Sexual Orientation and Human Nature
Now that the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage, I think it’s safe to say that the anti-gay side has lost this battle in the culture war. But that won’t stop them from portraying themselves as beautiful losers, those who speak truth to power.
The pro-gay side isn’t without its errors. Personally, I think claims like “all homosexuals were born that way” or “sexuality is inborn” shoot too far in terms of the evidence we currently have. Though, that doesn’t necessarily mean sexual orientation is NOT fixed at birth. The problem is we simply don’t know enough, as it stands.
So, given the lack of current knowledge, the anti-gay side also engages in error. If the pro-gay side fails to present sufficient evidence that sexuality is inborn or if evidence is presented that for some sexuality seems fluid, the anti-gay side concludes, erroneously that: 1. “homosexuality is not genetic”; 2. “sexuality is not inborn”; 3. “sexuality is a choice”; and 4. “sexuality is fluid.”
Now, each of those statements might have some kind of truth to them. But each is still, by itself, without further elaboration, “erroneous,” at least not provably true. Why? These are asserted as though each universally applies to all within “the group” of the entire phenomenon under investigation.
I’m no professional philosopher or historian. I have JD, MBA, and LL.M. degrees, all from Temple University in Philadelphia, and passed the bars in both PA and NJ, making me an Esq. But I think I’m a pretty good “armchair” of both. You don’t need an English degree to be able to write well. On biology and genetics, my skills lack; but I can get by when needed by appealing to the authority (I know often a logical fallacy) of those who have the expertise.
So, the error I believe the anti-gay side makes in the above mentioned assertions 1-4 is what I call the fallacy of “what is true for one in or a subset of the group is true of the entire group.” Given I’m no professional philosopher, I don’t know the formal name, if one exists at all, for that fallacy. I do know, however, that it is a fallacy.
That would be like saying “person X is a light skinned black, therefore all blacks are light skinned.” Or “persons J through P are provably light skinned blacks” therefore all blacks are light skinned. You found fluid sexuality for one or more gay or bisexual folks? Great. You err if you then conclude “sexuality is fluid,” period, for everyone or even generally.
That you found one or more than one exception proves what? Not what you think it does.
We see, race and skin color exist on a continuum. Dr. Alfred Kinsey observed, likewise, the existence of a continuum of sexuality. Yes, given what Kinsey conducted in his research, folks claim his well has been poisoned (another logical fallacy). Still a broken clock is right twice a day. The continuum of sexuality exists.
Human nature, as far as we know, comes from the human brain, of which scientific empiricism can prove is merely a bag of chemicals. Not only the existence of “the soul,” but of “the mind” cannot be proven according to this method as something separate from the bag of the chemicals that make up “the human brain.”
So we look to folks who might know something about the brain and its biological makeup to prove points on human nature. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, biologists, geneticists, etc. I remember debating someone claiming to be a “neuro doctor” at The Volokh Conspiracy on the evidence of sexual orientation’s biological origin.
This person noted the paucity of evidence of sexuality orientation’s (at least of the non-exclusively hetero kind) genetic origin. Then what? I responded — as an armchair philosopher — with an analogy. Now, analogies can be tricky things as my friend professional philosopher John Corvino once put it. To make an analogy is to compare apples to oranges. If we compare apples to apples, we have duplicates, not analogies. Homosexuality is not race. It’s also not pedophilia. A is A, not B as Ayn Rand after Aristotle would observe. But to make an analogy is necessarily to compare A to B.
But analogies are still extremely useful things for higher level thinking, reasoning and understanding. The analogy I offered was to handedness. Regarding understanding the mystery of the etiology of sexual orientation and handedness, the chosenness and potential mutability of both (among other things), the analogy seems apt.
Who chooses their handedness? It’s natural to the person. Therefore, many would conclude, it’s inborn, genetic, born that way, etc. “Neurodoc,” riding this impulse like a wave, responded with the evidence s/he, an expert, had of left handedness’s genetic origin. Neurodoc said something on the lines of “most experts trace left handedness to gene ‘ex123@Qa$e'”; yes, I made up the name of the gene I put in quotations because I know little of how the experts categorize genes.
Likewise, experts who seek to trace homosexuality to genes can mumble likely ones (for instance, on the mother’s side) as the culprit for what causes homosexuality. So my analogy seemed quite apt. Indeed, I offered as evidence a book by Chandler Burr which recognizes the mystery of the origin of homosexuality and offers as a close analogy, left handedness (where I got the analogy).
Homosexuality is not “genetic” like eye or hair color. Identical twins always have the same of both, but are discordant when one twin turns out homosexual, the other not. However, there is similar discordance with handedness. When I pointed this out, “Neurodoc’s” response was to attack the expert authority of Burr (the genetic fallacy) and appeal to his or her own (as noted above, often a logical fallacy). Burr is, as a professional expert, a fragrancer, not a “doctor of neurology” as “Neurodoc” claimed to be.
Still, check out this article from the experts on left handedness’s etiology. How do we explain why some identical twins have the same handedness (either both left-handed, or both right-handed), but others do not? The article claims such things as “[t]here are two kinds of handedness: genetic and epigenetic.” The “epigentic” is when identical twins who share the same genes have different handedness. The genes are involved somehow. But something else triggers the expression of the gene where one identical twin gets the trait, the other doesn’t.
Is the destiny of the trait that emerges discordant in identical twins fixed at birth? Sometime thereafter? Who knows. (See this article too on the matter.) So when the anti-gay types provide evidence of discordant sexuality of identical twins and so conclude “you aren’t born with your sexual orientation, it’s a choice, etc.,” we see they assert a non-sequitur.
But remember A is A. Analogies always have their limitations. Sexuality is natural to the person and unchosen, like handedness? Sure. But “immutable”? How “immutable” is handedness? I was once told (I never verified in the expert literature) that if a right handed person has their right arm cut off, their left hand will over relatively short time adapt, and those changes will be evident in the brain.
Analogously, make of that what you can and will.
Ultimately, I think the handedness analogy is telling in the sense that there is nothing necessarily wrong with the underlying conduct of both: doing things with the “other” hand or “other” sex that would be acceptable if done with the “same.” It’s equally wrong to pull the trigger of a gun and murder someone whether using the left hand or right.
The nature of the orientation, therefore, can help us understand why folks might do what they do; but ultimately it’s the propriety of engaging in the underlying conduct that determines the morality of such. Why do birds choose to fly? Should we judge them for that “choice”? Pedophilia is wrong because it harms children; that aspect is entirely absent from homosexual relations between consenting adults. Even if we could prove there was an unchosen, natural pedophilia orientation, that wouldn’t change why pedophilia is wrong.
So ultimately we are left with same sex conduct justified not because it’s an unchosen orientation but rather because it’s between consenting equals who harm no outside party. The “born that way” dynamic is irrelevant here. As John Corvino has noted, whether you are a natural blond (unchosen) or dye your hair (a choice) doesn’t detract from the fact that there is nothing wrong with having blond hair.
That many persons oriented towards same sex relations so pursue them because, out of necessity, their orientation seemingly leaves them with little or no choice (like a southpaw doing what comes natural) is MORE relevant to the propriety of a system that seeks to limit such expression. What kind of grief might a system that anathematizes left-handedness inflict on those so inclined? Whatever you can imagine, it’s far worse for those same-sex inclined.