Showing posts with label Sexual Orientation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sexual Orientation. Show all posts

August 30, 2019

Gay Gnome and The Gay Family and It Shows 'No Preference' but Orientation, Etc.

For the past two years after writing about the gay gene(no single gay gene but a part of the human >Gnome in which indicates the part that makes the last push to make a man, woman and the sexual orientation of both no matter what sexual tools nature supplied them with but was not able to find someone who can also write about this but with more equipment than mine not physically speaking but having the name to follow and have people stop and listen. Jeremy does it for me. You will be both educated and entertain on this subject even if you are a physician or scientist that already is educated on this new discovery. If you haven't followed, then is a time you start learning and stop saying sexual preference (OIC!!)
Adam Gonzalez


This piece is part of the Legacies issue, a special Pride Month series from Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Read an introduction to the issue here.

More on Legacies
It’s Time for the LGBTQ Movement to Return to Its Democratic Socialist Roots

The Current Consent Discourse Might Seem New. But It Has Roots Much Deeper Than #MeToo.

Lots of Queers Used to Criticize Marriage. So Why Have So Many of Them Walked Down the Aisle?
Netflix’s Tales of the City Gives Me Hope for Queer Intergenerational Communication
Queer people have a complicated relationship with our genes. On the one hand, “born this way” is recognized as the argument that won same-sex relationships equal treatment under the law. On the other hand, actually thinking about what it means for same-sex orientation to have a genetic basis can get awkward, fast.

Long before I came out as gay and completed a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology, I was a closeted teenager with just enough understanding of natural selection to be a danger to myself. Homosexuality couldn’t be genetic, I reasoned (in the confines of my own head, and in cafeteria conversations after biology class, and once in a kitchen-counter exchange with my mother that is still seared into my memory), because gene variants that make people uninterested in the kind of sex that makes babies should be eliminated from the population in a generation. If homosexuality wasn’t genetic, whatever it was that I felt about other boys was only in my head, and therefore fully under my control.

I eventually learned better, in so many ways. Notably, a trait being genetic (or not) isn’t remotely the same as it is a fundamental part of a person’s being (or not). But also that there is good evidence for a genetic basis to same-sex attraction, and that this is far from anathema to natural selection.

Biologists have proposed a number of hypotheses for how “gay gene” variants might evolve and persist. They might reappear through mutation as quickly as selection eliminates them. They might boost reproductive output in small “doses”—if there are, say, 10 genes that affect an orientation, maybe someone carrying gay variants at five will still be straight but raise more children than someone carrying no gay variants. Or maybe variants that make men more likely to be the gay boost the fertility of straight women who carry them. Or it’s even possible that gay men and women contribute to the next generation indirectly by helping close relatives raise more children. I haven’t contributed directly to this line of scholarship, but I keep abreast of it for obvious reasons, and it’s tended to make me optimistic about the value of research into the genetics underlying my queer identity.

A world in which a genetic screen for queerness exists seems to me to be a world that’s less safe for queer people.

That optimism hasn’t been universally shared by other queer biologists, though. One of the most prominent is Douglas Futuyma, who wrote the very textbook from which I teach evolutionary biology and who was out as a gay man in the field since the 1980s. Futuyma’s research focuses on interactions between plants and insects, as does mine, so I’ve long seen him as something of a role model. (I was terrified to learn he was in the audience for my first-ever presentation at a scientific conference and grateful that he didn’t grill me too badly in the Q&A afterward.)

Thirty-five years ago, in the Journal of Homosexuality, Futuyma and his colleague Stephen Risch expressed strong skepticism in research seeking a genetic basis to same-sex attraction—both the prospects that it would succeed and its potential impacts on the queer community. “Most of the psychological and medical literature on homosexual behavior concerns ways to prevent or to ‘cure’ it,” Futuyma and Risch noted, and finding a genetic basis for orientation is the prerequisite for that “cure.” Even studies aiming to promote acceptance of queer identities were, they argued, fundamentally flawed.

Research continued all the same, and studies comparing the sexual orientation of identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes) to fraternal twins (who share half their genes, like non-twinned siblings) established that genetics contribute to orientation, even though specific causal genes were elusive. Futuyma remained leery, though. In 2005, writing in the journal Evolution, he reiterated the unease that underlay his original objections: “There is only a short distance between understanding the genetic or environmental origins of sexual variation and the possibility of intervention—in medical terms, ‘cure.’ ”

When I read that article as a graduate student, this thought seemed pessimistic, verging on paranoid. The methods of evolutionary genetics that I was learning seemed only to open up exciting promises if we only knew the gene variants responsible for sexual orientation. We could use patterns in the frequency of such variants across human populations, and in the DNA sequences near them, to reconstruct the history of natural selection acting on them. This approach has revealed how humans evolved traits with known genetic bases, like the ability to digest milk as adults and tolerance of high-altitude conditions. A list of genes contributing to same-sex orientation could reveal how queer folks have lived over millennia of human history. 

It could also revise queer folks’ relationship to our ancestry. Like most gay men, I was born to straight parents, and (barring the sort of revelation that would upend a family reunion) my grandparents were just as straight. I can’t trace my queerness back along my family tree, in the same way, I can trace my blue eyes, my small but sturdy stature, or my ancestors’ immigration from the Low Countries to the colony of Pennsylvania to freely practice a fringe take on Protestantism. But the genes that help make me gay form another kind of family tree, intertwined with and beyond the one recorded in the family Bible. The branches of that tree are a biological link from me to my queer chosen family, and to queer historical figures who have shaped the world we live in today, from Harvey Milk to Sappho.

We may be closer than ever to tracing that tree. Last year, a team working with very large datasets from the U.K. Biobank and the “personal genomics” company 23andMe reported, at two different conferences, that they’ve identified about 40 genes at which different variants are associated with differences in orientation. Adding up the effects of many more genes into “polygenic scores” accounted for up to 20 percent of the variation in sexual orientation—not the full genetic effect seen in twin studies, but not nothing. The collaborators haven’t published a formal peer-reviewed article yet, but it looks likely that the final, fully reported project will be solid work.

So why, on the threshold of that revelation, do I find myself occupied with Futuyma’s worries about the search for gay genes?

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen how humanity is applying for the advances in genetics we’ve acquired just since I began my scientific career. Genome-scale descriptions of human diversity have been accompanied by a resurgence of “scientific” definitions of race, and law enforcement started mining genealogy databases to pinpoint suspects from their relatives’ DNA before anyone seems to have thought through the privacy implications. The former is a misunderstanding of genetic data while the latter is a misuse—but both are harmful in ways that geneticists had not fully anticipated before publishing. Last year saw the birth of children whose genomes had been edited—most geneticists agree this was beyond the pale, but that consensus didn’t have much preventative power, it turns out.

Closer to the issue at hand, polygenic scores like the one calculated for same-sex orientation in that soon-to-be-released study are already being used to screen embryos fertilized in vitro for risks of disease and mental disability, even though the effectiveness of such screening hasn’t been evaluated. (It may be quite low.) The co-founder of Genomic Prediction, the company offering that testing, has said he expects to eventually select embryos for higher intelligence and envisions offering that service in a country where such “soft eugenics” isn’t regulated. Genomic Prediction might balk at screening embryos for prospective sexual orientation, but none of the component parts of the procedure are out of reach for people with fewer qualms.

Such a technology would probably not, realistically, put homosexuality at risk of extinction. But a world in which even a genetic screen for queerness exists—whether it’s rarely used or ineffective—seems to me to be a world that’s less safe for queer people. For one thing: Imagine growing up gay, knowing that your parents could have paid to ensure you were straight before you were even in utero. Then, too, anti-gay governments from midcentury Canada to modern Tunisia have shown far too much interest in “objective” tests for homosexuality, regardless of how accurate those tests actually are. And all this is apart from the subtler issues arising from reducing sexual orientation to something you can diagnose with a genetic test.

I have no doubt the authors of the pending study of genes underlying sexual orientation are working with the best of intentions. From what I’ve seen, they’ve followed the ethical and methodological standards of our field to the letter, and then some. I expect they’re motivated by the discoveries the project may ultimately provide, just as I used to see research into the biology of sexuality as an unalloyed good. But given the world into which those discoveries will be released, I’ve come to think that uncovering queer folks’ shared genetic legacy comes with real risks for our future. Genetic studies can reveal the queer family tree reaching back through time—but making that tree visible also makes it vulnerable to those who would happily uproot it. 


October 26, 2018

Why Sex is Not Binary and Why If You Are Educated You should Already Know There is More Than Two Sexes

No single biological measure unassailably places each and every human into one of two categories — male or

Two sexes have never been enough to describe human variety. Not in biblical times and not now. Before we knew much about biology, we made social rules to administer sexual diversity. The ancient Jewish rabbinical code known as the Tosefta, for example, sometimes treated people who had male and female parts (such as testes and a vagina) as women — they could not inherit property or serve as priests; at other times, as men — forbidding them from shaving or being secluded with women. More brutally, the Romans, seeing people of mixed sex as a bad omen, might kill a person whose body and mind did not conform to a binary sexual classification.

Today, some governments seem to be following the Roman model, if not killing people who do not fit into one of two sex-labeled bins, then at least trying to deny their existence. This month, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary banned university-level gender studies programs, declaring that “people are born either male or female” and that it is unacceptable “to talk about socially constructed genders, rather than biological sexes.” Now the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services wants to follow suit by legally defining sex as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.”

This is wrong in so many ways, morally as well as scientifically. Others will explain the human damage wrought by such a ruling. I will stick to the biological error.

It has long been known that there is no single biological measure that unassailably places each and every human into one of two categories — male or female. In the 1950s the psychologist John Money and his colleagues studied people born with unusual combinations of sex markers (ovaries and a penis, testes and a vagina, two X chromosomes and a scrotum, and more). Thinking about these people, whom today we would call intersex, Dr. Money developed a multilayered model of sexual development.

He started with chromosomal sex, determined at fertilization when an X- or Y-bearing sperm fuses with an X-bearing egg. At least that’s what usually happens. Less commonly, an egg or sperm may lack a sex chromosome or have an extra one. The resultant embryo has an uncommon chromosomal sex — say, XXY, XYY or XO. So even considering only the first layer of sex, there are more than two categories.

And that’s just the first layer. Eight to 12 weeks after conception, an embryo acquires fetal gonadal sex: Embryos with a Y chromosome develop embryonic testes; those with two X’s form embryonic ovaries. This sets the stage for fetal hormonal sex, when the fetal embryonic testes or ovaries make hormones that further push the embryo’s development in either a male or female direction (depending on which hormones appear). Fetal hormonal sex orchestrates internal reproductive sex (formation of the uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes in females or the vas deferens, prostate and epididymis in males). During the fourth month, fetal hormones complete their job by shaping external genital sex — penis and scrotum in males, vagina and clitoris in females.

By birth, then, a baby has five layers of sex. But as with chromosomal sex, each subsequent layer does not always become strictly binary. Furthermore, the layers can conflict with one another, with one being binary and another not: An XX baby can be born with a penis, an XY person may have a vagina, and so on. These kinds of inconsistencies throw a monkey wrench into any plan to assign sex as male or female, categorically and in perpetuity, just by looking at a newborn’s private parts.

Adding to the complexity, the layering does not stop at birth. The adults surrounding the newborn identify sex based on how they perceive genital sex (at birth or from an ultrasound image) and this begins the process of gender socialization. Fetal hormones also affect brain development, producing yet another layer called brain sex. One aspect of brain sex becomes evident at puberty when, usually, certain brain cells stimulate adult male or adult female levels and patterns of hormones that cause adult sexual maturation.

Dr. Money called these layers pubertal hormonal sex and pubertal morphological sex. But these, too, may vary widely beyond a two-category classification. This fact is the source of continuing disputes about how to decide who can legitimately compete in all-female international sports events.

There has been a lot of new scientific research on this topic since the 1950s. But those looking to biology for an easy-to-administer definition of sex and gender can derive little comfort from the most important of these findings. For example, we now know that rather than developing under the direction of a single gene, the fetal embryonic testes or ovaries develop under the direction of opposing gene networks, one of which represses male development while stimulating female differentiation and the other of which does the opposite. What matters, then, is not the presence or absence of a particular gene but the balance of power between gene networks acting together or in a particular sequence. This undermines the possibility of using a simple genetic test to determine “true” sex.  
The policy change proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services marches backward in time. It flies in the face of scientific consensus about sex and gender, and it imperils the freedom of people to live their lives in a way that fits their sex and gender as these develop throughout each individual life cycle.

Anne Fausto-Sterling is an emeritus professor of biology and gender studies at Brown University.

September 12, 2017

Facial Recognition to Discover Sexual Orientation? Gay-Straight?

A facial recognition experiment that claims to be able to distinguish between gay and heterosexual people has sparked a row between its creators and two leading LGBT rights groups.

The Stanford University study claims its software recognizes facial features relating to sexual orientation that is not perceived by human observers.

The work has been accused of being "dangerous" and "junk science".
But the scientists involved say these are "knee-jerk" reactions.
Details of the peer-reviewed project are due to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Narrow jaws

For their study, the researchers trained an algorithm using the photos of more than 14,000 white Americans taken from a dating website.

They used between one and five of each person's pictures and took people's sexuality as self-reported on the dating site.

The researchers said the resulting software appeared to be able to distinguish between gay and heterosexual men and women.

In one test, when the algorithm was presented with two photos where one picture was definitely of a gay man and the other heterosexual, it was able to determine which was which 81% of the time.
With women, the figure was 71%.

"Gay faces tended to be gender atypical," the researchers said. "Gay men had narrower jaws and longer noses, while lesbians had larger jaws."
But their software did not perform as well in other situations, including a test in which it was given photos of 70 gay men and 930 heterosexual men.

When asked to pick 100 men "most likely to be gay" it missed 23 of them.
In its summary of the study, the Economist - which was first to report the research - pointed to several "limitations" including a concentration of white Americans and the use of dating site pictures, which were "likely to be particularly revealing of sexual orientation".

'Reckless findings'

On Friday, two US-based LGBT-focused civil rights groups issued a joint press release attacking the study in harsh terms.

"This research isn't science or news, but it's a description of beauty standards on dating sites that ignores huge segments of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) community, including people of colour, transgender people, older individuals, and other LGBTQ people who don't want to post photos on dating sites," said Jim Halloran, chief digital officer of Glaad, a media-monitoring body.

"These reckless findings could serve as a weapon to harm both heterosexuals who are inaccurately outed, as well as gay and lesbian people who are in situations where coming out is dangerous."
Campaigners raised concerns about what would happen if surveillance tech tried to make use of the study

The Human Rights Campaign added that it had warned the university of its concerns months ago.
"Stanford should distance itself from such junk science rather than lending its name and credibility to research that is dangerously flawed and leaves the world - and this case, millions of people's lives - worse and less safe than before," said its director of research, Ashland Johnson.

The two researchers involved - Prof Michael Kosinski and Yilun Wang - have since responded in turn, accusing their critics of "premature judgment"

"Our findings could be wrong... however, scientific findings can only be debunked by scientific data and replication, not by well-meaning lawyers and communication officers lacking scientific training," they wrote.

"However, if our results are correct, Glaad and HRC representatives' knee-jerk dismissal of the scientific findings puts at risk the very people for whom their organizations strive to advocate."
'Treat cautiously'

Previous research that linked facial features to personality traits has become unstuck when follow-up studies failed to replicate the findings. This includes the claim that a face's shape could be linked to aggression.

One independent expert, who spoke to the BBC, said he had added concerns about the claim that the software involved in the latest study picked up on "subtle" features shaped by hormones the subjects had been exposed to in the womb.

"These 'subtle' differences could be a consequence of gay and straight people choosing to portray themselves in systematically different ways, rather than differences in facial appearance itself," said Prof Benedict Jones, who runs the Face Research Lab at the University of Glasgow.

It was also important, he said, for the technical details of the analysis algorithm to be published to see if they stood up to informed criticism.

"New discoveries need to be treated cautiously until the wider scientific community - and public - have had an opportunity to assess and digest their strengths and weaknesses," he said.


July 13, 2017

Researchers in Canada Have found Top Men, Bottom or Versatile is in The Genetics

For many men who date men, chats on dating apps usually start with a particularly important question: Are you a top or bottom? Sex roles are often the base of relationships between men, and verifying who’s pitching and catching is critical. Sure, some fellas are versatile and enjoy giving or receiving equally, but for those who prefer a position, your sex role could be a deal breaker.
Recently, researchers in Canada found that there’s a biological element that decides whether a queer man tops or bottoms. The University of Toronto conducted two studies and discovered fascinating similarities among men who have sex with men. In 2015, the researchers talked to 240 men at Toronto Pride. The participants took a survey that asked about their sex-position preferences as well as questions around their physical and character traits and their families. 
VanderLaan, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga, told Jezebel’s Rick Juziak, “What’s interesting about this work is even among a group of individuals who are pretty similar in terms of their sexual preference — that is, gay men preferring men — there could be a diverse set of processes that lead them to exhibit that same sexual orientation outcome.” 
The study found that men who bottom are more likely to be non-right-handed and gender-nonconforming, and have more older brothers than men who top. According to VanderLaan, the handedness question proved to be a particularly useful in the study.
“One thing about handedness is we know it’s related to brain organization and we know that it takes place really early. People very early in life — infants and children — will show hand preference for activities. That’s what makes handedness such a valuable marker is that it tells us about a particular developmental window,” VanderLaan explained. 
Although the findings are captivating, the team doesn’t expect concrete evidence linking sex roles to biological traits. Instead, they’re focused on finding “biomarkers” that help clarify the decision-making process and complex identity formation. 
“Sex role identity development is a complex process that unfolds over decades, so the idea that some early life developmental experience that happened in the womb has a direct impact on someone’s sex-role behavior decades later,” VanderLaan continued, “that seems potentially a little too simplistic, and we certainly don’t have demonstrative evidence that that sort of scenario is indeed the case.”
To learn more about the findings of this study, head over to Jezebel.

April 30, 2017

Study:Top/Bottom Not A Preference but An Orientation

 While a single factor (the elusive “gay gene,” for example) has yet to emerge in the ongoing scientific investigation of what determines sexuality, there are a host of theories. Genetic factorshormonal factorsimmunological factors, and more have been posited as possible biological causes. However, many experts argue that it’s most likely a confluence of factors, as Barbara L. Frankowski and Committee on Adolescence did in a 2004 article in Pediatrics: “Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences.”
Regardless of how wide-ranging these studies are, they tend to have one thing in common: they treat gay men as a monolithic group. But now a research team out of the University of Toronto Mississauga (Ashlyn Swift-Gallant, Lindsay A. Coome, D. Ashley Monks, and Doug P. VanderLaan) has investigated variation within the population of gay men based on their anal-sex roles (that is bottom, or receptive, top, or penetrative, and versatile, or both receptive and penetrative depending on circumstance). The results of two of their studies suggest there very well could be biological subgroups of gay men, which is to say that one’s biological makeup could possibly (and most likely, indirectly) influence whether or not he likes to fuck or get fucked (or both).
When it has been studied, anal-sex role has been viewed as a result of social factors (more on that in a minute). Despite every study I’ve read that asks about the anal-sex role of its respondents has found that the majority men who have sex with men identify as versatile (including the two studies at hand from the University of Toronto team) as well as my own anecdotal experience suggesting as much, the top/bottom binary persists in gay culture. It comes with predictable cultural baggage for those who firmly fit on either pole (pun intended—but only for the bottoms). Tops are stereotyped as masculine, taking up the male tradition of putting their dicks in things, while bottoms are regarded as more feminine (despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary in porn, and the preponderance of self-identified “masc bottoms” in sex-app profiles). And with the assumptions of femininity in men come insults (“bottom” as a pejorative amongst gay men) and with those come a specific kind of shame in addition to the shame many gay men already experience merely living in a heterosexual world.
But perhaps if the variation among gay men has biological basis, it could help make one’s desires, not to mention those of others, less fraught or intimidating, for one thing. 
“What’s interesting about this work is even among a group of individuals who are pretty similar in terms of their sexual preference—that is, gay men preferring men—there could be a diverse set of processes that lead them to exhibit that same sexual orientation outcome,” explained VanderLaan, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Department of Psychology, and the senior author on two recent papers: “Handedness is a biomarker of variation in anal sex role behavior and Recalled Childhood Gender Nonconformity among gay men,” published on PLOS One, and “Gender Nonconformity and Birth Order in Relation to Anal Sex Role Among Gay Men,” published in Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Both studies built on previous research suggesting that gay men are more likely to be gender-nonconforming (“less interested in, say, male-typical activities...and [exhibiting] less masculine personality characteristics,” said VanderLaan), are more likely to be non-right handed than their straight counterparts, and are more likely to have older brothers (in what’s known as the fraternal birth order effect, which technically posits that the more older brothers a man has from the same mother, the more likely he is to be gay). The University of Toronto team contacted what would become their sample of men during the 2015 Toronto Pride festivities and asked them to fill out online surveys regarding their sexual positioning (both in preference and behavior—there was discernible variation between the two), their recalled childhood gender nonconformity (which was assigned a number through a regularly used 23-item questionnaire The Recalled Childhood Gender Identity/Gender Role Questionnaire, which asks questions like “As a child my best or closest friend was 1-always a boy, to 5-always a girl,” and “In fantasy or pretend play, I took the role 1-only of boys or men, to 5-only of girls or women), their handedness, and their amount of siblings (the samples of the two studies were almost identical, with 91 straight men surveyed in both studies, and 242 gay men in the handedness study versus the 243 men of the birth order study).
“One thing about handedness is we know it’s related to brain organization and we know that it takes place really early,” said VanderLaan. “People very early in life—infants and children—will show hand preference for activities. That’s what makes handedness such a valuable marker is that it tells us about a particular developmental window.”
The team’s ultimate findings pointed to statistically significant variation amongst the gay men, with bottoms being more likely within the sampled populations to be gender-nonconforming (Table 1) and non-right handed (Table 2), as well as to have a higher proportion of older brothers (Table 3):
Table 1 (Graph: Lindsay Coome)
Table 2 (Graph: Lindsay Coome)
Table 3 (Graph: Lindsay Coome)
Table 4 (Graph: Lindsay Coome)
Note that the handedness study found the strongest links in terms of behavior (i.e. what actually happens during sex) as opposed to preference (i.e. what would ideally happen during sex), whereas the fraternal birth order study found statistical significance in terms of preference (and additionally, it found a correlation between between being versatile and having older sisters). (Contrast Table 3 with Table 4.) 
“That was an interesting discrepancy,” said VanderLaan. “Behavior is generally more constrained by what your partner is willing to do with you. Whereas attraction is a more personal aspect of sexuality. You can have a fantasy about whoever you like. This is part of the reason why I feel like there probably isn’t a direct relationship between these early-life developmental biological developmental experiences and these later-life sex role behaviors. There’s probably some set of circumstances that these biological factors are having an indirect effect on anal sex role behavior.”
Additionally, bottoms and versatiles were so similar in terms of reported childhood gender nonconformity as well as handedness that they were grouped together in that study; they differed in terms of birth order, though (bottoms had more older brothers; versatiles had more older sisters) so in that study they were not grouped together.
VanderLaan said that he’d like to see if these studies could be replicated, as they’re the first to look at biomarkers differing between anal sex groups. As with all self-reported studies, this one had its limitations (we can never ignore how sex-based shame may color some gay men’s responses regarding their sexual interests and practices, for example). And VanderLaan concedes that it wasn’t necessarily representative of the entire population as it wasn’t a national probability sample, and it certainly seems that way: The respondents were overwhelmingly white with 301 in the handedness study identifying as such and 302 in the birth order. (Of the remaining 32 in each study, one identified as black, two as Chinese, eight as Asian, two as aboriginal, three as Latin American, 15 as “other,” and one declined to answer.) Additionally, what’s entirely missing from the conversation these studies are attempting to start is why such variation may be occurring.
“Sex role identity development is a complex process that unfolds over decades, so the idea that some early life developmental experience that happened in the womb has a direct impact on someone’s sex role behavior decades later,” VanderLaan explains, “that seems potentially a little too simplistic and we certainly don’t have demonstrative evidence that that sort of scenario is indeed the case.” Nothing about these findings is meant to be all-encompassing; indeed, this very post has been written by a right-handed gay man with only younger sisters and who identifies as militantly versatile. And I still find it to be interesting as hell.
Instead, though, VanderLaan and his team are looking to biomarkers to get a broader picture of people’s decision-making and that complex process of identity formation. Until now, the vast majority of the research regarding the development anal sex roles in gay and bisexual men has focused on social factors. For example, in a fascinating paper from January’s Archives of Sexual Behavior, “Recognition and Construction of Top, Bottom, and Versatile Orientations in Gay/Bisexual Men,” Northwestern University’s David A. Moskowitz and Northwestern University’s Michael E. Roloff, examined a variety of factors including “attitudinal constructs suggested by previous literature as important” and found that “sexual position self-label was learned over a 15-year timespan.” The attitudinal constructs investigated were: finding bottoming pleasurable, sexual anxiety when bottoming, sexual anxiety when topping, strength/control of a partner, gender typicality of a partner, penis size as a factor, and race/ethnicity of partner as impactful. Though a number of indirect connections were postulated after examining the results, “finding bottoming to be pleasurable and the importance of sexual control dynamics were the only two direct predictors,” according to the paper’s abstract.
I reached out to Moskowitz, whose work has captivated me for years, to ask if the University of Toronto’s biological findings necessarily opposed that of his social-based research or if they could operate in conversation. He emailed back this response:
I specifically conducted [the “Recognition and Construction of Top, Bottom, and Versatile Orientations in Gay/Bisexual Men”] study to try to prove that anal penetrative role was far more innate than ever thought. We wanted to suggest that role, not unlike sexual orientation, was predetermined by biological factors. People could be born a top or a bottom, and that was that. However, we found both in the chronology of gay and bisexual men’s self-labeling of their penetrative roles and in their attitudinal measures, evidence to suggest that understanding and assigning a role developed over time. Role orientation was essentially socialized by reactions to sexual trials, with adjustments made in label according to positive and negative outcome efficacies. Put simply, the more good or bad sexual experiences, over time, lead people to a role.
But despite my study, I am convinced that it is more complicated than that, as the authors of the University of Toronto study suggest. Our studies don’t rule each other out. I still ardently believe that biology plays a vital role in predisposing individuals towards more of a bottom or top orientation, with social maturation and sexual experience accrual potentially doing the rest… shaping the inherently sociopolitical process of self-assignment of a label in a community that LOVES labels.
And that, perhaps, is why Moskowitz (who considers VanderLaan a “great colleague and friend”) is so enthusiastic about the University of Toronto team’s work. “The study is pretty ground-breaking in that no studies to-date have looked at actual biological determinants of penetrative sex roles,” he writes. “For years now, we have anecdotally and empirically understood that some association roughly exists between gender typicality and anal sex roles. Most of us in the field have scrambled to understand the underlying influences of that relationship. The authors of the article provide some well-needed insight into the more innate characteristics that lead to top or bottoming behaviors.”
Additionally, VanderLaan says that his research provides a window into the formation of the nervous system, and that it starts to help answer the question that many queer people ask of themselves: “How did I come to be the way that I am?”

November 25, 2015

Growing Acceptance on LGBT From China and Japan to Korea

 Celebrating pride in Taiwan

When it come to homosexuality, the Confucian cultures of East Asia can be quite conservative, though they don't share the religious or moral objections of Judeo-Christian-Islamic countries. 

But across a region becoming steadily more urban and cosmopolitan, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) communities are experiencing a changes in attitudes and a greater legal recognition that echoes the trend in the West towards much greater acceptance of equality. 

Last weekend some 80,000 people from around East Asia converged on Taipei for the Oct. 31 Taiwan Pride parade, the biggest such event in the region. It was followed by a record 10,000 marchers in the Hong Kong Pride Parade. In Japan, that same November evening saw the broadcast of “Transit Girls,” the first TV drama here about a lesbian couple.

Recommended: Think you know Asia? Take our geography quiz.

To be sure, for many LGBTs in a region imbued with the Confucian ideals of filial respect and saving face, the toughest battles remain within families. Still, the overall shift seems clear across this diverse region, and is partly due to the influence of the West, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US and Ireland. Local media portrayed these changes as a progressive trend that the rest of the world will inevitably follow.


Earlier this year, two districts of Tokyo announced they would issue same-sex marriage certificates; the first couple had their union recognized in Shibuya on Nov. 5. The certificates are not legally binding, but rather recommending a set of greater rights, such as visitation rights to same-sex partners in hospitals and nondiscriminatory treatment by realtors. 

South Korea is something of an outlier in the region: Conservative evangelicals groups succeeded this summer in halting a gay pride parade in Seoul, even though the rest of the Korean Queer Culture Festival went ahead.

Still, among youth in Korea, 71 percent of those between 18 and 29 said "homosexuality should be accepted," according to a Pew Research Center poll this year. That figure is just ahead of the equivalent among US youth, and fewer than the 83 percent of young Japanese who agreed. 

The absence of overt gay-bashing or other strident opposition in most of East Asia may actually have slowed down the equality battle, some activists say.

"There's no violent discrimination against us here; nobody throwing stones or trying to kill us,” said Yuki, a gay Tokyoite who nevertheless asked to be identified only by his first name. “There's never been a law against gays in Japan."

"A lot of gay men in Japan would rather lead a double life,” Yuki added. “Many Japanese gay men went to Taipei to walk in the parade, but would be afraid to do so here.”

Yuki practices a form of “don't ask, don't tell” in his family. His mother has met his boyfriend numerous times, but he has never discussed his sexuality with her.

Masahiro Kikuchi (not his real name) has come out to his parents. But he has not yet confided to his older sister, whose reaction he worries about because she has two sons. Mr. Kikuchi works at a Japanese finance company, where he says it would be impossible to be openly gay. 

"They showed a video earlier this year at my office to educate staff about gay issues. It told people to be aware there might be someone gay sitting next to you at work,” said Kikuchi. “I was sweating and just hoping nobody was looking at me.” 

Societal and familial acceptance is a recurring theme for LGBT people. It's also the subject of "Mama Rainbow," a 2012 documentary by Chinese filmmaker Fan Popo, focused on six mothers learning to love their gay children. The film was taken down from streaming sites in China last year, and Mr. Popo is suing the censors over its removal. 

Attitudes in China are similar to the rest of the region, according to Popo, with no violent discrimination. But many people refuse to believe there are LGBT members in their family.

"But on LGBT issues, we are influenced more by the US than other East Asian countries. When same-sex marriage was legalized [in the US] it was big news in China, a lot of people changed their social media profiles to rainbows," said Popo.

Nevertheless, Popo believes that an anti-discrimination law would be more powerful in China than legalization of same-sex marriage.

Across the sea in Taiwan, Jay Lin decided it was time to come out to his parents last year when he launched the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival. He had already lived for two decades as a gay man. Mr. Lin believes that changes in attitudes are more important than legal reform since without an accompanying change in social views it could bring a backlash. 

"You need to allow people in families, in which it is so important to avoid shame in Chinese-Taiwanese culture, to come to terms with it,” Lin says. “If a lot of people are not out to parents … gay marriage is not going to work," said Lin.  

He added that having begun to think about starting a family, the idea of doing so in Taiwan without the acceptance and involvement of parents and grandparents “is farcical.”

May 3, 2014

Scared Straight



No one forced Mathew Shurka to do it, but he was too afraid to say no. In front of him was an opportunity to change his sexuality forever. At least, that’s what he was told.

Just a month before, Shurka, who was 16 at the time and living in Great Neck, N.Y., had revealed to his father, through tears filled with dread, that he was gay. When Shurka’s father embraced him and said he’d love him no matter what, a weight was lifted. However, in the weeks that followed, Shurka’s father began to worry that his gay son would not flourish in a world that often oppresses people who are different. So he did some research and found someone who offered therapy that would change his son’s sexual orientation.

Shurka, now 25, tells Newsweek that at the time he was afraid of coming out to his conservative Jewish community and losing his friends. “It was a horrifying nightmare to think that anyone knew I was gay,” he recalls. So when his father offered the prospect of conversion therapy, Shurka decided “if I can really change this, let’s do it.” He thought suppressing his feelings would make his life easier. But it didn’t work that way. Instead, the path he was led down resulted in years of confusion about his identity, emotional scarring and more mental health problems than he knew what to do with.

Teens like Shurka—not quite old enough to make informed decisions for themselves, yet old enough to know what peer and parental pressure feels like—are in the middle of a growing movement in both the U.S. and abroad. Where bunk psychology is failing children, legislatures are swooping in to protect them.

Both California and New Jersey have officially banned gay conversion therapy for minors. However, in both states, the laws have yet to see widespread implementation. In New Jersey, the state is facing a lawsuit by parents who want to send their child to a conversion camp; a ruling is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. In California, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law after challenges by conversion therapy advocates. But in February the appeals court agreed to a temporary hold on the ban, so that opponents (led by the Liberty Counsel, the same nonprofit Christian legal-advocacy group representing the opposition in New Jersey) could bring their challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will address the question of whether conversion therapy infringes upon the First Amendment’s free speech clause.

In the meantime, legislation banning conversion therapy for minors has been introduced in several other states. In Washington, a bill has already passed in the House by a 94-4 vote and awaits approval by the state Senate. A similar bill was introduced earlier this year in both houses of the New York state Legislature, where it still awaits a vote. And lawmakers have announced they will be pushing anti-conversion-therapy laws in Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Similar changes are afoot in the U.K. Despite the country’s reputation for progressive health policies, a 2009 survey found that 15 percent of U.K. mental health professionals had tried to help patients change their sexual orientation—many within a National Health Service practice. The findings led to impassioned debate in the House of Commons last year, during which Norman Lamb, the country’s health minister, stated that “the practice is abhorrent” and “has no place in modern society.” Recently, 15 members of the British Parliament petitioned Lamb to enact “tougher measures” to ban conversion therapy. In response, Lamb promised change was on the way. “[Conversion therapy] is based on the completely false premise that there is something wrong with you if you happen to be gay,” he told The Guardian.

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