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The evolutionary puzzle of homosexuality

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In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.

It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.

But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.

But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.001

“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”

Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.


The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too

The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.

There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.

Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.

There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.


Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’

The fa'afafine of Samoa dislike being called "gay" or "homosexual"

The fa’afafine of Samoa dislike being called “gay” or “homosexual”

Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.

Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.

Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.

“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.

Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.

Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.

If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.


Gay people do have children

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In the US, around 37% of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people have a child, about 60% of which are biological. According to the Williams Institute, gay couples that have children have an average of two.

These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary 002biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.

How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.

“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”

Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.

A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).

But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”


It’s not all in the DNA

Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.

This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.

Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.

Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.

William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this 003by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.

Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”

For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.

Complete Article HERE!

The film making us face the idea disabled people have sex

‘Yes We Fuck’ is an uncompromising look at the reality that disabled people have sex lives too. We caught up with director and disability activist Antonio Centeno to find out more

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Yes We Fuck

As a society we’re becoming more accepting of sexuality in all its guises and forms – and rightly so. 2015 could be seen as the year when trans issues finally broke through into the mainstream after decades spent on the margins of society, while more and more women in particular are joining the sexually fluid revolution. And yet for all of our talk, there’s one conversation that we’re not having – about how disabled people have sex.

Spanish director and disability activist Antonio Centeno wants to tackle this prudishness head-on. His film Yes We Fuck (which is co-directed with Raúl de la Morena) is a no-holds barred look at the world of disabled sexuality, with uncompromising visuals (of people having sex) and a strong sense of moral purpose. Centeno shows human intimacy in all its forms, and what strikes you from watching the film is that the issues faced by disabled people when it comes to their sex lives aren’t so dissimilar to those faced by the rest of the population.

Watching the film, which recently showed at the British Film Institute’s Flare festival, at times makes for uncomfortable viewing. You’re discomfited by the fact that the sexuality depicted on our TVs and in popular culture almost uniformly represents one experience: that of heterosexual intimacy between two able-bodied, cis-gendered people.

Yes We Fuck is an uplifting, refreshing corrective to the narrative that disabled people are in some way sexless, made noble by the struggles they undergo to assimilate into a society that is in many ways ableist. The film isn’t perfect – sections are too long, and while Centeno wants to depict the reality of disabled people having sex, at times the camera lingers too long or in a way that feels intrusive. It’s clear that this is very much a passion project from the fledging director, and one which could perhaps have profited from tauter editing. Nonetheless, it’s rare to see a film which so profoundly makes you confront your own prejudices to recognize that we all of us share a common humanity and a common desire to express that humanity through the most natural act of all – the act of fucking, of course.

To find why we need to get on board with the fact that disabled people fuck like the rest of us, Dazed caught up with Centeno at the BFI. Below is the transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for flow and clarity.

 

Can you give us a bit of background as to why you made Yes We Fuck? Is this an issue that’s particularly close to home for you?

Antonio Centeno: By background I’m an activist and I’ve always advocated for helping disabled people, or those with functional diversity as we prefer to call them, to lead independent lives wherever possible. For us, this is a political issue. If we want people with functional diversity to have real lives – not merely to survive – then we need to be visible sexual beings. We need to break this infantilised image of us as children, to show that people with functional diversity are sexual beings, people who desire and are desired. So by giving them a sexuality, we politicise the issue.

You depict real-life intimacy in the film in a lot of detail. How did you get the participants to trust you?

Antonio Centeno: Many of the people in the film I’d met as activists throughout the years, so they trusted in me and what I was doing. And they understood that the film wasn’t just entertainment, but a political tool to help the change the realities of our society. I mean, of course it was difficult, to expose yourself and put your body out there. But it was only possible because of the trust I enjoyed from them, and the fact they understood what political message we were trying to put out.

What’s the reaction been like?

Antonio Centeno: In my native Spain and internationally there’s been a huge amount of interest and it’s generally been very well received. Some people find it too direct, maybe  there’s too much exposure, and some people thought there were some stories missing as well. But it’s been more difficult getting it out to a wider audience, outside of LGBT and specialist film festivals. And I think this reflects the way in which people with functional diversity live in our society. You know, we live away from the masses, from the general public. We live in ghettos. And by ghettos, I mean special residences, or with families that look after us. We go to special schools, because we have to. We work in special centres. So basically, we live in a parallel world, segregated from other people.

Would you like to see this segregation broken down so everyone is living side-by-side?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I’m not sure about ‘everyone’. I don’t like most people! [Laughs].

The title of the film is quite risque…

Antonio Centeno: In Spain, we have a motto which roughly translates as ‘Fuck as you live, and live as you fuck’. Which means that you can only have your own independent life if you have a sex life which is free, which is independent, which is rich. And you can only have a sex life that is free if you personally are free. If you have a free sex life, you can have a good life. You can fight for your freedom, for your independence. So the film is about how you can show, through sexuality, that people with functional diversity want to live like others, independently, not being cancelled out and made to delegate their decisions through family members or professionals.

What I found interesting about the film is that a lot of the sexual issues that people faced, like guilt or shame, are common to everyone, not just those with functional diversity.

Antonio Centeno: Well, our intention wasn’t just just to show weird people doing weird things. We wanted to deal with general issues, like desire, pleasure, our relationship with our bodies. But basically by focussing on this group of people with functional diversity, we produced this magnifying glass effect…I mean, the issues that they have aren’t so dissimilar from those the rest of the population have. But it’s just magnified in this group.

It’s historically very difficult to depict sex on film. Was this a concern for you? Wanting to show sexuality in a way that was honest without being gratuitous?

Antonio Centeno: Well, I want to start by saying that reality doesn’t exist, as such. We were constructing a reality. And that’s the powerful thing about porn, not that it represents reality but that it constructs reality. If we think about what people think about those with functional diversity, they think that we don’t have sex. So we wanted to put images in the heads of the viewers, so that those images were incompatible with the prejudices that they had.

Is there a danger that we risk sensationalising the issue?

Antonio Centeno: It’s a risk we take, definitely. But if the problem before was people with functional diversity being invisible, and now it’s us being sensationalised, that’s okay with me. For me, it’s important that we construct narratives which don’t just place people with functional diversity between two opposite poles. You know, we have the pariahs, the hopeless people, and then on the other end of the spectrum there’s the hero and it’s all very inspiring, but…I mean, no one actually believes that. It’s reductive. So there are lots of stories that have to be constructed in the middle about people with functional diversity. And that’s what I hope to do.

Complete Article HERE!

SEX WISDOM With Carol Queen — Podcast #266 — 03/02/11

Hello sex fans! Welcome back.

Holy cow, I’m giddy with excitement today, because I have an extraordinary show in store for you. We have an audience with the Queen. …ahh, no not that one, you silly geese. I’m talking about my colleague, Carol Queen, the sexologist, writer, speaker, educator, activist and I’m gonna add to that list — national treasure.

But wait; that’s not all! This show is a twofer, don’t cha know. My guest, our conversation and the themes discussed in this podcast easily fall into both the SEX WISDOM series and the Play With It series.

Carol is, of course, one of the movers and shakers in the field of human sexuality; who is making news and helping us take a fresh look at our sexual selves. She’s also a prominent figure in the adult products marketplace; helping reshape that industry as well.

Carol and I discuss:

  • Being a sexological over-achiever;
  • Founding one of the first gay/lesbian youth groups in the nation;
  • Sexual orientation, affectional choices and gender;
  • Bisexuality – the space between the binaries;
  • The altering effect of strap-on sex;
  • Removing the stigma of sex;
  • Orgasm Inc.;
  • Being one of the staff sexologists at Good Vibrations;
  • Sex toy health concerns;
  • The impact of sexologists in the adult products marketplace;
  • Truth in advertising.

Carol invites you to visit her on her site HERE!  She has a monthly column in the Good Vibrations Magazine HERE!  She’s on Facebook HERE! And enjoy her twitter feed HERE!

(For a little icing on this already marvelous cake, enjoy some videos featuring Carol.)


BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!

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Got a question or a comment? Wanna rant or rave? Or maybe you’d just like to talk dirty for a minute or two. Why not get it off your chest! Give Dr Dick a call at (866) 422-5680.

DON’T BE SHY, LET IT FLY!

Look for all my podcasts on iTunes. You’ll find me in the podcast section, obviously. Just search for Dr Dick Sex Advice. And don’t forget to subscribe. I wouldn’t want you to miss even one episode.

Today’s Podcast is bought to you by: DR DICK’S — HOW TO VIDEO LIBRARY.

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What Does Transgender Mean? Your Guide to Understanding Trans Terminology.

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For this edition of Elle Oh Elle, I’ve enlisted the voice of Monika MHz, a Portland DJ and columnist. Monika is a trans woman, and she’s here to explain how you can make the world a better place by removing transphobia from your life.

Although ultimately impossible to measure precisely, a new study suggests that about 1.6 million Americans are transgender. Too often in the LGBT discussion, we focus on the LGB, and forget about the T.

Let’s broaden our discussion, to include all of our sex-positive brothers and sisters. It is perfectly OK to not yet be familiar with these terms — but as you seek to better understand the trans community, it helps to start by understanding some of the language. Here’s your starter guide.<

Transgender

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe a person who does not identify specifically with their assigned gender from birth. There’s a big spectrum on this — not everyone falls into an entirely male or female category — meaning the term includes a lot of gray area.

Some people use the term “transgender” to include drag queens and all gender nonconforming folks; others don’t. Some trans folks hate the term; others don’t. “Trans” bridges some of that gap. “When in doubt,” Monika says, “just say ‘trans.’ It’s a baggage-free abbreviation, umbrella, and identity for a large percentage of the community — and won’t be read as offensive or rude. No one is gonna start a hashtag because you called me trans.”

Cisgender

Here’s a simple way to understand what it means to be cisgender:

ELLE: I’m a cisgender female; meaning I identify with the gender assigned to me at birth. I was raised as a female, and I identify as such.

MONIKA: I’m a trans woman. I was assigned male at birth, and I’m a woman. I’m also a DJ and a writer. I’m wicked hot — and you, dear reader, should treat me like people.

FTM, MTF

FTM is an acronym for “female-to-male” that refers to trans men who were assigned female at birth. Conversely, MTF is “male-to-female” and refers to trans women assigned male at birth. Some people find the term uncomfortable and don’t like to use it; others prefer it. You should always ask before these acronyms to describe an individual.

But how do you ask someone a question like this?

“It’s like asking any other personal question,” Monika says. “Don’t drop the bomb in the middle of discussing Stranger Things on Netflix. But if the topic comes up and you are struggling to find the right wording in your head, it’s OK to just ask: ‘I’m sorry, this might be wrong, but do you prefer FTM or is there a better term?’ Just use good judgment, be polite, and you’ll be fine. Always better to ask!”

LGBT, LGBQ, LGBTQA, TBLG

The above acronyms are used in reference to L) lesbian, G) gay, B) bisexual, T) transgender, Q) queer, and A) asexual or ally. But while we lump all these groups together into a single acronym (i.e., “the LGBT community”), it’s important to remember that each part of these acronyms represents a specific identity. Trans is overlooked too often, even as strides are made among the gay, bisexual, and lesbian communities. But some of that is (finally!) starting to shift, ever so slowly.

“Trans folks have been at the front of the LGBTQ equality movement from the start,” Monika says. “Trans women fought on the front lines of Stonewall and the Compton Cafeteria riots. As things got better for LGBQ folks, the T just seemed louder by comparison. Our stories, eventually, cut through the noise and it leads us to where we are now.

“An ‘ally’ is what you call yourself when you use the right pronoun for your trans friend, or when you retweet Laverne Cox. However, being an ally is more than just a few actions. Even if you don’t know a trans person, you can ally.” Write an email to your state and national government officials in support of employment protections for trans folks, or talk to your family about the humanity of trans folks. You can ally all over your family.

Pronouns

Pronouns are the parts of speech we use to describe the gender of people, pets, and sometimes boats and cars (if you’re into that sort of thing). She, he, and — if you’re non-binary, or genderqueer — they. If you don’t know someone’s gender, it’s really easy to just use “their/they.” Try it! People do it with babies all the time.

“Your cat is licking their paws.”

“That person with long hair is waiting for their cab.”

“People do it all the time in general,” Monika says. “Chicago style manual, Washington Post, and many other style guides recognize it as just plain useful. I have a friend who doesn’t like it for formal writing, but they’re wrong. See what I did there?”

Transition

It’s sort of just like it sounds. It’s usually referring to the medical and/or social puberty experienced by trans folks. It’s just like a young cis (non-trans) boy “transitions” from boyhood to manhood during puberty. You might hear someone tell you that they transitioned when they were 16, for example. That would give you some idea of their life experience.

Transphobia

“People often read this as ‘fear of trans people’ and sorta rightly so, given its etymological roots,” Monika says. “However, the way it’s used is more than just the fear or hate of trans people. It’s about the systemic and socially mediated ways in which society mistreats an entire class of people and how that impacts the way trans folks, and trans women in particular, are treated.”

Intersex

“This has nothing to do with being trans,” Monika says. “It’s a generalizing medical term to describe folks born with genetic, reproductive, and sexual anatomy differences that don’t fit the usual definitions of male and female. Some intersex people are trans, and others aren’t, but they are separate things.”

Genderqueer

Genderqueer is a sort of catchall umbrella term often used to describe gender non-conforming and trans folks who don’t feel like they fit into the male or female identity. Not everyone uses it, and some people identify as genderqueer and a woman or a man. It’s a messy world, and language is often inadequate to describe how folks feel.

In one stand-up routine, comedian Whitney Streed sums their experience as such: “I cut my hair [short], I dress and move about the earth in this particular fashion, because I need my gender to be baffling. Like I need it not to scan. I’ve thought about it, and I want all of my catcalls to end in question marks, that’s what I’m going for. I want my gender to be something like a crossword puzzle. Because you are gonna work on this the entire bus ride to work. Just taking in all the clues, thinking about it. You get there, you think to yourself, ‘Did I get all of that right?’ –That’s me! I am the New York Times Sunday crossword of gender.”

Queer

In the same way some sex-positive people like myself refer to themselves as a slut, most younger LGBTQ people are happy to call themselves “queer” in an effort to reclaim the connotations of the word.

“It’s a term some LGBT folks forged out of an anti-gay slur,” Monika says. “Usually only referring to sexuality, I like to use it to describe my sexuality and not my gender. Some people, though, identify as queer rather than trans. [But] it can be very offensive to some people, especially gay men of older generations.”

Cross-dresser

Everyone is a cross dresser and everyone isn’t. Basically it’s all about social context. Women wear suits all the time now, but at a different time we might have called that cross-dressing.

Nowadays, people seem to use it to exclusively refer to men who wear clothing and makeup deemed too feminine for a man. It’s a ridiculous term past its prime.<

Gender identity

Gender identity is defined as the personal experience of one’s own gender. Which seems vague, but that’s fine.

“Sometimes it [gender identity] can feel less solid,” Monika says. “I don’t just identify as Latina, I am Latina. I am a woman.”

To cut through the confusion, just go with the gender an individual identifies as. A person with a vagina who identifies as a man, is a man. A person with a penis identifying as a woman, is a woman.

Trans man

This is a catchall usually used for trans people assigned female at birth who are men. Sometimes they have gone through — or are planning to go through — some medical interventions to enhance their comfort with their bodies.

Sometimes, people use the term to refer to people who don’t identify with manhood. These are individual cases.

Trans woman

See above. This usually refers to people assigned male at birth who are women. “Trans women” is also sometimes used as a term for all trans people who were assigned male at birth.

Tranny

For both uses of trans, is it OK to use the term “tranny”?< "You’re allowed to say any word, sure," Monika says. "But it’s probably ill-advised to skip down the street dropping the 'T' all day. Not only are you likely to ruin someone’s day, but you’ll likely sound like a clueless relic. So, unless you want to be a wanker, hold off on the 'T-word'... unless you’re a trans woman. It’s sort of 'our word.'” Same goes for “transvestite.” It’s archaic, and should be left to the script of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“Back in the ’90s,” Monika says, “there were these insufferably fine distinctions drawn between different types of transgender and gender-nonconforming folks. ‘Transvestite’ was a diagnosis from the DSM IV codes for mental illness — that has since been removed — used to describe folks who fetishized cross-dressing. If you identify as a man, and wearing lingerie while jerking off sounds like an ideal Sunday activity, then at that time you would have been considered a transvestite. These distinctions have largely fallen out of use, or fashion, or whatever. No one is really using this term anymore.”

Sex, sexuality, and gender are a larger ingredient to the recipe of a society. And human rights are an integral part of an ethical nation — but it all starts with our ability to communicate with each other. Asking questions, showing compassion, and seeking understanding: this is how we elevate our culture to a better place.

Complete Article HERE!

We’re Not Quite ‘Born This Way’

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Back in 2014, a bigoted African leader put J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern, in a strange position. Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, had been issuing a series of anti-gay tirades, and — partially fueled by anti-gay religious figures from the U.S. — was considering toughening Uganda’s anti-gay laws. The rhetoric was getting out of control: “The commercialisation of homosexuality is unacceptable,” said Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics minister. “If they were doing it in their own rooms we wouldn’t mind, but when they go for children, that’s not fair. They are beasts of the forest.” Eventually, Museveni said he would table the idea of new legislation until he better understood the science of homosexuality, and agreed to lay off Uganda’s LGBT population if someone could prove to him homosexuality was innate.

That’s where Bailey comes in: He’s a leading sex researcher who has published at length on the question of where sexual orientation comes from. LGBT advocates began reaching out to him to explain the science of homosexuality and, presumably, denounce Museveni for his hateful rhetoric. But “I had issues with rushing out a scientific statement that homosexuality is innate,” he said in an email, because he’s not sure that’s quite accurate. While he did write articles, such as an editorial in New Scientist, explaining why he thought Museveni’s position didn’t make sense, he stopped short of calling homosexuality innate. He also realized that in light of some recent advances in the science of sexual orientation, it was time to publish an article summing up the current state of the field — gathering together all that was broadly agreed-upon about the nature and potential origins of sexual orientation. (In the meantime, Museveni did end up signing the anti-gay legislation, justifying his decision by reasoning that homosexuality “was learned and could be unlearned.”)

To help write his paper, Bailey assembled an impressive multidisciplinary team: It consisted of the psychologists Paul Vasey and Lisa Diamond, the neuroscientist S. Marc Breedlove, the geneticist Eric Vilain, and Marc Epprecht, a historian with a focus on gender and sexuality in Africa.

Their article, which was recently published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, is something of an all-you-can-eat buffet for anyone interested in the current state of scientific research into sexuality. While it’s loosely organized around the “moral” concerns raised by Museveni, it covers a wide range of subjects. It’s worth a full read, but three main points leaped out at me:

1. There’s a connection between gender expression and sexual orientation that seems to show up just about everywhere. It’s important to note that just about everything in Bailey and his colleagues’ paper has to do with average differences between members of different groups. Nothing in the paper (or this article) should be taken as implying that “all straight people X” or “all straight people Y.” The average man is significantly bigger than the average woman, but plenty of women are bigger than plenty of men; the same logic holds here.

That caveat aside, there seems to be a consistent, robust way in which sexual orientation and gender roles play off of each other and that starts early in childhood for many people. Bailey and his colleagues point out that “Childhood gender nonconformity … is a strong correlate of adult sexual orientation that has been consistently and repeatedly replicated.” For boys, this means that if a child enjoys cross-dressing, playing with dolls, growing their hair long, preferring girls as playmates, and so on, then — true to stereotype — there’s a significantly increased chance that he will grow up to be gay (in cases where all this is accompanied by gender dysphoria, or discomfort with their natal sex, there’s a chance he could also end up identifying as transgender).

Broadly speaking, these sorts of differences between (pre-)gay and (pre-)straight people persist into adulthood. Among adults, “Research indicates that heterosexual men have greater interest in occupations and hobbies focusing on things and less interest in those focusing on people, compared with heterosexual women.” For gay men and women, the pattern flips: Gay men are more into people-things than their straight brothers and dad, while gay women are more into object-things than their straight sisters and moms. This blending of stereotypically gendered behavior seems to extend to “gestures and walking,” “speech,” “physical presentation,” and “even facial appearance.”

Fascinatingly, “the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures,” the authors write, and seems to manifest itself in similar ways just about everywhere. To take one example, the researchers quote from a book chapter called “Os Entendidos: Gay life in São Paulo in the late 1970s”:

In the Guatemalan Indian town of Chimaltenango, two men lived together as lovers, wearing typical Indian clothing in an outwardly traditional Indian adobe house. The house, however, was decorated in a manner strikingly different from the other Indians. It was meticulously and elaborately decorated, a characteristic frequently found in homosexual subcultures … The occupation of the lovers was that of stringing pine needles in decorative strands, traditionally used in Guatemala for holidays and other festive occasions, and supplying flowers for weddings. In essence these two men were florists, involved in the arts of embellishment, which in larger societies are universally linked with homosexual subcultures.

Because of this striking consistency in the (again, average) differences between how straight and gay people present themselves around the world, the researchers suspect that whatever’s going on here can’t be explained solely by suggesting gay people are simply fulfilling — or being socially coerced into — culturally expected roles:

Before leaving the topic of gender nonconformity, we address a commonly raised question: Might the gender-atypicality of adult homosexual men and women simply reflect a culturally influenced self-fulfilling prophecy? In other words, given that society expects homosexual individuals to be gender atypical, and given that LGB communities often support and facetiously celebrate such gender atypicality, perhaps some homosexual people adopt gender-atypical characteristics to conform to their own stereotypes. Because of the evidence we have reviewed — indicating that gender nonconformity often begins before a prehomosexual child even has a sexual orientation or is aware of cultural stereotypes, and that the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures — we think it is highly unlikely that gender nonconformity in LGB populations represents a self-fulfilling prophecy due to cultural beliefs. It is possible, however, that cultural stereotypes sometimes amplify gender nonconformity among LGB people. Many LGB individuals report that they have always been fairly gender-typical in dress, appearance, and interests. It is possible that as these individuals come to identify as LGB and participate in the LGB community, they adopt aspects of gender-atypicality.

So if they’re right, what does explain these average differences? No one’s quite sure. But it seems like for the average human, sexuality and gender presentation are intertwined in important ways.

2. The best evidence for a nature-over-nurture explanation of sexuality comes from an accidental quasi-experiment involving surgically removed penises. Bailey and his colleagues ran through a bunch of the different ways researchers have tried to puzzle out what makes some people gay, others straight, and others bisexual: brain and hormone and genetics studies, among other areas of research. All these fields have added interesting nuggets, but it’s clear from the study that the researchers are most excited by a coincidental small pile of research they call “the near-perfect quasi-experiment.”The participants in this quasi-experiment might not share the researchers’ enthusiasm. All of them were natal males who were either “born with malformed penises or lost their penises in surgical accidents.” Between 1960 and 2000, Bailey and his colleagues write, “many doctors in the United States believed that such males would be happier being socially and surgically reassigned female,” and that’s what happened to these kids: They were raised as girls, wearing “girl” clothes, doing “girl” things, and so on. (Alice Dreger does a wonderful job explaining this practice and how it came to change, in part due to activism she herself helped to spearhead, in her book Galileo’s Middle Finger.)

Bailey and his colleagues examined the seven such cases that have been written up in the literature. Of the seven, they found, six of the unfortunate subjects came to eventually identify as heterosexual males at the time they were followed up with; the seventh still identified as female and said she was “predominately” into women.

If socialization were a significant part of the sexuality equation, the odds that not one of these natal males would grow up to be attracted primarily to men are just about nil, statistically speaking. “These results comprise the most valuable currently available data concerning the broad nature-versus-nurture questions for sexual orientation,” write the researchers. “They show how difficult it is to derail the development of male sexual orientation by psychosocial means. If one cannot reliably make a male human become attracted to other males by cutting off his penis in infancy and rearing him as a girl, then what other psychosocial intervention could plausibly have that effect?”

So does that clinch it? Sexuality is, in fact, innate? Not quite …

3. “Born this way” is probably wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Think back to the reason Bailey decided to co-author this paper: Uganda’s homophobic president was asking for “proof” that homosexuality is inborn. Bailey and his colleagues don’t think it would be accurate to claim to be able to deliver him that proof. At the moment, they write, when you look at the (somewhat limited) twin research that has been conducted — studies on twins being the best large-scale way to tease out nature-nurture questions — it looks like about a third of the variation in sexual orientation in human beings comes from genes; 43 percent comes from environmental influences a given set of twins don’t share (random factors that cause their brains and bodies to develop differently, such as different experiences); and 25 percent from environmental influences they do share (their general upbringing, developing in the same uterine environment, and so on).

Putting things a bit more straightforwardly: Identical twins share the same genes and the same womb, and yet when one is gay, the other is usually straight. That means things likely aren’t set at birth. Those environmental factors — mostly nonsocial ones, the researchers think — do matter.

So it’s complicated, and there’s also a sex divide: Bailey’s current view is that male sexual orientation is probably more or less set by birth, but for females, who in general exhibit a bit more fluidity with regard to sexual orientation, postnatal factors could be important. For humanity as a whole, “born this way” is probably a bit too pithy a summary of what’s going on, at least in light of the current evidence — which could change as we come to better understand the brain, genetics, and hormones. (Note: I updated this paragraph post-publication to mention the sex difference, which is important and comes up throughout Bailey and his colleagues’ paper.)

But as the authors hint, people often misinterpret this as meaning sexual orientation is a choice, or is something one person (presumably a creepy older adult) can teach another one (presumably an innocent, otherwise-straight child). That’s not the case. It’s important, they argue, to keep in mind a simple distinction: The sentence “I choose to have sex with partners of my own sex” makes sense, while the sentence “I choose to desire to have sex with partners of my own sex” doesn’t. No one chooses what they desire. The authors make this point nicely with a quote in which Einstein sums up one of Schopenhauer’s views: “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” The opposite of inborn isn’t chosen.

It’s perhaps no surprise that in the last part of their paper, Bailey and his colleagues come out strongly against the harsh anti-gay laws Museveni passed. There’s scant evidence, contra Museveni’s claims, that homosexual people “recruit” otherwise-straight children into their subculture, or that sexuality is otherwise socially learned. Museveni’s resistance to evidence might be a useful lesson: People seeking to demonize and stigmatize other people’s identities and behaviors probably aren’t particularly interested in the science underlying those identities and behaviors, anyway. They tend to be far more animated by political opportunism or fear or disgust than a desire to truly understand the full, fascinating range of the human experience.

For the rest of us, born this way might be useful shorthand, but it doesn’t capture the full picture — and we can handle the nuance.

Complete Article HERE!