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Can you change your gay?


The past few weeks in California have been interesting with the controversy surrounding Proposition 8 and the 14th Amendment. Opening the window for same-sex marriage has been delayed while pro-traditional marriage activists and voters have entered the appeal process of Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision. Where the tide will turn next is up to the courts. In the meantime, it has been an interesting debate as a matter of fact, as we reflect on the words of our experts from last week.

Mark Rosen, chief counsel from the Southern California office of the ACLU explained that the 14th Amendment protects homosexuals in regards to equal rights and qualifies homosexuality as an “immutable” characteristic, one that cannot be changed.

However on the other side of the fence, Rev. Jesse Peterson, founder and president of BOND Action Inc. said homosexuality is a problem, a “bad behavior.”

For years, scientists, sociologists, and psychologists have studied homosexuality, trying to decide whether or not homosexuality is an innate trait or if it is something that is developed later in life.
Both sides are valid thoughts, but inconclusive at this point. Research shows, however, that there is compelling evidence suggesting that homosexuality is in fact a changeable characteristic. But like every study or school of thought, there are two sides.

In 1993, Dr. Dean Hamer of the National Cancer Institute conducted a study to determine if there is such a gene as the “gay gene.” In his study, he examined the X chromosomes from 40 pairs of homosexual brothers (relationally). He concluded that 33 of the pairs carried a “gay gene.”

However, shortly thereafter, Dr. Richard Pillard, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University’s School of Medicine, replicated his study. He concluded that homosexuality was primarily based on environment and genetics had limited influence.

Jeramy Townsley, a gay sociology professor and researcher at Butler University specializes in areas of identity construction, social movements, and sexuality. He says although there is no conclusive evidence of a “gay gene,” research has discovered sexual identity is determined early in life.

“If you are asking, ‘Are there genetic or in utero biological processes that make one gay?’ The conservative scientist has to answer that we don’t have enough evidence to make a determination, although the bulk of evidence points to the fact that sexual orientations 1) are fixed very early in life, and 2) there are neurobiological and hormonal correlated to sexual orientation,” Townsley wrote in an e-mail. “Two problems run through all of these studies. The first is that we don’t know what is cause and what is effect. We know that social behavior can alter neuroanatomy and neurophysiology, so while there is amazing neuro evidence about correlations between structures/processes and sexual orientations, any introductory science student can remind us that correlation does not equal causation.”

He added that environmental complexes play a significant role in determining sexuality. Townsley points out that diverse cultures around the world incorporate “gay behaviors” in rites of passage and bonding phases, but these cultures are rarely homosexual. He also said many of these cultures young males learn to be adult men by having sexual experiences with another man.

“The question for the scientific community (and all people who wade into this issue) is how to integrate this kind of cultural diversity into our theories of sexual orientation,” Townsley stated.

“We have been taking an incredibly simplistic approach by asking whether people are born gay. If one simply looks at the vast cultural diversity, the obvious answer is that we are all born the capacity to feel sexually intimate towards either gender, but that society boxes us into normative patterns depending on that culture’s own historical uniqueness.”

So then one begs the question as to whether or not homosexuality (or homogenitality-seeking same-sex sexual relations) is an immutable characteristic and if it is natural.

According to some researchers’ conclusions, because some gay people do change and become straight, homosexuality is in fact a changeable characteristic, determined mostly by environmental factors.
However, a popularly used study conducted by Dr. Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, concluded that people possess the ability to choose their sexual orientation.

He interviewed 200 people who switched over from homosexual to heterosexual with results lasting at least five years. He found that through therapy, counseling, and for many religious sanctuary they were able to make the switch. He concluded that gay people can change their sexual orientation.

According to Julie Harren Ph.D., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and psychology professor, sexual orientation is determined between the tender ages of two and four.

“For boys, it is during this phase that they begin to move from their primary attachment with the mother to seeking out a deeper attachment with the father. For males, the relationship between a boy and his father is the initial source of developing a secure gender identity,” she writes in an article entitled “Homosexuality 101.” “It is through the father-son relationship that a boy discovers what he needs to know about being male, including who he is as a boy, how boys walk, how they talk, how they act, and so forth.”

As far as it being natural, the fascination of the same-sex, according to Townsley, does occur in nature quite frequently. He claims that from his observations, several species “exhibit some levels of homogenitality.” But when speaking of the natural law he says many would disagree.

“If you define the purpose of genital stimulation as the precursor for behavior that could lead to procreation, then no, homogenitality is not natural in that sense, since it cannot result in procreation,” Townsley disclosed, adding that however, to conclude the genitalia only account for one purpose which is to procreate is unreasonable.

He further disclosed that anatomical research shows that stimulation of non- reproductive components like the prostate may result in orgasm without procreation. Therefore, to say the sole purpose of sex and genitalia is to add to the population, Townsley believes that argument is insufficient. He contends that diversity exists in nature and should be recognized in the study of homosexuality.

Essentially, while science has over the years sided with the theory that homosexuality is more of a social construct than a genetic or inherited characteristic, millions of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities continue the fight to be heard.

Activists on either side of same-sex love use these arguments to grant or take away the rights (or privilege in some eyes) of other individuals. Although the research speaks for itself, the issue does not seem to get any clearer as some people feel their Constitutional rights are being violated.