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Mark Fernandez

Dr. Joe Marohl

ENG 112 -- Argument-based Research

16 June 2008

Causes of Homosexuality: The Ultimate Authority

As homosexuality becomes increasingly visible--but not necessarily more prevalent—

within society, straight and gay people alike want to know what causes homosexuality. Exclusive

homosexuality, a category accounting for 2-4% of the population (Berg-Kelly 142), is large

enough to generate attention yet sparse enough for various opinions of origin to be accepted by

many as fact. Meanwhile, traditional or “hard” science is often regarded as a sort of Supreme

Court that ought to provide the final ruling in contested cases such as the root cause of

homosexuality. However, science itself has spread its jurisdiction to other realms like

anthropology, sociology, and psychology. It is these “soft” sciences that first studied

homosexuality. Both hard and soft science have made new findings about the causes of

homosexuality since Freud. But the real point that essentialist and constructionists argue over is

one of authority: what is the ultimate authority that determines who is a homosexual? Can a

person accurately assess their own sexual orientation? Should lab results from a blood test or

DNA sample really be expected to settle the question for a sexually confused patient?

When people talk about homosexuality, many specifically refer to exclusive

homosexuality. Yet, Alfred Kinsey's commonly accepted seven-point scale quantifies sexual

desire on a spectrum (Berg-Kelly 142). Sexual orientation, according to Kinsey, is rarely directed

solely at just men or only women, a revelation that is problematic for essentialism. Will

essentialists have to broaden their search for the “gay gene” to include a bisexual gene? A

“somewhat heterosexual” gene?

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One classic (yet outdated) example of a soft science theory is the idea that overbearing

mothers who undermine their husbands' authority cause homosexuality in their sons (Drescher

61). On the other hand, emotionally distant fathers have been statistically linked with

homosexual sons (Seutter 45), and many homosexual males studied express a lack of connection

with their fathers. In 2004, 154 Canadian Roman Catholic seminarians were questioned

concerning their emotional closeness with their fathers and mothers. Sixteen percent were self-

described homosexuals. The only issue that exposed a difference was “intimacy with father.”

“Intimidation with father,” “intimacy with mother,” and “intimidation with mother” showed no

noticeable difference. Men who viewed their relationship with their fathers as lacking were more

likely later to prefer the same sex. But does this emotional distance cause homosexuality? Some

argue that this is a wrong directional fallacy: the fathers may have withdrawn emotionally after

they perceived homosexual tendencies in their sons (Drescher 63).

Children who experience sexual abuse are likely to later describe themselves as

homosexual or bisexual rather than heterosexual (Rosik 156). The rate is increased when the

abuser is a caregiver. Many homosexual men indicate their first sexual contact at age ten. This

powerful violation, occurring at a young age, will undoubtedly have lasting consequences.

Self realization of homosexual orientation happens at different times for different people.

This does not seem to bolster the arguments for either essentialists nor constructionists. But what

if further change in orientation occurs? This flexibility in sexual orientation–the idea that change

can happen over time–was documented in a large 2005 study of 762 self-identified heterosexual,

bisexual, and homosexual adult men and women (Hughes 201). Tracked over five consecutive

years, both homosexuals and heterosexuals reported changes in their sexual preferences. Sixty-

five percent of gay women and 39% of gay men reported switching from homosexual

preferences to heterosexual during the duration of the study. Heterosexual men and women
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showed a shift towards same-sex preferences, too. Bisexuals remained steady in orientation. This

study only surveyed adults. Puberty, and the tumultuous biological changes that accompany it,

had long since passed those who were surveyed. The shift from homosexual preferences to

heterosexual is particularly damaging to essentialists, who invariably ignore that preference may


There have been some “hard” scientific findings that show common physical traits among

many homosexuals, including finger length ratios, a higher ratio of left-handed homosexuals to

heterosexuals, and a large number of homosexuals having a counter-clockwise hair swirl

(Hughes 196). While these are interesting findings, they only show some correlation with

homosexuality and do not establish a conclusive genetic cause. No scientist would propose that

these correlations be used as early litmus tests for parents to determine the sexual orientation of

their children, nor as reliable tests of sexual orientation for adults. Psychologists would argue

that any authoritarian predictions on sexual orientation likely would do more harm than good.

In 1991 Simon Levay, after inspecting forty-one brains (nineteen from homosexual men,

sixteen from heterosexual men, and six from heterosexual women) concluded that the part of the

brain labeled INAH 3 differed in size between heterosexual and homosexual men (Crab 1). The

size of homosexual men's INAH 3 was comparable to heterosexual women's INAH 3. There are

many problems that mar this study. First, the sample size is small. Second, all nineteen

homosexuals died of A.I.D.S. Only six of the sixteen heterosexual men died of A.I.D.S. Did

A.I.D.S. or homosexuality cause the INAH 3 to change size? Also, fourteen of the men labeled

as heterosexual had inconclusive sexual history. Bisexuality was not considered or tracked in

this study. Plus, no homosexual women were part of the study. The most glaring deficiency is

that the size of INAH 3 was determined after death, not at birth. Some aspect of actually living

life as a homosexual may cause that part of the brain to develop similarly to that of a
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heterosexual woman, rather than the difference being present from birth.

The INAH 3 study also points to a farther reaching assumption that gay men are

effeminate (Rosario 41). This “sexual inversion” has the possibility of skewing biological study

results by using women or women's characteristics as the control group, when the actual study is

contrasting homosexual and heterosexual men. Essentialist and constructionists both must

exercise caution during case studies.

Meanwhile, much press has gathered around the search for the “gay gene.” Dean Hamer's

1993 study found a genetic marker on the X chromosome (Xq28) that was manifested in forty

homosexual brothers (Rosario 40). In his defense, Hamer never stated he discovered a “gay

gene.” Dismissing the media's sensationalism, there are varying problems with this study. The X

chromosome is passed down from the mother. In this study, most of the paternal DNA (Y

chromosome) is ignored with no justification given. And, even more problematic, a more recent

study in 1999 by George Rice involving fifty-two homosexual brothers did not reveal this


Neither generally proposed cause of homosexuality–nature or nurture--excludes value

judgments. Both essentialism and constructionism have been used to decry homosexuality. Freud

used essentialism to label homosexuality as immature (Drescher 58), while constructionists claim

homosexuals have deficiencies in their parental relationships (Drescher 65). And essentialism is

often used in the fight for gay rights: how can you deny equal rights to someone because they

were born with a different sexual orientation? In their fight for additional same-sex rights, many

look toward biology and genetics for validation and support. However, Dr. Edward Stein, author

of The Mismeasure of Desire: The Science, Theory, and Ethics of Sexual Orientation, disagrees

and views that route as dangerous (Bronski 2), advising people to argue for gay rights based on

“liberty, equality, and justice,” rather than science.

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The disagreement between essentialists and constructionists has not been fully resolved.

Still, at best, hard science has only linked physical traits or genetic markers to a predilection

toward homosexuality, not causation of homosexuality. Being gay is different than being

pregnant or having an O+ blood type. Individual sexual orientation cannot be divined from a

day's lab work. Hard science cannot answer what causes heterosexuality, let alone

homosexuality. Biologists and geneticists have no starting point and consequently must contrast

every nuance of the human body between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Meanwhile, soft

science provides ample evidence that sexual orientation is not entirely fixed throughout

adulthood and may be influenced by some childhood environment factors. While neither side

conclusively points to a single cause of homosexuality, constructionism seems to offer a slightly

more promising premise.

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Works Cited

Allen, Dan. “Putting Freud's gay theory to rest.” Advocate. 917 (2004): 36. Academic Search

Premier. EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10 July 2008 <http://www.nclive.org>.

Berg-Kelly, K. “Adolescent homosexuality: we need to learn more about causes and

consequences.” Acta Paediatrica 92.2 (2003): 141-144. Academic Search Premier.

EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10 July 2008 <http://www.nclive.org>.

Bronski, Michael. “Blinded by Science.” Advocate. 804 (2000). Academic Search Premier.

EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10 July 2008 <http://www.nclive.org>.

Crab, C. “Are some men born to be homosexual?” US News and World Report. 111.11 (1991).

Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10 July 2008


Drescher, Jack. “Causes and Becauses: On Etiological Theories of Homosexuality.” Annual of

Psychoanalysis. 30 (2002): 57-68. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10

July 2008 <http://www.nclive.org>.

Hughes, John. “A general review of recent reports on homosexuality and lesbianism.” Sexuality

and Disability. 24.4 (2006): 195-205. PsycINFO. EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10 July 2008
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Rosario, Vernon. “How the 'Gay Gene' Model Caught On.” Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide.

10.4 (2003): 40-41. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10 July 2008


Rosik, Christopher. “Sexual Reorientation Therapy: Response to Carlton.” Christian Bioethics.

10.2/3 (2004): 155-159. Academic Search Premier. EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 9 July 2008


Seutter, Ray, Martin Rovers. “Emotionally absent fathers: Furthering the understanding of

homosexuality.” Journal of Psychology and Theology. 32.1 (2004): 43-49. Academic

Search Premier. EBSCOhost. NCLIVE. 10 July 2008 <http://www.nclive.org>.

Wallwork, Ernest. “Sexual Behavior, Social Control of.” Encyclopedia of Bioethics. Ed. Stephen

G. Post. vol. 4. New York: Macmillan, 2004. Gale Virtual reference Library. Gale.

NCLIVE. 10 July 2008 <http://www.nclive.org>.