Friday, October 24, 2008

Gay Genes

Lots of discussion recently on the genetics and possible evolutionary advantages of homosexuality. A new paper suggests that "gay genes" might offer a direct reproductive advantage, quoting The Economist:
genes which cause men to be more feminine in appearance, outlook and behaviour and those that make women more masculine in those attributes, confer reproductive advantages as long as they do not push the individual possessing them all the way to homosexuality.
There may be some validity to this idea. But the inane debate about the genetic versus learned origins of homosexuality is discriminatory in its assumptions. Human studies and animal observations suggest that, just as with masculine/feminine characteristics and behaviors, there is some continuum of sexual attractions and preferences across a population. The characterization of genes as on/off switches for outcomes/behaviors is almost always wrong. Like most things, sexuality is complex behavior with manifold contributors, genetic and otherwise. It would be nice to see more studies on the learned pathology of homophobia.