Final 1- HOMOSEXUALITY: biologically or socially constructed

This research topic submitted by thompson and devine ( ) on 3/31/98 .

We had submitted this by the deadline, but are unable to find it on the webpages. We did have problems when we submitted it, it wouldn¹t show up on the web pages and we had to submit it a couple of times. We¹re resubmitting it again since it isn¹t showing up.

I. Focused Thesis

For years, the question of whether homosexuality is a biological or environmental construction has been the focus of many heated debates among scholars, scientisits and socio-political activists who, for various reasons, have attempted to uncover the origins of homosexual behavior. Inquiry into the origin(s) of homosexuality has emerged recently, largely in part due to the rising political debates over whether or not homosexualtiy should be considered a sociaally ³normal² practice, and thus the major motive behind these debates have not been simply to uncover the scientific or social origins of homosexuality, but to utilize the results as a means to either justify or condem homosexual practices. These alterior motives have hindered the effectiveness of such ressearch, and have created huge debates as to how scientifically valid the results of such research have been.

Given the controversial nature of this project, it is necessary that we take a neutral position with respect to the moral and political agendas invoved in order to refrain from biasing the research. The purpose of this project is not to ³prove² whether homosexuality is righ or wrong, but to establish a thorough and well-documented understanding about the biological and/or social evolution of homosexuality. In this respect, we seek to identify and critique the major biological and social arguments relating to the origin of homosexuality in order to suggest a possible theory that would most effectively and thoroughly answer our questions regarding the origins of homosexuality.

We intend to suggest that homosexuality among humans is a biological construction which is found innately in some people and may be influenced, to certain degrees, by environmental factors such as family structure, parent interaction, siblings, peers and gender roles. Furthermore, we shall suggest that homosexuality is not a psychological or biological error, nor is it a choice. Rather, it is a healthy biological form of sexual expression which in no way deviates from the natural evolutionary process of human sexuality.

II. Theoretical Context

A wealth of studies on families and twins show heridity accounting for between 30 and 70 percent of the variation in personality traits among people, leaving another 30 to 70 percent to be accounted for by the environment. Research shows that shared enviornmental factors (things siblings have in common), such as socioeconomic standing and what school you attended, play only a small role in shaping basic personality traits. It is the environmental factors that siblings don't share, such as one's birth order in the family to a person's unique life experiences, that are the most influential in forging personality.

In a study by Hamer (, he linked male homosexuality to a stretch of genes on the X chromosome. A number of studies had shown that homosexuality is partly heritable‹half of the identical twins of homosexual men are themselves homosexual‹so such genes might exist. But the evidence also hinted that homosexuality is a complex trait, arising from the interaction of a number of genes and environmental factors. Hamer turned up the first evidence for what others would dub the "gay gene" in a study looking for the genes that caused certain people to be more susceptible to certain cancers. Hamer had gone fishing in the DNA of 40 pairs of homosexual brothers. His strategy was simple: siblings share, on average, half of their DNA. So if a particular gene did influence homosexuality, that gene would lie in the half of the DNA they have in common. With data from one pair of brothers, Hamer could narrow his search for a homosexuality gene from100,000 genes to only 50,000 or so. With data from additional pairs of homosexual brothers, he could collect enough genetic information to close in on areas of overlap among them. In practice it wouldn't be so straightforward. It was unlikely, for instance, that every pair of brothers would share any one "gay" gene, given the earlier genetic studies that found no simple pattern of heritability. So Hamer would look instead for statistical anomalies‹bits of DNA that were shared by more pairs of brothers than would be expected by chance.

In a preliminary study, Hamer found that some male homosexuality is passed through the maternal side. The gay gene has stood up well. Hamer has replicated his findings, and no studies have yet contradicted them. Still, the gene itself remains at large, its function unknown. It might be involved in the development of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that has been shown to differ between homosexual and heterosexual men. He also looked for a comparable X-linked marker for sexual orientation in lesbians, but had little luck. Female homosexuality does run in families, but there's no clear indication that it is genetic. He suspects that women's sexual preferences may be less genetically programmed than men's. It appears that sexual preference is partly social and also genuinely biological (

Many studies have also looked at the sexual preference in animals. Several domestic and wild animals engage in sexual activity with members of both the same and the opposite sex; a smaller number have eyes only for their own sex. Some of these homosexual activities appear to boost reproduction. In other cases, same-sex affairs may help reproduction indirectly, by promoting the general fitness of a group or individual.

Researchers interested in animal behavior and sexual selection have long held that the main function of homosexual endeavors is to ensure that one's genes get passed along. Recent studies indicate that homosexual behavior in some species may have much more to do with sexual gratification than with reproduction. Studies are also revealing biological differences between straight and gay animals. For the most part, homosexual behaviors in domestic animals are considered normal and helpful for the development of reproduction, although this is not always the case. The homosexual relationships also alter social structures. Sexual selection theory holds that animals pick partners that will increase their chances of passing on their genes, but this doesn't apply to homosexual animals. Although homosexual relations appear to have little reproductive value for some species, examples do exist of animals ingeniously partnering with the same sex to improve their chances of passing along their genes.These findings may shed light on the possible roots of human homosexuality.

Growing numbers of human studies are now linking homosexuality to unique biological traits. The discovery of estradiol differences in homosexual and heterosexual rams complements recent reports regarding the genetic and anatomical correlates of homosexual orientation
described in humans (

The following elements may contribute to the social construction of sex differences in children: play patterns, early peer relations, parents behavior toward male and female children, peers and siblings, gender constancy and stability. A lot of the research we found regarding biology and male/female gender roles indicate a strong bias in that the researchers assume that all people are born heterosexual. Thus, they imply that homosexual behavior is abnormal and is a result of some type of error in their socializing.

III. Methods

We will be handing out a survey to the GLBA, peers, co-workers, Jeni¹s Aids Etiology course, Willie¹s Woman¹s Studies course, and anyone else interested in taking it. Examples of questions include:

What gender are you - male or female?

When you were younger, what type of Halloween costumes did you tend to wear? Gender neutral (ghost, droids from Star Wars), Female (princess, witch, Aretha), or Male (Superman, Spiderman, Incredible Hulk).

When growing up were you, if female, given toys such as stuffed animals, ready-bake ovens, or barbies on Christmas and birthdays? If male, were you given toy cars, Transformers, or sports equipment (balls, bats, gloves)?

Were you encouraged to play rough-and-tumble games?

What kind of literature did you read when younger? Fantasy, fairy tales (that usually involved the female being rescued by a knight on a white horse and living happily ever after), Dectective novels ( was it Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys), magical realism, sport stories, horror, science fiction?

What kind of cartoons did you watch when younger?

If female, were you considered a "Tom Boy." Was that frowned down upon in your family? Relatives? Friends? Teachers? Church?

If male, were you considered a ³sissy?² Was that frowned down upon in your family? Relatives? Friends? Teachers? Church?

With which parent did you form a closer bond, mother or father?

Were you more excited about watching soap operas or sports?

What types or games did you play with your peers in elementary school?

If male, did you ever think you were the only one lipsynching to female singers in front of the mirror?

Did you like to play ³dress-up² when young? What did you wear?

Did you like play ³house?² What role did you play?

Did you realize you were different from other children at an early age?

When you reached the age where you began to develop ³crushes,² was it on members of your own sex, the opposite sex, or both? If you developed ³crushes² on members of the your sex (or both), did you ignore those feeling and pretend to like members of the opposite sex?

If homosexual/bisexual, do you think you were ³born gay?² If no, when did you begin to think you were homosexual/bisexual?

We will be using the survey to determine whether or not people believe sexuality, in particular, homosexuality is determined by biological or envionmental factors. We will also be doing a literature review, citing studies done to determine this same issue. Studies range from tests done on twins to young children and adults.
IV. Analyze

The survey answers would give an arguement for either which factors, biological or environmental, play a stronger role in determining the sexuality of an individual. We will use two-way tables (Minitab) to compare, since the data is categorical. These surveys wouldn't give a good scientific basis to our arguement, but would allow us to determine what society thinks are the contribution factors. We will try to take a representative sample of society with our survey, attempting to include all lifestyles and mindsets. However, since neither of us know very many conservative people, our study may be slightly skewed in one direction. The survey may either expel or argue for popular myths concerning sexuality. We will use our results in conjunction with literature and studies which have conducted actual tests on human subjects (such as twin studies).

V. Bibliography

D'Emilio, J. & E.B. Freedman (1988). Intimate Matters: a history of sexuality in America. New York: Harper & Row.
Gagnon, J.H. & W. Simon (1973). Sexual conduct: the social sources of human sexuality. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co.
Green, R. (1987). The "Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the development of homosexuality. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Kessler, S.J. & W. McKenna (1978). Gender: an ethnomethodological approach. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Rathus, S.A. (1983). Human Sexuality. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

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