The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

What does the existence of the “gay gene” mean?

Last week, I was excited that Dr. Dean Hamer, a nationally renowned scientist, was coming to Grinnell to give a talk about the “gay gene.” I particularly found it personally convenient that someone could validate my identity by scientifically proving that “gay people” do not “choose” their sexual orientation, but are born with a sexual desire toward same-sex sexual partners. In fact it was more than convenient, it was an opportunity to reinforce the argument that I had been debating for two consecutive days with my friend about whether being queer was involuntary or was it a matter of free will.

But Dr. Hamer’s male-oriented studies and repetitive words did not help my argument at all. In fact, the implications of his “discovery” sent me back to a time when women were accused of being witches and hunted down like wild animals. He explained that it is difficult to pin down one particular gene that could determine sexual orientation in a male because there are multiple factors that influence whether a gene is directly linked to another gene or if it is activated. However, he was sure about one thing: the X-chromosome carried the ‘gay gene’ in his male participants.

Read that last sentence again. I did not register the magnitude of what that statement implied until I heard it the second time. I sat in that room doubting my hearing, but there it was again: the discovery of “A Linkage between DNA Markers on the X-chromosome and Male Sexual Orientation” (this is actually the title of one of his published works). Males inherit their X-chromosome copy from their biological mothers, right? So does that mean that the biological mothers of his participants passed the “gay gene” to them? I did not know how to react to such a conclusion, other than remembering the disclaimer on the TV show “Cops”: “all suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

But women in my family are already guilty in the court of men whose machismo makes up our patriarchal society. I have even heard men describe women as if they were infected with the contagious virus of destruction. In my traditional machista family, as well in many others, men believe that women are responsible for “turning” their children gay or lesbian with their excessive expressions of love or liberal feminist thoughts. In religion, women have been condemned since the beginning of times as the “sin instigator,” which is represented in the biblical figure of Eve. In history, women have been pronounced guilty of producing daughters instead of sons, but scientists have proven that in fact it is the male’s Y-chromosome that determines the biological sex of a child.

So is Dr. Hamer’s scientific “discovery” going to reinforce the notion that mothers not only “nurture” their sons to be gay but are also biologically guilty of having gay male children? How will my patriarchal, perhaps antiquated society, use this piece of information? Will we then move from the “sick gay” to the “sick mother,” who is spreading the “disease” of gayness? Will society discriminate against “infected women,” thus creating another sub-category under “woman”? Will patriarchal societies like the one my family comes from have new views on abortion? Or will it try monitor the number of children that “infected women” can have if any? Or will society panic and place all “infected women” in “relocation camps” like they did to Japanese families during World War II?

What do the government, scientists or our own biological characteristics, for that matter, have to do with determining our identities? If someone self-identifies as gay, but does not have the “gay gene” can they still identify as gay? Or will society perceive them as wannabes? What about people who do not self-identify as gay and their “gay gene” is activated by environment, as Dr. Hamer suggested? Will they be forced to take on the gay identity just because we have determined that a gene makes up our sexual orientation? There are cases of people who are raced white, but who self-identify as African Americans. So why do we have to limit identity to our genetic make-up?

At the end of Dean Hamer’s talk, I was searching for reasons why I might want a doctor to validate and determine my sexual orientation just like they determined my biological sex—having a list of biological and social standards to justify my queer identity would vastly simplify my life. However, the reality is that sexual orientation cannot be explained with a recipe. In this same way, sexual orientation cannot be narrowed down to a gene that Dr. Hamer claims is carried in the X-chromosome. Rather, it’s a puzzle that cannot be solved by fitting pieces together since society has not determined every factor that might make up sexual orientation—if, in fact, those factors exist.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *