Although Mark Brown’s and John Parrington’s articles on the gay gene debate (September SR) were excellent, I would like to add a couple of points.
Firstly, Mark left out a vital piece of evidence to explode the myth about the gay gene. If homosexuality was determined exclusively by our genetic makeup, then the proportion of people engaging in homosexual practices in single sex environments (such as prisons and public schools) would be no greater than elsewhere. The very much higher incidence of these practices in such institutions is crucial in destroying the gay gene theory.
But a second point must be made. In the week the British media launched the gay gene debate, the BBC allowed its Radio 4 Any Answers programme to be used as a forum for two kinds of homophobic bigots.
In one corner stood those who embraced this new ‘scientific’ evidence. They argued that the ‘problem’ of homosexuality can now be solved by screening for the gay gene, and aborting ‘defective’ embryos. In the other corner stood those on the fundamentalist religious right. Being as vehemently anti-abortion as they are anti-gay, they lack any incentive to accept the gay gene theory. No one is born gay, they argue. Homosexual practices are a result of ‘sin’.
Socialists have to address themselves to the fact that the debate is currently being conducted in terms which, if unchallenged, can only benefit one or other kind of the anti-gay bigots.
It is certainly vital that socialists expose the shoddiness of the evidence supplied so far. But we need not rule out the possibility that more plausible evidence for a genetic component to sexual orientation might one day become available. I think Mark is wrong to deny even the possibility that there is a proportion of the population who are exclusively heterosexual and another exclusively homosexual.
There are certainly many workers today who genuinely believe themselves to be 100 percent heterosexual. Some of these will in due course change their minds. Others, however, will not. Socialists have nothing to gain by arguing that homophobic society represses heterosexual workers into denying one side of their sexuality.
Rather than denying outright the possibility of evidence for a genetic component to sexual orientation, it would be better for socialists to assert the complete irrelevance of such evidence.
Our task surely is not to deny that our genetic makeup might play some minor part in determining which of us engage in homosexual activities. Our task is to explain to workers that homophobia is used, as are racism and sexism, as a means of dividing workers.
To suggest that we are all naturally bisexual, as Steve Hack does (November SR), might fit the experiences of many more people than are prepared to admit it. But, unless the majority of people are consciously telling lies, it does not fit the experience of everyone.
To argue that genetic factors might play some minor role in sexual orientation is not to say that heterosexuality is any more natural than homosexuality. I would not be at all surprised to find that virtually everyone is to some extent bisexual. What I am concerned about is attempts to stigmatise people who believe themselves to be either exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual.
Steve admits that in a future socialist society many people might choose not to engage in same sex relations.
In a socialist society no one would waste a penny trying to discover whether there was any evidence for a genetic component to sexual orientation. But can we rule out the possibility that some statistically significant link will be discovered before workers take power and end this obscene waste of time and money? To categorically deny this possibility is either to imply that our support for gay rights is conditional on there being no genetic component involved, or else revealing ourselves as academic Marxists.
No one suggests research is done into uncovering some tenuous link between our genetic make up and our different tastes in food or music. By concentrating research on sexual orientation rather than either of these, there is an implication that sexual orientation has a special significance. Just as immigration controls imply that the problem is race rather than racism, research into sexual orientation implies that the problem is homosexuality rather than homophobia.
Revolutionary socialists could end up very politically disorientated if the statistically significant evidence they deny does indeed become available. There is only one way of preparing ourselves against this, and that is an attitude of complete indifference to such evidence.
These two letters were printed in Socialist Review 168 and 170. Each was edited. I’m posting them in response to hearing the points made by the ever wonderful Steve Jones on the latest so-called evidence about a genetic component to sexual orientation. Comments offered on BBC Radio Four’s Inside Science within the last half hour.