Spirit in the Material World: The Science of Homosexuality
I was going to write about statistics, causality, and Rosie O’Donnell, but homosexuality seems to be the fire-starter around here. Thought I’d throw on a little gasoline. I’m not going to discuss theological/spiritual explanations of homosexuality. That’s been done and is being done ad nauseum. Adding scientific theories about the etiology of homosexuality might enhance the discussion a little.
The science on homosexuality is bad. I’ll talk more about why that is in a minute, but it’s important to note that none of the theories below stand atop mountains of evidence. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it covers the major theories.
The genetics theory. Twin studies show that monozygotic (identical) twins demostrate higher concordance for homosexuality than dizygotic (fraternal) twins. Even twins separated at birth have a higher than normal similarity rate. Since identical twins share almost 100% of their genes, this suggests that homosexuality has genetic roots.
Limitations: Small sample sizes in many of the studies. It’s difficult to establish causality due to the interaction factors like environment and temperament.
The brain theory. This is another biological theory with a slightly different focus. Autopsies of homosexual men found brain structures different from heterosexual men, yet similar to each other. This was some of the first “evidence” cited in support of a biological basis for homosexuality.
Limitations: Very small sample sizes – too small to obtain results with true statistical significance. Most subjects died of AIDS, which affects the brain and central nervous system.
The social learning theory. It suggests that people learn homosexual behavior through reinforcement, such as having a first orgasm with a same sex partner. Likewise, heterosexual behavior might be punished or prevented somehow.
Limitations: The weakest of the four theories presented here. It’s unsupported by empirical data. All cultures strongly reinforce heterosexual behavior.
The psychoanalytic theory. This one is the darling of “ex-gay” ministries. I’m going to oversimplify it to the extent that I should get a visit tonight from the ghost of an appalled Sigmund Freud.
If the same-sex parent (such as a boy’s father) is absent or rejecting AND the opposite-sex parent is smothering and needy, the child never resolves the Oedipal crisis. This results in failure to develop gender identity and a longing to connect with the same sex parent. This longing becomes eroticized at adolescence, resulting in homosexual feelings.
Limitations: Tends to fit for men more than women. Homosexual men and women describe numerous exceptions to the theory. Fails to account for the impact innate temperamental factors on parental relationships.
These theories all have experimental limitations that preclude conclusive scientific explanation. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to change. It’s almost impossible to do research on the causes of homosexuality anymore. "Gay affirmative" results are the only ones a scholarly journal would publish. A study that supported the psychoanalytic theory, for example, would meet huge resistance, no matter how scientifically valid the findings. Of course, many who think homosexuality is a sin are just as likely to be hostile toward studies that support genetic theories. As a result, nobody is really testing hypotheses anymore because they don't want to deal with the political crap. It’s unfortunate from a scientific point of view – an avenue of research about a culturally and historically significant phenomenon is closed.
These theories all agree on one thing, however: Homosexuality is not a choice. There is no evidence indicating that people decide to have a homosexual orientation. I’m not saying this does or doesn’t make it a sin; I’m saying it’s a scientific reality the Church has to accept. Regardless of your theology on homosexuality, it’s ignorant and a bit mean to act as if it results from willful depravity. As folks around here have been saying lately, it’s time to encourage our brothers and sisters share their stories with us, whether it’s a struggle with sin or a struggle for acceptance. Or both.