from Books & Reviews
By G. Wilson and Q. Rahman
Peter Owen, London, 2005, 176pp.
Reviewed by Neil E.Whitehead, Ph.D.
The authors of Born Gay are physiological/psychological researchers at the University of East London and actively publish in those fields. However, there are surprising gaps in their research. In addition, the facts that are present in the research papers they quote destroy their primary thesis that those with SSA are Born Gay.
They ascribe Same Sex Attraction (SSA) to two sources: "Modern scientific research indicates that sexual orientation is largely determined by the time of birth, partly by genetics, but more specifically by hormonal activity in the womb arising from various sources." This is a novel twist: They suggest two different sources for SSA--genes and hormones--and seriously wonder if there are two types of SSA.
The book looks mainstream and academic, with nearly 20 pages of bibliography, but it is, in fact, extreme. The authors argue for an SSA contribution of about 100% made up of genes plus prenatal hormones and 0% environmental factors. I don't think many other researchers would agree with their assessment.
What would a person gain by purchasing this book? It is a mostly up-to-date survey of the various theories linking biological factors to SSA, and of course, their particular areas of expertise--finger length ratios, fingerprint patterns, and differences in the eye-blink reflexes between lesbian and heterosexual women.
It is written in a fairly clear style and includes a few new ideas; however, any social factors for SSA tend to be dismissed superficially. They argue that they have succeeded in "excluding the social acquisitionists from further debate."
What is new and genuinely interesting? Well, there is an interesting pair of comparison graphs showing that LeVay's work on SSA-hypothalamus-structure correlation in the early 1990s could not be duplicated. Their details about inter-sex studies are useful and may include a few recent cases less familiar to readers of NARTH research.
Wilson and Rahman frequently cite J.M. Bailey with approval, unlike many in the gay and transsexual communities. However, they ignore Bailey's summary of the origin of SSA, which includes a genetic component and environmental factors. After looking at the famous twin studies, Bailey observed that "There must be something in the environment."
However, the authors are dogmatic and say in their summary: "The popular idea that sexual orientation can be influenced by social factors, such as upbringing, contagion or seduction, has no scientific backing."
There is recently published material (after Born Gay) in which the entire human genome was scanned, and they could find no significant associations with SSA. (Mustanski, et al, 2005, including Dean Hamer as author). Perhaps closer tests will eventually show something, but at present the gene hypothesis is not supported, and any genetic contribution should be nearer 0% than 50 to 100%. Hamer's own previous work suggesting an SSA-gene association is not supported.
The authors argue that there is a 30% genetic contribution to SSA, (this includes any other pre-natal common factors) and then say the remaining amount (70%) is prenatal exposure to hormones. Their case collapses, as most do, on those same twin studies. Remember that the 30% includes all the prenatal common factors, so the only way for hormones to be responsible for an additional 70% would be to have hormones affecting one twin and not the other. This would be an individual factor, not a common factor. However, it is well known that even opposite-sex twins influence each other hormonally in the womb.
If we argue there is some very hypothetical and unlikely extreme exposure to sex-hormones (originating, say, in a transient benign sex-hormone-secreting tumor in one twin) then both identical twins should be affected even by diffusion of the hormones in the womb environment. It is almost inconceivable that one twin only would be affected. But this puts hormonal factors back in the "common factors" class, and that is not a 70% add-on, but included in the 30% common factors. Hormones must be a quite minor contributor.
One would expect in such a book that there be a reasoned derivation for this estimate of the supposed 70% contribution of hormonal activity, but there isn't. They only say it is "largely determined" without giving numerical supporting evidence. Obviously, you cannot move from a statement as vague as that to entitling your book Born Gay. But they do.
They also mention the classic book by Bell, Weinberg, and Hammersmith (1981), but don't mention that the bulk of that work was Path Analysis. Van Wyk and Geist (1984) who got similar results, pointed out that both sets of Path Analysis studies showed family effects were definitely involved to a significant degree, by all usual statistical criteria, but the Born Gay authors ignored this. Both studies also showed strong random effects.
Family effects are significant, but Born Gay does not seem to have studied this corner of the field properly.
"It is hard to see why parents should influence the sexuality of their children," note the authors. To the contrary, it is not hard, and this shows a surprising ignorance of the literature on conventional stages of the development of heterosexuality in youngsters. A lot is known scientifically about this - why do activists consistently portray the origins of heterosexuality and homosexuality as a vast mystery?
Dr. Robert Spitzer's study on gays who have changed their sexual orientation is treated poorly. The authors do not really give credence to the main point of the study - change is possible-at least for some people. The study is also attacked in a way which would be considered extreme if applied to any other therapy by demanding a ridiculous standard of proof. Frankly, any reasonable scientist would conclude that Spitzer's conclusion is well supported. Spitzer's study is the best recently available for establishing that at least some with SSA can change profoundly. But the authors state that Spitzer's results must be wrong because sexual orientation cannot be changed! They provide no references to support this statement. This is an abysmal argument, and I wonder if they would let their graduate students be as sloppy as this.
The authors also think that many of those who approach therapists for help are "coerced," but have obviously not encountered the surveys which reveal that clients' motives are primarily rejection of the gay life style. They are not coerced.
Therapy methods are described as "...draconian - no evidence that they work." They do not cite examples, nor can they. This betrays a surprising lack of knowledge about what is going on currently in therapy.
They state: "There is no evidence that feelings of inadequacy predispose towards homosexuality." NARTH members will know many for whom this was an obvious factor.
The authors spend several pages claiming that bisexuals do not exist in order to bolster their case for simple origins for SSA. This is topical at present because Bailey (2005) could not find people in whom same- and opposite-sex attractions are exactly equal. He found that in those who have both, either heterosexuality is about four times as strong as homosexual attractions or vice versa. Yes, there could be a tendency or pressures to gravitate to one side or the other, but according to Bailey, people with mixed orientations definitely exist.
Born Gay? Sorry guys. Don't think so.
Bailey (2005) See article in New York Times, July 5, by Benedict Carey.
Bell, AP, Weinberg, MS & Hammersmith, SK (1981) Sexual Preference: Its Development in Men and Women. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana.
Jones, SL and Yarhouse, MA (2000) Homosexuality. The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate. IVP, Downer's Grove, Illinois.
Mustanski, BS, DuPree, MG, Nievergelt, CM, Bocklandt, S, Schork, NJ, Hamer, DH (2005) "A genomewide scan of male sexual orientation." Human Genetics. On line, unpaged.
Van Wyk, PH & Geist, CS (1984). Psychosocial development of heterosexual, bisexual and homosexual behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior 13:505-544.
Whitehead, NE & Whitehead, BK (1999) My Genes Made Me Do It! Huntington House, Lafayette, Louisiana.