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#174262 - 08/19/07 11:20 AM Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture
Lazarus Offline

Registered: 07/01/07
Posts: 851
Loc: Below the radar, USA
This is a take-off from another thread that got off topic. I wanted to share my observations about the "Nature vs Nurture" question.

I've always knows I was gay, but I didn't admit it to myself or to anybody else until I was almost 40. I can understand how some people might assume that I 'chose' to live a gay lifestyle, because of the mixed signals I sent through most of my adult life. Truth is, I 'chose' to life a straight lifestyle for many years, in contrast with my true feelings.

However, this gave me a perfect opportunity to observe the 'nature vs nurture' question played out right in front of my eyes. In 1992 my wife gave birth to fraternal twins. Here we had these two infants, with the same parents, same environment, sharing the same toys; everything was the same except their sex. As toddlers, my daughter was much more detail oriented than my son, taking time to fold her blanket and using her well developed fine motor skills to meticulously stack little wooden blocks into as tall a pile as she could before they fell down. My son, on the other hand, had the gross motor skills to open a twist-off lid (something my daughter could not do) and he took great joy in running his toy trucks into those neatly stacked piles of wooden blocks.

My son was very interested in learning to walk, my daughter could not have cared less. My son would hold on to the coffee table and walk around it, but when he let go, he'd fall on his bottom. When I tried to get my little girl to stand up next to the table, she sat right down and crawled away. When my son let go of the table and took his first steps across the room, I applauded him and hugged him. Just a few hours later, my daughter was looking around for more wooden blocks and spied one across the room. Rather than crawl over to it as she always had, she simply stood up, walked over to it and sat down. Then she picked up the block, stood back up and walked back to her pile of blocks as if she had done it a hundred times before. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open for a minute before I ran over and picked her up and gave her hugs and kisses.

It became obvious to me that regardless of any external factors, my son was born a little boy, and my daughter was born a little girl. Nothing I could do would change them from that path, even if I had wanted to.

The moral of this story is that while external factors do play a role in our perceptions, I believe that our basic nature is genetically coded from birth. Gender association (whether we 'feel' like a boy or a girl inside), and whether we will prefer men or women when we grow up, are things that I think are all well established when we are born. To deny those feelings can only lead to confusion.

That's my personal experience. How do you feel?


"That which does not kill us, surely makes us stonger." - Neitsche

#174284 - 08/19/07 02:42 PM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: Lazarus]
MemoryVault Offline

Registered: 03/02/07
Posts: 693
Loc: NJ
Hi, Lazarus --

Good topic. I was wrestling with the same question when I was a kid.

I was seventeen, driving home from a day camp where I was a junior counselor. Really disturbed about how much I was attracted to a couple of the other idea what to do with those feelings.

I passed by the playground where I'd been assaulted seven years earlier. I don't think it was the first time I asked myself this, but I remember clearly wondering if I was "g-g-g" (still couldn't quite say "gay" to myself in '83!) because of what that man had done to me.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a beautiful guy, my age or a little older, mowing the lawn at the high school. He'd stopped and lifted his shirt to mop the sweat from his face. I lost my breath and swerved the car before I'd even registered that I'd seen him.

And somehow, I was really happy about that, because it felt like an answer to my question. What had just happened there was hard-wired into the system. It was biology--it was essential. Nothing caused it any more than breathing or sneezing has a source.

Today, I'm realizing how much sexual abuse and other growing-up problems affected the way I deal with my sexuality. Abuse has a lot to do with my detachment, shying away from serious connections, treating myself and others as objects, compartmentalizing, etc. But the core of my sexuality is just who I am and always would be.

#174373 - 08/19/07 11:39 PM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: MemoryVault]
cbfull Offline

Registered: 01/26/07
Posts: 386
Loc: Ohio
A little less than a year ago I read an article about recent scientific theories and studies into why they just can't seem to find any genetic basis for homosexuality. At first I thought, "Oh here we go...", but as I read I realized that what they were suggesting was quite profound. I'll try to summarize.

The scientists involved in this study found an epigenome (that means groups of active genetic code rather than single sequences) that appears to impart a very strong attraction to the male gender, and it has the same effect in women. The men with this epigenome feel powerful attractions to males, thus not engaging in procreative relationships with women. When present in females however, their feelings of desire for males were equally intensified, tending to result in many more offspring than females without this sequencing.

The result is that the genes responsible for making homosexual men does not die out because when present in women, it is equally propagated by their statistically greater tendency to reproduce.

Does this make any sense? Comments? Clarifications?


Guilt and shame have never done any of us any good at all.

#174540 - 08/20/07 10:27 PM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: cbfull]
Chain Breaker Offline

Registered: 04/21/07
Posts: 376
Loc: Michigan
I think that whenever we get into a "nature v. nurture" debate about the origins of homosexuality, we turn a very complex phenomenon into an either/or proposition. I don't think any single factor can explain it. I find the epigenome hypothesis interesting. I also believe there is a very strong role for in utero sex-hormone exposure.

But to disregard or dismiss environmental factors, childhood experiences, parent-child relationships, etc., is also to dismiss science, much of which tells us that homosexual behaviour is learned -- at least in part.

To me, I think the question of "why" is much less important than the question of "how do we deal with it, both as individuals and as a society?" Compassion, tolerance, and the search for understanding must be, IMHO, the way we live.


My name is Joe. I am a survivor and a good man. You can count on me.


"[Insert your name here], I am [Chain Breaker]. Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?"
--Wind In His Hair, Dances With Wolves

#174613 - 08/21/07 06:30 AM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: Chain Breaker]
WalkingSouth Offline

Registered: 08/30/05
Posts: 16270
Loc: Waldport, Oregon
OK, now I'm going to throw my opinion in here and probably piss everyone off!

Please note that this is my opinion, not necessarily that of MS, it's Board of Directors, Site Administrators, Moderators, or any other "-tors" that may come into play!

*begin rant*

I don't believe there is any one particular cause for sexual orientation that can be applied across the board and yet remain true in every case. So can it be a result of - -

Nature? Yes.
Nurture (or the lack thereof)? Yes.
Genetic code? Yes.
Choice? Yes

And perhaps a number of other unmentioned factors.

The thing that clouds up the issues the most and makes it that much more difficult to come to any type of civility in understanding the issue is the groups on both sides who seem to believe they have a vested political, religious, or both, agenda riding on the answer to the question. They're all doing humanity a huge disservice regardless of what "side" they are on. They should be run out the nearest yard arm.

*end rant*

"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting 'Holy Shit! What a ride!'" ~Hunter S. Thompson

#174661 - 08/21/07 04:06 PM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: WalkingSouth]
gay30something Offline
New Here

Registered: 08/12/07
Posts: 26
Loc: New England, USA

Interesting topic. A couple of points: We should be careful not to confuse gender identity with sexual orientation. They are two different things. A person who has gender identity issues (i.e. they are visibly male but feel as though they should be female) is a TRANSGENDER person.

A person who is male (or female) and attracted to persons of the same sex, is homosexual (gay or lesbian)

A person who likes both is bisexual.

Transgender persons can also happen to be homosexuals, but many are heterosexual. Most homosexuals ARE NOT transgender and don't have gender identity issues.

As to sexual orientation (i.e. gay heterosexual or bisexual)
I think it is important that we all remember that Kinsey and others have pointed out that the majority of people are actually somewhere in the bisexual range, although some don't act on it, because they want to adhere to societal norms, and hence live a mostly visible heterosexual life.

Equally true, many who identify as gay, may actually be somewhat bisexual.

In my opinion, sexual orientation certainly isn't something that can be changed in people at will or by therapy, like the controversial repairative therapy. (which doesn't repair anyone in my opinion!)

Is it possible someone could be confused by early childhood sexual trauma/molestation,.... maybe in some cases....
but I doubt these people would live in long term relationships with gay partners or spouses.
And they would certainly be very troubled by their sexual confusion.
And I think those people are few and far between. If at all.

Now, soooo many people are sexually abused, especially by authority figures like ministers, etc, that certainly a percentage of these people would have been gay anyway. I.e. the rapist casts a wide net, that catches a lot of kids that would grow up to be hetero and some that would grow up to be bisexual or homosexual.

Right wing hysteria of course will put an anti-gay spin/bias against people who were molested and say "see, that's why you are a homosexual" etc. It is in the nature of the right wing, especially those with a religious anti-gay bias.

As gay people, we need to be comfortable with who we are, period. If we aren't, then there is a problem.

For me, I have a wonderful spouse and a relationship that is more stable than many heterosexuals I know.

I have met many gays and hetero people, and those who have open minds are best adjusted to life. Those who worry about other people's bedrooms are usually messed up no matter what their sexual identity.

Nurture? Not convinced on that yet.
Genetics? I'm sure.

And by the way, if a gay person has some hetero relationships, what's the big deal? They were probably bisexual anyway, or just hetero curious. Really.

Nothing is so easily defined or catagorized in life as our society would like.

I won't even get into the topic of A-Sexuality.

As to some of these so-called scientific studies trying to bring the nurture into it again, I've found articles on this tend to blur gender identity and sexual orientation, miss bisexuality most of the time.... confuse desire with actions...overlook societal pressures... and many times have a predetermined slant.

I recently saw an article in Mother Jones Mag that was surprisingly annoying in that it seemed to miss the point.

I'm sure this debate will go on for centuries, until such a time (if ever) that society moves past judging and prejudicing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Edited by gay30something (08/21/07 04:09 PM)

#174759 - 08/21/07 09:54 PM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: gay30something]
Lazarus Offline

Registered: 07/01/07
Posts: 851
Loc: Below the radar, USA
Hey 30'ish...

That was a very succint summary of the whole idea. You are very thoughtful and you express yourself quite well. Before I replied, I went back and re-read some of your other posts, and those two qualities remain consistent.

I'm in total agreement with the sliding scale of sexuality, but in THIS society, sooner or later you have to shit or get off the pot; by that I mean you pretty much have to label yourself one way or another. Bisexuality is a double edged sword; it may be the best of both worlds, but if you choose to label yourself bisexual -neither world accepts you or trusts you. I know, I've been there.

The reason for my post was to give comfort to those of us who still have sexual identity issues; i.e. if you 'feel' gay then you probably are, so don't worry about it. It's not your fault, it's not your abuser's fault, it's not anybody's fault... there IS no fault. If some moron happens to ask you why you are gay, you don't even need to answer. Thank goodness that today's world is far more accepting of 'alternative lifestyles' than it was a mere decade or two ago...

I did have two questions regarding your post;

First, thank you for pointing out the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. I touched on it in my original post, but I didn't even try to explain it - you did. You also stated that, "Transgender persons can also happen to be homosexuals, but many are heterosexual." So if a Transgendered person is physically male, but feels like a female inside, which sex is the opposite sex? I've known quite a few tranny's, some pre-op, some post, but I never thought to ask them that question.

Second, I was wondering what the article in "Mother Jones" that you found so annoying, and why? You mentioned it, but then let it drop without further comment.

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I look forward to hearing from you again.


"That which does not kill us, surely makes us stonger." - Neitsche

#174797 - 08/22/07 12:08 AM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: Lazarus]
Gabbahey Offline

Registered: 03/18/07
Posts: 43
Gabby with some hot air:

I add my "ditto" to Walkingsouth and Chain Breaker. If it's a choice of simple or complex, I think complex.

“Gay” is a big tent. There could be many reasons for same-sex attraction.

But first principles:

In terms of “what to do,” nature or nurture does not matter. The answer to the social and moral question is: acceptance and mutual respect. (Good luck, one and all.)

Here's another angle on causes: it may not be "I am gay/str8" but "we are gay/str8."

As Lazurus pointed out in other posts, a "bi" identity is highly unsatisfactory to other people who have identified as gay or str8. It doesn’t necessarily prove anything about the reality of attraction to both sexes, or the primordial, pre-social, basis for attraction to anything.

I read a book recently by primatologist Franz Der Wahl (studies great apes) called “Our Inner Ape.” Also read some stuff about feral children, raised in near-complete isolation. Then there is the famous study of baby rhesus monkeys separated from their mothers.

Simply speaking, feral children don’t acquire sophisticated language skills, even after much therapy and training. Like isolated rhesus monkeys, they are forever socially maladapted. They are certainly individuals, as we all are, but they can’t function in group settings.

The upshot of these studies: there is no such thing as a comprehensible individual without society. There is no such thing as sexuality without society. Therefore, without a hard genetic cause, like some inherited conditions, it’s hard to conceive of a sexual identity without reference to a group identity.

if you choose to label yourself bisexual---neither world accepts you or trusts you. I know, I've been there

Also my experience: Just bringing up the issue, even without sexual activity, starts a turf war and invites all kinds of social intervention. Gays will mock you for your cowardice; str8s will mock you for your inability to “pass”; well-meaning (or just titillated) acquaintances will try to set you up; once the issue is alive, your behavior will be scrutinized.

Individual preference may cease to feel authentic in this pressure cooker. If you’re a vulnerable person, perhaps you’re more likely to be pushed to the margins as it were. As my professor said: “you’re so unstable; better to be gay.” And statistically, a gay identity is the margin.

Why would this bitchy feminist professor connect “gay” and “unstable”? Why do people connect “gay” and “unnatural”? Another big debate, going on for millennia I believe.

Maybe it's gender-bending, not same-sex affection, that frightens people.

Maybe it’s because growing up, including acquiring a gender identity, is scary (teenagers are always in turmoil), even for str8s. So you reach this precarious, circumscribed place of unwritten rules; then you meet a rulebreaker, someone or a group that embodies a question about identity. Who is this scofflaw? And are you the str8 person simply a sheepish, timid follower of stupid rules?

Confronted with relativism, you might be intrigued. You might display “homophobic” anger. Gays confronted with homophobia may note your insecurity and taunt you with it, having been presented with an opportunity for revenge for being marginalized.

A really good psychologist, Robert Stoller, wrote some about such dynamics.

Humans have problems with outsiders and rogues, as in rogue animals. Belonging to a group says you're not a disruptive force. We shoot rogue animals (bears, elephants, other predators) because they break the rules (don't eat people). A rouge lion or chimpanzee may kill offspring and destroy family units.

Is there a genetic gulf between a man admiring an athletic male body and a man wanting to sleep with one? After all, Sports Illustrated or other "str8" male lifestyle mags are not full of men with beer guts. Would str8 men be interested if they were?

But doesn’t it seem a stretch to say that John Fogarty was trying to tell us he was “gay” when he wrote in the song “Center Field” about “a brown-eyed handsome man” heading for home plate?

Also, if you SUCCESSFULLY join a group, you have an interest in the status quo---str8 or gay. For instance, I believe that once you start a family, you become more of a group person, more conservative with a little c, more interested in stability and safety and rules and categories. You need that village; you need to know that your hearth and home and social status will be protected---or your kids may suffer or die. You can't afford to rock the boat, to waste or forgo resources.

I'm probably overstating this idea now, but ya'll understand.

Edited by Gabbahey (08/22/07 12:37 AM)

#174820 - 08/22/07 01:19 AM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: Gabbahey]
roadrunner Offline
Administrator Emeritus

Registered: 05/02/05
Posts: 22045
Loc: Carlisle, PA
Okay, I have been hovering for a long time over this thread, so time to swoop in and perch somewhere I guess. I see a few problems with the whole discussion - not by us here, but in general in the society we live in.

1. The first is the issue raised by John. So much of the discussion is informed by preconceived partisan arguments, and I will go further and say that there would be no debate at all were it not for the desperate need of conservative religious and political elements to make homosexuality a matter of choice, or "nurture". That is, they need it to be so in order to argue that it is "curable" and that gay guys are "like this" as a matter of choice, which they could "unchoose" if they were better informed, or if they were better people.

2. Related to this, I think there would be no debate at all if there were no prejudice against gays in society. That is, without this, a man could be of whatever sexuality he happens to be and no one would care. The distinction - in value terms - would not be worthy of discussion, or at least not above a trivial level.

3. To set "gay" up as the opposite of "straight" is to create an utterly false dichotomy, which has been known since the work of Kinsey almost 60 years ago. Most guys fit at neither extreme, and in all kinds of ways. It may not be cool, for example, to admit that you jerked off with your friends when you were a boy, but in fact that happens all the time and is very common. How many "straight" guys have at least wondered what it would be like to have consensual sex with another man but just won't say so? Or how many gay guys wonder if they are "missing something" by never having tried sex with a woman?

4. We need to realize that religious objections to homosexuality in Judaism, Christianity and Islam all go back to the problem that in Old Testament times that the survival of a tribe depended on its ability to reproduce and provide as many warriors as possible to fight to defend crops, herds, and access to grazing land and water. So if a man did not do this, that made him a dead loss to the tribe, which would respond by dishonoring and shaming him. Judaism makes that a point of religious obligation, and this is picked up by Christianity and then by Islam. Let's not fool ourselves and say the religious objection to homosexuality is based on religious considerations alone ("I only object because God does"). There are so many areas of Old Testament belief, custom and law that have been (rightly) jettisoned as entirely inappropriate to an modern enlightened society, but this one remains. Take a guess why.

I don't have any professional background in the nature/nurture debate, but as a "straight" guy who has "gay" friends I can't imagine why anyone would simply choose to be gay as a kind of whim, without feeling he was acknowledging feelings that are really a deep and intrinsic part of his being. When I was a student a Princeton we had a young gay guy in our house who decided it was time to come out. Man, I never saw anyone go through so much hell as was dumped on that guy. His parents were distraught ("What have I done to make you hate me this much?"), his friends mostly ran for cover, and there was a lot of malicious giggling behind his back ("Have you heard...?"). In our house one of the women shunned him, saying that guys only "turn gay" because they hate women, and when I stuck by him I got taken aside and told, "Larry, you need to realize there's talk about you too now" \:D Unbelievable! Who would "choose" that crap?

Well, no answers or ideas, just some thoughts on the topic.

Much love,

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking my freedom highway.
Nobody living can make me turn back:
This land was made for you and me.
(Woody Guthrie)

#174823 - 08/22/07 01:24 AM Re: Gay or Str8 - Nature vs Nurture [Re: Gabbahey]
Lazarus Offline

Registered: 07/01/07
Posts: 851
Loc: Below the radar, USA
Wow, Gabby! You said a mouthful! I think you've justified the need we seem to have to 'Label' ourselves. Obviously there are alot of dynamics going on here, and you've described many of them very well...

But I have to take exception to the 'rogue'... it seems to me that modern culture loves the rogue, the bad boy. James Dean, Emminem... the list is endless... we have a rabid love for the rule-breakers and trouble makers... they are the ones who stretch the envelope and make social change happen... as long as they don't go too far, or cross certain boundaries.

But boundaries change. I have a manget on my refrigerator that says, "I was gay before it got trendy." Now we gays are the ones who are the rule-breakers that will change society... If you're not gay, you probably have no idea how much things have changed in the last 20 years in terms of gay rights and social discrimination.

You had so much to say in your post it's hard to digest in one swallow. I'll have to print it out and read it a few times before I can make congnitive observations, but at first read I think you are right on. Very intuitive for a str8 guy... LOL

Love ya, buddy... talk again soon...


P.S. Your friend Katie is mirroring this thread in Family and Friends Forum...

"That which does not kill us, surely makes us stonger." - Neitsche

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