So why *is* John Barrowman gay?

Well, as I wrote last week, The Making of Me attempted to find out. If you haven’t seen it yet, click on this link to watch it in the BBC iplayer.

What did I think? Well all in all it was very good and a brilliant introduction to the whole nature/nurture debate. If I had two quibbles, they would be these:

  • The male twins in the USA, one who liked action man and the other into his Barbie, were used by Barrowman to suggest that environment couldn’t have been a factor in their difference, given they have always lived together. The problem with this account is that firstly given that they are both prepubescent, we don’t know that the "girly" one (sorry, couldn’t think of a better way to put it) will actually turn out to be gay. Secondly, environmental factors can be present even in one of an identical twin, as even though the twins share the same genetic makeup, other factors like hormonal influence in the womb and external biological influences post-womb (i.e. illness) could be varied. These varied biological influences might make one twin more pre-disposed to the identical environmental factors that might influence sexual identity.
  • The data right at the end on likelihood of being homosexual based upon number of older brothers *might* very well be linked to hormonal influences in the womb, but might also simply be due to the younger boy having to share time with his older brothers when bonding with his father (i.e. so each successive brother has less time overall with their father).

Those two points aside, I didn’t have any other complaints and thought that the conclusion – that there was a complicated mix of nature and nurture – was a fair summary of the available data.

Andrew Lilico over at Centre Right, has a fascinating article connected to this programme asking, "So why do we need to know anyway?"  Here’s an excerpt:

What is it that the advocate of the "gay gene" or more generally "being gay is biological" view really wants to show?  John Barrowman finished his show with what seemed to me a rather sad shot to camera in which he said that he had shown that his being gay was biological, so he couldn’t "control" it, so he would instead embrace it.  Does that illustrate the ambition?  Is the idea that the advocate of the "gay gene" theory wants to proclaim "It’s not my fault!"?  But that seems to me the cry of the deeply insecure, the person who thinks that if there were anything he could do to "control" himself (meaning what?  Meaning not becoming aroused by attractive men?  Meaning not having sex with them?  The former seems obviously beyond control by any but a Zen Bhuddist master of his passions, whilst the latter seems patently something that could be controlled, virtually regardless of one’s biology) – the cry of the person who thinks that if he could "control himself" then he should.

Is that the thought – that it is okay for "gay" people to have sex with men because they are "gay"?  But what if someone else – someone who isn’t "gay" – decides to try out same-sex sex?  Let’s suppose that this is a man who would give brain responses of much greater arousal to the images of women than of men, but happens to be very keen on a particular male friend, and wants, as an expression of his affection for his friend, to have sex with him.  What does the advocate of the "gay gene" view say about this?  Does the fact that this person lacks a gay gene mean that it would be wrong for him to have sex with his friend?  For if it is only our biology that "excuses" us for our homosexual actions, then if we lack that biology we lack that excuse.

Read the comments thread there if you want to see the people, on both sides of the debate, who still don’t get that the issue is far more complicated than either/or.

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