View Full Version : Gay Sheep
01-25-2007, 08:39 AM
I haven't really been paying attention to this controversy in the press, and if you are like me, may have been wondering what was all the fuss was about. Now I think I get it.
Of Gay Sheep, Modern Science and the Perils of Bad Publicity
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
Published: January 25, 2007
Charles Roselli set out to discover what makes some sheep gay. Then the news media and the blogosphere got hold of the story.
Lynn Ketchum/Oregon State University
Dr. Charles Roselli has been criticized for his study of gay sheep.
Dr. Roselli, a researcher at the Oregon Health and Science University, has searched for the past five years for physiological factors that might explain why about 8 percent of rams seek sex exclusively with other rams instead of ewes. The goal, he says, is to understand the fundamental mechanisms of sexual orientation in sheep. Other researchers might some day build on his findings to seek ways to determine which rams are likeliest to breed, he said.
Paul Root Wolpe, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and a senior fellow at the university’s Center for Bioethics, said that although he supported Dr. Roselli’s research, “I’m not sure I would let him off the hook quite as easily as he wants to be let off the hook.”
By discussing the human implications of the research, even in a somewhat careful way, Dr. Roselli “opened the door” to the reaction, Dr. Wolpe said, and “he has to take responsibility for the public response.”
If the mechanisms underlying sexual orientation can be discovered and manipulated, Dr. Wolpe continued, then the argument that sexual orientation is based in biology and is immutable “evaporates.”
The prospect of parents’ eventually being able to choose not to have children who would become gay is a real concern for the future, Dr. Wolpe said. But he added, “This concern is best addressed by trying to change public perceptions of homosexuality rather than stop basic science on sexuality.”
I think Mr. Wolpe gets it right.
01-25-2007, 09:15 AM
A surprisingly full article is available at:
On one hand, the studies and publicity help denounce the "lifestyle choice" myth. On the other, though, doesn't it still reflect the preponderance of attitudes that homosexuality is a "condition" or "abnormality" to be researched, understood and, possibly cured or manipulated.
An article dealing with the nature of research in the first place is: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/articles/2005/08/14/what_makes_people_gay/
It is a two-edged sword, I guess. Maybe further research will show the absurdity of looking for answers in the first place, and lead to just accepting "what is" as a further indication of the beauty and diversity of God's creation.
01-25-2007, 10:35 AM
Andrew- thanks for the interesting articles. I had come across a good deal of this info in disparate places: the writers do a good job of putting it all together in one place.
Incidentally, hubby and I both (re one study in the first article ) have older brothers.
And I very much like this passage in the same piece:
None of the psychosocial theories for homosexuality have panned out so far, including Freud's distant-father/domineering-mother dynamic.
"There have been psychological and social explanations for homosexuality for 100 years, and they haven't come up with anything concrete," said Ray Blanchard, head of Clinical Sexology Services at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
Ha! So much for the assertions of Dobson and his ilk.
And this view from the second article, in my view, sums up matters pretty well:
LeVay, who is gay, says that when he published his study 14 years ago, some gays and lesbians criticized him for doing research that might lead to homosexuality once again being lumped in with diseases and disorders. "If anything, the reverse has happened," says LeVay, who is now 61 and no longer active in the lab. He says the hunt for a biological basis for homosexuality, which involves many researchers who are themselves gay or lesbian, "has contributed to the status of gay people in society.
These studies have been small and underfunded, and the results have often been modest. Still, because there's been so much of this disparate research, "all sort of pointing in the same direction, makes it pretty clear there are biological processes significantly influencing sexual orientation," says LeVay. "But it's also kind of frustrating that it's still a bunch of hints, that nothing is really as crystal clear as you would like."
Taking this perspective a bit further, it remains to be seen whether those who are looking into the biological underpinings will be the same people advancing a supposed 'cure', as if that will be possible in the first place. For the latter proponents, there seems to be- finally- a crack of daylight coming under the door:
This accumulating biological evidence, combined with the prospect of more on the horizon, is having an effect. Last month, the Rev. Rob Schenck, a prominent Washington, D.C., evangelical leader, told a large gathering of young evangelicals that he believes homosexuality is not a choice but rather a predisposition, something "deeply rooted" in people. Schenck told me that his conversion came about after he'd spoken extensively with genetic researchers and psychologists. He argues that evangelicals should continue to oppose homosexual behavior, but that "many evangelicals are living in a sort of state of denial about the advance of this conversation." His message: "If it's inevitable that this scientific evidence is coming, we have to be prepared with a loving response. If we don't have one, we won't have any credibility."
Though conservative evangelicals aren't ready to go the distance, it looks like they are starting to see the course ahead.
01-25-2007, 11:23 AM
The ability to manipulate sexual orientation would certainly untangle and simplify MY life , but a world without gay poeople? seems like a pretty dull prospect to me.
Yeah...I mean really.....who is gonna tell ya' that tie just doesn't go with that jacket? And that jacket with that interior? You'd look good in jungle red darling!
01-26-2007, 08:11 AM
It's an interesting piece that has been swirling around for the past few weeks.
First of all, the thing I've found interesting is that no-one has really commented much in the media about the phenomenon that there are gay sheep, that sheep farmers know this, and that this is commonly accepted to be the case among a statistically relevant % of sheep everywhere. Now of course most people who are sophisticated know that homosexuality "naturally" occurs in animals, but I think many people are in denial about this, and the existence of homosexuality in a well-known species such as sheep in itself should be revealing to many people --- it's surprising that this part has passed without much commentary.
On the merits of the research, I found the following quute from the bio-ethicist a bit muddled:
argument that sexual orientation is based in biology and is immutable “evaporates.”
Those are two different things. Being "biological" is different from being "immutable" -- that is, some things are naturally occurring that we do not wish to have, so we can try to change them. An example of that are people born with various birth defects and the like -- these are "biological" in the sense of "naturally occurring", but they are nevertheless seen as "defects" by many people. So to the extent that the research eventually gets to the point of being able to either (1) detect/predict with precision sexual orientation natally or (2) manipulate sexual orientation natally or post-natally, neither of these undermines the idea that sexual orientation is "based in biology", but in fact would underscore that idea. Of course at the same time it would thrash the idea that it is per se immutable.
As science develops, there may be many things about us that are "natural" and yet which science learns to change through various techniques in the generations ahead. The ethical question becomes generally "what should be the permissible boundaries of "customizing" humans, if and when we have the bio-technology which enables this customization?" Is it permissible for people to manipulate their children natally to improve their appearance or their intelligence, to change their hair or eye color, to change their sexual orientation? Or, if change is not available but some of these things are "detectable" (as is currently the case with biological sex, which can be detected natally but not changed), is it permissible for people to terminate pregnancies if the putative child has unwanted characteristics? Certainly today this is widely done throughout the world with sex selection, and female fetuses are much more widely aborted than male fetuses. The same holds true in our own culture with respect to children who would be born with birth defects -- it's been remarked upon in the media recently that the number of children born with Down's Syndrome, for example, is way, way down statistically, and that the reason for this is that these fetuses are now being aborted. If sexual orientation becomes detectable natally, would it be permissible to abort the pregnancy for this reason? There is currently no legal restriction at all relating to the *reason* for a terminated pregnancy, and we can assume that if this information were available, many people would certainly choose to abort a gay fetus. Does this bother us, or is it simply a part of reproductive freedom? It's a hard issue, really.
So I think there are real bio-ethical concerns raised by the potential future applications of such research, but I don't think that the research undermines either the idea that orientation is, to some degree, biological (in fact it would seem to support that idea), or that it is *currently* immutable (the door being open in the future to the "mutability" of all sorts of things we would now consider natural and immutable like hair color for example).
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