10 July 2011

Born Which Way?

The liberal blog Talking Points Memo, always ready to score points against Republicans (a bit like shooting big fish in a little bowl these days), mocks boring presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty for his response to a question about homosexuality and genetics:
Pawlenty told Gregory on Meet The Press that when it came to whether homosexuality was a choice or an innate part of a person's character, "the science in that regard is in dispute" and that it was unclear whether it was "behavioral or partly genetic."

"There's no scientific conclusion that it's genetic," he said. "We don't know that. So we don't know to what extent, you know, it's behavioral and-- that's something that's been debated by scientists for a long time. But as I understand the science, there's no current conclusion that it's genetic."
I've long been an opponent of the "It's not a choice!" crowd, though really my opposition is to the whole way the question is framed, because the choice/not-a-choice dichotomy doesn't make any sense to me, and either side of the equation is perfectly useful to the homophobes.

Thankfully, this point is made in an excellent comment on the post at TPM. There are no permalinks to comments, so you'll have to scroll down to the comment by "kmellis" that begins "Right.  Having a strong genetic component doesn't exclude environmental components and, additionally, this doesn't tell us how much the proportions between the two varies between individuals." The final paragraph of the comment is a good summing up, though the whole comment really deserves to be read:
But I think we've gone past the science into a kind of dogma (understandably, but still) that, as I detail above, has some negative implications that we should think carefully about. It seems to me that now is about the time that we should change our focus away from the genetic argument and fully to the social justice and moral philosophy argument.  We should be going all-in on asserting the acceptability of non-traditional sexual orientation and move away from the inherently defensive genetic determinist argument.
As to the science, I don't have time to get into all that right now, but I'd recommend the chapter called "Sexual Orienteering" in Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young for a start, since it's recent and gets at some of the problems with the studies of homosexuality that have tried to find a "gay gene" or some equivalent.

And I must admit, I prefer Weird Al's vaguely Butlerian "Perform This Way" to Gaga's "Born This Way".