William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

On That New “Gay Gene” Study

From the paper, to show how noisy this data is.

From the paper, to show how noisy this data is.

First and most important point: there is no way we’re going to cover in 750 words the whole of this field. Much will be left out. This small article is not going to be all things; it will discuss only one important point. Experience suggests I should warn certain readers of the danger of hyperventilating and apoplexy.

If same-sex attraction is heritable, which is to say genetic, how is it that this trait has been passed along? Men who are SSA and act on these proclivities are far less likely to pass on their genes. Yet we have been assured that SSA has always been with us as a race; that is, for thousands of years over many, many generations. But not everywhere. Certain areas of Africa report no SSA men. Of course, some men with SSA mate with women, but not nearly at the same rate men not so afflicted. Thus whatever genetic components to SSA exist should gradually disappear. Or already be gone.

The new peer-reviewed study “Genome-wide scan demonstrates significant linkage for male sexual orientation” by A. R. Sanders and a slew of others in journal Psychological Medicine suggests an answer to this puzzler. “Our findings may also begin to provide a genetic basis for the considerable evolutionary paradox that homosexual men are less motivated than heterosexual men to have procreative sex and yet exist as a stable non-trivial minority of the population,” they say.

The word “considerable” is apt, and an understatement; but you have to admire the euphemism “less motivated.” Anyway, they correctly note the observed population stability of men with SSA. This is important, this observation, because it highlights that we should be finding a theory which fits these facts and not finding facts which fit a theory. Now one particular gene that these authors noted is shared by some (not all) SSA brothers (and some half brothers) is called “Xq28”. Never mind why.

The authors state, “Linkage to Xq28 is especially relevant to the X-linked sexually antagonistic selection hypothesis that women with genetic variant/s predisposing to homosexuality in men have a reproductive advantage compared with other women, i.e. that fertility costs of variants that increase the likelihood of a man’s homosexuality are balanced by increased fecundity when expressed in a woman”.

In other words, this appears to be a theory in search of facts; that is, some folks start with the theory that SSA is genetic and work backwards. Women who mate with SSA men, it is suggested, are more fecund: they pump out more babies. What we have is a balancing act. Is it because the women who “go for” SSA men are more fertile, or is it the male gametes from SSA men are causing greater fecundity? And how much more fertile must these women be (by whatever cause) to match the rate of baby making seen in women who mate with non-SSA men?

That would seem to be (to reuse the apt word) considerable, especially these days when SSA behavior is seen as socially acceptable. SSA men aren’t making many babies. True, many SSA men in the past days were encouraged to take a wife and reproduce. Not so now. Yet SSA is on the rise. Another paradox—but only if you insist the heritability theory is (somehow) correct. There is no paradox if the diseugenic SSA trait is caused by environmental stressors. I have some colleagues who suspect SSA is caused by a yet-to-be-discovered virus. I doubt this strongly, because it seems that genetic non-immunity to this virus would also die out of the population (the virus could mutate, of course).

The environmental hypothesis, incidentally, also has going for it that in LGBT we have all kinds of other behaviors besides strict SSA. There are far more “B”S than “G”s, for instance. And nobody knows much about the genetic facets of “L”s. “T”s are surely just plain mentally ill.

What impressed me about this study was its coverage. Kelly Servick at Science Mag said of the methods used by Sander “the genetic linkage technique has largely been replaced with genome-wide association (GWA) studies.” She reported that the editor of the journal was surprised to see the study because it used such a blunt instrument, and she said, “Sanders admits that although the strongest linkage he identified on chromosome 8, using an isolated genetic marker, clears the threshold for significance, the Xq28 linkage does not.”

Also consider we do not know how pairs of non-SSA men would look on these same techniques. If these siblings also show similar patterns on chromosome 8, then we’re looking at something similar to brothers, not just to SSA status.

Lastly, Samantha Allen at The Daily Beast note (correctly) that SSA can be a choice.

Update I stupidly forgot to point to Robert Reilly’s and to Stephen Goldberg’s books which correctly point to the evidence that the rate of SSA in identical twins is far from 100%, thus proving the genetic component, if any, cannot be all important.

32 Comments

  1. You’re in for it now, Briggs!

  2. Yet SSA is on the rise. (hmmm, earlier it was mentioned: yet exist as a stable non-trivial minority of the population)

    Is it on the rise or simply becoming more open? It’s certainly on the rise in TV programming where it seems not a single episode of any program lacks inclusion of at least a mention of homosexuality. Maybe it’s like what happened in advertising.where a minority is represented 100% of the time. You’d think they were the most important market.

    As for how SSA is so “successful” is an interesting question. If it isn’t genetic where would it come from? If it’s just giving in to desires, what causes the desire in the first place? Are we all inclined this way but somehow fight it off?

  3. My brother and his wife both have brown eyes, yet their son has blue eyes. Is it possible that SSA works in the same way where neither parent has to exhibit it to pass it on? I’m definitely not a genetics (or SSA) expert…

  4. Briggs

    November 22, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    DAV,

    Certainly more open, but I think on the rise, too. One clue comes from the Regnerus study. Quoting myself:

    …only 61% of now-grown children of families with a lesbian mother said ‘yes’ to “Identifies as entirely heterosexual”, versus 71% of those of families with a gay father and with a full 90% of those now-grown children from traditional mom-dad families.

    Included in that number are adopted, i.e. non-genetically related, kids. That is, adopted kids raised by lesbian women turn out SSA more than kids raised by parents. Anecdotal evidence backs this up, too.

  5. One thing we do know is that the number of people counted as being gay depends on the number prepared to declare themselves as gay (or SSA if you prefer). This is clearly influenced by the social acceptability of that declaration. For example, the book Dataclysm (a great read by the way) reports that the number of searches for SSA porn (something you do in private) in different US states is relatively constant and unrelated to the recorded number of SSA individuals, which is clearly correlated with the acceptability of SSA behaviour in the state. Some african countries have severe legal penalties for SSA behaviour so the fact that they don’t record many gays when they count is unsurprising.

    There is also a theory that the reason SSA survives is not because the effect creates SSA behaviour, but the effect the same gene has on those who carry it but are heterosexual in their preferences: if the heterosexual carriers are better parents, then the gene can propagate despite creating others who don’t breed. Or similarly, the presence of SSA brothers or uncles in family groups might improve the quality of child-rearing in the group. I don’t know and am not equipped to judge whether this is mere speculation or a coherent theory with actual evidence behind it.

    The whole field of research is plagued by what you correctly describe is ideas people like searching for theories that back their ideology.

  6. Dave: Eye color genetics turned out to be much more complex than what I was taught in high school. With two brown eyed parents, blue is recessive, so it’s pretty much straight-forward. But with brown being “dominant” blue-eyed parents having a brown-eyed child was more rare. This is an explanation of how this might happen: http://genetics.thetech.org/how-blue-eyed-parents-can-have-brown-eyed-children. Linked traits/genes come into play, and that might be true for SSA.

    DAV: I think we probably were born with all sexual orientations, as well as the capacity for murder, theft, envy, and all the related sins. It’s pretty hard to talk people into committing sins if they don’t have the desire. Much like we learn to not kill people, not steal, etc, we learn to control the sexual desires that are not appropriate. As morals decline, the need to suppress becomes less and less.

  7. The gene theory will only last as long as it is needed to back up the social and political agenda of the SSA community. After a bit it will give way to demands for freedom of recruitment in public fora.

  8. Sheri,

    Er, All? Like an attraction to mailboxes? I’m talking about those with the cure little red flags, of course. Just kidding 🙂 although there’s likely an anachronistic, puritanical postal regulation covering it. They seem to have one for everything else..

    I’m not sure environment. while it can be powerful. is necessarily the prime factor. I don’t remember the subject of sexual orientation arising at home or school yet I don’t find males attractive and my sisters seem to only have an inclination for guys. My brother though is a little odd. He must have this thing for technology. Put a piece of technology in his hands and he screws with it until it is all screwed up.

  9. Briggs,

    SSA men aren’t making many babies. True, many SSA men in the past days were encouraged to take a wife and reproduce. Not so now. Yet SSA is on the rise. Another paradox—but only if you insist the heritability theory is (somehow) correct.

    I think more correctly, only if we insist heritability is the only behavioral determinant. Why one would assume such a thing by default is beyond me.

    Lastly, Samantha Allen at The Daily Beast note (correctly) that SSA can be a choice.

    The relevant quote is: In 2012, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon caused a stir when she told The New York Times that her lesbianism is a “choice.” When she faced pushback for this statement from the LGBT community, Nixon held her ground saying, “Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think they should define the terms of the debate.”

    Clearly Nixon’s behavior is a choice. We have little option but to take her at her word that she has chosen her actions. By the same token, we presently have little option but to take her at her word about her feelings. Do you disagree?

  10. DAV: I don’t think there’s much hope for your brother’s affliction. Just keep him away from the big screen TV! There may actually be a diagnosis for that. Who knows?

    If we aren’t born with the urges, where do they come from? We are born with covetness, envy, etc. The targets of those desires may vary from person to person and I’m sure some targets are the result of learning, but I guess I don’t see anywhere alse the desires could come from except that we are born with them.

  11. Brandon: “heritability is the only behavioral determinant” would seem to be consistent with a purely genetic basis for behaviour, which a few scientists and others have claimed.
    The problem with someone saying they chose SSA is it ruins the “we have no choice” argument from the gay community. That’s a no-no in today’s PC world.

  12. Athough some believe that everything we are is encoded in our gene the reality is much different.

    Being gay or straight is similar as being left-handed or right-handed.

    1) identical twins can have one kid right-handed and one left-handed or one gay and one heterosexual.

    2) I’mright-handed at everything and I have very little use of my left hand other than for support. Yet other people can be ambidextrous or left handed. The same is true for gay and heterosexual. Where some are bi-sexual although they may have preferences for one or the other.

    Both can be born the way they are without having any genes intervening.

  13. Sheri,

    “heritability is the only behavioral determinant” would seem to be consistent with a purely genetic basis for behaviour, which a few scientists and others have claimed.

    I don’t doubt that a few have — the nature vs. nurture debate in biology is quite active and long-running. I don’t subscribe to genetics-only arguments … actually that’s putting it mildly: I reject them with extreme prejudice.

    The problem with someone saying they chose SSA is it ruins the “we have no choice” argument from the gay community. That’s a no-no in today’s PC world.

    An unfortunate example of the persecuted becoming the persecutor. I admire Cynthia Nixon — who for the record self-identifies as bi and says that was NOT her choice — for taking a public stand about her explicit choice to be with women and not men. I hope, for their own sake, the bad actors in the gay community she’s addressing get her intended message.

    An aside: I think Samantha Allen’s conclusions in her The Daily Beast article are so much rubbish. The very best reason to do any human biological research is to further our collective understanding of ourselves. If she thinks “gay gene” research has lost its rhetorical value in the political and moral debate, fine — just say “let’s stop using it as a rhetorical gambit”. But to advocate stopping the research itself altogether because it might be politically damaging is regressive, knowledge-stunting tripe of the highest order.

  14. You’re making a pretty uninformed assumption there, Briggs, if you think gay men don’t procreate with women.

    Most people who are informed of the subject think that some gay people may have inherited traits that could be considered to have “caused” their homosexuality, but in all honesty, it really only matters to people with a theocratic bent. It’s interesting, but only a piece of the understanding of issues relating to homosexuality.

    JMJ

  15. a virus mutates far more rapidly than most defenses could possibly emerge. viral hypothesis is still by far the most likely.

  16. JMJ: It only matters to people who want to say it isn’t behavioral. That would not include many in the theocratic arena. Plus, there are countless number of churches (none true Christian) that have SSA ministers and proclaim the behaviour to be moral. So in actuality, the theocratic people are one of the few saying it’s not genetic or biological. It matters to those who are SSA because they can then say “It’s not my fault” which can also then be used for every so-called sin out there (some countries consider murder a social value—Romans routinely murdered rulers to change governments. So many values are theocratic and yet society tenaciously clings to them. Why not just murder your ruler for a social change? It works.)

  17. JMJ, just do not waste time writing a post. Say THEO and we will understand. The amount of rationale we will apply to that utterance would be the same as it is inherent in your long posts.

  18. Sheri,

    Plus, there are countless number of churches (none true Christian) that have SSA ministers and proclaim the behaviour to be moral. So in actuality, the theocratic people are one of the few saying it’s not genetic or biological.

    You mean the truly theocratic folks. Tell me, which human organization is the keeper of the authoritative list on what constitutes a True Christian?

    […] some countries consider murder a social value—Romans routinely murdered rulers to change governments.

    Some countries still do, but call it targeted (or extrajudicial) killing or selective assassination (as opposed to indiscriminate assassination, which, well that does happen now that I think about it). But I’ll be darned if I can figure out what that’s got to do with consenting adults’ behavior in the privacy of their own bedrooms.

  19. Brandon: That would be the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does have an admonition or two against homosexuality. I don’t have time to look up the reference, so you’ll have to Google it (homework—and it may take a bit to actually locate).

    The current SSA and same sex marriage are NOT what two consenting adults do in their bedroom or there would be no problem. It’s when it left the bedroom, demanded legitimacy and shoved the practice down people’s throats that the problem arose. This is NOT a private issue or we wouldn’t be discussing it. The FACT that this is in no way private should be blantantly obvious and the fact that you can’t see that is disturbing. It seems that your idea of “private” is a billboard, protests and riots and massive social media presence. I can’t find any definition anywhere that is even close to that one.

  20. Sheri,

    You realize that the Bible was written by men in other languages than English and that it was retranscript thousands of time with many errors until the advent printing in 1453.

    I do not consider the Bible as the authority about what Christ message really was.

    Jesus’s God was good, caring and not jealous. While the God in the bible is self-serving and jealous.

    From what someone here posted on a previous tread, the mentioned of gay, which is usually under sodomy which include oral and anal sex, are found in the Old Testament, which have nothing to do with Christianity and the Pauline’s letters, for which there is no proof that it was ever written by the same Paul that followed Jesus.

    From anything Jesus did nothing can lead a none bigoted mind to believe that Jesus would have treated gays any differently than anyone else.

  21. Concerning the SCOTUS challenge:

    1) very funny to see Ted Cruz giving his name to an amicus brief saying that congress did not intend for federal gov to give the subsidies since he was not even part of the discussion back then other than he was against everything.

    2) remember that the mandate was declared lawfull because it is considered a tax. Now the claimants complain that subsidies causes them some expenses and that the subsidies shouldn’t be legal because of how some clerks have written a few lines of the ACA. The mendate is a tax, according to SCOTUS , the subsidies reduce the amount of tax each person pay’s. So the claimant are really complaining that they are paying less taxes than they should.

  22. Sheri,

    That would be the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible does have an admonition or two against homosexuality.

    Leviticus 20, I don’t have to look it up. Punishment is death. By your logic any Christian who does advocate capital punishment for homosexuality [1], bestiality, having sex with in-laws, adultery [2] or cursing one’s parents is not a True Christian. There are some other interesting verses. I myself am fond of 18 wherein it is stipulated that having relations with a woman on her period is grounds for expulsion from society. We don’t really do banishment these days, but perhaps life in prison would be a good modern substitution?

    The FACT that this is in no way private should be blantantly obvious and the fact that you can’t see that is disturbing.

    It goes without saying that heterosexual pornography and R-rated movies with heterosexual content (even among married persons) are out, but what about PG-13 romantic comedies where nothing more than a passionate kiss or two are portrayed? Check this out: http://www.dallasnews.com/incoming/20140314-eisenstaedt2_082595_2991699.jpg.ece/BINARY/original/EISENSTAEDT2_082595_2991699.JPG

    Get a room you two! Sheesh!!!

    It seems that your idea of “private” is a billboard, protests and riots and massive social media presence.

    I’m not a big fan of riots and that most people who do them are usually out of line. But I note that the GBLT community is far from having the market cornered on them. Bad actors in every bunch I’m afraid. As for the rest I’m really shocked that an advocate of free speech such as yourself would say such things … we wouldn’t be able to disagree on this topic in public otherwise. I think that would be a sad, dangerous, quite undesirable precedent to be setting.

    ———————-

    [1] Male on male only. Curiously lesbians get a free pass in this chapter. I don’t know of any Bible verse that specifically addresses it.

    [2] The New Testament raises an interesting ambiguity on the topic extramarital sex.

  23. Brandon: If I hear one more “well they did it too” argument out of a liberal, I’m going to strangle them and then claim insanity. I do not care who else did what. That does not excuse bad behaviour in another arena. What happened? Did everyone’s parents die before they taught their kids that “Bobby did it so I can too” is WRONG?

    I am not an advocate of “free speech”. I am an advocate of free political speech as guaranteed by the constitution. I am not in favor of someone explaining to 5 year olds what anal sex is, nor am I in favor of such discussions. If we weren’t stuck in these discussions of “my bad behaviour had better be approved by you OR ELSE”, maybe we wouldn’t be dealing with the ramifications of “let it all hang out”.

  24. I would like to write in and say thanks for partially changing my mind about something.

  25. Sheri,

    I do not care who else did what. That does not excuse bad behaviour in another arena.

    Indeed it does not. Perhaps you missed my statement, “I’m not a big fan of riots and that most people who do them are usually out of line.”

    Did everyone’s parents die before they taught their kids that “Bobby did it so I can too” is WRONG?

    Well this is what I’m reading from you. When folks from the GBLT community want to hold hands and kiss in a public parade it’s offensive and wrong in your book but heterosexuals doing the same thing get a free pass. That there I object to as a double-standard because in my book neither of those activities cause property damage like rioters do. But since you think you’ve got a monopoly on the definition of right and wrong, my objection comes across as a fallacious moral equivalence argument.

    Some liberals probably want to strangle you and declare insanity when you so thoroughly garble and misrepresent their position as well, but not this one.

    I am not an advocate of “free speech”. I am an advocate of free political speech as guaranteed by the constitution.

    Which can take the form of peaceful protests, parades, social media, the like. Can they not?

    I am not in favor of someone explaining to 5 year olds what anal sex is, nor am I in favor of such discussions.

    Well nobody read Leviticus 20 with me when I was in kindergarten either. But it wasn’t redacted from my copy of the Bible either. Strange.

    If we weren’t stuck in these discussions of “my bad behaviour had better be approved by you OR ELSE”, maybe we wouldn’t be dealing with the ramifications of “let it all hang out”.

    Now you’re down to making sweeping generalizations. No specifics of what “ramifications” you’re talking about and no evidence that gays and lesbians are causing them. Otherwise known as throwing a kitchen sink full of red herring at me, all the while not directly addressing my actual arguments and questions.

    Does a True Christian advocate the death penalty for the sins described in Leviticus 20 or not? What about lifetime jail sentences for having carnal knowledge of a woman on her period? Is it ok for members of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals with signs that say “God Hates Fags”? Are they True Christians? Is it ok for the GBLT community to picket the Westboro Baptist Church with signs that say “God Hates Bigots?”

  26. If LGBT behavior is genetic linked, then it is linked with alcoholism, drug abuse, partner abuse (battery), depression, psychosis, and suicide, and propensity to STDs. All of these are significantly higher in the LGBT community than “”straight” couples. Non are good, non confer longevity, or healthy families.

    Perhaps Sheri’s God is serious about what is good for mankind, and what isn’t.

  27. Sylvain

    “You realize that the Bible was written by men in other languages than English and that it was retranscript thousands of time with many errors until the advent printing in 1453.”

    You DO realize that Biblical scholarship is so far advanced from the days of the Latin Vulgate, King James or Douay Rheims (nevermind the Guttenberg).

    There are tens of thousands of fragments of what we know as the New Testament Bible in the original languages, many of which date back to within a century of Christ.

  28. swordfishtrombone

    November 24, 2014 at 8:58 am

    A paper published a few years ago theorised that homosexuality in men is the product of a number of genes which individually accentuate ‘feminine’ characteristics which attract women, such as ’empathy’ or ‘kindness’, but which in combination produce same-sex attraction. The fact that women often like homosexual men (the ‘gay best friend’ stereotype) seems to back this idea up. I’m not saying that I agree with this theory.

    Mr. Briggs:

    I don’t agree with your idea that ‘gay genes’ would be selected out of the population – it’s too simplistic an interpretation of evolution. By your argument, the inablity to have children would be selected out – that hasn’t happened as 1 in 7 couples are infertile.

  29. Brandon: I did NOT say it was okay for heterosexuals to hold hands and kiss in public.

    I don’t have a monopoly, but close.

    Liberals I know and read, yourself excepted, do generally want to kill their opposition. Note the threats and suggestions to kill all “deniers” and pretty much everyone in Ferguson, MO.

    Yes, POLITICAL speech can be peaceful protests (well, it could in the past anyway) but SSA is NOT political speech.

    Maybe you had an odd copy of the Bible……was it designed for five-year-olds? That might be the problem.

    I do have a very a complete argument on why SSA and the current decline of morality is a bad thing, including the gay marriage being rammed down everyone’s throat (please tell me you are NOT seriously arguing that this is not rammed down people’s throats–every TV show, many commercials, every newspaper, etc have gay and lesbian cheering squads. Unless you live in a cave–and since you are on the internet, it’s at least a wired cave or you come out at times–you know that) but it is far to long for a comment section.

    Not answering your other questions as they are not relevant. (Except the Baptist church one–socially, no. It’s also not targeting the actual problem of gays and lesbians, and it assumes God hates. If they were targeting same-sex couples and carried signs that said SSA is a sin and God hates sin, then yes, I would agree with the action. If SSA can cram their ideas down people’s throats, everyone should be equally entitled, don’t you think (peaceful demonstration, right?)? I’ve already made it clear that if this stayed in the bedroom, there would not be the problem.)

  30. Bert: I missed your comment before I typed my last one. Thank you. That is part of my argument against the behaviours.

  31. Bert,

    You made a lot of assumption that you can prove. Women and Childs battery and abuse are as common wether poor or rich. But since the number of poor and rich are far from being the same, one might look more common than the other by sheer numbers.

    At my work I often deal with rich kid who go to a very exclusive school and it is surprising how much of these are ban to have contact with either of their parent for their protection.

    Although LGBT are born this way the cause is still unknown but it is not genetic. The same goes with left handed people.

    As for your claim that psychosis are more common among them within this class it would be interesting to see proof of that.

    Depression and suicide can be easily explained by the stigmatizing that these people suffer at the hand of bigoted people who are ready to go to extreme to reduce there individual liberties.

    STD’s also can be explain by people being more libertarian. If someone is more open he might have more occasion to have sex and to get STD’s. But again the vast majority of married couple have extra-marital sex, just look at the number of congressman who are caught in affair or dealing with prostitute.

    It is false to claim that society is more depraved today than before. The difference is that it is easier to act today. We are not inventing anything in our day than before.

  32. I think Briggs is misreading the “theory” about how the pro-SSA genetic material survives. It is not through sex between SSA males and more fecund females. Rather, the idea is that women who carry the “gay gene” are themselves heterosexual and also more fecund than other women. Thus the “gay gene” conveys a reproductive advantage to the female carriers (improving its survival in the gene pool) even as it conveys a reproductive disadvantage to males (decreasing its survival). This provides an answer to why the “gene” survives.

    I haven’t a clue whether this theory is right or not – it’s awfully darned convenient. But as far as I can tell, that is what they are asserting.

    The theory is also not necessary. Too often people (including evolutionists) think evolution should be perfect… any trait not improving survival should disappear. But it isn’t nearly that neat a process, which is hardly surprising given the complexity of biological systems. We still have rudimentary tails, for example. A “gay gene” could survive for a long time in the gene pool as long as its possession by a male didn’t force him out of heterosexual reproduction.

    NOTE: “gay gene” is used here for simplicity. Rarely do behavioral traits have a single gene that switches them on and off.

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