August 26th, 2016

More on the question of whether gay or transgendered people are born that way

This old question has been in the news again recently because of the publication of a massive study on the subject that’s just been published, written by two Johns Hopkins affiliated professors, Laurence Mayer and Paul McHugh, that says there’s little to no scientific evidence that people are born with those traits.

If you want to read the entire article—it’s long—the whole thing can be found online here

A few points I’ll make at the outset:

(1)) Anyone who’s followed research in the field should already know that the evidence for an absolute biological genetic cause for either of the phenomena is murky, but that there has been strong evidence of a genetic contribution that is not trifling. That evidence has come from twin concordance studies (particularly concerning homosexuality), which I’ve already written about at some length in the addendum of this post.

So I fail to see how this Johns Hopkins article is news, but I suppose it is news in the sense that there are a lot of people politically devoted to a less nuanced point of view on either side, and the ones who are into strict heritability of the traits will be up in arms.

(2) McHugh is a psychiatrist at Hopkins who has previously written similar articles, particularly about the treatment of transgendered people. I wrote about one of these articles before here. Hopkins was a pioneer in sex-reassignment surgery and has since backed off from doing it because of problems with poor outcomes, and McHugh is nothing if not a controversial figure as a result.

I haven’t read the entire article, which is 143 pages long, but I immediately went to the section on sexual identity and then scrolled down to the portion on twin concordance. There I found this:

One powerful research design for assessing whether biological or psychological traits have a genetic basis is the study of identical twins. If the probability is high that both members in a pair of identical twins, who share the same genome, exhibit a trait when one of them does — this is known as the concordance rate — then one can infer that genetic factors are likely to be involved in the trait. If, however, the concordance rate for identical twins is no higher than the concordance rate of the same trait in fraternal twins, who share (on average) only half their genes, this indicates that the shared environment may be a more important factor than shared genes…

…[W]ell-designed twin studies examining the genetics of homosexuality indicate that genetic factors likely play some role in determining sexual orientation. For example, in 2000, psychologist J. Michael Bailey and colleagues conducted a major study of sexual orientation using twins in the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Twin Registry, a large probability sample, which was therefore more likely to be representative of the general population than Kallmann’s.[33] The study employed the Kinsey scale to operationalize sexual orientation and estimated concordance rates for being homosexual of 20% for men and 24% for women in identical (maternal, monozygotic) twins, compared to 0% for men and 10% for women in non-identical (fraternal, dizygotic) twins.[34] The difference in the estimated concordance rates was statistically significant for men but not for women. On the basis of these findings, the researchers estimated that the heritability of homosexuality for men was 0.45 with a wide 95% confidence interval of 0.00–0.71; for women, it was 0.08 with a similarly wide confidence interval of 0.00–0.67. These estimates suggest that for males 45% of the differences between certain sexual orientations (homosexual versus heterosexuals as measured by the Kinsey scale) could be attributed to differences in genes…

…a heritability estimate of 0.45 does not mean that 45% of sexuality is determined by genes. Rather, it means that 45% of the variation between individuals in the population studied can be attributed in some way to genetic factors, as opposed to environmental factors…

…[In another study, the] values indicate that, while the genetic component of homosexual behavior is far from negligible, non-shared environmental factors play a critical, perhaps preponderant, role. The authors conclude that sexual orientation arises from both heritable and environmental influences unique to the individual, stating that “the present results support the notion that the individual-specific environment does indeed influence sexual preference.”

I could go on—the article certainly does—but I’ve not read most of it yet and so I’ll stop there. Suffice to say that I fully expect the answer to be some variation on the theme “it’s nature and nurture, and we don’t know the exact combination of each.” Which would make these things not so very different from many many other things in life, and somewhat of a mystery, which is where I’m at on it.

That makes me a non-militant on the subject. But I find it rather fascinating, and also somewhat irrelevant in that I think the issue of the rights of each group is separate from the issue of the traits’ heritability. That last bit puts me quite in the minority, I think, because a lot of people are invested in the question of heritability because they believe that the question of rights depends on it.

[NOTE: I’ve already opined on my stance on gay heritability and rights, and also about transgender treatment policies here, here, and here.]

[NOTE II: There’s a great deal more research on twin concordance in gay people than in transgendered people. I believe that’s because the first subject has been studied for a longer time, but more importantly because it is far more common in the population and therefore it is easier to find experimental subjects. The McHugh article cites only one twin study on transgenderism, as far as I can tell, and that one is a case study involving two cases, which can tell us little about anything but those cases.

I was unable to find good studies on the subject; in a quick Google search, this was about it, and I’m not sure how reputable a study that is, although the results seem to fall into a similar camp to those of the gay studies on twin corcordance. At any rate, we already know that identical twin concordance for transgenderism is far from perfect, as evidence by the photos in this post of mine.]

22 Responses to “More on the question of whether gay or transgendered people are born that way”

  1. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I could care less whether it’s inheritable or not. That it’s a mix of nature and nurture seems fairly clear.

    The most plausible ‘evidence’ that resonates with me, for it being mostly ‘nature’ is the implication inherent in the question; if it’s a choice, when did you decide to ‘choose’ to be heterosexual?

    My concerns center around marriage as a foundational societal pillar and children’s welfare.

    I object to same sex marriage first because it moves marriage from a biologically objective determinant to an arbitrary, subjective determinant that is legally unsustainable. And secondly, because by definition two men or women cannot provide an opposite sex parental role model to a child.

    I object to the use of female facilities by biological males because it is an invitation to sexual assault and pedophilia.

  2. Fred Says:

    Well said Geoffrey Britain
    Neo
    So I fail to see how this Johns Hopkins article is news

    These matters, taking by media with our life more and more, not because scientific finding or research or society matter, looks its more deliberate act. Right now, there are more lesbian and bisexual characters on TV than ever before, spanning broadcast and cable networks, age demographics, genres, ethnicities, races, and nations. All this part of social re-structural that downgrading the family, parenthood and normality with most of us.

    Media focus brings shows by lesbian, gays and with all those programs from even kid’s shows …. Why the personal sexual matter is highlights on media and programs?
    Its personal matter the public in no need to know your sexual status or gender what its fake or true gender or transgender or heterosexual whatsoever.

    Why? Is it the society lost or empty of normal, smart women and men to step up and lead these programs?

    Btw, in the past we read how to make fast money, or how to earn more money fast, now let read this story, and think what all about?

  3. Frog Says:

    Perhaps Neo is impressed by the statistical data she cited, which do NOT include any explanation of the “Kinsey scale to operationalize sexual orientation”, a key component, and she perhaps also overlooks the word “estimate” in the quoted part.

    Does Kinsey remain in good standing on anything?
    Of what value is an estimate in this context?

    The confidence intervals cited are enormous, which to me indicates dubious validity of any conclusion of this “study.”

    Finally, why has there been a virtual explosion in the % of our population that has “discovered” they are homosexual in the past three decades? People well over fifty years of age, of whom I know several, all with biological grandkids.

  4. groundhog Says:

    Finally, why has there been a virtual explosion in the % of our population that has “discovered” they are homosexual in the past three decades?

    Back in 1960’s and 70’s, the number of people who identified as homosexual who were well known, I can probably count on one hand. Because I have trouble thinking of anyone.

    I thought Liberace really was just a weird dressing mama’s boy. Never would have had a clue about Rock Hudson either.

  5. Yancey Ward Says:

    Geoffrey,

    I don’t think one can use the argument that if heterosexuality is nature, then homosexuality must be, too. Heterosexuality has a clearly defined evolutionary purpose that is beyond argument, the latter doesn’t. Additionally, it could very well be that neither is nature, and both are learned behaviors.

    When did I choose to be heterosexual? I don’t know- I don’t even remember choosing to prefer many of the things I like over other things.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    groundhog:

    I think you may be confusing discovering one is gay and coming out as gay.

    There were a lot of people back then who knew full well they were gay and would have privately identified as such, but would not admit it or even suggest it publicly. I believe, however, that what Frog was talking about was something different than coming out as gay or not coming out as gay, but self-identifying as gay (and in many cases also coming out as gay) and having gay relationships, sometimes for the first time, in later life.

  7. JuliB Says:

    Given that they are saying that kids can be transgendered and that needs to be respected, it’s incredibly important.

    I didn’t ‘choose’ to be hetero because I believe that’s our natural default. I think homosexuality is more in line with a twist in our sexuality that for whatever reason tends to take over the whole person’s ‘being’. (Perhaps specific to our current western civ?)

    Are ‘twists’ in sexuality unusual? No – there are many people with kinkiness – bsdm, etc to some extent or another.

  8. Thomas Doubting Says:

    I think those who are so insistent that homosexual orientation is biologically determined have several reasons. For one, it allows them to compare sexual orientation with race, and therefore those who oppose homosexuality with racists. This supports their use of equality arguments.

    For another, if they are born that way and there is no choice in the matter, it gives them a form of moral defense: They can’t help themselves; they are not culpable. In addition, it allows them to appeal to one idea of nature: It’s their nature, so they are right to express it, and trying to repress it is morally wrong.

  9. Thomas Doubting Says:

    … if it’s a choice, when did you decide to ‘choose’ to be heterosexual?

    Actually, “a choice” here is a metaphor for thousands of environmental factors that include many choices. We all have various urges, and we resist some and follow others. If you follow a particular urging enough times, it becomes a habit, and then it seems natural.

    Additionally, just because one is a choice does not mean the other is. It could well be that heterosexuality is essential and natural, and homosexuality is a choice (in the metaphorical sense above) to deviate from that.

    Another example would be addictive behavior. There is probably a genetic factor in alcoholism, for example. We see an alcoholic’s “choice” to be an alcoholic not at one moment: “Gee, I think I’ll be an alcoholic! That sounds like a great idea!” but rather as the culmination of a long series of choices, some of them influenced by biological factors, others by social factors, and including some element of free will.

    It would make no sense to ask people who have never been alcoholics, “When did you decide not to be an alcoholic?”

  10. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I didn’t decide to be heterosexual. With the onset of puberty, the opposite sex gained intense interest for me. While obviously there are individual variations, homosexuals report the same dynamic with their own sex. Homosexuality occurs in nature in other species, which makes IMO the argument that it’s strictly a choice problematic at best. Widespread homosexuality for a species would be suicidal, so I agree that it’s abnormal, while also being a natural condition. The transgendered deserve compassion, driven to be something that they can never be… but their rights do not supersede the majority’s rights.

  11. AesopFan Says:

    Geoffrey Britain Says:
    August 26th, 2016 at 11:17 pm
    I didn’t decide to be heterosexual. With the onset of puberty, the opposite sex gained intense interest for me. While obviously there are individual variations, homosexuals report the same dynamic with their own sex. Homosexuality occurs in nature in other species, which makes IMO the argument that it’s strictly a choice problematic at best. Widespread homosexuality for a species would be suicidal, so I agree that it’s abnormal, while also being a natural condition. The transgendered deserve compassion, driven to be something that they can never be… but their rights do not supersede the majority’s rights.
    * *
    Succinct, clear, and correct, IMO.
    Confusing natural and normal is a deliberate choice by the Left.
    And the push to define everything on their agenda as a “right” and thus legally unalienable in any possible way — never mind that the Left supports constricting actual Constitutional rights — offends the majority, which is now being persecuted by the minority, a situation that is pernicious and subversive.

  12. liberty wolf Says:

    I guess people are going to be trying to figure this out forever, and I will be interested in finding out what they find when they do. “People” meaning scientists, psychologists, and various others. On the other hand, I don’t really care what they find since it seems a little beside the point to people who are actually LGB or T. I am merely curious to see if this puzzle can be resolved but the truth is, most LGBT folks don’t really think about it much at all. Really. And, nowadays all you need to do is read the LGBT press to see that. They are thinking more about their favorite vacation spots or films than why they are who they are in that aspect of their lives – their sexuality or even gender identity or whatever. It is only one aspect of who they are — of course. As time goes on, it doesn’t mean as much as it did since gay and (to a much lesser degree) trans people are accepted in mainstream society.

    I think once LGBT people are more or less integrated into society, pretty much as most of us want to be, we’ll stop being a fifth column also. Now you have that fifth column feature — and the subsequent drift to the left. But there is nothing inherently left wing about homosexuality or transsexuality. In the later case, there are plenty of far left theorists who dislike transsexuals for various political reasons. And of course, in many communist countries gay people have been persecuted. So the left is not always so kind. I have heard about some of reasons the far left still coughs up to reject trans people and some are odd. I know a friend who experienced rejection from far left wing friends because being transsexual, medically transitioning, meant that she (she is a trans woman, male to female in other words) is buying into “bourgeouis (sp) identity”. Whatever that means… other lefties claim we are “buying into the binary”. This gets complicated. We get it from both left and right, though we also get acceptance from both left and right. But LGBT have always existed and always will – by any name.

    People can make choices or follow their dreams now because we live in a wonderful place- the USA and have free markets and classic liberal ideals about individual rights and liberty. So yes, that’s what people are doing – one way or another.

    At any rate, I hate to come back and comment here on this topic, since I haven’t been here for awhile. But there you have it. There’s a lot of things about myself I don’t understand but I don’t spend too much time worrying about them. At least not now. I write poetry too, seriously, and that’s kind of a weird thing to do. I wonder if that is genetic or environmental? heh – 🙂

  13. Ymarsakar Says:

    https://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/2016/05/29/the-mormon-christians-and-the-church-of-latter-day-saints/

    Some background on how Christian churches deal with homosexuality, cross referenced with my own research on the details of specific church organizations and their popular representatives.

    It tells a somewhat different story than the “scientific consensus” and “human authorities” of this world.

  14. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Might be inconvenient to settle this one way or the other.
    If genetic, then prenatal genetic testing would allow for abortion to avoid giving birth to a gay person. We already allow abortion to avoid giving birth to a person of any identity, and for sex-selection. Hard to think of a reason to make an exception for gay.
    If nurture, then it would likely be the case that a person could be un-nurtured, to coin a phrase, notwithstanding that current efforts don’t seem to work. More understanding of the nurture-to-gay process would allow for better un-nurturing.
    As I say, better for some to keep it vague.
    The same would be the case for trans.
    Some Brit shrinks have said that going along with a kid’s identity issues is a horrid idea with terrible outcomes.
    I don’t suppose that if a kid has a fascination with Peter Pan the parents would be justified in having his right hand cut off so he could be Captain Hook.

  15. LindaF Says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised at the higher levels of matching twins (either homosexuality or transgenderism) for males. That finding is also consistent with the idea that more “effeminate-looking” – slim, shorter, “prettier”, higher voice register, less muscular – all of those traits are highly inheritable. Those with identical genes would, therefore, have a greater likelihood of having matching sexual orientation, if physical attributes are a factor.
    Such boys, when younger, would be more at risk of sexual assault by men – which is quite a bit more common in gay than straight men.
    Women, on the other hand, have a greater variability in gender expression. Many women with “mannish” features and stature exist in the hetero society, well accepted as a tomboy type. Lack of stereotypical feminine physical attributes do not keep women from identifying as hetero.

  16. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Linda.
    In a kind of echo of the guy who wanted to get into the LPGA because he couldn’t win in the PGA, the more effeminate guys might decide–in the sense of a thousand little decisions–that they can’t compete/make it in the world of average guys and extra-masculine guys.
    Gradually, they move toward feminist attitudes and interests.

  17. liberty wolf Says:

    LindaF and Richard Aubrey, I’m not sure how many gay men you’ve been around or even trans women (male to female like Caitlyn Jenner) but there are many, many gay men who are very muscular and tall and have deep voices. MANY. However, I admit, that even those men, even if they are into a cult of masculinity and wear leather and work out, often have more effeminate mannerisms or vocal styles. Some of this is gay culture and some may be just the way they are. But really, physically they are often very impressive male specimens. And of course, Jenner was the penultimate of male athletes in her time. That does not serve her well now as she is so big but… that’s the case.

    I think it’s more of a brain thing, the “nature” part, than a body thing. For the record…

  18. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Liberty. WRT muscular gays. Some are, and some aren’t.
    My point has to do with guys who aren’t. What do they do? I knew and coached some little guys. If you have the heart of a lion and athletic ability, there are places. The lower weight classes for wrestling, and so forth.
    But small guys who aren’t going to put on muscle and don’t have the heart of lion wrt competition are going to have a problem. Hanging with girls might be a solution. Then what? The big, muscular gays see him…. Is he attractive to a particular sort? So in that direction he goes.
    Not to say he was born gay, but his hetero experiences have ranged from non-existent to unpleasant.

  19. Thomas Doubting Says:

    Geoffrey Britain: I didn’t decide to be heterosexual. With the onset of puberty, the opposite sex gained intense interest for me. While obviously there are individual variations, homosexuals report the same dynamic with their own sex.

    So? That doesn’t address the science on homosexuality, which says “some nature, some nurture.” And if you believe in free will, probably some of that, too, like with most behavior patterns.

    Homosexuality occurs in nature in other species, which makes IMO the argument that it’s strictly a choice problematic at best.

    Is anyone here arguing that it is?

    Widespread homosexuality for a species would be suicidal, so I agree that it’s abnormal, while also being a natural condition.

    True, but there have been societies where bisexuality was widely practiced. Ancient Greece, for one.

    I’m curious, what do you mean by “natural condition”?

    The transgendered deserve compassion, driven to be something that they can never be …

    Yes, they do.

    liberty wolf: At any rate, I hate to come back and comment here on this topic, since I haven’t been here for awhile.

    I’m glad you did, though. The more points of view the better. I can’t learn much from people who only agree with me.

    Richard Aubrey: If nurture, then it would likely be the case that a person could be un-nurtured, to coin a phrase, notwithstanding that current efforts don’t seem to work.

    Well, sometimes they are successful. There are a number of people who have gone from homosexual to heterosexual, just as there are a number who have gone from heterosexual to homosexual. This isn’t something that can’t change, at least not for everyone.

    LindaF, it could also be that there is a genetic factor for men but not women. That’s consistent with the report.

  20. n.n Says:

    Science is incapable of distinguishing between source and expression.

    The concern with transgender spectrum disorder including homosexual and crossover orientations, is first, do they pose a threat to other human lives. Second, since they are dysfunctional orientations (e.g. Dodo Dynasty), are they a progressive condition in society, in humanity. Male transgender/homosexual behavior is more dysfunctional by virtue of biological incongruity in how they choose to copulate with each other. While this threat is immediate, it is also limited to their choice of partners. Perhaps advocates of transgender/homosexual couplets believe that the threat can be mitigated in closed relationships. Then there is reproductive prostitution (i.e. “surrogates”) to normalize transgender/homosexual behavior, but that began in earnest with the female chauvinists’ dysfunctional revolution. Still, there is nothing more dysfunctional and a greater violation of human and civil rights than the State-established Pro-Choice Church’s advocacy for abortion rites and clinical cannibalism, and its doctrines of selective and arbitrary principles (e.g. class diversity schemes, selective exclusion or congruity (“=”), anti-native adventurism).

  21. Ann Says:

    Interesting article on the BBC website — “Are there any homosexual animals? Lots of animals engage in homosexual behaviour, but whether they are truly homosexual is another matter entirely” — which contains this observation:

    “humans are the only documented case of ‘true’ homosexuality in wild animals. ‘It is not the case that you have lesbian bonobos or gay male bonobos,’ says Vasey. ‘What’s been described is that many animals are happy to engage in sex with partners of either sex’.”

    Vasey is based at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, and has been studying macaques for over 20 years.

  22. Ray Says:

    Neo,
    You might be interested in this website.
    http://mygenes.co.nz/index.html

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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