Turning off the "gay gene"?
Martina Navratilova and other gay and lesbian observers have sounded the alarm about this work. The gay rams have a right to be what they are, Navratilova asserts. Andrew Sullivan puts the concern this way: “If you can figure out how to flip the gay switch off in sheep, how long will it be before someone tries to do the same in humans?”
“The good news, then, [Sullivan goes on to write] is that the empirical origins of sexual orientation are slowly being discovered. The bad news is that once discovered, they could be manipulated.” He doubts, however, that the procedures applicable to animals could be extended to human beings.
Well, why not? For some time evidence has been accumulating that indicates that there is indeed a genetic component in human same-sex behavior. The best evidence of this is the fact that identical twins show a much greater concordance for sexual orientation than do fraternal twins. At present we can assess the effect (at least up to a point), while the mechanism--commonly, but inaccurately termed the "gay gene"--remains elusive.
And so we come to the ultimate nightmare scenario. If the genetic triggers for homosexual orientation could be identified, then fetuses destined to be gay can be detected and aborted. Apparently this is already happening on a large scale with fetuses identified with Down’s Syndrome. Very few such bables are being born nowadays.
It does not seem, though, that the work in Oregon is leading in this direction. The efforts address indifference of male sheep to female sheep. This is by no means a problem with many human homosexuals, who gravitate to women as friends and, in some cases, are perfectly able to perform sexually in order to beget children. Call these last individual bisexuals if you will, but they exist. The bisexual phenomenon indicates that we are not dealing with a simple binarism of gay vs. straight, but with a behavioral spectrum, as Kinsey realized long ago.
There is another problem that concerns animal homosexuality, now so confidently asserted as a result of Bruce Bagemihl’s big book on the subject. Yes, various forms of same-sex behavior occur among animals. However, this behavior is quite variable, ranging from mounting behavior (perhaps better analyzed as dominance assertion) to female bird pairs who raise their young together. In short, while many forms of same-sex behavior are found among animals, no species reveals the complex phenomenon that characterizes erotic and loving homosexuality among human beings.
In the light of this complexity, it is unlikely that a single gene will ever be found that will “make people gay.” Instead, one should expect the interplay of a variety of genetic triggers. Moreover, environment will continue to play a part.
To put the matter in the vernacular: Some of us are born that way, the rest just get sucked into it.
When the genetic conditioning is better understood, it is still possible that some bigoted parents will want to abort in order to avert even the slightest possibility of a gay child. However, the Catch 22 is that many of these homophobic individuals are governed by religious allegiances that forbid abortion. So while they might like to do it, they won't. In this case, though, there could be serious psychological consequences for a gay child who is unwanted by his parents because he or she has been tagged as homosexual before birth. In such cases adoption by gay parents might be the solution.
Genetic advances are causing all sorts of consequences. With this prospect it is important to avoid alarmism, while at the same time realistically assessing the dangers that may ensue.