How Gay Are Your Genes?


Queers Lose Their Genes

by Deeg, June 1999

Bad news in April for Dr. Dean Hamer, the father of the gay gene. Canadian researchers, attempting to duplicate his findings regarding genetic marker Xq28, found that 52 pairs of gay brothers did not share a marker or mutation at this site.

In 1993 Dean Hamer got nationwide fame by claiming to have found the gay gene. “Two brothers, clean-cut, good-looking, athletic ... and gay. Were they born that way or was it something in their upbringing? Dean Hamer and a team of scientific colleagues set out to find the answer. Their discovery of a gene marker linked to male homosexuality made headlines around the world.” (Book jacket for Hamer and Copeland’s the science of desire). The study was filled with statistical and procedural problems (such as the lack of a control group).

While Hamer basked in television appearances and speaking tours, a series of other studies claim to have found a difference in the ears of lesbians (see “The Cochlear Clique” in the 4/98 issue of UV) and the brain structures of gay men. Hamer, LeVay and others announced that this group of bad studies was a “mounting body of evidence” of a biological basis for sexuality.

Now Canadian researchers have attempted to duplicate Hamer’s findings by looking at a larger group of gay brothers, and found that the rate of shared genetic markers at the site was no higher than chance. Nonetheless, these researchers, led by George Rice at the University of Western Ontario, still intend to look for evidence of the elusive gay gene.

Attempts to find a genetic or inheritable basis for social oppression are nothing new. The first anthropologists spent half a century pouring seed, and then lead shot, into skulls, in order to prove that white people had bigger brains than Black people, justifying slavery and segregation.. (By the way, it turned out that the anthropologists worked harder at packing the material into the skulls of white people, and simply discarded Black skulls which didn’t fit the theory. See Steven J. Gould, The Mismeasurement of Man). In the early 20th century, psychologists found that (non- english speaking) Jewish immigrants did less well on intelligence tests than did white christian people born in the u.s. This research was used to justify lower immigration quotas, which ultimately left Jews at the mercy of hitler’s death machine. At the same time, eugenicists argued for the sterilization of inferior peoples.

Behavioral genetics suffered something of a setback when people saw the results of the nazi attempt to create a super race. But in the 1970's genetic explanations were advanced, and then quietly withdrawn, for violent crime, schizophrenia, and manic depression.

What is unusual about the current research is that the objects of it, lesbians and gay men, are often supportive of studies which seek to show that we are biologically distinct from heterosexuals. Some gay people believe that if a biological basis can be found for our difference, then it will lead to anti-discrimination legislation, and a general acceptance of us. No longer will we be people who choose to be different or evil, we will, depending on your perspective, be gay as “god created us,” or helpless victims of our genetics.

And straight people will not need to fear that they, or their wives or children, will be smitten with the gay curse. It will not be true that “any woman can be a lesbian,” and straight men will sleep peacefully at night. Maybe researchers could eventually find a test which could be performed on the fetus to determine if it carries the fag gene. Perhaps then the right-wing would change their views on abortion.

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. It is as likely that this research is finding a gene for a willingness to participate in bullshit research as it is that it is finding one for homosexuality. We encourage all gay men and lesbians to refuse to be a part of these studies, and to demand that medical research money be used to treat or prevent diseases like cancer, sickle cell anemia, and AIDS.