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Friday, July 28, 2006

Gaybies

I was over on Talking Points Memo and I saw an ad in the sidebar there. It was something about genetic predeterminism, and it showed a picture of an adorable little baby, with a big red GAY label stamped on its forehead.

Wow.

I doubt we've isolated a sexual orientation gene, and personally, I doubt we'll ever be able to, since I suspect sexual orientation derives at least in part from environment and conditioning. I could be wrong, though; I don't claim to know much about this stuff. My degree was in... oh, wait. I don't have a degree. Well, my areas of expertise are Silver Age superhero comics and the writing of Robert A. Heinlein. So I claim no special insights here.

Still, the image made me speculate. How much, and how well or poorly, would the world be changed, if it was possible to determine, before birth, or shortly after, what your child's adult sexual orientation would be?

The first thing that comes to mind is that hard core conservatives might do an abrupt 180 on the abortion issue, if it became possible for them to determine that the fetus in Mrs. Cleaver's tummy is going to grow up to be a goddam worthless hellbound deviant civilization destroying indecent faggot.

Then other stuff crowds in. How fast would laws be passed regarding the privacy of this kind of information? What kind of laws would they be? Conservatives would want sexual orientation determined and then publicly trumpeted as early as possible.

Even if this wasn't made mandatory, I'll bet you anything that any conservative couple with a heterosexual child would publish the results of that kid's sexual orientation test in the papers and on billboards. Hell, I have little doubt that conservative parents would organize focus groups to do this; there would be national publications doing little more than listing the names of straight toddlers... and a presumption would quickly spring up that if your kid's name isn't in this month's NORMAL BABY, then your kid must be some kind of deviant.

Imagine the cottage industries that would condense out of the very ether to service the new, sudden need for parents everywhere to accredit their kids as heterosexual. We Can Make Your Baby Straight. We'll Help Your Child Get Past The Sexual Orientation Test. Reorientation Courses For YOUR Budget (With Church Tax Credit!). Don't let your child be denied the best opportunies due to their orientation!

I mean, fuck.

Worse... how many of us can honestly claim we'd look at our own children the same way if we knew their sexual orientation from early infancy? For myself, I sincerely couldn't care less that Super Drama Teen has a girlfriend, I'm just happy she seems happy with her current relationship... but if my 17 year old soon to be stepdaughter were a soon to be stepson instead, and dating another guy, well, I know myself well enough to understand that it would be an emotional issue for me. I'd do everything I could to keep that from being an issue for the kids in question, or anyone else... but it would still bother me. I'd be annoyed with myself for it, but I know it's true.

How much worse would it be, if I had a son and knew from infancy onward that he was going to grow up gay? Would I try harder to make him straight? Or would I just give up on him, and concentrate on his straight little brother?

How different would the pictures my mom just sent of my adorable nephew Ben seem to me, if I knew Ben was going to grow up homosexual? How differently would his parents treat him? His grandparents? His other uncles, and his aunts, and his cousins?

Lastly, as another odd note, when I first started typing this, I automatically wrote the first sentence of the second paragraph as "I doubt THEY've isolated a sexual orientation gene, and personally, I doubt THEY'll be able to". I saw that, and went back and changed it. I like the way the sentence reads much better now... instead of treating the educated, intellectual folks who actually do scientific research in the field of genetics and human behavior as some isolated, and no doubt, suspicious if not subversive elite, well... anyway. I like it better.

Mind you, I'm not trying to in any way say that I, myself, have the necessary qualifications to undertake this kind of inquiry. I'm just, you know, trying to avoid treating the egghead class as some sort of inhuman outsider category.

I guess I'd just have to make the same effort with kids whose sexual orientation I was aware of from a very early age.

6 Comments:

At 10:50 AM , Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

This scares the heck out of me on many levels (the topic, not your writing), but think of the agony it could save many a young gay lad or lassie if they knew from their age of enlightment WHY they always felt different. Having a stepbrother who went through this (it took him ten years to tell his mother, another ten to tell the rest of his family) or the parents on having the news (and whatever feelings they might have that however it happened they'd failed as a parent in some way), it could be worth it. Then maybe we'd know once and for all that sexual orientation is a genetic issue and not one cause by the fact that little Billy liked to wear his mother's pearls.

On the other hand (seems I always have another hand) it seems barbaric and narcissistic to end a pregnancy simply because you don't care for the way your child will turn out. Unbearably heartbreaking abnormalities I can see (say, severe brain damage) but I would hardly put sexual orientation or even the sex of a child (as they'd probably do in cultures where reproduction is restricted and male children are preferred) in that same category.

It reminds me of the same argument some use against gay marriage. That it will open up the floodgates for ridiculous abuses, say, a man marrying his dog (someone in Congress actually said this).

I'm perhaps a bit more open minded and optimistic than most, due to my family background, but I believe that your child is your child - gay, straight, athletic, nerdy, underachieving, left-handed, female, short, or destined for a life in prison - and with the commitment you made to bear it to term, you made a commitment to raise and love that child.

I guess the rub is in that "bear it to term" part.

 
At 2:58 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

First, as I said, I doubt there's a genetic determinant for sexual orientation. Human sexuality seems much too complex for that, all mixed up with social pressures, involuntary compulsions, and some personal choices. There might be a genetic indicator, but I can't believe it would be any more than a predisposition.

Having said that, if there was such an indicator, anything but 'straight' would be regarded as a stigma for the unfortunate infant it turned up on, given our culture's current level of unenlightenment on these issues. I have no doubt the stigma would attach to the parents, as well -- "Hey, there ain't no faggots in MY family, bitch, but we all know about your aunt the lezbo, this is YOUR fault".

While there would certainly be upsides, I can't help but feel that with things as they are now, this would cause tremendous turmoil and strife. Parents who have the occasional homosexual fantasy would be racked with guilt over what they've done to their kid, or filled with enraged denial. Kids with a 'gay gene' might feel hopeless and doomed; certainly, if their status got out, they'd be cruelly stigmatized.

Knowing once and for all that sexual orientation was genetic... I guess that might be reassuring to some, but personally, I'd find it frightening. I like to believe in free will. Beyond that, hardcore conservatism is always only a quick shuffle step away from a full on screaming public eugenics campaign; if anything could get a solid majority behind forced sterilization for undesirables, it would be a demonstrable genetic marker for sexual deviation. So I'm hoping I'm right, and it can't be nailed down, for all the reasons above.

 
At 3:29 PM , Blogger SuperFiancee said...

How long do you think it would take to have genetic testing (pre-conception) that would prevent parents who have homosexual family histories from reproducing? Wondering what this would do to the in-vitro sources for gay and lesbian couples?

Too tired to get into this further, but, I agree, the ramifications are extremely far reaching.

 
At 2:43 PM , Blogger Noam said...

First, there's no such thing as a gay gene because homosexuality is a behavior not a state of being. So, in practice, it wouldn't make too much difference, except it's harder to be in the closet.

More importantly, it would be an end to homosexuality, in the long run, as parents only choose to have normal kids, just as they're starting to do to make sure they don't have babies with birth defects. This will take some time, but with the human genome project and all, it won't be long. Could be an end to short people, too.

 
At 4:22 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

SF and Noam,

Between all of us, we seem to agree -- if homosexuality were genetically determined, it would, eventually, be wiped out by genetic engineering.

As I don't think it's genetically determined, I'm not worried about it. I just thought it was an interesting avenue of thought.

Noam, it's always a very rare thing when I see a new name in a comment submission on my blog, and even rarer when that new name has something that is both intelligent and interesting to say. When that happens, it always brightens up my day. So thanks for dropping by, and I hope you'll comment further as you feel the urge.

 
At 4:33 PM , Blogger Noam said...

Enjoy :)

At the same time, I expect there's a likely genetic component to homosexuality, even if it isn't determinant. I mean, are all the animals out there environmentally conditioned to heterosexuality?

 

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