Tag Archives: Gender

Raising a gender nonconforming child

An interview with Eileen O’Connor

By Kim Cavill

gender-nonconforming-child

Eileen O’Connor, blogger at No Wire Hangers Ever, lives life to the fullest. With her unapologetic love for wine and honest humor, she looks at life through rose-colored glasses. She has been published on Huffington Post 26 times and appeared on the WGN morning news. Recently, she wrote a blog about raising a gender nonconforming child. I asked her for an interview and she very kindly accepted.

Hi Eileen! Before we get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family.

I am a working mom of four. I have been married to my husband for eleven years. My kids are 9, 8, 7, and 6 years old.

Sex Positive Parent is about teaching parents how to talk to kids about sex and relationships, including conversations about gender norms. Gender norms are expectations and rules about the the way women and men “should” look and behave. As the parent of a gender nonconforming child, what do you want other parents say to their children about gender norms?

I would love people to know that my kids want the same thing every kid wants: to be loved and accepted. They may not fit the gender norms when it comes to the clothes they wear, but they are just clothes. Clothes don’t define who they are as people.

Excellent advice for all of us, I think. What sorts of things have other adults said to you about your child or your parenting. How did those things make you feel?

I have been told that I’m “making my kids this way”. That “God doesn’t make mistakes”. I have had grown ass adults tell my kids that they can’t be something for Halloween because their gender. And my favorite is “you’re the parent. Tell them no”. At the beginning I worried about what people thought. I didn’t know how to respond. Now I just laugh at people’s ignorance. I don’t have time for that nonsense. You go ahead and tell your kids no all he time. I’m going to let mine live their lives.

Wow. Any parent can tell you that making a child be anything is an uphill battle, right? On your blog, you wrote, “At the beginning we were hesitant. We said things like, ‘You’re a boy and boys don’t wear dresses. Be a man! Stop being such a little sissy!’ You know, the normal things you say to a toddler questioning their gender role. But we soon learned his love for all things fancy wasn’t going away. We could either accept him the way he is or we could make his life and our lives miserable. We CHOSE to accept him for who he is. He did not CHOOSE to be this way.” Can you describe your thought process in coming to that realization? I’ve worked with families who flat out refuse to allow their child to express their gender outside societal norms, even when that expression persists for many years. What do you want to say to those parents?

When my kids first started to show an interest in gender non-conforming clothing, I started to research it. The first article I read said that children who struggle with their gender are way more likely than gender conforming kids to commit suicide. That’s all it took. My husband and I discussed and decided we weren’t going to spend one second having them feel bad about who they were. I immediately went to Oldnavy.com and ordered them both new wardrobes. To parents who are struggling I want to say that it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. And the sooner you can accept your child the way they are the happier they will be. An the happier you will be. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Embrace your child just the way they are. Nothing you can say or do will change who they are. Nothing. Not one God damn thing.
Also would you ever try to change your gender conforming child? Would you ever try to convince your heterosexual child that they are homosexual? No, you wouldn’t.

The risk of suicide is extremely serious. Statistics consistently show that children who are gender nonconforming experience a much higher risk of suicide, as well as bullying and violence. Having a supportive family goes a long way toward mitigating those risks. And you are very right that it isn’t feasible to control someone’s gender or sexual orientation. At best, you can temporarily regulate their expression. How do you balance the parental desires to raise independent children, but also keep them safe in a sometimes dangerous world? How do you deal with fear?

We’re lucky that our kids are still little and are being raised in such an amazing community. Our kids are surrounded by family and friends that truly accept them for who they are. They are in a school with 27 cousins. That’s a built in security system. Of course I fear what will happen when they get older, but I’m not going to worry about that now. I learned a long time ago that we have to take it one day at a time.

That’s such good advice, taking things one day at a time. I absolutely loved this statement that you wrote in your blog: “And for any parent out there that doesn’t want their kid playing with our kid because he wears a dress? Joke’s on you. We decided a long time ago that our kids weren’t allowed to play with kids who have closed-minded parents. We’d much rather raise a gender spectacular child than an asshole.” A lot of people feel that the current political climate has shown a spotlight on deep divisions running through the fabric of an increasingly diverse American society. As members of that society, how do you think we should address those divisions, some of which are gender-related, going forward?

I think every person just needs to choose kind. Always remember you never know what another person is going through. If everyone could always do this and treat people with kindness, things would be fine. Also I think that things are so much better now then they were when I was growing up. So I know things will continue to improve. Over the summer I was at the pool and I overheard a convo between a group of people in their 60’s-70’s. They were talking about gender non-conforming children and how they didn’t agree with it. All the while my little boy was swimming right by them in his bikini. It made me happy. Mostly because I knew they’d all be dead soon and I won’t have to worry about them for very long.

What a perfect illustration of how simply living life can be a form of protest and bring about change. Aziz Ansari, one of my favorite comedians, does a bit about interracial sex and says something to the effect of, “Well, you can think it’s wrong, but I’m still going to f*ck white girls and there’s nothing you can actually do about it.” Finally, my favorite question from the French host, Bernard Pivot, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?”

You’ll eternally be a size two and the wine is unlimited.

LOL. Thank you, Eileen, for your time and your words. Readers, make sure get more of both by following her blog on ChicagoNow, and you can find her on Facebook/Twitter.

Complete Article HERE!

Where Do You Stand On The Human Sexuality Spectrum?

By Prachi Gangwani

We are accustomed to thinking of human sexuality as definitive. For a long time, heterosexuality was the only acceptable form of sexual preference. Even up until the 1970s, homosexuality was considered abnormal. In the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Health, ascribed by the American Psychiatry Association, it was listed as a mental illness. After much protest and education, we have now come to understand that there is nothing wrong with people who take lovers of the same sex.

While most of us held on to man-woman relationship as the norm, Dr Alfred Kinsey, along with his team, proposed an alternative theory that human sexuality is a continuum, and that we can’t hold it in binary terms like heterosexuality and homosexuality. This thought, first put forth in 1940s, was revolutionary at the time.

Now, however, we have moved way past labelling sexual orientation. Human sexuality seems to be far more diverse than researchers initially thought. Current understanding differentiates between sexual and romantic attraction. In light of this, many new terms to describe preferences, have come about. From pansexual to queerplatonic relationships, the glossary is ever-increasing (Read more about this on our website, here).



Dr. Savin Williams, a psychologist at Cornell University, has done extensive research on the sexuality spectrum, and same-sex relationships. He concludes that very few people, in reality, identify as completely straight. In other words, there is a little bit of "gayness" in all of us, whether we've explored it or not.  Sigmund Freud said that homophobia is, in fact, a reverse reaction to one's own homosexual fantasies. He purported that we all have defence mechanisms, which protect us from traits, feelings, thoughts, and fantasies in ourselves, and others, that we find uncomfortable. One of these defence mechanisms is 'Reaction Formation’. Those of us who are guilty of this, turn a feeling or fantasy that makes us uncomfortable into its opposite. It's a subconscious process. So, according to Freud, those who are homophobic actually harbour homosexual fantasies, but their desire makes them uncomfortable. So, in order to cope with the discomfort, they go through the unconscious process of turning their wish into something forbidden and disgusting.  Sexuality is fluid and diverse, far from what we have been taught is the norm. There is no sexual expression that is abnormal, except of course, sex without consent, with animals or children. In light of this, where do you stand on the human sexuality spectrum

Dr. Savin Williams, a psychologist at Cornell University, has done extensive research on the sexuality spectrum, and same-sex relationships. He concludes that very few people, in reality, identify as completely straight. In other words, there is a little bit of “gayness” in all of us, whether we’ve explored it or not.

Sigmund Freud said that homophobia is, in fact, a reverse reaction to one’s own homosexual fantasies. He purported that we all have defence mechanisms, which protect us from traits, feelings, thoughts, and fantasies in ourselves, and others, that we find uncomfortable. One of these defence mechanisms is ‘Reaction Formation’. Those of us who are guilty of this, turn a feeling or fantasy that makes us uncomfortable into its opposite. It’s a subconscious process. So, according to Freud, those who are homophobic actually harbour homosexual fantasies, but their desire makes them uncomfortable. So, in order to cope with the discomfort, they go through the unconscious process of turning their wish into something forbidden and disgusting.

Sexuality is fluid and diverse, far from what we have been taught is the norm. There is no sexual expression that is abnormal, except of course, sex without consent, with animals or children. In light of this, where do you stand on the human sexuality spectrum?

Complete Article HERE!

You have sex. Let’s talk about it

Our unwillingness to talk about sex risks us from realising the possibilities of critical discussions on larger societal problems.

By Brian Horton

“So why do you want to work with only the transgender community?”

It was the middle of a call with a corporate representative interested in talking about transgender issues in the workplace. Given that people across the LGBTQ spectrum are invisibilised in corporate spaces in India, I found it strange that this particular person was only interested in talking about transgender persons (mostly hijras and transwomen).

In response to my question, the representative explained that “we want to give them choices and options as well as to save them from their…historic professions”.

The palpable hesitation in the speaker’s voice as they said historic professions, instead of sex work or prostitution, said as much as the intentional censorship of any immediate reference to sex. Even the recent Transgender Bill passed by the Union Cabinet strategically skirts the issue of sexuality (and 377 of the Indian Penal Code) all together while promising to rescue hijras from begging and sex work.

At every turn, the sex in sexuality is in danger of being silenced by our own discomfort with talking of desire, flesh, and well… sex. This imposed censorship risks us realising the possibilities of critical discussions about everything from gender inequality to sexual consent to the resilience of casteism.

Throughout my fieldwork as an anthropologist studying LGBTQ social movements in India, I have encountered discomfort, and at times, disgust regarding the topic of sex, particularly sex between non-heterosexual and/or cisgender-identified persons.

Often this disgust or discomfort does not register as plain and outspoken revulsion. Rather, it becomes more banal dismissals of sex talk as something that is “not Indian”. Sometimes there are no words, just the cacophony of cliquing tongues and monosyllabic sounds of disgust, “chee”.

Throughout my fieldwork as an anthropologist studying LGBTQ social movements in India, I have encountered discomfort, and at times, disgust.

Throughout my fieldwork as an anthropologist studying LGBTQ social movements in India, I have encountered discomfort, and at times, disgust.

Much like the turn to describing reviled things, people, and ideologies as “anti-national”, such claims of national or cultural inauthenticity amplify compulsions to remain silent about everything from sexual dissidence to our own experiences of desire.

Once, during a “Hug a Queer” rally organised by an LGBTQ youth group at Marine Drive, I watched as members of the public chided the event organisers.

At one point an older man on the footpath with his family began shouting down the organisers claiming that this is not done, homosexuality is against the culture of the Mahabharata and the Shastras, and that this should be something reserved for the privacy of the bedroom.

Such a visceral reaction is not simply to hugs or even to alienated young people searching for affirmation. The invocation of tradition and culture aims to silence newness, moments where individuals attempt to challenge the status quo, here by talking openly about sex and desire.

And the shame around sex and sexuality talk is not just limited to uncles shouting down those challenging the heterosexual and normative limits of sex. Last week, The Telegraph reported that an expert panel working on recommendations for adolescent education was pressured by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to strike the words “sex” and “sexual” from their final document.

An anonymous member of the expert panel cited that the ministry’s justification was that the usage of the words sex and sexual might offend people.

It is ironic that an effort to empower young people with knowledge think that we have come to the point where the mention of sex – even in an effort to empower young people about their sexual health – is subject to being labeled as offensive.

But what could possibly be offensive about sex, let alone talking about it openly?

The booming 1.252 billion population of India suggests that someone must be having sex. However the ways in which it is policed, relegated to the private sphere, and sanitised out of the public domain suggests the disruptive and subversive potential of sex.

And when it does enter into the public consciousness, it is often so wrapped in metaphor and metonymy (and patriarchy) that the subversiveness of it is muddled by a parade of stylised images of lovers dancing in the rain, extinguished flames, and kissing flowers all set to a Lata Mangeshkar tune.

“Why must you people talk about it”, is a question LGBTQ persons in this country are often asked about speaking openly about sex and sexuality

My answer to this nettlesome question is simply, because heterosexuals talk about it so often. At the office water cooler, at weddings where aunties and uncles talk about who is next in the matrimonial firing squad, in films where heroines clad in wet saris dance to the tunes of male protagonists, our world is dripping in sex.

Even without uttering the words sex, erotic, the names of organs, or positions, heterosexual sex is not only privileged, it is the singular lens through which sex can be imagined.

So talking about sex for LGBTQ persons incites us to imagine an otherwise and other side to the limited frame of public discourses on sex and sexuality.

Complete Article HERE!

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

By

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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’

By

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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!