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A new way to love: in praise of polyamory

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Polyamory isn’t monogamy and it isn’t swinging, it’s being open to having loving relationships with different people of different sexes at the same time, and in that way learning to love yourself, too

‘It’s like any normal relationship, except with more time management’: Elf Lyons.

By Elf Lyons

I have never enjoyed typical monogamy. It makes me think of dowries and possessive prairie voles who mate for life, and historically all monogamous relationship models have owned women in some way, with marriage there for financial purposes and the ownership of property.

For the last few years I’ve defined myself as a polyamorist. Friends before defined me as a “friendly philanderer”. I love to kiss people. Friends usually, or women who wear polo-necks. Polyamory is consensual non- monogamy. It’s a philosophy. Rather than the active pursuing of multiple partners in a lascivious way, it’s the embracing and understanding that it’s possible to fall in love, and have relationships, with more than one person at the same time.

Alongside developing CEO-worthy skills in multitasking, polyamory is the most empowering way of loving that I have encountered. It gives women more autonomy than other relationship models ever have. Although monogamous relationship models work for many, they’re not the only way to have relationships in society. In non-monogamous relationships, their success relies on everything being on the table from the start. I believe that it could be the huge relationship revolution that the feminist movement needs.

Many think it’s about sex – it’s not. It’s not swinging. It’s not Pokémon Go, you don’t have to catch them all. It’s about the freedom to be honest about the evolving ways you feel. It opens up the boundaries between friend and lover in a safe and transparent way.

‘As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends’: Elf Lyons.

As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends. When partners mentioned they found other people attractive, I never minded. It made sense. “Why wouldn’t you want to kiss Stephanie? She’s a legend!” Apparently that was not considered a normal way to react.

If I had known as a teenager it was possible to love more than one person, it would have saved so much anxiety, guilt and time spent writing awful poetry. I spent years beating myself up about it. It often caused me to end relationships rashly, giving excuses like “I’m not ready to be in a relationship,” or “I have commitment issues,” or “I’m not into Warhammer as much as you think.” I didn’t want to end the relationships, but admitting how I felt seemed a worse betrayal, so I would lie, breaking friendships in the process.

I discovered polyamory when I was 23. I met a parliament of poly performers at the Adelaide Festival who were hippyish, liberal and kind. These performers spoke about their partners, children, poly-families. There were ex-couples who were working together on shows while their other poly families toured elsewhere, married couples who had live-in partners, triumvirates where they all balanced an equal partnership. I was entranced by their openness. It seemed symbolic of our changing global world, and most peoples developing nomadic lifestyles where we travel for work and find love with others on the way.

So when I went to study at theatre school in Paris (fresh out of a relationship with a 45-year-old French father of three), I decided to embrace my inner Barbarella. And the reality? Non-monogamy is rather ordinary and occasionally dull. Stereotypes of weird Eyes Wide Shut sex parties and Sartre/de Beauvoir/Olga ménages à trois aside, it’s like any normal relationship, except with more time- management, more conversations about “feelings” and more awkward encounters with acquaintances at parties who try to use you as their “Sexual Awakening Friend Bicycle”, ie that shy girl from book club will get drunk and put her hand on your leg, before leaning in to kiss you, hiccuping: “I really loved Orange Is the New Black…”

‘Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent’: Elf Lyons.

There are misconceptions – a date once grabbed me for a kiss unexpectedly despite the fact I had made it clear I was in no way interested (my words were exactly: “This is not going to work. We have entirely different opinions on the EU and you have just told me I am ‘very funny for a woman’.”) When I pushed him away he was shocked. He believed because I was “sexually awakened” he could do what he liked. Luckily my experiences have meant that I am more vocal and confident, and able to stand up for myself. Yes I am open about my relationships and desires, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to touch me without my permission. Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent.

I must admit, when I first dipped my toes into polyamory I misunderstood, went overboard with Tinder. The experience was stressful and would involve me asking awkward questions like: “Do you think crabs think fish can fly?” while wandering around the National Gallery for the third time that month. (There is no denying that polyamory suits the self-employed schedule). I learned that when people don’t know what polyamory is, they misunderstand it as another term for “hook up”, which it’s not. So previous partners have usually been friends I trust.

People often ask: “How can you truly love someone if you want to be with someone else?” and “Don’t you get jealous?” I think these statements enforce unhealthy relationship ideals. I feel it’s dangerous to think that you’re the only person that can complete someone else’s life, and be their confidant, their friend, their support network and their sexual partner. It’s too much pressure! When you take a step back, drop your ego and realise you’re one unique component of someone’s life, it’s liberating and freeing. Jealousy ebbs away and you realise that, of course, they may find another person attractive, because we’re all different pieces of a puzzle. This has made me more comfortable about myself – I am not holding myself up to standards about traditional female beauty, because I can experience it in a hundred different ways.

Of course, there have been tears, heartbreaks, existential crises and moments when I felt left out. I’ve wondered if it was actually making me more free, or more insecure, with jealousy popping up at the most inconvenient times. I’ve dated people who have lied and I’ve had relationships that have ended because they didn’t trust or believe in polyamory.

But, despite the downs, non-monogamy has revolutionised the way I view love. First, it made me less ashamed of my sexuality. I fancied girls way before I fancied boys. But as a teenager at house parties I remember being made to think that female sexual relationships were purely to turn men on. We’d all seen that scene in Cruel Intentions. I remember girls kissing at parties and the guys cheering. It was performative. Except, I wanted to kiss girls because I liked girls.

When I started getting to know people in the poly community it was as liberating as taking off an underwired bra. I have had partners of both genders. I didn’t have to “choose”: the people I met understood that it was possible to give infinite, equal love to both sexes. My confidence soared. I wasn’t hiding. Men and women had equal place in my life. I no longer felt like a pendulum, swinging from one to another. This refreshing awakening did result in many awkward conversations with my mum and dad though, which would go something like this:

Elf: “Mum and Dad, I am queer.” [Mum puts the hummus down.]

Mum: “What does that mean?”

Elf: “It means I have relationships with men and women”. [Mum picks the hummus up.]

Mum: “Oh! Well, I’m queer. Your father’s queer, your grandmother’s queer, we’re all queer darling!”

Elf: “No you don’t understand. I mean I have sex with men and women.” [Mum drops the hummus.]

Mum: “Oh Elfy… No wonder you’re so tired.”

Although I love sex, because of past unpleasant experiences I’m also mildly afraid of it. So when I started experimenting with non-monogamy the idea of being intimate emotionally as well as physically with more than one person was a challenge. But, the choice gave me a power and ownership over my wants which I felt I had lost and been made to feel ashamed about. I’m not saying I jumped in the sack with everyone I met. God no. I’m too busy. But through being less judgemental on myself, I relaxed, opened up to the people I trusted and started loving myself again. It forces you to be really honest, to live life with an undefended heart.

It’s not been plain sailing. But to quote RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love anyone else” – this is integral to non-monogamy. You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed about being socially and sexually confident. Women have been made to feel embarrassed for their desires for too long. It’s about having the trust to speak our minds and behave the way we want to. The moment you start to crumble you need to stop and ask exactly what it is you want and if it makes you happy. Being loved and loving multiple people should make you feel stronger, not weaker.

In a time of censorship on women, increases in assault and constant critiques on how we should behave, polyamory and its manifesto of embracing our evolving feelings, sharing responsibility and communicating and working effectively with people from all around the world could help revolutionise the way we tackle privilege, inequality and control of women’s rights.

I have an authority and a voice that I didn’t feel I had before. My friendships are better, my health is better. Through being polyamorous and being a part of the community I have been made aware of issues, both personal and political, that need to be uncovered and addressed.

The world would be a better place if everybody was more open to polyamory. As well as that traditional idea, that it takes a village to raise a child, it would mean we’d all love more, and love better. Loving different people at the same time is like learning a different language. There are different rules every time and it’s always open for discussion. You start to realise that love is infinite. Every time you say “I love you” to someone it takes on a new meaning. It’s retranslated, and it’s wonderful.

Complete Article HERE!

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How the Nazis destroyed the first gay rights movement

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‘Damenkneipe,’ or ‘Ladies’ Saloon,’ painted by Rudolf Schlichter in 1923. In 1937, many of his paintings were destroyed by the Nazis as ‘degenerate art.’

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Very recently, Germany’s Cabinet approved a bill that will expunge the convictions of tens of thousands of German men for “homosexual acts” under that country’s anti-gay law known as “Paragraph 175.” That law dates back to 1871, when modern Germany’s first legal code was created.

It was repealed in 1994. But there was a serious movement to repeal the law in 1929 as part of a wider LGBTQ rights movement. That was just before the Nazis came to power, magnified the anti-gay law, then sought to annihilate gay and transgender Europeans.

The story of how close Germany – and much of Europe – came to liberating its LGBTQ people before violently reversing that trend under new authoritarian regimes is an object lesson showing that the history of LGBTQ rights is not a record of constant progress.

The first LGBTQ liberation movement

In the 1920s, Berlin had nearly 100 gay and lesbian bars or cafes. Vienna had about a dozen gay cafes, clubs and bookstores. In Paris, certain quarters were renowned for open displays of gay and trans nightlife. Even Florence, Italy, had its own gay district, as did many smaller European cities.

Films began depicting sympathetic gay characters. Protests were organized against offensive depictions of LGBTQ people in print or on stage. And media entrepreneurs realized there was a middle-class gay and trans readership to whom they could cater.

Partly driving this new era of tolerance were the doctors and scientists who started looking at homosexuality and “transvestism” (a word of that era that encompassed transgender people) as a natural characteristic with which some were born, and not a “derangement.” The story of Lili Elbe and the first modern sex change, made famous in the recent film “The Danish Girl,” reflected these trends.

For example, Berlin opened its Institute for Sexual Research in 1919, the place where the word “transsexual” was coined, and where people could receive counseling and other services. Its lead doctor, Magnus Hirschfeld, also consulted on the Lili Elbe sex change.

Connected to this institute was an organization called the “Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.” With the motto “justice through science,” this group of scientists and LGBTQ people promoted equal rights, arguing that LGBTQ people were not aberrations of nature.

Most European capitals hosted a branch of the group, which sponsored talks and sought the repeal of Germany’s “Paragraph 175.” Combining with other liberal groups and politicians, it succeeded in influencing a German parliamentary committee to recommend the repeal to the wider government in 1929.

The backlash

While these developments didn’t mean the end of centuries of intolerance, the 1920s and early ‘30s certainly looked like the beginning of the end. On the other hand, the greater “out-ness” of gay and trans people provoked their opponents.

A French reporter, bemoaning the sight of uncloseted LGBTQ people in public, complained, “the contagion … is corrupting every milieu.” The Berlin police grumbled that magazines aimed at gay men – which they called “obscene press materials” – were proliferating. In Vienna, lectures of the “Scientific Humanitarian Committee” might be packed with supporters, but one was attacked by young men hurling stink bombs. A Parisian town councilor in 1933 called it “a moral crisis” that gay people, known as “inverts” at that time, could be seen in public.

“Far be it from me to want to turn to fascism,” the councilor said, “but all the same, we have to agree that in some things those regimes have sometimes done good… One day Hitler and Mussolini woke up and said, ‘Honestly, the scandal has gone on long enough’ … And … the inverts … were chased out of Germany and Italy the very next day.”

The ascent of Fascism

It’s this willingness to make a blood sacrifice of minorities in exchange for “normalcy” or prosperity that has observers drawing uncomfortable comparisons between then and now.

In the 1930s, the Depression spread economic anxiety, while political fights in European parliaments tended to spill outside into actual street fights between Left and Right. Fascist parties offered Europeans a choice of stability at the price of democracy. Tolerance of minorities was destabilizing, they said. Expanding liberties gave “undesirable” people the liberty to undermine security and threaten traditional “moral” culture. Gay and trans people were an obvious target.

What happened next shows the whiplash speed with which the progress of a generation can be thrown into reverse.

The nightmare

One day in May 1933, pristine white-shirted students marched in front of Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Research – that safe haven for LGBTQ people – calling it “Un-German.” Later, a mob hauled out its library to be burned. Later still, its acting head was arrested.

When Nazi leader Adolph Hitler needed to justify arresting and murdering former political allies in 1934, he said they were gay. This fanned anti-gay zealotry by the Gestapo, which opened a special anti-gay branch. During the following year alone, the Gestapo arrested more than 8,500 gay men, quite possibly using a list of names and addresses seized at the Institute for Sexual Research. Not only was Paragraph 175 not erased, as a parliamentary committee had recommended just a few years before, it was amended to be more expansive and punitive.

As the Gestapo spread throughout Europe, it expanded the hunt. In Vienna, it hauled in every gay man on police lists and questioned them, trying to get them to name others. The fortunate ones went to jail. The less fortunate went to Buchenwald and Dachau. In conquered France, Alsace police worked with the Gestapo to arrest at least 200 men and send them to concentration camps. Italy, with a fascist regime obsessed with virility, sent at least 300 gay men to brutal camps during the war period, declaring them “dangerous for the integrity of the race.”

The total number of Europeans arrested for being LGBTQ under fascism is impossible to know because of the lack of reliable records. But a conservative estimate is that there were many tens of thousands to one hundred thousand arrests during the war period alone.

Under these nightmare conditions, far more LGBTQ people in Europe painstakingly hid their genuine sexuality to avoid suspicion, marrying members of the opposite sex, for example. Still, if they had been prominent members of the gay and trans community before the fascists came to power, as Berlin lesbian club owner Lotte Hahm was, it was too late to hide. She was sent to a concentration camp.

In those camps, gay men were marked with a pink triangle. In these places of horror, men with pink triangles were singled out for particular abuse. They were mechanically raped, castrated, favored for medical experiments and murdered for guards’ sadistic pleasure even when they were not sentenced for “liquidation.” One gay man attributed his survival to swapping his pink triangle for a red one – indicating he was merely a Communist. They were ostracized and tormented by their fellow inmates, too.

The looming danger of a backslide

This isn’t 1930s Europe. And making superficial comparisons between then and now can only yield superficial conclusions.

But with new forms of authoritarianism entrenched and seeking to expand in Europe and beyond, it’s worth thinking about the fate of Europe’s LGBTQ community in the 1930s and ‘40s – a timely note from history as Germany approves same-sex marriage and on this first anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges.

In 1929, Germany came close to erasing its anti-gay law, only to see it strengthened soon thereafter. Only now, after a gap of 88 years, are convictions under that law being annulled.

Complete Article HERE!

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Amputee Love: This Is For Real

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Name: Cade
Gender: Male
Age: 23
Location: Alabama
Awhile back you responded to an Iraq vet who was having trouble in his marriage because he couldn’t get it up due to his PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I want to thank you for discussing that. It was helpful to me too. I’m an Iraq vet. I lost my right leg, to just above the knee and three fingers on my left hand to an IED. I think I’m doing ok with the physical rehabilitation. My prosthesis is state of the art and I’m even learning to run again. I joke that I’m the bionic man. Here’s what’s freaking me out though. I’m getting hit on by some really hot chicks, the kind I never could score with before Iraq. I come to discover they are hot for my leg stump. And I’m gettin all skeezed out by it. I’m passing up getting laid because this is fucking with my head. What gives with this shit?

Dude, you’ve stumbled upon, no pun intended, a silver lining of sorts, of being an amputee. Honestly, I’m not pulling your leg here, your good leg that is. Ok, ok really this is for real, Cade. But I think you already know that, huh?

Let’s begin with a definition. There is a fetish, or a paraphilia, if you prefer, called Acrotomophilia, or amputee love. It’s relatively rare, but there is a sizable Internet presence. You need only do a search for “amputee love” to get you started. These folks, often called devotees, are turned on by the limbless among us.

Here’s an interesting phenomenon, with the spike in seriously maimed vets returning from our numerous war zones and the media attention they’re getting these days — thanks the inadequate care some are receiving at our nation’s veteran’s hospitals — this fetish is growing by leaps and bounds.

A couple of weeks ago, I was part of a conversation with a group of gay men. We were discussing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the horrific images we were seeing on the tube. Without missing a beat, a couple of the men in the group started to talk about the number of totally hot young vets they were seeing on TV. Sure they had missing limbs, but for some in the group that made them even hotter. A couple other guys were goin on and on about how they wanted to service these returning service men. Instead of the conversation weirding out the whole group, as I thought it might, most of the guys were like getting all into it.

I was being quizzed about the sexual issues, of course. Does an amputation affect a guy’s ability to get it up? …and things like that. I was totally blown away. Not by their questions, but by the fact that these men, who would otherwise be put off by a guy with a bad haircut; were beginning to fetishize seriously maimed vets. Then I thought to myself, OMG, I am watching the birth of some brand new baby devotees. And that, my friend, is how all fetishes begin.

I realize that you must be facing enormous hurtles, again no pun intended, to regain your sense of self after the disfigurement and amputations. It hardly seems fair to throw yet another curve ball your way. But, as we all know, life is supremely unfair. I suspect that you’re already feeling enough like an oddity without some chick — even a sizzilin’ hot one — coming on to you because of what you’ve lost. And that’s why I suggest you withhold judgment about all of this until you have a bit more information about this particular fetish and it’s practitioners.

Many amputees go through life without ever meeting a devotee. Others have intimate experience with these fetishists. One thing for sure, even though a devotee’s interest in you may creep you out; you can be certain that their interest is sincere. They are not like most of the other well-meaning people you’ll meet in your new life as a bionic man. A devotee will not pity or patronize you. Devotees, curiously enough, see you as more whole and desirable than those who have no missing parts. In other words, devotees are hot for you for how you are. This is not a “let’s pity fuck the gimp” sorta thing. I know this can be mind-bending, but I hope you can see the fundamental difference between the two.

Some amputee/devotee relationships are long-term, marriage and children included. Others are more recreational in nature. I suppose if you have your head screwed on right, you’ll be able to discern what might be best for you, if any of this appeals to you. Actually, in this realm, you’re absolutely no different than all your non-maimed peers. They too are trying to make sense of how love, sex and intimacy fit together.

I know some amputees are put off by devotees. They’re indignant that someone would objectify them for their stumps and not accept them as a human being first. Well, ya can hardly argue with that, can ya? But in reality, all of us do our share of objectifying. What about all the guys who flock around the blond with the big rack? You know they only see her tits and not her brain. Is the amputee/devotee thing any different? I think not.

You know how you are doing all this physical therapy to regain your ability to walk and run with your new bionic leg and foot? Well, there’s probably as much emotional and psychological therapy you need to do to adapt yourself to your new maimed-self. Part of this psychological adjustment may be embracing and celebrating the fact that you are now an object of desire for a whole new group of folks. So ok, your hotness is not the same hotness you may have had pre-Iraq, but it’s hotness nonetheless. You may not yet appreciate how a person could be sexually attracted to another person simply because of an amputation. Hell, the devotee may not even know why he or she is wired this way, but that don’t make it any less a fact. The confusion that can result from these desires or being the object of these desires can often sabotage a perfectly viable amputee/devotee sexual relationship.

Acrotomophilia, like all fetishes and paraphilias is learned behavior. Some devotees recall early childhood erotically charged encounters with women or men who were amputees. But just as plausible is that the fetish could have begun like the story I recounted at the beginning of my response — a group of people fantasizing about sex with a hot vet, who happens to be an amputee. You can see how just a little of that highly charged erotic reinforcement could turn anyone into a devotee. So it’s not so mysterious after all, is it?

I realize you didn’t choose this for yourself. But, for the most part, none of us is really in charge of what we eroticize, or what others eroticize about us. I know I nearly went to pieces the first time someone referred to me as a daddy. It wasn’t till I came to grips with the fact that I was no longer a young man, and that younger men might find me desirable, that the whole daddy thing settled in with me.

What you do with all this information, Cade, if anything, is completely up to you. Will you embrace your new bionic gimp hotness and let it take you for a ride? Or will you resist? Either way, at least you’ll be a bit more informed about what gives with this shit.

Good luck

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“Coming out” as a parent of a gay child

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By Alison Walsh

My elder son David was fifteen when he told us he was gay – not that he had actually intended to tell us quite then.

He said he was meeting someone but was evasive as to who this might be? I forced the issue never expecting to hear that this was some guy he had met on line through a gay website.

Alarm bells rung at the possible danger!

David must have guessed we might find the news of him being gay difficult as he kept repeating, “It’s OK Mum, there’s nothing wrong”.

My husband’s first thought was “I love my son. I don’t want to lose my relationship with him”.

As for me, I have an unfortunate knack of sometimes putting my big feet in things.

Whilst reeling from the shock, thankfully I avoided saying anything that my son would feel hurt or rejected by.

We both understood that what mattered most was for David to stay believing in himself and to know that our love and support was unconditional.

David appreciated the way we had accepted his sexuality and to stop us feeling anxious, he agreed to cancel the internet date.

David and Alison

Having “come out” to his friends and immediate family, David visibly looked happier by the day.

Now the ball was in our court. Was it our turn to “come out” as parents of a gay son? Would that be fair to David? Was it for him to decide who and when to tell others or not? At the young age of fifteen, we felt it was. That made it much harder because I wanted to feel accepted too.

Up to the point when David told us he was gay, I had no knowledge or experience of what being LGBT+ meant.

My head was full of fears which were further fuelled when I went on-line and came across far right materials discounting LGBT+ as wrong and blaming being gay on abuse or an unhealthy mother-son relationship.

Was I a bad Mum? I feared being judged. I was worried now how David would be treated. Would his school teachers who had praised him as a role model now think less of him?

Would he find himself rejected as unsuitable to be an RSY Summer Camp Leader?

Having brought my boys up to feel strongly Jewish, I now felt anxious that this might not sit comfortably with fully accepting and supporting David’s sexuality.

My Jewishness is all bound up in family and home, celebrating Friday night and all the family traditions. So for validation and support, I turned to my Jewish roots. As I said, I wasn’t ready to “come out” publicly and so like my son before he “came out”, I turned to the privacy of the internet for help. I tapped into Google “Jewish Mum of gay son” and up came “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” with a number you could phone in confidence.

Going for the first time to the group “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians”, I was scared as to quite who I would find there.

The wonderful thing was how unbelievably just like the two of us the other parents all were. They could have come straight out of any Shul – parents anxious to do right by their children. We were no longer on our own.

Hearing from other parents and sharing our own story in a Jewish group in which we felt understood and accepted, helped us feel better. The first pernicious lie it immediately destroyed for me was the idea that being gay had anything to do with upbringing or by extension anything I had done or not done. It was a fact of life, period.

A Dad said that the last thing he would ever wish on his son would be to be imprisoned in an unhappy marriage hiding his sexuality. That hit home and made me rethink the dream I had been nurturing of one day seeing my son under the Chuppah with grandchildren to follow. My son had his own life to lead. I just wanted him to be happy and true to himself. And so in the group we parents chatted on into the night. We discussed why it was that so many of our LGBT+ children were going to Shul less? Did our LGBT+ children no longer feel they could count themselves as proper members of the club?

Perhaps like me before I became aware of LGBT+, our kids assumed by default that within Shul life their sexuality was taboo and that they would not be understood or accepted unless they hid their sexuality.

To be fair, if I joined any club, I would want to feel that there was someone there a bit like me and that I wasn’t just going to be tolerated, but actually wanted by the club.

My journey has been much easier than for some as being of my own making – struggling with my own prejudices. Thankfully the positive attitude of both our Shul and my son’s school explains why David has never felt ashamed of his sexuality and why both his friends and our Shul friends when told have had no issues.

In the twilight zone before feeling ready to come out to the world as a Jewish parent of a gay child, it helps to share feelings in the trust of absolute confidentiality with likeminded parent souls who understand. I am now Co-Ordinator for the parents’ group, “Parents of Jewish Gays and Lesbians” which helped me so much and which I would like to see there for other parents.

It is a really important group not just for the parents but also for LGBT+ children as “happy parents make happy kids”. Unfortunately the group is hardly known about so if you get a chance to tell others about the group, I would ask you to please do so.

Complete Article HERE!

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We’re Not Quite ‘Born This Way’

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newborn

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!

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