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Sexual Reorientation: The gay culture war is about to turn chemical.

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Sexual Reorientation: The gay culture war is about to turn chemical.

By William Saletan, Slate

Last month, when the California Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right, it repeatedly invoked the precedent of interracial marriage. An attorney involved in the case protested, "There is no evidence to establish that a homosexual lifestyle is an immutable characteristic such as race."

He's wrong. There's lots of evidence. More of it just came out this week. It's been driving the gay rights debate all along, away from the clutches of religion and into the clutches of science. The trend is inexorable, but its implications are about to change. The culture war over homosexuality is dying?and a chemical war is threatening to take its place.

Homosexuality used to be regarded as a lifestyle, something you freely chose or rejected. We discouraged, condemned, and punished it like any other sin.

Then along came science. Study after study found differences between gay and straight brains. Homosexuality came to be viewed less as a lifestyle and more as an orientation, too deeply rooted to be freely rejected. Gay activists embraced and trumpeted these studies. Public opinion shifted. Punishment and condemnation began to subside.

But the march of science into the gay brain hasn't stopped. It has continued, seeking to understand not just what doesn't cause homosexuality?playing with dolls, growing up with a strong mother, watching Will and Grace?but what does. And the more we understand these biological factors, the closer we get to being able to change them.

A new study, published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hints at what's coming. Previous gay-brain studies focused on structures or responses that might have been shaped by social interactions. To screen out social factors, authors of the new study relied on brain scans rather than behavioral responses, and they targeted structures known to form during or shortly after gestation. "That was the whole point of the study, to show parameters that differ, but which couldn't be altered by learning or cognitive processes," the lead author explains.

The sample consisted of 25 straight men, 25 straight women, 20 gay men, and 20 lesbians. In overall symmetry and amygdala activity, the brains of gay men resembled the brains of straight women, whereas the brains of lesbians resembled the brains of straight men. Previous work has connected such differences to fear, anxiety, aggression, and verbal, spatial, and navigational ability. It's not just a matter of preferring men or women. The broader implication, one expert argues, is that "in gay men, the brain is feminized."

Are the differences genetic? Not likely. "As to the genetic factors, the current view is that they may play a role in male homosexuality, but they seem to be insignificant for female homosexuality," the authors conclude. "Genetic factors, therefore, appear less probable as the major common denominator for all group differences observed here."

So, what's the common factor? If the study's design rules out learned influences, and if the results in women rule out genetics, that leaves what the authors call "hormonal influences" or noncognitive differences in the infant environment. According to the Guardian, the same research team has "begun another study to investigate brain symmetry in newborn babies, to see if it can be used to predict their future sexual orientation." If it can, that will scratch postnatal factors off the list, and the search will narrow to hormones in the womb. Already, the authors point to evidence that homosexuality may be caused by "under-exposure to prenatal androgens" in males and "over-exposure" in females.

Where science leads, technology follows. Two years ago, scientists in Oregon reported an attempt to "interfere with defeminization of adult sexual partner preferences" in sheep. Their method, as they described it, was to alter hormonal inputs in pregnant ewes "during the period of gestation when the sheep brain is maximally sensitive to the behavior-modifying effects of exogenous testosterone." When the attempt failed, they concluded that the dosage should be increased.

Would hormonal intervention work in humans? Should we try it? Some thinkers are intrigued. Last year, the Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote: "If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use." Mohler told the Associated Press that morally, this would be no different from curing fetal blindness or any other "medical problem." The Rev. Joseph Fessio, editor of the press that publishes the pope's work, agreed: "Same-sex activity is considered disordered. If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb ? that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science."

If the idea of chemically suppressing homosexuality in the womb horrifies you, I have bad news: You won't be in the room when it happens. Parents control medical decisions, and surveys indicate that the vast majority of them would be upset to learn that their child was gay. Already, millions are screening embryos and fetuses to eliminate those of the "wrong" sex. Do you think they won't screen for the "wrong" sexual orientation, too?

Liberals are slow to see what's coming. They're still fighting the culture war. The Toronto Star, like other papers, finds a neuroscientist who thinks the new study "should erode the moral judgments often made against homosexual preferences and rebut any argument that it is a mere a lifestyle choice." Well, yes. But then what? The reduction of homosexuality to neurobiology doesn't mean your sexual orientation can't be controlled. It just means the person controlling it won't be you.

2008 Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

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This article points to what I have continually thought would happen.

I have no pleasure in saying I told you so.

Permitting science to sustain that sexual orientation is due to genetic factors, (Note, I did not say 'fault') invites science to find a way to adjust the gene. Similarly, we can assess hormonal influences as a means to also 'make an adjustment.'

While the gene argument has been very useful in gaining acceptance for homosexuals and will continue to do so, most likely for some period of time, the above article does indeed point to 'moral' interference in the lives and prospective lives, of human beings.

The case for demanding the recognition of sexual orientation as an ethical basic human right, has never been as needed as it is now.

For this right to be observed, regard for sexual orientation must be disassociated from the 'morality' of imposed belief systems. (I am deliberately not pointing the finger at any particular religion or philosophy.)

Social group desires to control others by inflicting their beliefs and narrow definitions of life on others, is what really needs to be adjusted.

Even if homosexual orientation can be shown to be a biological, genetic or hormonal aberration, it must be safeguarded from manipulation purely on the grounds that the diversity of human experience has indeed evolved in many manifestations to enrich the human race beyond measure.

In short, we do not know enough, to attempt to eliminate a natural occurring human condition simply because some people believe it is 'wrong.'

Arguments that nature is making an error in sexual orientation, which humans can rectify is not only arrogant in the extreme, but raises the question of what if this desire to "correct" nature is also due to a genetic or hormonal aberration?

What is next? Adjust the hormones that let us feel and express grief, love and compassion for each other?

Even if we discovered that there was a chemical imbalance for hatred itself, could we really justify eradicating it by overriding our chance to reason with each other, through administering an adjustment which amounts to little more than a chemical lobotomy. That too would be an affront to the human condition in my opinion.

:icon_rabbit:

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Excellent essay, Des. I heartily endorse everything you've said. Well, except maybe for the part about not pointing a finger at certain religions and philosophies. Some of those desperately NEED a finger pointed at them.

It occurred to me while reading this that nature has a way of correcting things that upset her balance. Like the frogs that change their sex when an imbalance occurs in their population. It made me think that in the olden times, the purpose of life seemed to be to reproduce ourselves, and everything was pointed towards that goal. Today, one of the problems we have, a growing problem, is that there are getting to be too many people here. Some say we already have too many. If this is so, it's a natural imbalance between us and the plantet we live on.

This makes me think that, if they've now learned to 'correct' homosexuality in the womb, might that not mean they've also learned to induce it, and might saving the world at some point include producing more and more homosexuals in the hopes that the creation of more and more children is abated?

Maybe this science will in the end be used more as a way of slowing population growth, and instead of erasing homosexuality, will increase it.

C

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Excellent essay, Des. I heartily endorse everything you've said. Well, except maybe for the part about not pointing a finger at certain religions and philosophies. Some of those desperately NEED a finger pointed at them.

It occurred to me while reading this that nature has a way of correcting things that upset her balance. Like the frogs that change their sex when an imbalance occurs in their population. It made me think that in the olden times, the purpose of life seemed to be to reproduce ourselves, and everything was pointed towards that goal. Today, one of the problems we have, a growing problem, is that there are getting to be too many people here. Some say we already have too many. If this is so, it's a natural imbalance between us and the planet we live on.

This makes me think that, if they've now learned to 'correct' homosexuality in the womb, might that not mean they've also learned to induce it, and might saving the world at some point include producing more and more homosexuals in the hopes that the creation of more and more children is abated?

Maybe this science will in the end be used more as a way of slowing population growth, and instead of erasing homosexuality, will increase it.

C

Thanks Cole,

Before we do that however, it might be advisable to wait and see if, once there is global acceptance for sexual orientation, the natural occurrence of homosexuality is sufficient in itself to stem the tide of overpopulation. Of course some dogmas will need to be addressed.

The difficulty here, will be in getting the global acceptance necessary for the individual to be allowed to develop as nature intended, cultural obstacles notwithstanding.

That, highlights the urgency of liberating minds from those narrow beliefs which stifle the recognition, let alone the pursuit, of reason and compassion. It is essential to achieve this without resorting to violent conflict.

So I do not think we need to induce homosexuality. My thought would be along the lines that if people are not conditioned to think of it as wrong, they will be open to accept homosexuality; even explore it. As such, lovers would be accepted regardless of gender and without guilt, in an equilibrium of love.

I see no justification to consider that homosexuality is in anyway an abnormality waiting or needing to be corrected.

Indeed I see only danger for our sentience if we should proceed down that path of trying to adjust it.

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Can we seriously think that there will be no genetic tinkering to 'correct' things that are now corrected with pharmaceuticals? We already try to eliminate anger, curiosity, love, sadness with drugs, and are willing to ignore the known and indeed, unknown, side effects. I have also read that they (the big mysterious THEY) have developed drugs to administer to troops so that they don't get slowed down by compassion. It won't be too long before human compassion will be breed out of soldiers. What happens then, who knows. It is addressed somewhat in Dan Kirk's Dreams of Humanity. At some point we will have to wrestle to produce a more realistic definition of 'human', needing to cover genetically modified people in them. But will genetic modifications to brain and psyche, rather than just physical attributes allow those so modified to remain human? How much, and which mental modifications could be done before the resultant being could no longer be considered human?

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I should mention that had I been modified to not be gay, I'd know no different and would feel quite fine about it. If I had been modified to become a female instead of a male, the same would apply. The insult (quite aside from the danger) is in the choice of what is unacceptable to be born as, but it will not have a negative impact on the child that results, as this child will be more like what was wanted by the parents, not less. While a sad commentary on the parents, it will be a benefit to the child.

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To completely belabour the point, you'd not be nearly as happy with your pizza if you could only order pizza and get some random product. Surely your pleasure is greater when you get what you wish for. I really can't blame those ordering their desire to choose, but people being what they are, we'd end up with pretty much the same pizza or two being ordered all the time.

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Like it or not, I think this is the natural progression of science. Eventually, I think we will be able to control many factors of our children while in utero, and I'm not sure if it's necessarily a bad thing to allow the parents to choose sexual orientation.

Let's face it: everything is stacked against gay people in real life. Everything from insurance to taxes to jobs, government issues (like inheritance)... there's a lot of hurdles to cross. And that's in addition to just the typical bullsh!t prejudice you get from random people.

The good thing about this kind of genetic "tinkering" is that maybe they'll at last be able to eliminate true genetic defects (and I don't include being gay among them). If they can stop mental retardation, missing limbs, certain kinds of cancer, blindness, etc., then I for one will applaud.

I suspect getting to the core of the "gay gene" (or whatever you want to call it) will be so difficult, that'll be way down at the end of the list. I'd want much more for my kid to be smart and have no physical defects before I'd worry about anything beyond that -- straight, gay or otherwise.

Note this central idea was a Showtime sci-fi TV movie a few years ago, where two parents are about to have a child, and the doctors inform them that the kid is going to be gay. I think they have a choice between deciding whether to leave him as-is, or to abort. I can't remember the name of the film, or the ending. Anybody remember this story?

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There of course is a model we can use to see what happens when we allow parents to make choices. We'd like to think they'd be enlightened, both the parents and the choices, but in reality it probably wouldn't work that way.

In the early 80's, the Red Chinese decided to reduce population growth by enacting a one child only per family policy. The ramifications weren't what they envisioned. Rather that accepting what they got, parents allowed some undesirable children to die so they could have another one and hope for better results. Unfortunately, China, like other Asian countries, has a population that favors sons over daughter, and the result of the policy was that 'undesirable' was often translated to mean girls, and daughters were abandoned in favor of sons.

Tinkering with our chlidren in utero would very likely also have unforseen results.

C

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We are not talking about pizzas. That is the thing here. We already know about chemical adjustments in other areas.

It is not whether the individual is unknowingly happy or not with the adjustment, or even if it is viable, but whether it is necessary and moreover who is so omniscient that they dare assume they know that a child should be born with a particular orientation, particularly when we cannot claim decisively that the orientation should be this, that or otherwise.

At the most advanced level, we owe it to the future of the human race to withstand any kind of manipulation that would affect human sentience until we know our actions are either not harmful to our potential or at least are reversible.

As I have said previously in another thread, the risk is the Borg (from Star Trek).

Even though this discussion is unlikely to contribute to the overall decisions in this matter, it is still justifiable to warn of consequences as we see them.

At the moment, I think we might say the result, let alone the means, is on the path to being inhuman.

Currently I wouldn't see it as a benefit to the child at all. In fact there may well be a terrific story to tell in such a scenario. Who is happiest? The heterosexual who never has to question who he is? Or the homosexual who goes through a long and arduous self questioning, before accepting himself? It is not that the heterosexual cannot go through the same process, but that the gay man eventually must, if he is to accept himself.

That is part of what it is to be gay in today's current narrow minded definition of human. Expand the definition of human to encompass homosexual and you do not need to adjust genes, or hormones.

My contention is that homosexuality is considered a flaw, only because we do not recognise it is not a flaw. It is a natural part of being human.

Gay liberation must decide if it wishes to make that part of its agenda.

The human race must decide just how human it wishes to remain in relation to its origins.

Pecman, Yes I think I remember seeing at least a similar film.

Strangely this is an issue beyond the individual when it comes to the ethics.

It is not the practical benefits that is the consideration of such manipulation; the necessity is to discuss the ethics of altering what we are, how our potential may be reconciled into something less than what we might otherwise become as a race of sentient beings.

Caution alone is not near good enough.

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First off, I know we are not talking about pizzas. My point with that was simply to point out that I understand that people prefer choice in whatever they get, but are remarkably similar in their choices, resulting in less diversity than is healthy, or fun.

Currently I wouldn't see it as a benefit to the child at all. In fact there may well be a terrific story to tell in such a scenario. Who is happiest? The heterosexual who never has to question who he is? Or the homosexual who goes through a long and arduous self questioning, before accepting himself? It is not that the heterosexual cannot go through the same process, but that the gay man eventually must, if he is to accept himself.

Sadly, you seem to have discounted the last of your own points. "IF he is to accept himself" is the crux of the issue when it comes to happiness. Sure, as long as the 1st two results are achieved, there is no issue, but a lot of times it is the last one that is dominant in numbers, and that makes me pause a bit in my evaluations. I am reminded of that song, "A Boy Named Sue", who was given this rather painful name to ensure he grows up tough. Is it worth it, when he might just have killed himself instead?

More worrisome, to me, is the thought that parents who do not modify their children in utero to conform to some societal expectations may condemn their child to live with even more prejudice and condemnation than may already be the case. We can see this type of thing already with the arguments about having a deaf child and then not allowing that child to have an implant.

I shudder at the seeming desire of the human race to have everyone the same, whilst spouting on about the wonders of diversity. We see it again in the desires of parents to raise their kids to behave the same way as they do themselves, and then condemning the child for being that way.

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First off, I know we are not talking about pizzas. My point with that was simply to point out that I understand that people prefer choice in whatever they get, but are remarkably similar in their choices, resulting in less diversity than is healthy, or fun.

Yes, Trab I agree with that.

Sadly, you seem to have discounted the last of your own points. "IF he is to accept himself" is the crux of the issue when it comes to happiness. Sure, as long as the 1st two results are achieved, there is no issue, but a lot of times it is the last one that is dominant in numbers, and that makes me pause a bit in my evaluations. I am reminded of that song, "A Boy Named Sue", who was given this rather painful name to ensure he grows up tough. Is it worth it, when he might just have killed himself instead?

I don't think this is quite a valid criticism. Perhaps I was not clear. The heterosexual is mostly not confronted by his sexuality to question himself, the gay man is; but only if he is aware of his attraction to other men. Neither did I mean for this to be taken as an argument in favour of allowing or making a child to be gay in order for him to accept himself through self-questioning. That as you say would be as wrong as calling the boy, Sue. I was stating the condition of the fact that the gay child , once he is aware of his sexuality, will be more likely to question himself. This self questioning is necessary if he is to accept himself as gay. He will then have chance to be happy with his sexuality. It is of course only a chance as other forces, such as acceptance by others may devalue his happiness. These are observations, not directions for being happy.

Such unhappiness as exists arises from lack of acceptance by others after he has accepted his own sexuality. Even then he may not like what he is.

I repeat, my contention is that homosexuality is considered a flaw, only because we do not recognise it is not a flaw. It is a natural part of being human.

More worrisome, to me, is the thought that parents who do not modify their children in utero to conform to some societal expectations may condemn their child to live with even more prejudice and condemnation than may already be the case. We can see this type of thing already with the arguments about having a deaf child and then not allowing that child to have an implant.

I repeat, my contention is that homosexuality is considered a flaw, only because we do not recognise it is not a flaw. It is a natural part of being human.

I shudder at the seeming desire of the human race to have everyone the same, whilst spouting on about the wonders of diversity. We see it again in the desires of parents to raise their kids to behave the same way as they do themselves, and then condemning the child for being that way.

On this last point you have no disagreement from me, which from my perspective, means we have a similar outlook and concerns.

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Relax. The chances that medicine can be so precise are absolutely nil.

When we look at identical twin studies we see that the very same zygote can be exposed to the same hormonal mixture and there is still a random probability distribution ==> sexual orientation.

This implies a random biochemical process that takes place at or near the molecular level.

Controlling or manipulating this process is a very UNLIKELY to be developed as a medical procedure because the potential for great harm is too great. If you thought DES babies were a serious fuk-up, just wait until some idiot tries to "adjust" fetal sexual orientations.

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At the most advanced level, we owe it to the future of the human race to withstand any kind of manipulation that would affect human sentience until we know our actions are either not harmful to our potential or at least are reversible.

I see your point, but I don't necessarily agree. I admit that there would be a temptation to tamper to the point where we start to develop [in a heavy German accent] "a super race of men."

Hey, but look at it this way: if you could flip a few genetic switches and give your child an IQ of 180, blue eyes, blond hair, no risk of cancer, athletically inclined, good-looking, (and let's throw in hung like a horse), who could resist that?

I've wondered how long it will take before scientists will be able to genetically re-engineer existing humans, so that maybe nanotechnology or some other breakthrough would actually let us re-shape our existing bodies. We could live forever, change our appearance, eliminate all disease and aging... it's a very tempting proposition.

I suspect we won't live to see it, but we're already seeing the beginning of it happening. If this kind of science is forbidden in some countries, you know it's going to be put under heavy research in other, less-restrictive countries. I've heard that Korea is already at the forefront in cloning; I wouldn't be surprised if they manage to figure out how to tweak the DNA of unborn children, too.

But I agree with Mr. Savik that it's an almost insurmountable task. I believe I once read that the DNA between a chimp and a man are something like 99% identical. Think of what the genetic differences are between, say, a good-looking, perfect young man and a hideous, crippled old man (or vice-versa). Trying to find these genetic switches will be worse than looking for a needle in a haystack. More like looking for a molecule inside a puddle.

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Trab, I looked at my reply which I made in the middle of my night. I think I seemed a bit crabby. Sorry if I did, it wasn't my intention. I was half asleep.

I actually think you raised some good points.

It is so easy to think we are saying one thing when in fact we mean something else, and there is always the possibility of being misunderstood.

Thanks for your gracious comment.

aj, I'm glad you agree.

Jamessavik, I hope the DES babies comment is not referring to my unknown offspring. Your comment about some idiot who "tries to "adjust" fetal sexual orientations," when combined with your 'random biochemical process' I believe, indicates my concern is reasonable, that caution alone, is nowhere near sufficient to safeguard humanity.

The Pecman, as I stated, the issue here goes beyond the individual or personal ethics. Flicking switches to ensure certain characteristics in the unborn child is to some degree addressed by Jamessavik's idea of the unreliability of the 'random biochemical process', with which you seem to have some sympathy, as do I.

In any case I am not so concerned here with *beneficial* attributes being assigned to the fetus as much as I wish to avoid a Frankenstein scenario having far reaching consequences unleashed on the race itself. Best intentions are just not good enough.

Reversing the characteristics of old age in the individual is an ethical question in itself. Most current treatments for crippled old age are working within the limits of cosmetic appearance, enabling mobility, or forestalling death itself. Although, the quality of life can itself be improved beyond the normal aging catastrophes via purely supplementary means that the medical profession seem intent on ignoring.

'A good-looking, perfect young man' to whom you refer has many manifestations, all of them perfect; just ask any youth, they will tell you how perfect they are. I thought that the Human Genome Project was going to reveal or at least 'map' such differences (amongst other things) as occur between age and youth?

Also we might have some worry about the 'hung like a horse' idea. There is such a thing as being too big, you know. However, I would think some degree of minimum length combined with suppleness of the body would have desirable auto-fellatio benefits. But I fear not too many parents would place a high priority tick in that box. :wav:

Please do not think I am reacting against science and its benefits and advancements for the human race. I am not. I wouldn't be here at all if it were not for the early exploratory work for open heart surgery.

The basis of my concern is that we do not invite changes to the human condition that are deleterious to our potential either as a race or to individual freedom of experience. That these changes might be done in the name of some dogma or for some social concept renders the issues to be considered for ethical discussion in defiance of those dogmas. Not easy.

In all of these points, there are considerable topics and material for authors to utilise in stories around those issues if not the ethics involved.

These do not have to be heavy treatises on ethics or even scientific fact. Just good stories exploring the subject or just as a background to a story.

Artistically, the gay agenda may well find its way into some of the exposition from both political and personal points of view.

I would like to see someone attempt even a token story around these issues, if not in detail, then certainly as an influence.

And they can be as romantic as you like, as gay as you like, because we haven't manipulated those genes out of our existence, yet...that we know about, anyway.

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DES (Diethylstilbestrol) is a drug: an orally active synthetic nonsteroidal estrogen that was first synthesized in 1938. In 1971 it was found to be a teratogen when given to pregnant women.

Teratology (from the Greek τέρᾰς (genitive τέρᾰτος), meaning monster, or marvel and λόγος, meaning word, speech) In contemporary usage, the term teratology generally refers to disfiguring birth defects or malformations. Another term for this is dysmorphology, meaning "the study of abnormal form."

In the early seventies, DES was given to pregnant women with various problems. Originally it was considered safe and effective for both mother and child. It was not until ~1971 that in some women, DES caused very serious consequences that lasted for generations.

1st generation- women are at increased risk for breast cancer.

2nd generation- both women and men are at greatly increased risk for cancer. The incidence of horrific and catastrophic birth defects in children is increased 20X.

3rd generation- Third generation injuries are associated with preterm labor or deliveries resulting in premature birth and cerebral palsy, blindness, catastrophic birth defect or deformity, other neurological deficits or death of a child.

Another study suggested that the effect of DES might be transgenerational, meaning that the maternal grandmother had taken DES while pregnant but the mother did not experience any health problems associated with the DES exposure. Injury may skip a generation and fall upon the grandchild with the incidence of serious clear celled cancers or terminal birth defects.

Birth defects associated with DES are the stuff of horror movies- so rare and devastating that many did not live very long. I will list a few here to completely disgust and freak out the reader- the brain develops outside the skull, the spine develops outside the body, the baby is born without skin, no arms or legs develop, the lungs fail to develop, the heart fails to develop, the brain is damaged or fails to develop, the endocrine system malfunctions catastrophically, non-symmetric development.

DES was approved and tested by the FDA. It was judged safe and effective but no one had foreseen its cross generational effects. It became one of medicines open but dirty little secrets and one of the prime reasons that doctors, the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry at large are so very conservative in prescribing drugs to pregnant women.

The DES experience is a big reason why no pharmaceutical companies or insurance carriers would ever underwrite the research and/or development of test and or a therapy for sexual orientation selection. The liability for such research is incalculable.

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