homosexuality

I watched 60 Minutes this past Sunday (March 12th) and the by far the most interesting of the 3 segments was the one on homosexuality.

The segment opened up with the camera entering a child's bedroom. The decor was stereotypical boy. GI Joes and cars, camoflauge drapes, video war game posters etc. Then the camera went across the hall and entered the other child's room. The contrast was strong--now the dominant color was pink and there were cute horses on the posters and stuffed animals on the bed.

It turns out that the two rooms both belong to boys, Jared and Adam. Identical twins, in fact. Since the past few decades have been filled with research suggesting the the roots of homosexuality are primarily genetic, for two children who are genetically identical to behave in such different ways, ways that suggest different sexual orientation, is quite startling. This point was made even more clear in an interview with an older pair of identical twin boys, these were in their 20s, one straight and one gay.

As a scientist this really fascinated me. There really is a lot of evidence pointing to a genetic basis for homosexuality but having identical twins develop like this causes some problems. The 60 Minutes segment did a wonderful job of developing those questions and giving what explanations as are known. It was evident that this is new work and a lot isn't understood yet. One of the examples was that the first born son in a family bears a 2% chance of being gay, but every subsequent male child born into the family has an increasing large chance of being gay. Researchers suspect that the mechanism here is the immune system of the mother reacting the the proteins coded for by the Y chromosone but it's not proven. Weirder still is the finding, made just in the past year, that this doesn't apply to males that are left handed. They always have the base level 2% chance of being gay. And none of this applies to girls at all.

Some of the work being done in animal models was covered. Footage was shown of rat studies that bear out the relationship between maternal hormone changes in utero with sexual orientation but the most interesting part was the twin studies, particularly of the young boys. 60 Minutes also included comparisons between archival home movie footage of kids with contemporary interviews with them. These were viewed by people that then evaluated the sexual orientation of the subjects both as kids and as adults. It was shocking to see how frequently the orientation was obvious even when the kids were 5 - 10 years old.

This raises the striking question--is homosexuality just about sex? To me, this suggests that who the person chooses to have sex with is just one small fragment of what being gay really means. I guess that really should be common sense. After all, we only have sex a few hours a week--if we're lucky-- but there's a total of 168 hours in a week. Why define people so strongly by who they have sex with rather than all the other myriad factors in their life. Just a thought.

I'll probably come back to this subject later on. The idea of sexual orientation coloring our entire existance is interesting and bears some contemplation. In any case, this was a very good segment. Anyone interested should go to the 60 Minutes website and check out the video segments they have there on this.

Comments

Teresa said…
There are 168 hours in a week, Dave.

There were some eerie results to some of those approaches to studying this issue, but I also wondered about the assertation that nurture wasn't a factor in some of the cases. A theory on raising twins is that you should help them develop separate interests so that they are more independent of each other and have their own identity. And when the young twins had separate bedrooms, that suggested to me that that is the case in this family. Also, the one who said he felt like a girl isn't necessarily a homosexual, so until that's determined later in life, the fact that his parents are allowing him to be girly seems more non-supportive than accepting of who he is, at least at this age. Don't get me wrong... I see nothing wrong with him being interesting in sterotypical "girl" things, but at that age both sexes cross over into the other's territory to some degree. This little boy didn't seem to be doing that at all. That seems to be an indication that he's not being encouraged to do so.

I also took exception to the notion that the mother is producing antibodies against the y-chromosome loose in her body. It's always the mothers fault! (rolling my eyes implied!) I blame the father. I've no proof, of course. But I think that it's possible that as a man ages, his genetic material alters creating a less testerone-laden child.

Neither the mother theory nor my father theory explains identical twins or lesbianism. But then again, while I do believe that some people are born homosexual, I also believe some people become gay later. I know that's not PC and I certainly don't mean that gay couples make gay children -- far from it.

Aren't you glad you brought this up?
Michelle said…
I didn't get to see the whole segment but it was very interesting. And I like the points you make. Nice post :)
Oreo said…
Well, if nothing else, the title of the post should get you LOTS of visits!! :)
utenzi said…
Teresa, I goofed on the hours and changed the number from 148 to 168. Thanks for noticing. I guess I was too tired last night to do simple calculations in my head.

I agree with you that the issue is very complicated and there's certainly a nurture element at work also. I don't think it's nearly as important as nature though.

I don't give any creedence to your idea about the male genetic material producing less testosterone in progeny as the male ages. The coding of DNA just doesn't seem to allow that problem. The biggest effect on reproduction as a male ages is that there's a much larger mutation rate in sperm and more and more of the sperm don't work right resulting in lower fertility. The explanation given tentatively in the show about the mothers immune responce doesn't explain the difference between right and left handed sons--so I don't think it works either as an explanation.

Michelle, thanks! It's always nice to get a visit from you. I hope to visit you also next time I get to Australia. LOL But it's just so damn far away!

Oreo, thanks, I think. You know--I never seem to see any mention of girl cats in your blog.... only squirrels and mice and cute toys. Hmmm. What a life!
Oreo said…
Utenzi, you must not be really reading it!! I just talked about my GIRLFRIEND the other day..... :P
utenzi said…
oops! I did miss the mention of Dimples. Sorry, Oreo!
stranger said…
i think studies such as this are erroneous from the start. relationships are always about more than just genetics. is anyone surprised when two identical twin males end up happily married to two very different women?
sophie said…
I found the same tidbits interesting as well. I had never heard about the older brother thing. The identical twins bring up so many questions about nature and nurture--these boys evidently had the same dose of both. Fascinating questions....who knows where the answers may lead us?
No_Newz said…
I can't begin to tell you how exciting this type of research is to me. I am also excited that it is finally being brought out of the closet so to speak. I had a friend when I was in grade school who I knew was gay. I don't think I even knew what gay really was, but I was sure her sexuality was different. Again, before I even knew what sexuality was. I'm going to blog about her some time soon. Thanks for the inspiration.
Lois Lane
Maritza said…
Fascinating topic. As to producing less male hormones causing homosexuality, I read somewhere (when I remember I'll post it) that homosexual MEN (study not done on gay women) actually have much higher testoterone levels than straight men.
I agree with you, Utenzi. Who you have sex with doesn't define you as gay/straight - I think it's who you fall in love with. Anyone can have sex, that's easy. Falling in love with someone of the same sex defines your sexuality.
Nikkij said…
i need clarification. these boys are so young. did 60 minutes actually say that the color pink and the preference for girl's toys makes the boy gay? if he's treated like he's gay because he likes these things, he most likely will end up gay. who says's he's just not straight with great style?
utenzi said…
Hey Nikkij. As I recall, when asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, the one boy said "a girl". Does that make him gay? No, of course not. It'll be years before his hormones kick in and he picks which gender to boink. But his gender identification is definitely atypical. Both boys interviewed great. It was a good lead-in to the segment.
yellojkt said…
That must have been a fascinating segment. My son has friends that are twins, one straight and one gay. I don't know if they are fraternal or identical.
jennypenny said…
I wish I could have seen this segment. There are so many debates on nature vs nurture on many things like character traits and such. I remember doing a lot of research on this in my university psych classes. It is just mind blowing when you try to figure it all out. Here from Michele's
Shane said…
i thought the punchline was gonna be the pink room was the straight kid and the one manly one was the gay twin.

cheers,

Shane
via Michele
WendyWings said…
My husband got married in a pink shirt and sleeps in a lavender painted room, I just think he has good taste personally.
Michele sent me tonight.
vanx said…
Hmmm...What will be done with the scientific data? Is the Bush administration funding the research?~,:^0
All right, this is officially the most politically-oriented comment I've ever posted anywhere. Political science?~,:^)
Nikki-ann said…
Wow, quite a subject for my post-work head to get around :) It just goes to show that identical twins aren't all that identical!

here via Michele's :)
Lora said…
Interesting article. It makes me think of genetic tendancy, like they were saying there is with schizophrenia.
Belinda said…
Since we missed this one, I'm really glad you "featured" it here. I'm going to the website to check out the videos now. Thanks!
Carmi said…
I can always count on you to take a topic of broad interest and find a completely new way to focus discussion on it.

I've written about this in earlier blog postings and columns. What strikes me about the more public - column - writing is how narrow-minded some folks are. As soon as they see the term "homosexual" in the headline or the lead paragraph, they gird themselves for a fight.

Before long, they're inundating my inbox with the same kind of vitriolic, homophobic patois that has been tossed around since long before we came to this planet.

To see such cogent discussion in your comments section is a joy to behold. I guess we have lots of research yet to do before we truly understand the roots of sexuality. Cool. Looks like I'll have lots to write about, too.
Pearl said…
Interesting report. Gayness, like gender, is made of many aspects.

Reminds me of something I saw in the Globe and Mail on March 11th on identical twins becoming different. Dr., Moshe Szyf at McGill is researching epigenetics, genetic changes that don't involve mutations in DNA. There's also a book called Divided Minds: Twin sisters and their journey through Schizophrenia (as one identical sister developed it but not the other).
Michelle said…
Hi Dave, having fun catching up on all your posts. This one i find fascinating. Twin studies are so important, yet very few are being done.
I myself am involved in research into twins separated at birth and the relationship to crime....some fascinating results emerging.

Have always said, homosexuality is not just about the sex.

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