Goodbye Normal Genes

Culture, Science, The Life of the Mind

Those whom the gods would destroy, they first render in the unconditional declarative on Facebook:

genes

Click. The same revelations reappear, hedged around by caveats like the lonely straight girl in a gay bar. Oh, our genes—notice the plural?—could make us gay . . . or straight. The flight from pure causality continues in the text, which departs even the territory of sexual difference for an and-everything-in-between taxonomy of non-classification. Evolutionary biology, ladies and gentlemen, where some (or all) of our characteristics and behaviors are determined (in part, possibly) by some (or all) of our genes (among other factors).

By the end, we’re back in Kinsey scale territory:

It’s a bit like height, which is influenced by variants in thousands of genes, as well as the environment, and produces a “continuous distribution” of people of different heights. At the two extremes are the very tall and the very short.

In the same way, at each end of a continuous distribution of human mating preference, we would expect the “very male-loving” and the “very female-loving” in both sexes.

Gay men and lesbian women may simply be the two ends of the same distribution.

Ooooo, girl.

The desire to ratify scientifically our moral and social and economic postures and preferences is part of a generally cowardly morality that takes a look at some vile human prejudice and goes off searching for a pipette and a bell curve as a counter-scripture to whatever Bronze-Age prejudice a misunderstood God re-dredged up every time a louche Hellenism threatened to make Western civilization vaguely civilized. I’m glad that this fuzzy evidence is being wielded in favor of gay equality; I’m gay, after all. But I can’t help but see it as the boneheaded inverse of all the The New Republicans, Dark Enlightenment dweebs, and other direly self-afflicted determinist assholes forever trying to prove with the modern-day phrenology of intelligence testing that The Blacks Are Stupider. “We’re just asking the questions!” Yeah, yeah. Some of my best friends are black.

I’m sure genetic inheritance and gene expression do influence sexuality; likewise, intelligence and hair color and the desire to eat, or not to eat, cilantro; but the desperate reductivism that keeps popping up to declare that this or that immensely complex trait is the result of some butterfly-pinned nucleotide—and the attendant desire to draw some kind of socioeconomic conclusion therefrom—reeks of both the alchemical and the eugenic. God, remember the study about the genetic basis of American political affiliation? That’s what I’m talking about.

This is like when that weird-looking National Review gnome appeared a few days ago to declare that Laverne Cox is biologically not a woman and the Internet bravely rushed in to declare that scientifically she is. “He doesn’t understand the complexity . . .” And we were all treated to a series of semi-coherent expostulations on various human intersex conditions, as if that has anything to do with the social right of an autonomous human individual to decide whether she wants to live her life as a man or a woman or both or neither, less yet to determine against which physical expression of our species rather aesthetically unfortunate genital she wishes to press her own. If we make the concretized and inevitably temporary axioms of popular (I emphasize) science the preconditions of moral acceptability, then we are in big trouble, people. If Laverne Cox decides tomorrow that she wishes to be referred to by the pronoun Qfwfq  and that her gender is henceforth Parthogenetic Quintsexual Proteus Universal then it’s still no skin off my ass, whether ratified by double-blind or by dungeon-master.

Consider the study at hand. What it proposes, in fact, is that with the exception of a relatively small population on the long tails of the normal distribution, human sexuality exists along a fluctuating continuum, and even as one of those, ahem, long-tailed lovers myself, I can assure you all that some element of choice is involved in the expression of sexuality, gender, etc.—for me, to a lesser degree; for the Kinsey 4s out there, perhaps more. I went through periods of greater and lesser effeminacy (apologies for the word choice), especially earlier in my life; I’ve never been especially sexually interested in women, but I’ve certainly be attracted to them, sometimes, especially with close friends, with an intensity that shades into eroticism. Sexual morals should be built on the tripartite foundation of autonomy, self-determination, and consent, not on some fanciful on-off switch in the cells.

18 thoughts on “Goodbye Normal Genes

  1. What I’ve never understood about the “choice or genetics” debate about homosexuality is that people are using the same arguments to come to the exact opposite conclusions as they do in every other field of human endeavor.

    Think about alcoholism, or depression; there has been a big push in the last few decades to emphasize that these things aren’t choices, that they’re illnesses or genetic predispositions that sufferers will always struggle with.

    And what was the conclusion we drew from that? That sufferers deserved extensive, ongoing psychiatric treatment.

    We didn’t throw up our hands and go, “Well, I guess now we’ve proven that we have to let alcoholics drink as much as they want!”

    Even if you did find the “gay gene” that wouldn’t actually be any kind of argument against bigotry. Hell, it would barely be an argument for politeness; a family might have to take extreme punitive measures against an addict, so why wouldn’t they cut off their gay son to get the same result?

    And, on the other hand, the fact that something is a choice doesn’t make it bad or wrong; If I say that Rosa Parks chose to work for the civil rights movement, have I in any way degraded or trivialized her or her work?

    There’s not one single other issue I can think of where calling something genetic justifies it or calling it a choice trivializes it.

    So I really just can’t fathom the attachment to the idea that gay is not a choice. It’s not like bigotry towards homosexuals would be at all justified even if homosexuality were a shallow fashion choice.

    If Laverne Cox decides tomorrow that she wishes to be referred to by the pronoun Qfwfq and that her gender is henceforth Parthogenetic Quintsexual Proteus Universal then it’s still no skin off my ass, whether ratified by double-blind or by dungeon-master.

    This too. I see no reason to go out of my way to make Laverne Cox feel shitty.

  2. In the ’80s, some, believe it or not, were forced to wear Jordache, most definitely the kind that put one on the gayer end of the spectrum. Chalk up one more vote for parents.

  3. …Gay men and lesbian women may simply be the two ends of the same distribution.
    So how does that explain bisexuality, or celibacy for that matter. Or is there yet some undiscovered “horndog” gene?

  4. i sold my SNAP benefits for 15 minutes with a crack whore. can i have a gene for that? make it a double, one for me & one for her.

    Despite the ever-prevalent fetish for proving blacks are dumb, perhaps the real issue is proving inherited wealth is genetic.

  5. so maybe, it’s not a choice for the outliers? not sure i would settle on “choice,” (as a direly self-afflicted determinist myself,) but for those under the bell along the Kinsey scale, it’s as good a way as any to say it succinctly. sexual expression is certainly something that can be influenced by a myriad of factors aside from genetics. for instance, i’m way gayer now than i was back when one would get beat up at the school bus stop for being different in any way. (“way gayer” meaning more willing to admit certain impulses and past, uh, deeds.) roped into monogamy years ago, the repression, in significant ways, remains.

  6. “I’ve never been especially sexually interested in women, but I’ve certainly be attracted to them, sometimes, especially with close friends, with an intensity that shades into eroticism”

    Jacob reflects upon his own HETEROnoesis, despite having never given credit where credit is due for the for codification of HOMOnoesis.

    Ah well, a prophet is not without honor except chez IOZ ..

  7. Evolution: A View from the 21st Century is a very worthwhile read on the subject. The author goes so far as to reject the whole concept of the gene/genes altogether–a view apparently growing traction in the actual scientific community. It’s looking more and more likely organisms have some agency over how to utilize genetic structures like DNA–that are genes are more like a pantry full of ingredients one can pull from as needed than immutable firmware perpetually–errors (“mutations”) aside–feeding out a control sequence.

  8. Leonard won’t like this. Come to think of this, that’s the first time Monsieur takes on the neoreacts in such direct language. Doesn’t he know that men are stronger than women?(??)

    1. I rebutted, but it is stuck in moderation. Just so ya know. You are certainly right that men are stronger than women. But I think IOZ knows it too.

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