A few days ago, I offered for conflicted Christians a saner interpretation of biblical passages on homosexuality. Rather than argue from outside the religion and just demand change, I took a step inside and showed how rules against homosexuality can be more easily lumped in with biblical-era procreation and survival rules than with the rules of ethics and morality. Today, I want to look at rational scientific explanations for what I believe to be a quite common and normal phenomenon.
This explanation is not meant merely for those who do not ascribe to particular religious beliefs. This is also for those who, I have noticed, often augment their faith with appeals to reason and science. Many theists do this; they seem to acknowledge the superiority of evidence-based discourse and veer toward it at every chance. So, after pointing to passages that forbid homosexuality, they ask seemingly secular questions such as: “How would this tendency survive if evolution is true? How would humanity survive if we allow this?” Or they will make specious claims such as: “It’s unnatural. It’s a choice. Only humans do it.”
Let’s dispel the naturalistic claim quickly with the help of a 2004 National Geographic article. Birds, beetles, sheep, orangutans, fruit bats, and dolphins engage in same-sex intercourse. A pair of male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo had been together for six years at the time of the writing (Today, they could get married!). How about ostriches and flamingos (the last being little surprise). Get this: homosexuality has been observed in OVER 1,500 ANIMAL SPECIES. So, the naturalistic argument is complete bunk. Homosexuality exists. Which brings me to my first revelation:
Homosexuality existed in ancient times. I know, this is obvious, but really think about it for a moment. The only reason homosexuality was cautioned against in the Bible is because people were doing it! Isn’t that refreshing to think about? It has always been around, so it can’t be cultural. In fact, it seems as if the same general percentage of people in all cultures show homosexual tendencies. That percentage is around 3%-4%, which means out of every 100 people you know, 3-4 of them are gay (even if they are not living according to their impulses). Does this not startle you?
So, it exists and it exists everywhere. That means it is natural and biological, not a “lifestyle choice.” You can’t blame it on the 60’s (as the Catholic church attempts to blame their pedophilia), because it was going on before Jesus was born. It’s going on right now in every culture, every tribe, every family.
What does this mean? I have a handful of theories, some I like better than others. The first I’ll posit is that all of human function and behavior exists on a continuum, rather than a discrete on or off, yes or no. This is the difference between analog and digital systems. Analog exists much like a sine wave, a gentle sweep of possible values. Digital is built on 1’s and 0’s. There is no in-between. A casual glance at humanity reveals that there is some blend of these two systems: there is a discrete gene for blue eyes or brown eyes. But there is also blends between them, or the possibility of having one eye of each color. In general, though, we exist along a gradual line of possibilities. Tall people aren’t all 6’6″ and short people aren’t all 5’2″. We aren’t all equally lactose tolerant (or intolerant). There are variations all along these scales.
It could be that sexuality is simply a scale dictated by hormone levels. Not to confuse physical gender with mental gender (these aren’t aligned in all people), but we do know that hormone therapy can help alter physical gender (some prefer to consider this the “sex” of the person. I don’t disagree, I just want a consistent language for the example at hand). Cher and Sonny’s daughter is one of these people. She was born Chasity and has become Chase. Along with the physical changes brought about by her hormone therapy, she has had personality changes as well. One of the more comical (to me, at least), is that she no longer has the ability to fully “listen” to her partner. Her mind wanders during emotional discourse, much like the stereotypical male. She has also experienced some of the aggression and impatience tendencies known to be exaggerated in males who take testosterone and steroids. These chemicals make real changes in our bodies and our behaviors. We use them to medically alter both. They exist in people to widely varying degrees. Isn’t this enough to explain the presence of homosexuality in our species?
I imagine some would say so. While this was my own theory for years, I now see it as an observation, not an explanation. Yes, hormonal differences exist. Yes, many of our traits show broad variation. But this is a what rather than a why. Or at best, if we are going to chalk it up to randomness, it is the idea that there is no explanation. It would be the same as saying our eyesight is not perfect, and neither is our sexuality. (A good argument against the God-makes-perfect beings is our reliably unreliable eyesight. Not to mention hermaphrodites and Siamese twins, all of which show natural and imperfect forces at work, rather than a creator with a grand design in mind).
Recently, it occurred to me that there could be very beneficial reasons for a decent percentage of homosexuals in any tribe or culture. Rather than randomness, or natural variation, it could be by design. First, though, let me dispel the idea that all animals need to be designed for reproduction. In the animal kingdom, there are other examples of highly social organisms that do not celebrate procreation in all members. Look at all hive species, where members have various methods of contribution beyond the direct creation of offspring. There are drones and scouts, warriors and builders, and only one female laying eggs. And what of the species that do not need the opposite sex at all? Fungus ants can asexually reproduce. They’ve learned to make do completely without men (I’m not suggesting this. Don’t give my wife any ideas!)
This idea was rolling around in my head one day when it encountered, like peanut butter and a bar of chocolate, another factoid: The later in the brood one appears, the more likely that child will be homosexual. This appears to be only true for males (as far as we currently know), and it means this: The more older brothers you have, the greater your chance of being homosexual. As much as 33% increase for each brother. Now go back to the biblical days when families were having as many children as possible. Does it get you thinking? It got me thinking.
I thought: what if our gay brothers and sisters have an extraordinarily noble purpose, one we can’t see because we aren’t looking for it? Think about childhood survival rates before modern medicine. I’ll help: it wasn’t good. It still isn’t in undeveloped parts of the world. Our massive craniums and our running hips are a horrible match. Among all the animals, we give birth in the most dangerous fashion. It’s an incredible trade-off for this flexible computer between our ears.
Now also consider how social an animal we are. And throw in there how reliant our children are on direct care for several years. Many animals are born and can almost immediately set off to live independent. We are the extreme opposite. Some scientists even suggest that we are all born prematurely and do the rest of our gestation outside of the womb. Notable anthropologist Ashley Montagu once asserted, after much study, that humans have an 18 month gestation period: 9 months inside and 9 months outside. We require a lot of care. The chance of mommy and daddy being around for that care aren’t so great. Mothers die giving birth. Around 30% of tribal males die at the hands of other males. Life is brutal, nasty, and short, and all that poetical stuff.
What if, as mothers have more and more children, they have some who are specialized for other things? We know so little of how our species maintains gender balance (roughly half women and men in all cultures). It is likely hormonal. It could be pheremonal. We know, after war, that women tend to have more boys to make up for the deficit of those killed. These are still mysterious, but wholly biological and chemical processes. What if homosexuality is another tool for maintaining this delicate balance? What if all people aren’t meant to reproduce? What if we are judging a few perfectly normal people, our brothers and sisters, because of the innate desires the rest of us harbor? What if all those gay aunts and uncles have a far nobler purpose?
While it could be that this is as simple as having a few extra tribe members who aren’t increasing the population of the tribe beyond sustainability, but who are meanwhile helping to support it in other ways (building, gathering, hunting, farming), it could be other, unknown, purposes. One of my favorite to speculate on is the possibility that these are the original god-parents. Parental stand-ins. Those who have a genetic kinship with orphaned nephews and nieces, and therefore a drive to have them survive and succeed, but no drive to have children of their own. There are dozens of unexplored possibilities here. They all stem from these basic observations: homosexuality exists; it is perfectly natural; it is a known and stable percentage of all cultures and societies; we do not yet understand the delicate interplay of chemistry and biology that creates our population levels and drives.
The way I see it, our homosexual brothers and sisters are the ultimate sacrificers. They give up the parental urge (and all the joys that brings), to contribute to our many villages (not just the East one) in other ways. Awesome ways. Ways we should examine and celebrate, rather than judge. We are all different. We exist because evolution has discovered a value in our spread of traits. There is nothing “random” or “broken” about those who do not wish to crank out more babies. We can all be in this, this brutal game of survival, together.