"When did you decide to become gay?" My friend Sam had heard that question before, implying that he arbitrarily chose his sexual orientation. I loved his quick comeback that ended the futile exchange: "When did you decide to become straight?"
The erroneous assumption that we choose to be gay or straight has been difficult to correct. Now there is new evidence that sexual orientation is inborn.
Researchers in Stockholm have just published results of their study of the brain architecture of gays and straights in the Procedures of the National Academy of Science ( http://www.pnas.org/ June 16, 2008). The scientists searched for sources of cognitive differences by measuring brain structure directly, bypassing the possibility of learned cues.
Using MRI and measurements of cerebral blood flow in 90 subjects, including gay males, lesbians, and both male and female heterosexuals, they found key similarities between the brains of
- Gay males and heterosexual females, and
- Lesbians and heterosexual males.
These results strongly suggest neurobiological origins of sexual orientation linked to pre-birth brain structures, not to factors after birth.
My gay friend's retort defied the assumption that being gay--or straight--is a choice. Nor is it attributable to parental influence or style, sexual molestation in childhood, or any other external factor as a person grows into adulthood. Rather, this study adds to increasing evidence that being gay or straight is biologically fixed.
Why does this matter to a straight spouse whose mate is gay? It is one more reason not to blame yourself. When my husband came out, I spent months feeling somehow responsible. My self-esteem plummeted. Now I know that I had nothing to do with his being gay, and nothing I could have done would change that biologically fixed trait. This new research makes it a little easier to understand what happened in our family.
Sandra Witelson, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, predicted that this report might erode some moral judgments against homosexuals and perhaps counter arguments that homosexuality is merely a lifestyle choice. Dr. Qazi Rahman of the University of London commented, "As far as I'm concerned, there is no argument anymore--if you are gay, you are born gay."