beneficial! It actually helps populate the earth!

Sure. OK. But we know that people don't really believe the trope that "Gay people shouldn't get married because they can't bear children," because nobody believes it of infertile couples. No, statements like that are after-the-fact rationalizations to dismiss people that other people don't like, or find repugnant.

No matter what the science says, people who hate Gay people will continue to hate them. I bet you anything that if right wingnuts were to discover that you could test for homosexuality before birth, that adjustments would suddenly be made in the abortion crusade. The phase would become, "Abortion should be illegal, except in the case of rape, incest, danger to the mother, or genetic homosexuality."

Yes, the science behind Gayness is interesting, and yes, science is cool for its own sake, and, sure, science doesn't commit genocide, it's people who use science who commit genocide.

But I think the question, "Is homosexuality genetic, or hormonal, or a result of the environment?" needs to stop being asked.

About 12 percent of women in the US are infertile. Why is nobody asking what the "evolutionary reason" behind that is? (I don't like the comparison between infertility and Gayness, because it is clear Gay people actually do have children - but you see what I'm getting at.) Better, perhaps: Why don't we ask about the "evolutionary reason" behind people who are baseball fanatics? Or the "evolutionary reason" behind having a best friend? Or liking to eat in a restaurant? Or dressing differently for different occasions?

Sometimes, the answer is not what matters - it is the question. And biologists continue to frame homosexuality as a conundrum to be solved, instead of a quirky, accepted fact of human existence, like so many other quirky, accepted facts. Once in a while you hear about someone looking into the science behind people who believe in religion, but not often. People don't go on Nightline to ask, "Is belief in God a choice? Or is it in our genes?"

So let me say this: It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if homosexuality arises from genes or hormones or parenting or being around a hot football coach. Diversity is beautiful, and we are part of that rainbow. Homosexuality is not a moral evil and causes no harm to society - is it simply a variety of human.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. E-mail her at She edits the Gay political blog