Guest Writer

by Blake Adams

Guest Writer

June 12, 2014

Is Biological Determinism on its Way Out?

“I’ve known my whole life that I was different.”

“I was born that way.”

“I can’t help myself.”

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all begun to believe it. Since the early days of the issue, the foundational platform for the gay movement, to the alarm of both sides and LGBTQ’s everywhere, was and remains biological determinism: the idea that all of us – straight, gay, lesbian, and so on – have a genetically predetermined sexual orientation that is as integral and immutable to each of us as our skin color. And for good reason: it looks great in court.

Since the early 1970s, legitimacy inside the courtroom for the gay movement has been gained easiest by defining and compartmentalizing sexualities into orientations: “heterosexual,” “homosexual,” and so on. It was a nifty neutralizer of homophobia, since it characterized gays as innocent recipients of sexual privileges which they could have neither wished for nor prevented. But more than that, newfound categorization as a sexual “species” licensed demand to be represented by the law on equal footing with any other “species.” At that point marriages were no longer “traditional” or “natural.” That language had been lost. They were now merely “heterosexual,” and that was deemed discriminatory.

Now with nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage being but a matter of time, American society is primed for the next stage. In May, Time magazine wrote of the “tipping point” which transgendered persons are likely to cause: “Nearly a year after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, another social movement is poised to challenge deeply held cultural beliefs.” It is in this increasingly recognized group that the new gay debate will emerge to replace the increasingly disreputable biological determinism.

The LGBTQ movement as it has been thus far follows the same reasoning as the civil rights movement during the 60s and 70s, in that both have made their case and won sympathy on the unjust discrimination of persons based on their genetic makeup. While many have gone too far with this analogy – treating it as more than analogy, but as precedent – it remains that we ought not to discriminate against something in someone that nobody can change. If that is the basis of discrimination, then it is not they who need to change. It is us. Well said.

The deterministic ethos, however, is not isolated to the courtroom. In personal self-examinations, gays have been secured in their sexualities by perceiving them as inevitabilities. As much as the sex they were assigned at birth, their sexual preferences are understood as preordained biological certainties. What may have been before an area of confusion, shame, or guilt, is transmuted into a definitive sense of self. Surrendering free-will has been the price for countless gays to gain personal affirmation in a finger-wagging world.

Subsequently, being gay as a choice has become taboo in LGBTQ circles. Gay bloggers and activists express at length their disappointment – if not disgust – of fellow marchers and supporters whom they suspect being “fake,” “pretending,” or “pseudo-progressive,” all of which is to say that biological determinism and the doctrine of sexual categories appear to rise and fall together

It is not an overstatement to say that the gay’s most robust platform, as well as the stronghold for their sense of identity, is entrenched in a well-developed yet deliciously simple fatalism. “[T]he claim of ‘no choice’ is to a pro-gay stance as the claim of ‘choice’ is to an anti-gay one: a foundational argument,” wrote sociologist Vera Whisman in 1996. “Anti-gay rhetoric uses the term ‘sexual preference’ to imply choice, while pro-gay rhetoric uses ‘sexual orientation’ to deny it.”

From that early stage of the issue to today, biological determinism has been the “foundational argument” for the gay movement, seemingly by necessity. “…the notion of being gay by one’s own volition is like Voldemort – dangerous even to be uttered,” wrote Suzanna Walters in The Atlantic. “Biological determinism is the new normal, yoked to tolerance claims much as magic hews to Harry Potter.” Without the bedrock of biological determinism, if, in fact, it is a matter of choice and mere “sexual preference,” then the movement loses its legal luster. The assembling power of discrimination becomes, instead, the rather ignorable whimper of disagreement.

It has traditionally been the opponents of same-sex marriage who insist on choice, morality, and free-will. For (at least) the past two decades, lending credit to these values has been traitorous to the cause. But all of that is changing.

While support for same-sex marriage is higher than it has ever been (according to a poll by The Washington Post), for the first time since the 1980s the number of Americans who believe that people are born gay has shrunk to a mere 42% after reaching a peak of 47% in 2013, according to Gallup. It may not seem like much on paper, but that five-digit drop accounts for millions. And increased support by 4% the past year for the belief that orientation has more to do with nurture than nature suggests these millions are becoming more than undecided. Gallup’s response: “The contention on this question of a person’s sexual orientation possibly reflects a lack of input from the scientific community, which historically has not shied away from offering its opinion on lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) issues and questions.”

Gallup is correct that the scientific community has not shied from the issue; but the drop in popular opinion is not so academically remote as Gallup might think. Last April, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a London-based organization embodying over 15,000 psychiatrists, released a statement on sexual orientation, stating that “sexual orientation is determined by a combination [emphasis added] of biological and postnatal environmental factors.” While insisting that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and should be accepted, the statement adds, “It is not the case that sexual orientation is immutable or might not vary to some extent in a person’s life.” This does not eliminate the ideology of an innate orientation, but it does bring into question for every sexual encounter what that is being experienced is innate and what isn’t. “The familiar message that ‘our sexuality is impervious to our choices’ is a risky message,” claims former corporate lawyer, Marnia Robinson. “Brains are plastic. The truth is we are always training our brains [emphasis not added] – with or without our conscious participation. We can choose to avoid, pursue, and cease pursuit of, stimuli that condition our sexual tastes in particular directions…It would be imprudent to ignore the evidence in order to cling to the sacred cow of ‘immutable sexual tastes’.”

“This is a remarkable development,” Mike Davidson, director of Core Issues Trust, told WORLD magazine about the College’s statement. “The assumption that people are ‘born gay’ has become deeply rooted in our society and has driven huge political, social, and cultural change. As this last statement reveals, that assumption is false.”

Some of the voices against deterministic biology are coming from the LGBTQ community itself . Thus far same-sex marriage has been the most visible argument. Yet this issue, despite being the dominant platform for the movement, manages to exclude other members of the LGBTQ community. Ted talks, promotional videos, conferences, and marches have featured numerous speakers and groups who claim to reject any sexual categorization at all. While experts still insist on fitting them into respective boxes – queers (neither heterosexual nor gender-binary) and transgendered (gender identity does not match biological gender) – these have historically been holes in the doctrine of sexual compartmentalization. Consequentially, this doctrine which has claimed legal victories in strides has benefited, for the most part, only lesbians (women attracted to women), gays (men attracted to men), and indirectly bisexuals (attraction to both men and women).

This tiny group of Qs and Ts have difficulty gaining visibility so long as the spotlight is on marriage, since the subject matter is limited to those of the same sex: not those whose sex is uncertain, or of a third sex, or not a sex at all, and so on. The way that marriage has monopolized the podium renders Qs and Ts unrepresented because their sexuality is by definition ambiguous. Even the term “queer” is often substituted with “questioning.” This group seems to make it their mission to cast off the gender stereotyping which has so benefited and glamorized their G, L, and B comrades – going so far as to call it “oppressive.” The sexual compartmentalization which has for gays and lesbians been a sacred cow has left their fellow queer and transgender compatriots feeling invisible and misunderstood.

“It’s their choice and we should respect it.”

“You should be able to do whatever makes you happy.”

“All you need is love.

April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse had been living together for eight years. Each identified as a lesbian. Together they lived under the same roof, pooled their resources, and practiced the motions of a married lifestyle. However, they wanted the genuine article. The reasons were numerous. A recognized marriage would allow them to jointly adopt each other’s children; they would have financial and tax benefits; but ultimately, they could fulfill the marital enterprise which, in their minds, they had already begun – and that is how the judge saw it.

In the conclusion of his ruling, released in April, Judge Friedman struck down the voter-approved gay marriage ban, stating, “In attempting to define this case as a challenge to ‘the will of the people,’ state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples.” While the judge later implied determinism, his decision strongly and strangely strikes a moral, not scientific, tone.

“My concern is that as soon as we start to encourage and embrace as part of a political agenda scientific research in this area, we lead to re-medicalization of sexual orientation,” Ed Stein told The Washington Times. “Jumping on the genetic bandwagon is hurting our cause. The point is, nothing’s wrong with homosexuality, so why try to take it on with science?”

We are witnesses to a shift away from the obstinate sexual orientation cataloguing (which frankly is so calculating it makes the most suppressive Puritanism look sun-shiny) toward the hope of a society which has lost any sense of conventional gender or sexuality; a society where straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning people feel no need to rationalize a defense for who they love and why; where people need not be led by preconceived notions of orientation and subsequently feel pressured to vocally and religiously participate in any, but may freely fall in love with whomever they fall in love. Where’s the sin in that?

The LGBTQ movement has begun to say what the Church has been saying all along: this issue is not about genetics, but ethics. The argument may not be exactly new, but it is bigger than ever – and growing. Forget civil rights, they might say. Forget the Constitution, for a moment. Forget the scientific evidence. Examine with me the morality alone. Isn’t supporting the LGBTQ movement the right thing to do?

The new gay argument is that there is no argument, for there should only be an issue where there is perceived error. Personal happiness is the final judgment, and in this court there is no appeal. “The fight for equal rights is not just about gay marriage,” quoth the very vocal iO Tillet Wright, who has at alternate times been labeled as transgender or bisexual, in her promotional video. “[Equality] is when you don’t have to think about it. Simple as that.”

The same-sex marriage issue is sure to diminish in importance over the next few years. People on all sides are recognizing that it isn’t enough to redefine marriage; we are also to redefine the laws of romance, friendship, and self-knowledge. It may not just be the defining issue of our time: its rejection may be the make-or-break of today’s Christianity. For the past two decades, we have been pressed hard against hostile cultural sentiments. But something larger than sentiment is in development. Already we are feeling the tremors of social dogma in its infancy. To say, however, that this is rewinding to a former era of sexuality before the popularization of determinism would be error; while it wishes to reopen the moral understanding of sex, it does so in a context which hopes to end conversation, not cultivate it.

Blake Adams is a freelance journalist and children’s book illustrator from Powder Springs, GA. He studied journalism at Patrick Henry College. He collects glass bottles with funny shapes. And that’s the extent of his qualifications.

16 Responses to Is Biological Determinism on its Way Out?

  1. brookspj says:

    Almost no one (at least in the scientific community and no one in the LGBT community I’ve talked to) would simplify sexual orientation into the category of genetic determinism. Consensus has emerged that genetics plays a key role. This is in part because no consistent pattern around home and family environments, early sexual encounters or feelings, or other life events or situations has emerged. While similarities in genetics and hormone levels have been observed around persons of certain orientations. Most scientists however maintain first most people are not simply born “gay” or “straight. Instead of trying to categorize everyone into two extreme camps (which I know is what you’d prefer) most believe humans fall somewhere on a longer scale and that their sexuality is more complex. We are not so much born gay or straight as we are born with naturally dispositions closer to one orientation or the other. Other factors like environment or life experiences might alter our position on the scale somewhat. Think about right-handedness vs. left-handedness. We know that while most people are genetically inclined to have either their left or right hand be dominant, we also know that some people are genetically inclined to be ambidextrous. Like with orientation handedness seems to fall on a scale. I also from my own family history know that some persons who may still be genetically inclined to prefer one hand still learn to lead with the other. When my grandfather was a kid, his parents and teachers wanted everyone using their right hand. He was naturally a lefty, but eventually he learned to write with his right hand. No, I don’t think sexual orientation can be or should be reduced to the same as one’s handedness, especially considering handedness is linked primarily to which side of the brain one uses more, while orientation has not been linked to this. Nevertheless I do think based upon the evidence before us that genes play a key role in one’s orientation and sexual preferences. While external factors also influence and might even alter one’s pre-conditioned sexuality, I don’t think we can reduce this to a simple nature vs. nurture argument or make it purely a question of fate vs. choice. Almost everything else about ourselves and who we are comes from a combination of internal chemistry and external influence, so why should treat sexuality any differently?

  2. MarcoPolo says:

    The fact that science (in this case, human physiology) plays a critical role in our lives, we shouldn’t quickly dismiss the subject, just because some religions claim it to be moot.

    Take the comprehensive discoveries in the following link:

    This simple finding seems to describe the various ways that humans develop.

    So if this is true… then the religious groups who wish to condemn Gays and Lesbians, will have to admit to being scientifically obtuse!

    Like any long established entity, any great revelation will come up against resistance.
    This means that ‘they’ might be wrong!
    And that, is dangerous, or threatening to some.

    We need to all learn to get along…since we all have to live together on this small planet, as long as possible.

    • Nick Porter says:

      Does “learning how to get along” mean you want traditionalists to shut up? I “get along” with everyone, and I still believe that homosexual acts are sinful. I’m sure if I met you in person we would get along famously. But if you bring this up, or if anyone were to bring this up personally to me, I’m not going to back down and walk on egg shells for you.

      • MarcoPolo says:

        Nick, In all likelihood, we would probably get along as well as you presumed.
        I’m not expecting anyone to put their faith, or convictions in their back pocket just to be sociable.
        Though, I do believe that simply because our world is SO small, (and getting smaller with global technology and it’s reach), that we must begin to account for the many more variations of people, and their respective beliefs. Thus, more patience and understanding for those who are not like the rest (of us).

        Political correctness has been given a bad rap by those who think they can’t say what they want to say. But we’ve all learned, hopefully, that we must allow for diversity if we embrace freedom as a God given, and Constitutionally ensconced right.

        What is taboo for some, may not be so, for another. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be some decorum practiced on all sides.


        • Nick Porter says:

          We have plenty of diversity, but what certain fractions are calling for is for people of a more traditional mindset to just “accept or be silent”. That will never happen and we both know that, Marco.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Nick, I can appreciate your assessment of the situation, and I understand that many people will resist change for a variety of reasons. Fundamentalists of any religion probably being the most resistant. I’m not saying they should capitulate, just grin and bear it, I suppose?
            These social shifts are inevitable, and it’s expected, that there will be emotions running high on all sides.
            I just hope tolerance levels will match the level of fervor.

          • Nick Porter says:

            “Grin and bear it”? Yeah, that’s not going to happen. You speak of tolerance, but tolerance isn’t enough for homosexuals. Being merely “tolerated” is an insult to them now. Tolerance is all they’re going to get from me. I can be in the same room with you but if you want validation, you’ve got another thing coming. Sorry.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            I think you might be overstating the whole Gay agenda a bit. The Gay friends of mine are not trying to change the world, or the faith’s of anyone. They are simply trying to live a normal life.
            A life with the same social-legal-economic benefits that the rest of us enjoy.
            I’m curious to know how your Gay friends feel about your position on this issue?

          • Nick Porter says:

            I’m not overstating anything, I’m telling you what I know from the horses mouth. Have you actually been to any PRO-homosexual blogs or do you just go on those blogs such as IRD who are traditionally minded? Because if you did, you wouldn’t say that I overstated anything. This is what they believe. You can live whatever life you want without my acceptance. Their feelings don’t matter. Their feelings don’t dictate my values. Some of the parishioners at my church are gay, yet I can co-exist with them. They know what they can and can’t discuss with me. It really is that simple.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            I haven’t visited any Gay blogs, but I suspect that, like any “new” movement, there is probably some over-zealousness about (that) lifestyle.
            Just as some parishioners of more staid (White) churches find the (Black) churches to be too boisterous or celebratory in their atmosphere.(?)
            Though it is comforting to know that you possess the civility to be gracious to your fellow Gay congregants.

          • Nick Porter says:

            Well you should visit some, instead of spending all your time at places with a traditional mindset. You should know who and what you’re supporting to see if they’re even worth supporting at all.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Nick, I checked them (GLAAD) out, and I agree with their mission statement.
            Namaste my friend.
            You never answered my question…How do your Gay friends feel about your stance on this issue?
            Can you distinguish which of your friends are Gay?

          • Nick Porter says:

            I answered that question a LONG time ago, buddy. I said I don’t care how they feel and that their feelings don’t determine my faith. Of course they don’t like it and I don’t give a damn. They don’t talk to me about it because once was enough. They don’t hide what they are and I wouldn’t want them to. Put it out there so those that don’t want anything to do with you can avoid you. There are homosexuals in my church, and they know what the boundaries are with me. We exchange pleasantries on Sundays. That’s enough.

          • MarcoPolo says:

            Although that does sound civil, it doesn’t sound like a very compassionate approach.
            Stalwart resistance is usually a sign of frustration.
            peace be with you. I’ll try not to ask you to chat with anymore homosexuals.

          • Nick Porter says:

            Lying would be worse. I’m not going to lie about my faith and my values to anyone to make them feel good about themselves. And do more than “try”, just don’t do it. Avoid me all together on this blog.

  3. Daniel says:

    This article takes one highly selected quote from the Royal College report and ignores the rest. The
    report, for example states:

    “The Royal College of Psychiatrists considers that sexual orientation is determined by a combination of biological and postnatal environmental factors. There is no evidence to go beyond this and impute any kind of choice into the origins of sexual orientation. ”

    And Further:

    “The College believes strongly in evidence-based treatment. There is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

    And Further:

    “The College would not support a therapy for converting people from homosexuality any more than we would do so from heterosexuality. Psychiatrists should be committed to reducing inequalities, not supporting practices that are explicitly based on pathologising
    homosexuality. As such, the College remains in favour of legislative efforts to ban such conversion therapies.”

    How can we trust your reporting when it is based on such selecvtive quotations that distort the original article. As a Christian organisation you have an obligation to promote the truthg not lies.

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