The New Atlantis’ Contentious Report on LGBT Issues
Drs. Paul McHugh and Lawrence Mayer have conducted a report on sexual orientation and gender identity and it is featured at The New Atlantis. Ryan Anderson, writing at The Daily Signal, summarizes its key findings in a piece entitled “Almost Everything the Media Tell You About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Is Wrong.”
Anderson introduces “McHugh, whom the editor of The New Atlantis describes as ‘arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century,”… It’s good that Anderson isn’t taking credit for that assertion as McHugh, because of things he has written on social issues, is practically considered a pariah in the field. Still, his voice deserves to be heard and ought not be censored by political correctness.
Often, it seems medical doctors in general, and psychiatrists in particular, improperly use their authority to opine on policy issues. I don’t single out McHugh et al. for this, as the “other side” does it too. McHugh et al. could be understood as fighting fire with fire.
There is nothing new about this and it is not a major report. Major reports are published to peer reviewed scholarly journals. The New Atlantis is not peer reviewed and it is a project of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. EPPC is a conservative Catholic organization headed by Ed Whelan with an assist from George Weigel. The authors did not engage in an independent investigation of anything. Rather, this is a cherry picking of existing research to suit a predetermined ideological conclusion.
That’s probably right. The New Atlantis could argue, again, something like turn about is fair play. The professional organizations have already politicized the process. 1 But let me continue with Anderson’s summary from The Daily Signal:
“The report reviews rigorous research showing that ‘only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.'”
Yet, if I am not mistaken, these same studies show that those children who experience gender dysphoria, but later learn to be comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth remain homosexual or bisexual in their adulthood. That for them, their homosexual or bisexual orientation seems immutable.
So, let us then turn to the question of the mutability of sexual orientation. Again from Anderson’s summary:
“Finally, the report notes that scientific evidence does not support the claim that people are ‘born that way’ with respect to sexual orientation. The narrative pushed by Lady Gaga and others is not supported by the science. A combination of biological, environmental, and experiential factors likely account for an individual’s sexual attractions, desires, and identity, and ‘there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation.'” (Emphasis added.)
We see two potential contradictions here. First, we saw evidence that those who experience gender dysphoria as children but later learn to feel comfortable as the gender they were assigned at birth have a seemingly immutable homosexual or bisexual orientation. “Seemingly,” meaning “something like” immutable. It could be a phenomenon that occurs shortly after birth or early in childhood that stamps an immutable characteristic onto the person.
For instance, I know I was born with my foreskin; but for as long as I can remember I have been circumcised. It’s not something I chose or can change. Or we can use an example of a six month old who suffers an amputation; they’ve always remembered being that way; they didn’t choose it; and it won’t change; it can’t be prayed away because God does not heal amputees.
Not all or even most people who identify as LGB, or have had same sex-sexual experiences, or same sex attraction will experience significant gender dysphoria of the kind these studies examine. So one conclusion to keep in mind as we observe the numbers below is this is a small subset within a larger “group.”
The second potential contradiction relates to the term biological, as used. Twice in Anderson’s above quoted summary we see that term. We see the bald assertions 1. that biology does not determine sexual orientation, coupled with 2. that biology does in fact determine sexual orientation as long as we include environmental and experiential factors into the accounting.
Studies of identical twins suggest sexual orientation is not genetic like eye color or hair color. Rather, as with handedness, certainly epigenetic explanations are not ruled out. So genes alone do not, as far as science tells us, cause the thing. Rather, they are or could be a component of the thing. I think I would agree with the The New Atlantis if the authors posit multiple causes and reject a one sized fits all explanation. Certainly I agree we don’t yet have all the answers and need more honest research.
Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a psychologist, contacted Dr. Michael Bailey, who specializes in what has been termed sociobiology, behavior genetics, and evolutionary psychology for his reaction to the report.
1. Their review of sexual orientation is not up to date (A major omission is that it neglects to cite our recent magnum opus on this topic: http://psi.sagepub.com/content/17/2/45.full.pdf+htmlf). The idea that sexual orientation is fluid has some plausibility for women, but not for men.
As I reviewed the sexual orientations sections, I agree with Bailey. I especially agree that readers should read this major review of research on sexual orientation published earlier this year. Mayer and McHugh’s paper is missing any serious discussion of epigenetics, they overlook the new genetic linkage paper involving gay brothers, as well as work on “gay rams.” The TNA authors minimize the neural differences between gays and straights, calling them “minor differences in brain structures.” How do these authors know what differences are minor and which are not? In fact, the differences in symmetry and brain activity are quite provocative and have not been accounted for by any environmental theory. Of course, we need more research with larger sample sizes but Mayer and McHugh just shrug these studies off as inconsequential.
Both the authors of The New Atlantis report as well as Bailey and Throckmorton might need to tweak their paradigm. Yes, sexuality seems more fluid for women than men. However, there are women who have a “fixed” same-sex orientation and men who experience fluidity. The idea that there is a continuum suggests that some people may honestly experience their sexual orientation as fixed while others may experience it as fluid. Some who have more of a bisexual orientation may experience more choice in the gender to which they decide to pursue or settle down with. Just as a mixed race person may experience more choice as to which race to identify with and consequently have more of an ability to pass in either race.
Data from The Williams Institute, specifically variances among sexual orientation identification, behavior, and attraction, demonstrate the existence of a continuum. What we see is that 3.5% identify as LGBT (with 1.8% identifying as bisexual, “compared to 1.7% who identify as lesbian or gay”). Over twice that number — 8.2% — report engaging in same sex behavior at some point in their life. A still larger group, 11% of the population, report having experienced homosexual attraction.
What’s interesting is if 3.5% are identifying as LGBT, but a much larger, and perhaps even under-reported, percentage report having had homosexual experiences and attraction, then most of the people in those larger two groups (“have had homosexual experience” and “have had homosexual attraction”) either identify as heterosexual or something not “LGBT.” I think most of them are probably predominantly heterosexual and may not be interested in choosing to place themselves in the LGBT “social group.”
The data seem clear that for 2% of the population, we don’t have fluidity. Rather we have something probably immutable (or so intractable it appears immutable, something that can’t be prayed away or cured with reparative therapy). If not inborn, then something essentially the same like the above examples of the circumcision or the 6-month-old who had an amputation. Perhaps not inborn, but still unchosen and immutable. Perhaps for some the fixation is before birth, for others, it is after birth.
If, on the other hand, the numbers are closer to 8-10% (or perhaps a much larger unreported number), with most of those involved, bisexual in some sense — i.e., straight leaning bisexuals — it’s understandable why for many of these folks homosexuality wouldn’t look like something they were born with, rather something they have experimented with.
- Medical science and psychiatry are not especially or particularly qualified to cross the “is-ought” gap. And when “oughts” are predetermined, the “is” thereafter is selectively sought after. For instance, medical science may be able to tell us the safest and most effectively way to perform an abortion. But it can’t adequately answer the moral question of when an abortion should be performed to begin with, etc., etc.