There Is No “Gay Gene”, Heavily Biased Study Confirms

Warren Albrecht | @drw_albrecht

The New York Times reports that a study released in the journal Science that finds there is no “gay gene”.

The influence comes not from one gene but many, each with a tiny effect — and the rest of the explanation includes social or environmental factors — making it impossible to use genes to predict someone’s sexuality.

The Broad Institute, a research group from MIT and Harvard, dealing with genetics and disease, writes an interesting review of the study specifically stating,

According to the study, there is no “gay gene” that determines whether a person will have same-sex partners in their lifetime. The findings indicate that it is impossible to meaningfully predict an individual’s same-sex sexual behavior from genetics.

What, then, do we find from this study?

Results Debunk “Gay Gene”

The study asked the question of whether one ever had a same-sex encounter. Then they looked at the genetic makeup. This study points to not one single gene contributing to same-sex attraction, but a possible five loci that associate with same-sex preference in a statistically meaningful manner. But this is a minute fraction of the overall genome contribution (less than 1%). The variation in genetic findings explains same-sex behavior in only 8 to 25% of the time.  

In reviewing this study and all associated linked websites, I can not find easily documented data to support the numbers. In fact, one source of the genetic material for the data, 23andMe, would only allow a particular number of data to be released to the public. The questions of same-sex encounters were not the same from all sources. It may be very difficult to reproduce the results. Questions are raised about what the exact message of the study is?

Dr. Dean Hamer, whose original study set off the debate of a possible “gay gene” said,

I’d like to emphasize that it’s not a gay gene study — it’s a study of what makes people have a single same-sex experience or more…Of course, they didn’t find a gay gene — they weren’t looking for one

Yet with confidence in the conclusion, this study’s authors state

We can, therefore, say with confidence that there is neither a single genetic determinant of nor single gene for same-sex sexual behavior or sexual orientation. 

Outside Influences Harms Credibility

Reported in both the New York Times article and at the Broad Institute, the LGBTQ community was contacted and instrumental in offering feedback about the language used in the study. Members of the LGBTQ+ “community and allies” made suggestions about editing and the use of scientific nomenclature within the article. 

This is a major detractor of the study that reduces its scientific value. The bias of an identified group having a direct influence on the way data is presented is unscientific. This is proportionate to archeological research finding possible evidence Jesus was married and then asking the Catholic Church and Pope for guidance on the interpretation of the data and narrative. 

LGBTQ Concerns 

The LGBTQ community does raise legitimate questions about how the research should be used. A finding of one “gay gene” may support specific civil rights. LGBT+ could be an individual class of human beings like people of color, race, or sex. There are objections to this research in a fear of testimony to the reasoning for possible discrimination.

Do same-sex attracted people have a pathology? Could gene therapy be a future option? The articles say no, but how can they state that as a final fact when genetic science is always expanding?

Would a finding of these genetic changes be a source for choosing embryo selection or abortion? Could other treatments like conversion therapy, reparative therapy, and psychotherapy be not only advocated but proven possible treatments? Therapies to suppress the activation of causal genes may also be within reach. 

Finding a Genetic Mutation

Originally, the discussion of Dr. Hamer’s Gay Gene came from a report in Science that one or more genes were found on the X chromosome at the Xq28 region. But this was not able to be replicated in other studies. Gay twin studies only showed a correlation of 20-50% chance of identical twins being gay.

That led to the thought of “epigenetics” being a source. These are chemical changes that may turn genes on and off without changing a gene sequence. In 2015, Science reported on the possible chemical modifications of genes influencing sexual attraction. 

Finding Other Biologic Pathology

There are many articles in the past decades trying to find the magic “cause” of homosexuality. Many brain investigations are looking at changes linking abnormalities to homosexuality. Investigators study both cadaver autopsies and MRI’s in search of a cause. 

The site Live Science in 2011 wrote: “Is Homosexuality based on a brain chemical?”. The discussion was about possible findings of reduced serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, causing same-sex attraction in mice. This science website then quoted an expert in rodent sexual behavior,

A lot of people are going to be reading more into this than may or may not be warranted… Much more information is needed to specify the brain areas involved and possible developmental regulation of serotonin in those areas before we can jump to the conclusion that serotonin is the factor that inhibits male-to-male attraction.

Similar Studies May Do More Harm

The present study discussed, 

Whether someone ever engaged in same-sex sexual behavior showed genetic correlations with mental health issues, like major depressive disorder or schizophrenia, and with traits like risk-taking, cannabis use, openness to experience and loneliness.

In January of this year, Genome Web reported another gene research article showing a correlation between showing hundreds of gene loci associated with risky behavior. This adventurousness could include alcohol intake, smoking, and the number of sexual partners. This does not look specifically at same-sex attraction, but the correlation of risk-taking or mental issues can’t be ignored.

Unique Genes, Now What? 

The members of the LGBT+ community, who are scientists themselves, have justified reservations about these types of studies. The questions everyone needs to ask is what is the reason for same-sex attraction genetic research?

Is it to solidify sexual attraction as a protected identity for civil rights? Politics is going to be a very bad reason for “science”. Is it for affirmation that nature does not accidentally mutate into several groups (L, G, B, T, +), each consisting of less than 1-2% of the human population? Is it for a possible cure? If a possible cure is in reach, will the LGBT+ community or the individuals of L, G, B, T groups accept the cure? 

From the New York Times,

“As a queer person and a geneticist, I struggle to understand the motivations behind a genome-wide association study for non-heterosexual behavior,” wrote Joe Vitti, a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute, in one essay. “I have yet to see a compelling argument that the potential benefits of this study outweigh its potential harms.”

No Gay Gene, Now What?

Within the study, as mentioned by the New York Times and the Broad Institute, the perspective may be more important than the science or data obtained from this. From the Broad Institute’s interpretation of the findings,

The findings reinforce the idea that the diversity of sexual behaviors across humanity is a natural part of our overall diversity as a species.

If a sexual attraction is just part of human diversity, acceptance of that you do not care to change may be solace enough. That self-acceptance without acceptance from others is a risk. But trying to prove genetic diversity may come at a cost. Perhaps the LGBT+ community can revel in “Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff”. Only then, we may have a chance to heal from identity politics.

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