Cellular Biology

Sexual Diversity and Genetics



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"Electroshock treatment, hormonal therapies, genital mutilation, and brain surgery", according to Udo Schuklenk, et al., in his piece The Ethics of Genetic Research on Sexual Orientation, are among the "conversion therapies" used to "treat" homosexuals and change their sexual orientations. From this premise, Schuklenk argues that, because research into the topic is not truly value neutral in any part of the world, further scientific exploration of sexual orientation and the existence of a "gay gene" will increase discrimination against LGBTQ minorities around the world.

The entire subject of research into sexual orientation can be examined as a sort of microcosm of an overriding human habit: Socially and scientifically, humans seek to explain events, ideas and minorities that appear inconsistent with the majority's (or status quo's) understanding of the world. When a human does not understand an element of the world, they seek to incorporate that element into their world, utilizing systems they have already created. In the case of sexual orientation genetic research, the previously created system is science, and the humans in question are the heterosexual majority.

Lois Gould's piece, a narrative entitled X: A Fabulous Child's Story, inventively examines this argument. In the story, a child is born, and, as part of a government's "Secret Scientific Xperiment", its gender is hidden from the world, excepting the child's adoptive parents.

Gould uses this narrative to explore humankind's need to seek explanations for what it has trouble understanding; in this case, the child X causes much consternation to teachers (what washroom will X use, if they are not male or female?), other parents (they could not compliment X's masculinity or femininity), X's family (they are embarrassed about having a "genderless" relative), schoolmates (they think X is weird and not like them), and school principal (who is faced with parents calling X "the biggest problem child we have ever seen"). To all of these people, it would simply be much easier if X was either male or female.

However, X is not male or female; X is X. The teachers, parents and children in Gould's story are trying to simplify an issue that does not need to be (and cannot be) simplified. To the world in this narrative, X symbolizes a challenge to a societal system of gender. The society in this story reacts to the challenge by attempting to incorporate X into its previously established set of rules and ideas.

Similarly, with the issue of genetic research into sexual orientation, LGBTQ minorities represent a challenge to a societal system of "accepted" sexuality, and society reacts to this challenge by attempting to incorporate it into another previously established set of rules and ideas; genetics. The problem therein lies in various directions: (1), that there may indeed be no genetic answer to explain sexual diversity, (2) that it would not truly matter either way, (3) that it relies on an underlying and biased supposition (assuming that heterosexuality is "normative" and homosexuality is not), and (4), that results in this line of research could give an "excuse" to discriminate against and dehumanize members of sexual minorities.

A critique of a societal reaction to the gender of X (who plays with dolls, is a star quarterback of the football team, knows how to cook and clean, and wears overalls) is thus possible, in the same style: (1), that there may be no definitive social answer to explain X's gender, (2), that it would not truly matter either way, (3), that it relies on an underlying and biased supposition (assuming that the male-female dichotomy is "normative", and that deviance from that model is not), and (4), that results in this line of research could give an "excuse" to discriminate against and dehumanize members of sexual minorities.

That there may be no genetic answer to sexual orientation is fairly obvious; in the realm of science, nothing is fact until it is proven, and the genetics of sexual orientation have yet to be proven or disproven. A discovery either way, though, would make no difference; whether the root of sexual orientation is in genetics, or in Oreo cookies, the entire enterprise of coming to such a conclusion is not conducted for the good of sexual minorities, but rather for the ease and contentment of the heterosexual majority. Science such as this does not open minds or push boundaries; rather, it prevents true acceptance and polarizes demographics into the categories of "normal" and "abnormal".

Genetic roots to sexual orientation would reinforce the idea that LGBTQ minorities are different than the heterosexual majority, and have something to be ashamed of. This, in turn, would help to perpetuate many of the viewpoints the world has chosen to take regarding sexual diversity; this is not acceptance, neither is it a victory for LGBTQ rights. Similarly, in X: A Fabulous Child's Story, discovering the "roots" to X's gender might reinforce the idea that X is different from "normal" males and females. It might even lead X's society to force him into one role or the other. This would help perpetuate the initial viewpoints of X's schoolmates, their parents ("X is the biggest problem child we've ever seen") and relatives; again, this is not acceptance.

In fact, that is the moral of Gould's story. It is the "moral" of Schuklenk's article, too, at its root. Both pieces argue that seeking to explain that which the human race cannot seem to understand will not, in itself, be sufficient to understand those things. Both Gould and Schuklenk argue that in order for the heterosexual majority (indeed, for each person on this Earth) to understand what sexual diversity is, it must first be accepted.

Thus, by extension, the solution should not be to determine the cause of homosexuality and sexual diversity in human beings; rather, perhaps the ultimate goal should be to question the system into which sexual diversity does not seem to fit. There may or may not be a genetic root to sexuality, but there is most certainly a root to intolerance; the inability to fit an issue, idea, or group of people into one's own web of understanding and belief.

Acceptance is devoid of the scientific and social distinctions between "normal" and "abnormal", just like X is devoid of the scientific and social distinctions between "male" and "female". The world must have acceptance in this same sense. Before scientific experiments, social ideals, or analytical essays can have any hope of producing a fair and equal world, each of those must be willing to push their collective societal boundaries and accept what it is they are looking to achieve. Like X's schoolmates, who, at the end of the story, accept X not as a male or a female, but as X, the world must learn to accept its own X's and Y's before it can hope to truly understand them.

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