New Sexual Orientation Study Suggests You Were Born This Gay

the best part of this getty stock image is the dirt on the tomboy's face

Sexual orientation and “gender conformity” in women are genetic traits, according to a study released by researchers from Queen Mary, University of London.

Researchers Dr. Andrea Burri and Dr. Qazi Rahman based their study on the idea that there are consistent differences in the psychological characteristics of female children and male children, and on prior research that suggests those who become gay as adults have different characteristics from those who don’t (previous research suggests about a third of gender non-conforming girls and 50-80 per cent of gender non-conforming boys turn out to be gay later in life).

In the study published this week in PLoS One, a peer-reviewed science journal, Burri and Rahman looked at sexual attraction, childhood gender typicality, and adult gender identity in 4,425 female twins and found that both a shared set of genes and a shared set of environmental factors are partially responsible for gender non-conformity and female sexual orientation.

According to Psych Central, Rahman said,

“We found that there is a connection between these mental traits and how sexual orientation develops. One idea is that there is an association between these psychological traits and sexual orientation because they all develop under common biological drivers; like the development of brain regions under the influence of genes and sex hormones. We think environmental factors and genetics drive other mechanisms, like exposure to sex hormones in the womb, to shape differences in gender nonconformity and sexuality simultaneously.”

This is a good thing because it supports the idea of genetics playing a strong part in sexual orientation, which is a key argument in countering the idea, frequently supported by the anti-gay crowd, that being gay is always a choice. But it’s less good because of “substantial measurement error.” In the discussion of the study, the authors note that, despite the large sample size, there weren’t enough non-heterosexual participants; that results related to sexual orientation are “notoriously skewed”; and that some of their parameter estimates, especially for adult gender identity, were imprecise.

Nevertheless, this study is a strong piece of evidence in counteracting what is one of the most harmful myths about being gay — the idea that it’s always a choice, or a learned behaviour that can be un-learned.

Mostly, people, and by people I mean many major medical organizations, get this. The American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association have all stated variations on the following: that being gay is not a mental disorder, that people who are gay deserve the same treatment as people who aren’t, and that there are a lot of variables and factors that may or may not affect sexual orientation but that choice usually isn’t one of them.

But also, a lot of people, and by people I mean “including but nowhere near limited to various presidential candidates,” don’t get this. For instance, earlier this week, GOP presidential candidate Gov. Tim Pawlenty told Meet The Press’s David Gregory that he doesn’t think there’s any genetic basis for sexual orientation.

Gregory: Is being gay a choice?

Pawlenty: Well the science in that regard is in dispute, if scientists work on that and try to figure out if it’s behavioural or if it’s partly genetic-

Gregory: What do you think?

Pawlenty: I defer to the scientists in that regard.

Gregory: So you think it’s not a choice? […] That you are, as Lady Gaga says, born this way.

Pawlenty: There’s no scientific conclusion that it’s genetic. We don’t know that. So we don’t know to what extent it’s behavioural. That’s something that’s been debated by scientists for a long time. But as I understand the science, there’s no current conclusion that it’s genetic.

It may still be a while before a more accurate means of measuring sexual orientation and gender identity is developed, but until then studies like this one are the best evidence we have that being gay is often genetic. This argument helps us move forward quickly with civil rights but many argue that discrediting the idea that one CAN be “queer by choice” doesn’t do the community any favors, either. As Kim Ficera wrote in a 2005 article about Sheryl Swoopes coming out, “If we want to show the world that being gay isn’t a horrible thing, then let’s stop saying that we can’t help it.”

It’s also important to think about what studies like this mean for the stereotyping of gender-non-conforming children as gay and conversely the stereotyping of gender-confirming children as straight. It’s a bit of a chicken/egg situation but it also sets itself up for headlines like this one from The Times of India: tomboys are more likely to become lesbians” which is, needless to say, problematic.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. “tomboys are more likely to become lesbians.”
    Yeap, that’s my case. But I was more like a delicate tomboy

      • Yeah, I’ve always been a tomboy, so much so that people routinely thought me and my best friend were brothers.

    • I *wanted* to be a tomboy, so much! I was always kind of disappointed with myself for not being tougher and stuff. I couldn’t help it, I liked dresses, but I always felt like I’d be awesomer if I was a tomboy.

      • i was like a gay tomboy. If that even exist. I like to wear boy clothes and physically look like one. But i hate to do boy stuff, play with dirt or boys game. soccer, baseball. I hate that.

        Now, the roles are reversed. I’m a little bit more girly but now i play rugby and drink like a man. LOL xd

      • I was a tomboy except for the fact that I was terrible at just about every sport I encountered, and I usually didn’t like getting dirty. And my evil stepmother (the woman really is evil, we don’t talk anymore) ran with this and said I couldn’t be a “real” tomboy, and therefore I had no excuse for not following her very rigid standards of femininity, from wearing hideous, frilly dresses, to being punished for making the same potty-humor jokes that were “cute” coming from my male step-cousins.

        I just thank the gods that my real mom is and always has been a feminist, and therefore I wasn’t always around my stepmom and bio dad’s toxic gender essentialism and was able to become my own person – which, it so happens, falls somewhere between butch and femme. I never wear dresses or pantyhose and generally don’t like dressing up, but I also love my designer purse. I rarely wear make-up but can’t live without my perfume and hand cream. And I like girls and boys. I’ve never really given much of a fuck about gender roles either way.

    • It’s funny, I was quite feminine as a little girl, but I loved playing outside, climbing trees, and I ADORED bugs. Then when I was a little older I grew out of the disney princess feminine influence and was pretty much a proud tomboy for the rest of my being-a-kidness.

      • THIS is exactly me as a child. I loved being outside, and tree-climbing, and BUGS. Like, seriously, I had about 15 books on insects/knew their scientific names/wanted to be an entomologist and told everybody about it. I was such a nerd. (Weird that I’m now an English major.)

  2. half of me is all like OH COOL AWESOME! but whenever i read these things solidifying the link between gender non comformity and being gay i get this weird feeling in my stomach about, like, is there something wrong with me for being gender-normative? did i do something wrong or am i making one of these things up, either the queer part or the femme part? am i offending gender-non-comformative people by saying or feeling that? i was way more tomboyish when i was younger but now i have long hair and lipstick what does that mean is this okay, am i “not really gay” or “not queer enough” to count? I DON’T KNOW I AM JUST A CRAZY PERSON

    • Your gender presentation is your own, so own it. Being a womanly sort of woman is sexy and totally okay and as queer as you want it to be. Did I mention sexy? Keep it up!

    • I relate so much. The ideas (about gender presentation/sexual orientation) expressed in this study are a large part of the reason I was so tormented over my sexuality for such a long time.

    • Nah, I’m as girlie and as gay they come. I think gender identity and gender nonconformity are always coupled.

  3. I have a lot of feelings about this. Because on the one hand, I get the stuff about it counteracting the idea that being gay is a choice. But on the other hand, I kind of feel like that’s a subsitute for actual acceptance? Consenting adults being able to do whatever they want together should be a complete non-issue. We shouldn’t have to justify it. And I think it could end up getting kind of awkward, in terms of what if people self-identify as gay/bi/queer/+, but don’t have these genetics – would that mean it wasn’t okay for them to have sex with people of their own gender? Or that they’re not REALLY queer?

    Also, these medical tests for sexuality are often employed as a means of testing asylum seekers, to see if they’re REALLY escaping prosecution for their sexuality, or ‘pretending’. Which is obviously problematic…

    • I’m totally with you. I’m of the opinion that it shouldn’t even matter whether sexuality is a “choice.” It isn’t, according to this study, me, and a bajillion other people… but even if it was, why does everyone even care?

    • Completely.

      I think that even if it could be proven that sexuality is a choice, it should be viewed as a completely valid one to make.

      Also I feel like this genetics stuff smacks of medicalization. I’m not sure, personally, how relevant nature v. nurture really is. It makes me uneasy.

      • What do you mean by “medicalization”? I have yet to hear that term, and it seems you mean it in a pejorative sense.

        • What I mean by medicalization is taking sexuality (or some other state of being) and turning it into a diagnosis, condition or disorder.

          This has famously been done by the psychiatric community which has, in the past, included “sexual orientation disturbance” in its manual of disorders. I mean, that’s on top of other seriously sexist and generally busted stuff you can still find in the DSM-IV.

          My fear is that, by making it this thing that can be verified or denied via genetic testing, “gay” (or queer, or bi) will go back into the realm of a diagnosible kind of sickness.

          • Yeah, that’s a damn good point. Can you imagine all these hardcore homophobic pregnant people going to the obstetrician to test if the fetus is “gay”? Nice moral dilemma for them: abort or deal with the fact that you can’t control your sexuality.

    • i feel like right now we’re not supposed to talk about the “queer by choice” people because it doesn’t help us win civil rights and that’s what we’re all supposed to be focussed on here. it exists, it is out there, there are kinsey 3s that make “choices.” (Is everyone going to yell at me? IT’S TRUE! SOME PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BE QUEER! SOME PEOPLE DON’T AND SOME DO!)

      what i wish is that there was a way we could acknowledge that some of it is genetic, some of it isn’t, and that it honestly doesn’t really matter, it’s our human right to be this way whether it’s in our genetic coding or not — and it depends on the person. the same person born into an evangelical community will make very different choices than one who grows up in san francisco and feels a closer alignment to queer culture. I think it can be a bit of both.

      • thanks for writing this. I completely agree, but yeah, it’s the whole immutable trait thing. I’m guessing more comfort and flexibility in discussing the possibility will be present in another decade or two, when it burns out of the courts.

      • This has been eating at me for weeks, ever since I read this. I cannot think of one instance in which someone I know (or even read about) choosing to be gay. I mean I think that a person’s environment has a lot to do with someone ‘acknowledging’ (or maybe being conscious of) any queerness, but I don’t understand the choice aspect. Do you guys know of someone that has chosen to be gay? Why would they? I don’t get it.

    • But if it’s a choice, then the argument is, “Well, if you want to get married, just choose to be straight.” Or, “sure, you can get married just like everyone else if you choose so.” As absurd as it sounds to make the comparison (and potentially offensive, forgive me), if being black was a choice, wouldn’t everyone just not choose to be the race that has to sit in the back of the bus and everything is fine and bus segregation wouldn’t exist? Yes, people should still be decent about respecting people’s personal choices, but when you’re talking about the law, I think choice vs. genetics is very relevant. And we know that public opinion usually follows the law to some degree.

      • But it’s an unwittingly authoritarian argument to make, that whatever is choice and also happens not to be the choice of the majority has no rights under law.

        Immutable traits were the frontier of 20th century civil rights law; individual traits (resulting from self-selected or immutable minority status) are going to be the frontier of the 21st’s. the law is an organic thing and the latter will need to be discussed, it’s already been in a few cases even if the courts weren’t ready to embrace the idea. I respect doing what needs to be done for tactical reasons, but I really hope that when we do get our rights we start talking about stuff like this; I know I want to be part of a community with many narratives.

      • As a woman, I could choose to be a stay-at-home mother and bake cookies all day. But that doesn’t mean that should be the only option for me. (And no one has to prove that being a technical writer is genetic.)

  4. I have to agree with some of the above comments.

    The struggle for LGBTQ rights is not one of what is natural, but about what deserves to be from a justice standpoint. This reminds me of those people who try to find historical anomalies of matriarchal structures to say that patriarchy isn’t natural. The fact of the matter is that in almost every case, patriarchy is historical or develops amongst most species of animal in natural environments. Yet here is the point. We are not just inescapable tools of a natural process, and we can proactively seek out and create justice. Whether or not it is genetic should not be relevant to gender or sexual identity. Justice dictates that we allow free and equal expression, and that is what matters.

    That is especially the case in regards to genetic science and psychology, where all answers tend to be “x does appear to partially impact y, but only is z cases.” I think we need to focus on justice, and not put the fate of justice into the hands of some vaguely defined “nature.”

  5. I have complicated feelings about “born this way.” I definitely think that for a lot of people, they don’t have a choice. My personal experience leads me to believe that probs pre-natal hormones have a lot to do with sexuality sometimes. Probs genes as well.

    But we all know how much more complicated it is than that. The labels we choose, or actively don’t choose, often rest as much on politics or environment as anything else. The reason I’m queer and not a lesbian has nothing to do with hormones.

    Plus, if the straightest woman in America wakes up tomorrow and decides she wants to be a lesbian in order to stick it to her ex-husband, then she should have as much a right to marry a lady as I do. Genes shouldn’t be the predicate for equal rights.

    Unfortunately, if we expect to win equality through court cases, we have to use “born this way” as a crutch. We’re hitching our gay rights wagon to the legacies of the race-based civil rights movement. And one of their major justifications for equality was that people couldn’t help what color their skin was. They used the same tactic for sex equality. People shouldn’t be punished for a thing they can’t control, was the idea. So now, courts are set up to look for “immutable characteristics” when deciding whether to protect a class of people. So if we want to use the same judicial mechanisms that were used for race and sex, we have to prove that sexuality is not changeable.

    Basically, after struggling with this for a while, I think that the complexities and downsides of “born this way” are definitely something we should talk about within the gay rights movement. But as far as an external message, it’s pretty helpful right now. Hopefully, it will pave the way for a time when anyone can choose to sleep with anyone else for any reason and they’ll be granted equal rights.

    • I really like / agree with your argument, I was about to find a way to say exactly this.

    • How does one “choose” their orientation though? By making yourself attracted to the gender other than your preferred? I can’t see how that works. Chemistry, feelings and all that good stuff are innate…and you can’t make or fake your way into digging something that your soul doesn’t dig.

      The straight woman may choose to be queer to stick it to her husband, but she ain’t gonna be happy cos she’s doing something that goes against her innate desires. Now if she just happened to fall in love with another woman, that’s a different story.

      • I want to second this, I’m always so confused by the idea that some people can choose to be gay… Obviously if someone wants to I’m all for it but I’ve just never understood how that would work, how they could change their chemistry and feelings at will.

  6. This kind of thing happens all the time; research is just supporting the stereotypes that were already here. Tomboys are usually gay, and effeminate boys are usually gay too. In time support for feminine lesbians will come too

    • Yeah. I’m always kind of skeptical when I see research that supports stereotypes. But then, in my experience, sissies and tomboys often DO grow into gay men and women, although there are also plenty of queer adults who were comfortable enough with their respective gender expectations.

  7. Umm…why is gender non-conformity the predictor? What about fems? What about trans?

    • I don’t think it says gender non-conformity is “the” predictor, just “a” predictor. Saying a thing exists doesn’t imply another thing doesn’t exist.

  8. Bah. BAHHHHH.

    Look. There are lots of things about me that are understood to have a mainly genetic/physiological basis. Say: depression, heart murmur, blemishy skin, lazy metabolism, finicky digestion. And those are all things that I use some kind of treatment to minimize. And the treatments are effective. They may not be cures, but they manage the conditions: I get up every morning, I haven’t had any heart attacks, my skin is pretty clear, I’m in decent shape and I can get through the day without stomach pain.

    My point is, proving a trait is genetic does not make it automatically desirable or even neutral. It does not mean it cannot be contained or avoided. I mean, every single day untold numbers of scientists go to work trying to figure out ways to cure genetic problems. It’s delusional to think that proving the genetic component of gayness will shut down every hater.

    The reason why gayness is okay isn’t because it’s genetic—gayness is okay because IT’S OKAY. Because it doesn’t hurt anyone. Because it makes certain people (hi!) really fucking happy. If something is a “problem” in someone’s mind, making it a genetic problem doesn’t make it less of a problem. I just really wish we’d work on refocusing the conversation to why gayness IS NOT A PROBLEM, and away from debating its (TOTALLY IRRELEVANT) origin.

    • yes yes yes. also, whenever i hear this “born this way” argument, I think about sociopaths and pedophiles. there is definitely a biological component to these traits/behaviors, yet few would argue that people that act on sociopathic or pedophiliac tendencies should be liberated and granted the right to murder people or molest little boys.

      also, this study totally disregards the existence of bisexual people, and I fear that studies like this only make it more difficult for bisexuals to be taken seriously…

      • You’re conflating pathology with trait. Homosexuality isn’t a disease. A disease is something that causes pain, dysfunction or distress. A disease negatively affects a person. Homosexuality doesn’t negatively affect a person.

        Studying gay people doesn’t disprove the existence of gay people anymore than all those studies on fluid sexuality disprove the existence of straight and gay people.

        • (@GrrrlRomeo, 7/12/11 9:46pm if nesting isn’t working…)

          I’M not conflating pathology with trait, and I am quite acutely aware that homosexuality doesn’t negatively affect a person, but I am not the one who needs convincing that queers deserve equal rights. My point is that pathologies can have an indisputable genetic basis and still be considered pathologies: things to be eradicated or remedied. Evidence that gayness is awesome and not harmful gives much better support to the argument that we deserve equal rights than evidence that gayness is inborn. That’s all.

          By all means, study gay people, just don’t expect that the research is going to win over the haters.

          • “Studies in college classrooms have shown that exposure of students to information about the causes of sexual orientation has a direct, positive influence on their opinions about LGBT civil rights. This fits with polling data showing that people who believe that gays are “born that way” are generally supportive of full equality, whereas more than two thirds of those who believe it is “a choice” are so opposed that they favor the re-criminalization of same-sex relations.”


            I don’t expect research is going to win over the most virulently anti-gay. That’s the not the goal. The goal is to have a more credible opinion than anti-gay activists. Research does win arguments, including those in court. The ruling striking down Prop 8 found that sexual orientation is inherent.

            There is plenty of evidence to support the view that research does play a role. That makes it a more credible view.

            But by all means, ignore it like people ignore the Theory of Evolution.

  9. Mayyyybe, we could do a study where we take a bunch a babies and let them grow up completely isolated from the rest of the world. No stereotypes, no labels, no feminine/masculine traits…just let them grow up how ever they would naturally. My hypothesis is, without society screaming “HETEROSEXUALS ONLY!”, they’ll all turn out a little bit queer.

    What I took from this study, is we were all just too busy being ourselves at a young age to let the rest of the world tell us what our sexuality should be.

  10. Despite being a tomboy, I’m skeptical about the statistics for “one-third of tomboys end up being gay”. I know soooo many straight girls that were more non-gender-conforming than me, so what’s up with that? Or maybe it’s ‘cuz we’re Canadian and we ride polar bears and have moose as pets, I dunno.

    • i think the thing is that 100% of tomboys end up being awesome, and most gay people are awesome, so there’s an overlap there.

      • “100% of tomboys end up being awesome”

        My girlfriend has held my attention for 12 years with this sort of attitude. Does the data also show that tomboys are easily won by flattery?

      • Thankfully the wifi is good enough in the Arctic Circle this morning to allow me to confirm this.

  11. i saw some kids at walmart dressed like that. older sister looked like she just got done playing softball. younger sister sitting in a princess dress. and the older sister was raising all kinds of (adorable, not in a bad way) hell.

    made me smile.

    • also i’d like to point out that when i was a kid i dressed up the same as I do now: dresses and skirts one day, as a boy the next. depended on my mood. but i was also the kinda kid to wrestle goats in a dress (true story) so idk. i just had girl days and guy days, same as now. but gender presentation and sexuality are super different, so…

      • I’m like that too! With dressing more feminine one day and more masculine the next, I mean. As a recently-out queer, I’m confused sometimes, feeling like I can/should present myself in a manner that is either (though I hate using these stereotypes) more butch or femme. Like you, I get dressed based on my mood when I wake up that morning, but I feel as if it might be confusing to those who know I’m not straight.

      • I was the same as a kid. (And am largely the same as a grown-up, really. One of my coworkers said last week, “It’s like a different person every day!”)

  12. a lot of super religious-conservative people don’t give a shit whether or not it’s genetic. for them, it’s a sin, bottom line. they don’t care why you desire to have sex/be in a relationship with your own gender. If you’re a homosexual, fine. but you better not have gay sex.

  13. I think that science will find more and more that there is a huge range of complexity in how the brain is “gendered.” There is no doubt a statistical correlation between gender identity and sexual orientation, but not always, because they are probably not in the same area of the brain. So you could have a super-butch straight woman, a super-femme lesbian, and anything in between. Or even a person who identifies as transgendered – some are attracted to men, some to women (and of course some to both…or neither). It’s all great! If only we could let people (especially kids) just be whatever they are, and celebrate it!

  14. That is a risk and perhaps where things are heading, but frankly there is no way to stop it. Science is science and if there is something to discover about sexuality, they are going to discover it. Personally, I think the positives will far outweigh the negatives. I already see the religious right-wing moving toward accepting the biological aspect but starting to call it an illness of some kind…but on the other hand, the vast majority of people who are anti-gay are more likely to soften their position if these biological influences are proven and generally accepted as fact. Still, if people can choose their religion and demand equal rights and respect, why not their sex life?

  15. People who choose to be queer do have a certain amount of privilege that people who don’t choose it don’t have. People who aren’t clocked as gay also have a certain amount of privilege.

    There isn’t any privilege in being a gender non-conforming lesbian who is almost always read as gay by classmates or random people when you’re out and about.

    I don’t particularly enjoy being called a stereotype. I don’t particularly enjoy my innate trait being compared with harmful diseases. I don’t particularly like being stigmatized.

    I recognize that not every queer identifying person is like me. I favor an open community and welcome queers-by-choice. I can’t personally relate to late-in-life lesbians or sexual fluidity, but I know that it exists and that’s good enough for me.

    But my story is also true. And implying that my story is stereotypical sort of implies that it’s somehow false or somehow causing problems for others.

    People did predict that I’d turn out gay because of my gender non-conformity. It did not make it easier. But here’s the thing, making it easier for gender non-conforming gays that don’t have a choice, makes it easier for others.

    It’s not as though bisexuals or those who choose to be gay won’t be able to marry someone of the same sex or claim discrimination based on sexual orientation. And when being gay isn’t stigmatized, those non-conforming straight people won’t get stigmatized for erroneously being perceived as gay.

    • “And when being gay isn’t stigmatized, those non-conforming straight people won’t get stigmatized for erroneously being perceived as gay.”

      This is something I think a lot of people still don’t get about antigay bullying: it doesn’t just hurt gay kids! It hurts girl jocks and straight guys who dance and theatre kids and trans* youth and really anyone who doesn’t fit stereotypical socialized molds of gender AND sexuality.

      So creating programs and groups to fight antigay attitudes in schools doesn’t give “special treatment” to queer kids (even though, imo, they could often use it), it helps everyone! It’s just common fucking sense.

    • I don’t think anyone’s trying to say that you personally are a stereotype! You do you etc. But at the same time, it’s not the only way to be gay, yet that’s how it tends to be reported.

      • Come now… when someone describes me and says it’s a stereotype, it would be strange for me not to take it personally.

        Being gender non-conforming tends to be reported as the bad way to be gay, and then is ridiculed. And then gay people distance themselves from it by calling it a stereotype and announcing how much they’re not like those gays. It’s not like gender non-conforming gays are the favorite son or daughter of the LGBT community.

  16. “There’s no scientific conclusion that it’s genetic. We don’t know that. So we don’t know to what extent it’s behavioural.”

    As an ethology major I have to nitpick at Pawlenty’s vocabulary. He seems to suggest that genetics and behavior are two seperate, distinct, and even opposite things.

    But there have been so many studies documenting how a lot of behavior is influenced SOLELY on genetics.

    EXAMPLE: There’s a certain species of bird out there [it’s name escapes me] that carries its food to its nest by making several trips flying back and forth from the food source to its nest, carrying a little bit of the food in its beak. A similar species will carry its food by tucking a LOT of the food under its wings and walking to its nest. If you breed the two, its offspring will end up flying & carrying a little food in its beak, stopping, tucking the food under its wing & walking, stopping, putting the food in its beak and flying, and on and on. This study has been repeated over and over– no matter which species the offspring was raised with it always ended up carrying food in this manner. Environment doesn’t matter, critical learning period doesn’t matter, this behavior is totally genetic.

    Same could be said with this one species of ungulate– one runs, the other hops, breed the two and the offspring will run a little and hop a little…

    Pawlenty isn’t really winning over the coveted biology demographic, that’s for sure.

  17. They actually *did* do an isolation study on human babies and they all died. Despite being given the appropriate nutrition, warmth, care, muscle stimulation, mental stimulation, and everything they would normally be subjected to after being born EXCEPT ANY HUMAN INFLUENCE, w/o any contact with other humans all the babies died.

    Isolation studies were pretty common back in the lawless days of science.

  18. the reply to comment button may be broken– that last comment was not as random as it probably sounds.

  19. mmm wait a sec. i’m not sure i get what you mean. what you are saying is some people decide to FOLLOW THROUGH with their sexual orientation…..right? I mean those 3’s, they ARE 3’s, however they may choose to have a GAY “lifestyle” exclusively….right? If that’s what you’re saying, I think that’s different from having a choice of your sexual orientation.

  20. “both a shared set of genes and a shared set of environmental factors are partially responsible for gender non-conformity and female sexual orientation.”

    I’m not sure if I’m interpreting this correctly, but this quote means environmental factors, to some degree, affect gender non-conformity/female sexual orientation, right?

    If I were a homophobic straight parent, I think this study would make me want to control as much of my kids’ environmental factors as humanly possible. Meaning, if I had a daughter, I’d do my damnedest to make sure she was as girly as possible.

    I understand that most parents try to do this already due to society’s gender non-conformity stigma, but wouldn’t this study further reinforce the idea that parents need to guide their kids in the “right” gender?

    I know it’s a really glass-half-empty sort of interpretation to the study, but it’s relevant to my life since my mom blames herself for allowing me to grow up as a huge tomboy and, in turn, making me a huge gaymo (her views, not mine obvs).

    Someone enlighten meeeeeee!

    • Yeah, that’s exactly how I feel. As I mentioned before about my straight tomboy friends, I feel like this “1/3 tomboys = gay” will be misinterpreted so that parents who would normally not consider their little girl acting boyishly to be a big deal (since being a boy is better than being a girl, obvs *rolls eyes), repress her natural behaviour in fear of her being gay.

      • Right?!?
        Except, technically society does view boys as being better than girls because “masculinity”/traits associated with males — like leadership, athleticism, etc. — are regarded more highly than “femininity”/traits associated with females.

  21. If we’re talking about a 100% straight person forcing themselves to date someone of the same sex, that type of choice does seem confusing or unlikely, but I think the concept of choosing to be queer/gay/whathaveyou is perhaps more relevant when considering sexuality as a continuum.

    For example, I could be technically bisexual, but solidly identify as a lesbian and choose to ignore any potential male attractions because I feel more comfortable in a same-sex relationship (or for any other variety of reasons). And when we’re talking about the term queer, I think it’s entirely possible to be essentially straight but identify as queer because you identify with the community more so than with any other. I dunno.

    One thing that often concerns me is that we seem to ignore environmental factors in these discussions. Again, it’s likely because acknowledging environmental influence on sexuality makes it seem as thought homosexuality is preventable or changeable, but it’s nearly impossible to extricate genetics from environment. There are in-utero environmental factors, cultural acceptance factors, life experience factors, etc.

    For me, I think there’s a definite combination of all three issues (genetics, environment and choice)that come together to make me who I am and influence my sexuality. But I guess at this stage of legal disputes, we’re pigeon-holed into highlighting the specific aspects that benefit us the most.

    • That sounds more like a social identity thing more so than an intentional act to choose your orientation. You were already attracted to women, apparently more so than men that you ID as a lesbian.

      Many so-called “bisexual” folks do this (preferring one identity over the other), but like I said, the attraction towards a particular gender was there from the start.

      Also want to say- not a good idea to ignore attractions of any kind. It has a way of blowing up in your face. Trust me on that. *experience*

  22. …That was meant to be a reply to a discussion further up the page, so now the beginning seems all out of place. oops.

  23. Remember the scene in The L Word when Shane puts on a dress? She still looked gay. The dress didn’t change a thing. Still gay. It wasn’t the alternative lifestyle haircut either that made her look that way, she just does. (Maybe this is why no one was especially convinced Kate Moennig was straight? Maybe? I don’t know.)

    So I think the point is you can gender-conform and still look non-gender-conforming. It has less to do with what you’re wearing and more to do with what you ARE, innately. And your appearance, of course, is affected by genes. This is the whole thing behind gaydar, maybe: lesbians/ bi women just LOOK different than non-queers. You’ve got the sharp/ square lesbian jawline, plus I think lesbians have broader shoulders and just a more mannish body (less “hourglass”) than straight women. Don’t get mad, you’re all beautiful or womanly or not or whatever you feel you are, but it’s just, I don’t know, it seems like there are slight physical differences. There’s also that whole finger-length-thing we’ve all tried at some point, so there’s that.

    So… point in favor of the ‘born this way’ idea?

    I say this as a femme-presenting bisexual 3-4 on the Kinsey scale… I swear I can see queerness in my own face and in other people, although I understand everyone who has said there are those who can choose their sexuality. I completely understand. (I spent my teenage years trying to make myself totally straight, and I was actually pretty good at it for a while.) Of course, it became exhausting in the end, but there you have it: it is possible for people in the middle of the Kinsey scale to affect their orientation. To a limited extent, maybe.

    But in the end, if you’re queer, you’re queer. If you’re straight, you’re straight. And genes/ hormonal environment in the womb probably have a lot to do with it. Ergo, the argument: they can’t help it, so let the queers get married already.

    Until everyone has the right to sleep with and marry whoever they want, that may be the best argument we’ve got against homophobes. (Homophobes’ brains just can’t handle complexity or nuance.)

    • a lot of that physical stuff is eerily reminiscent of eugenics/sexology, and it scares the shit out of me.

    • Umm…what? I have never ever noticed any unifying morphologies for us gaymos. I thought that was the whole point of being a rainbow…

  24. There’s already been talk about people using early hormone therapy to “prevent” their children from becoming gay, this will only fan the flames.

  25. I sometimes worry that the “born that way” thing will bite us in the arse one day. Not that I think it’s a fallacy, but it’s just not that black and white… and yet so many of the gay rights battles won hinge on this argument.

    Anyone here ever listen to The Planet: The Podcast for L Word Fans? So funny, def. worth a listen. Anyhoo… the hosts, KC and Elka, once had a debate about the legitimacy of bisexuality (legitimate obvs). They invited folks to provide feedback on their discussion and one of the listeners came back with the best articulation of sexuality and genetic vs. environment/societal influence I’ve ever heard. Her argument was that sexuality is layered: there’s desire which is pretty innate; then there’s expression of desire or behaviour which follows from desire, but can be suppressed/ influenced by societal norms; lastly there’s identity which is highly influenced by environment as social norms largely dictate the identity “categories” available to individuals. I don’t know why, but this description just made so much sense to me.

  26. The idea that I could have been born queer honestly doesn’t make sense to me. I mean I don’t think I was born straight, just when thinking about myself it is hard to see how I could have an innate sexual orientation and it is really hard for me to relate when I hear stories from other queer people about realizing or always knowing what gender they were primarily attracted to…but I realize I could have innate characteristics that I don’t realize are innate. I know I’m going off on a weird personal tangent but whenever I read about stuff like this I just get really confused.

  27. Hi Carolyn,
    Thank you for this eye opening post. Check out this clip which supports your results. Male same sex sexual desire and male sexual orientation are discussed by The Medical Center for Female Sexualitys Sexuality Counselor, Shannon Bertha on MensNetTV with host Mel Feit.

  28. Great post… While I do think that a lot of people were “born that way”, I think there are definitely others who “chose” to be queer-identified for whatever reason. I feel like it was a little bit innate, but a lot of decision for me.

  29. Oh, come on. Everyone knows gay people are made when a unicorn flies into a rainbow and out of the resulting glitter and pink flames, a child is born. This is basic LGBT history. Don’t they teach this at Pride these days?

  30. :D I’m so going to the uni that released this study in three days time! London’s the gayest city in Europe, and Sarah Waters (Tipping the Velvet, Night Watch etc) graduated there…. cannot wait! :D

  31. This was the case for me I believe. I dressed like a girl but played in the dirt and mud and married off my female polypockets.

  32. Even if homosexuality WAS a choice, it still wouldn’t be “wrong” so long as it’s between consenting adults. It’s nobody else’s business who does what with whom, as long as it’s all consensual.

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