The evidence from nature is that homosexual behavior is useful in some species in ensuring group survival, lowering conflict among males, providing support to stronger males, gathering food for polygamous groups. Surely there must be a genetic foundation for this in nature?
Though not found, this idea has prompted speculation in recent years that there may be a ‘gay gene’ in humans too, though the comparative rarity of homosexuality in humans compared to, say, the pipefish or the bonobo, and the complexity and diversity of human behavior culturally does not support this.
Is there even a need to postulate a homosexual gene in nature? Nonbreeders in both nature and society have always existed, encouraged as a social evolutionary trait to ensure group survival through friendships and greater control of resources, even increasing fertility.
The cell is a partnership. To ensure fertility and survival social interaction is essential, even thought, and in humans, language and spirituality. Sexual characteristics do no always conform to the binary model (for example, the female dominant North Sea pipefish and the wattled jacanas in Panama vs the vast majority of animals—notably the peacock), so it’s logical that genders (behaviour) are also not binary. Sex roles in both nature and society can even be reversible (the house husband).
Mating in nature is a public symbol, managing and publicizing relationships, not a promiscuous anonymous act for mere fleeting pleasure. The female chooses for fertility and survival (she knows that knowledge without will/character is dangerous). A strong aristocratic male may be stupid, but he ensures good genes and survival of the offspring. A nice, friendly weak guy doesn’t usually make the grade. You need a balance of individual and social. Mating is not primarily for sperm transfer, though that is important.
Roughgarden posits that secondary sex characteristics are not just for heterosexual mating but .for same sex pleasure, though there is no proof of this. The fish with two males are clearly defined by nature as dominant and secondary and cooperate to ensure survival of offspring. The owner of the most spectacular secondary sex characteristic, the peacock, exhibits no msm behavior at all. The human fetish of body building and anorexic women is in contradistinction to nature, rather than supported by nature.
Sex in nature is pragmatic. Reproduce and protect. Romance does not enter the picture for the most part apart from a few birds such as the swan, which are monogamous for life.
Msm (male having sex with male) is to acquire and defend resources for family support, which the males pay out as their parental duty in care. Fsf (female having sex with female) is to acquire the circumstances in which they can safely rear the young under their control. Msm and fsf in nature are used to balance relations between sexes, and for the same sex to work together to provide food and safety for the young. Social evolution is turbulent and unpredictable, and even aggressive baboons follow their gentler bonobo cousins in practicing msm for safety. This is the template that can help us understand its role in human societies.
Genders emerge as occupational categories and settings for matings, raising young, and tending resources. Secondary social inclusionary traits (genitals on f spotted hyenas, sfs bonobos and macaques, human brain development, skin colour, body types) evolve fast because once a trait takes hold, anyone without it is excluded from the group. The male who is strong but obnoxious, without male allies, will never have chance to mate.
Monotheism, capitalism, and Freud’s musings
Premodern societies restricted homosexuality for the most part, only allowing it in conformity with strict tribal customs, sometimes proscribing it entirely. And for very good reasons. A society where homosexuality was seen as no different from heterosexuality wouldn’t survive. If it is not an essential attribute to survival, better to keep it carefully under control so it doesn’t interfere with survival needs.
With the invasion of capitalism, premodern societies that restricted homosexual behavior either were wiped out or became subject to extreme pressure to adopt western social mores. ‘Sex in the city’ implied increasingly random sexual behavior focused solely on pleasure, making sex purely an erotic activity, meaningless in terms of survival of the species or the observance of sacred rituals, like choosing a cucumber instead of a carrot.
It was not until the rise of monotheism—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—that homosexual behavior was strictly forbidden by societies now together following the new closely related religions, reflecting their rigorous asceticism. But it continued in the shadows, apart from occasional persecution for the obvious reason (seen as perverse, a sin against nature, etc), though there were few problems until recently.
Homosexuals learned to be discrete, or if they were rich and powerful, were able to intimidate people into accepting them. Only fourteenth-century English King Edward II‘s affair with Piers Gaveston resulted in his death, with the kingdom in disarray for his openly effeminate behavior, though it had been tolerated for decades. Other kings such as James I and Charles II lived and reigned quite happily, keeping their activities from interfering with the running of the state. The secret has always been discretion. No number of ‘gay rights’ would have made any difference. So what led to the gay revolution of the 1960s?
What did change in the recent past was the economic system. Capitalism is more focused on solving our problems through technology then on nature and custom. Initially it ran roughshod over nature, confident that technology would solve all our problems. Nature was not seen as a fit prescription for how to regulate society. It also quickly dismissed the customs (seen as prejudices) which various tribes and societies have built up over time to regulate sexuality.
At least in the rich West, people now living in urban centers were cut off from nature and the need to follow the rhythms of nature. Mass production now produced a glut of commodities to consume. And population growth means a glut of people, removing any need for sex to promote procreation.
With the advance of capitalism and its ideology of liberalism, we are all the same (only some are a lot richer), the logic proceeding relentlessly through the gamut of behavior.
The littler quirk of who you sleep with gained the attention of ‘scientists’, who were determined to answer all the mysteries of life with fine precision, whether or not some might just be unfathomable mysteries that have more to do with spirituality, an annoying relic of precapitalism that had no fit place in the sterile world of material things. A ‘gay’ had sex for purely sensual reasons, not as a way to achieve insight into the spiritual world.
Hence the smooth transition of former homophobes, as witnessed today in the US, into ardent supporters of gay liberation. For them, gaylib has nothing to do with true liberation, and everything to do with commoditization, creating uniform manipulable humans who accept the materialist ‘traditions’ of capitalism, which are the direct antithesis of liberation, and undermine the true value of homosexual behavior.
Elliott Management hedge fund’s founder and chief executive, Paul Singer, a billionaire and by no means a gaylibber, discovered his son was gay son, and when he married his partner in 2004, daddy hosted the ‘celebration. Since then Singer senior has become a gay activist too. In 2011, he helped enact the same-sex marriage law in New York and started American Unity PAC to encourage Republican candidates to support same-sex marriage.
In nature, homosexuality has a subsidiary, supportive role, presumably the result of genetic mutations (though imprinting in the young can continue the adaptive behavior without any special ‘gene’). In society, on the contrary, social factors are dominant.
Problems in humans only arise with unnatural imprinting when attitudes formed in youth make natural attraction (i.e., peer group male-female) difficult. Reverse sexual imprinting is seen especially in instances where two people who live in domestic proximity during the first few years in life one become desensitized to later close sexual attraction in general.
This has been labelled the Westermarck effect, and has since been observed in many places and cultures, including in the Israeli kibbutz system, and the Chinese Shim-pua marriage customs, as well as in biological-related families.
Westermarck’s sensible study undermines Freud’s more spectacular son-mother oedipal complex. Freud had a wet-nurse, and may not have experienced the early intimacy that would have tipped off his perceptual system that Mrs Freud was his mother. “The Westermarck theory has out-Freuded Freud.” (Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works (1997).
Perhaps being smothered by mother/sister love creates homosexual sons. There are lots of instances of this documented, though in other cases, the son turns out heterosexual. There are no hard and fast rules.
What about Freud’s insistence that we are all bisexual? This hypothesis was based on the fact that initially the fertilized egg in the uterus was not differentiated between male and female, that the differentiation between male and female came as the mother’s hormones set to work fashioning male and female out of the fertilized egg. Freud speculated that there is a subconscious continuity (though with no scientific foundation): as adults everyone still has desires derived from both the masculine and the feminine sides of their natures supposedly found in the undifferentiated egg cell.
But the evidence of bisexuality is not convincing. Less than 1% of adults claim they are bisexual, even in this age of sexual liberation. Ironically gay activists argued prior to the mid-1980s, that there were only two sexual orientations: homosexual or heterosexual. One was either sexually attracted to the same sex or to the opposite sex. They regarded bisexuals as if they were really homosexuals who were not ready to come out of the closet.
There is some truth to this. A 2005 study at Northwestern University and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto measured genital arousal in men and women while they viewed erotic movies. One of the authors, Gerulf Rieger, said, “Regardless of whether the men were gay, straight or bisexual, they showed about four times more arousal to one sex or the other.” So another elegant Freudian theory bites the dust.
The gaylibbers are not dismayed. Since the 1980s, the vast majority of homosexuals and gay-positive groups have accepted bisexuality as a separate, legitimate sexual orientation. The gay movement is officially Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT). Possibly the earlier resistance of gay activists to embrace the tiny bisexual coterie was due to gays who envied their quasi-straight comrades, able to enjoy both women and men in bed, have a family and the good life—eating their cake. Whatever. Now the movement has moved on to a new maturity, dubbed “pansexual” by Edmund White. Now it’s ‘anything goes’.
Bisexuality as an important feature of society has been documented only in the Sambia of New Guinea and other similar Melanesian cultures. What little evidence exists in the West suggests that bisexuals’ lives are unstable, psychologically stressful. Not an adaptive mechanism in nature or society.
But capitalism seems less interested in well-adjusted humans in a peaceful society than in devotion to creating money, in as straightforward a manner as possible. Marriage is a bedrock of society, so it is an integral part of this. So make it simple—make sure everyone can get hitched—gay or straight—and pursue the good life of commodity consumption in an every growing economy. This program has proceeded quickly in the past two decades, though the Catholic church and Islam have resisted this radical alteration of their beliefs. Protestantism on the whole has accepted this development. Already 32 states have legalized gay marriage.