Friday, June 29, 2007

Being Gay Isn't for Sissys, and No Study Can Prove Otherwise

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Can you tell whether someone's gay just by the way he or she walks?

David Sylva wants to know. He straps bright red lights to people's bodies and videotapes them walking in the dark. He then shows the videotape to observers (who won't be biased by clothing or hairstyles since the walker is in the dark) and asks them to guess the walker's sexual orientation.

(Watch Video 1 , Video 2 , Video 3 , and Video 4 and see whether you can tell if the walker is gay or straight. For the answers, click here).

Sylva's observations focus on the physical characteristics of the individual's stride, such as the closeness of the knees. (Watch how Sylva uses traits to identify gay people )

Why does Sylva, a graduate student at Northwestern University, care so much about how gay people walk? Because he's one of a growing number of researchers who think sexual orientation may be as basic as how you walk, something inborn that you don't choose.

His premise reflects a growing belief among Americans, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. (Poll majority: Gays' orientation can't change ) For the first time a majority of respondents -- about 56 percent -- said they don't believe a person can change his or her sexual orientation. In a similar poll in 2001, 45 percent said orientation couldn't change. In 1998, 36 percent held that belief. The sampling error for Wednesday's results is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

A growing number of psychologists and geneticists are working on the "nature versus nurture" question -- a question that's set off a highly charged political debate about whether people choose to be gay, or whether gayness is determined by their DNA.

Take Richard Lippa, a professor of psychology at California State University at Fullerton. His studies show that gay people are twice as likely to be left-handed. He also collects photos of hair whorls -- those circular swirls you see atop a man's head. He says about 10 percent of the general population have whorls that rotate counter-clockwise, but about 20 percent of gay men have counter-clockwise whorls.

Lippa acknowledges that studying hair patterns sounds strange. "It sounds a little like the 'Twilight Zone' or voodoo science," he says. But to Lippa, a link between sexual orientation and something that's clearly inborn (like handedness or the way hair grows) speaks volumes. His theory: You can't choose your whorl, and you can't choose your sexuality, either.

"You're born with either a clockwise or a counter-clockwise hair whorl. It's fixed, it's biologically determined. No one's going to argue that your hair whorl is influenced by learning or culture," he says.

Lippa says his next step is see whether there are specific genes that control sexual orientation.
Douglas Abbott thinks Lippa won't find a thing.

"There is no evidence of a 'gay gene,' " says Abbott, professor of child and family studies at the University of Nebraska.

Abbott points to studies that look at the sexual orientation of the offspring of gay people. "If homosexuality was caused by genetic mechanisms, their children would be more likely to choose same-sex interaction," he says. "But they aren't more likely, so therefore it can't be genetic."
For Abbott, the answer to the nature-vs.-nurture question is very clear. "I think the primary causes of same-sex behavior are environmental and personal choice and free agency," he says. "Can someone change their orientation? The definitive answer to that is, "yes.' "

That makes Gerulf Rieger laugh. "Ask a bunch of straight guys [if they could switch to being gay] and they would tell you, 'Are you kidding me?' " says Rieger, a lecturer in psychology at Northwestern University. "So the other way around doesn't work either."

In his research, Rieger shows videotapes of men and women talking about the weather. Observers have been able to predict with great accuracy whether the person talking is gay or straight. "Even within seconds, people are pretty good at figuring out who's gay and who's not," he says.

Like Sylva with his illuminated walkers, Rieger thinks his research points to genetics, and not choice, as the source of sexual orientation.
"It doesn't seem to be the social environment, it doesn't seem to be the parents or peers that make you gay," he says. "It seems to be something that comes from within

You know, the more of this bullshit that surfaces, the more pissed off I get. Hell, we are gay men. We are PROUD of that. None of us would have it any other way. So why is all of this shit face, so called science resurfacing again, especially as Gay Pride Month draws to a close?

So maybe I have the true test if a guy is gay or straight. Suppose I give him big hairy muscle hugs. If he raises his left hand to give me a hug in return, I can probably determine that he is gay. If he gropes me, then there is more of a certainty.
Such foolishness. But yep, it's more of a certainty than guessing when Paris Hilton will get married, settle down and raise a kid or two, without a nanny in tow. Odds of being left handed and gay might be better. Go figure.


Lewis said...

So, let me get this straight (no pun intended)....groping gives it away? I'd better stop

psyther said...

At least researching and studying "gayness" is better than just hating and discriminating. I agree it seems trivial and irrelevant to us, but we're okay being gay...not everyone else is. If some biological component can be proved scientifically it is harder to uphold the prejudices. Awareness if the first step...just don't get hung up on it buff ;)

Lemuel said...

If YOU give me big hairy muscle hugs, I'll prove that I'm gay. :) We won't even have to wait for the grope.

Ed said...

On the other hand, there are those hoping for a Gay gene because they intend to test each fetus and if it has the gene to have it aborted.
You'll see the Conservative right jump on that bandwagon even though now they claim to oppose all abortion.

Shaney said...

And here I was under the assumption, our bone structure, height, muscular attributes, footing determined how we walked. While there are gay men who 'mince' when they walk which has been attributed to femininity &/or homosexuality that which has only been highlighted through sensless hetrosexual tormenting, it is not a defining characteristic of being gay. There are some gay men who walk like they have bowling balls between their legs. Science will never stop looking for answers so long as religious zealots & political prejudice continue to try & bring us down! it's sad huh!

BIGMallrat said...

Abbott's agenda is revealed when he states "...chooses same-sex interaction."
I've never known a straight man to choose gay sex. If a straight man tries gay sex once, that doesn't necessarily make him gay. Why the zealots needs to make sense out of something and try to fit it into a narrow mold, I don't know.

BIGMallrat said...

I forgot to say,
Abbott's views are in line with the homophobic right. That is, if society accepts gays, more people will be gay. Being out and proud is equated with "promoting" homosexuality, which will get you fired from your job in 34 states. I believe Abbott's judgement was clouded by his own anti-gay beliefs.