Sexual orientation

The following are bits of writing from many sources such as personal correspondence, posts to on-line discussion groups, notes, and occasionally even some journaling. All of this is informal in nature, but contains some interesting and/or useful information.

Gay neuroscience
I have always been fascinated by the fact that there is a subpopulation throughout the entire world that possesses a fundamental difference than the rest of us. Couple that with the fact that this difference represents a means of understanding these fundamental qualities about human nature (a la a control/experimental manipulation), and I think you begin to understand my fascination. I remember in high school thinking about the commonalties between Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde's writings (I can't remember what about them any longer) and wondering if it was reasonable to correlate any such attribute to their sexual orientation.

Sex, Gender, and Biology
I'm really interested in examining how gender relates to personality at the biological level. That's one of the reasons why I am really fascinated by gay men and women. Here is a rare circumstance in which a single component of behavior is "toggled" to the opposite position as one might expect. It is really interesting because gay men talk about men they are attracted to in exactly the terms straight men would talk about women they are attracted to (i.e., physical descriptions abound). The same parallels apply to lesbians as well. For example, they tend to focus on their partners' talents and mental attributes (i.e., what they can do, not just how they look).

Gay biology
One of the (many!) unfortunate things about sweeping homosexuality under the rug and pretending there's just no such thing is that you're missing out on a huge chunk of culture that is so marginalized that you don't even know it exists (except through characteratures on tv). Worse yet, some of the biggest questions about gender and sexuality could be addressed by a group that is all but invisible. We would know so much more about ourselves if we knew this other group existed and how they "worked" on a biological level.

I have no reliable gaydar, so it's always a surprise to find out who is. Well, sometimes it isn't much of a surprise, but you know what I mean.

Sexual Orientation and Neuroscience
I'm interested in the biological basis of sexual orientation. Why? Let me try to explain it: In science, if you can't perform an experiment outright, you tend to try to find a situation in which everything else is the same except for this *one* thing. In other words, everything is controlled to the extent that it exhibits roughly the same variance as everything else. Then you look at why this difference exists. Homosexuality is like that. While you certainly have flaming personalities in the gay community, the overwhelming (or perhaps "underwhelming" in person) numbers of gay people blend into the str8 world (yeah, like we own it) without calling any attention to themselves. However, there are lots of little things that emerge from this one difference in terms of the dynamics of relationship, the role of cultural influences, etc. It would be a lengthy discussion, but I don't know how up for it you would be. (At the moment, I'm not. Sorry. Later maybe?)

A Separate Creation
[Posted to the neuroscience group on]
One of my favorite books is a kind of obscure, but still, I'm a little disappointed that no one has mentioned it:
A Separate Creation: The Search for the Biological Origins of Sexual Orientation
by Chandler Burr
This is perhaps one of the best books I have ever read with respect to scientific research. The author presents a thorough and compelling account of the science (and politics) underlying the search for the basis of sexual orientation. Chandler Burr spent years interviewing and visiting with some of the most prominent researchers (e.g., Dean Hamer, Simon LeVay, etc.) in their labs and in the field in order to shed light on the complexities of this (foolishly) taboo topic.
Instead of being a book that says, "Here's what we know," it focuses instead on why we don't know the answer to a seemingly straight-forward question. It also examines the question from multiple angles (e.g., genetics, neuroanatomy, psychology, animal behavior studies, etc.). There are a lot of parallels between this subject and a lot the fundamental questions in neuroscience, so I think you might enjoy it based on that alone, but I happened to be interested in the topic as well.

There is a great excerpt from it on the author's site.  It is worth reading and may well hook you on the text.  Check it out here.

I never figured out what women like about guy. I see some of the guys girls go for and I say, "Huh?!" However, all the gay guys I know are hot, so it's pretty obvious what it's all about there. The difference is, I'm a guy too, so I know they're just about the physical. I may not go for guys, but at least I see what they're looking at.

Gay anthropology
>There is not much stigma against women messing around with other women, the way there is with guys.
From an evolutionary perspective, it seems there's a good reason for this. If a guy is fooling around with another guy, then he is neglecting his female mate(s) and their mutual offspring. Thus, girls get jealous whether their guy goes after another woman or a man. By contrast, if two women engage in any sexual interaction, then so what? If anything, this could mean she's more sexual than average... and she brought a friend! The result is more offspring from these female... and less from the gay males.

Gay guys
>Well what kinds of guys do you think are attractive? Hmmm?
I'm not wired up to notice "attractive," but guys will notice guys who they think are cool. I really like that guy who played Van Wilder. He's been in a couple other things, and he's genuinely funny (I've seen him on a couple talk shows). He doesn't try to get your attention, yet there's an intelligence there that's obviously lacking in actors in particular.
Of course, then there are the gay guys...! They're all just hot. I'm more conscious of it around them because they all look like fucking models. True story: A couple years ago, Dani and I went to her friend's b-day party. I swear you could look around and tell who the straight guys were in half a second. They were the ones with the gut. They didn't bother to dress up as much in that there was no real attention to detail; they just put on their "nice" clothes and figured they were done. Incidentally, I've taken off 20 lbs. since then.

Gay marriage
I guess I got pretty liberal on this particular issue because I had a friend who was gay, and his whole life was fucked up because of it. He had some serious issues, and a lot of them came from being verbally abused by his step-father as a kid because he was somewhat effeminate. Anything where society allows segregation of rights along these lines (or pretty much any lines!) just reinforces these attitudes and replicates this tragedy.

Gay anthropology
[from a letter to a female friend]
Guys are more attuned to physicality than girls. When guys are oriented to date other guys, they create a culture in which you must be absolutely gorgeous if you're going to get anyone... because all your competition is gorgeous as well. The only parallel I can think of is in modeling circles where girls go to great lengths (e.g., anorexia) to be the "best" by the standards of that culture. Alternatively, think about prom. Who were you dressing up for? Your date was concerned about how much cleavage you had and maybe how tight the dress was. He could care less who made it, how your hair looked, or what your manicurist did.
When a friend of mine had a b-day party at his place last year, you could look around and guess at about 99% accuracy which guys were str8. They were the ones with a gut. Even I had one at the time! Also, as Carrie once observed on Sex and the City: "I wish I had that kind of incentive to go to the gym." I mean, they're all so neat and buff. I'm jealous.

More anthropology
>They are pretty brutal when they start making fun of the straight guy's taste [on 'Queer Eye'].
Yeah, that's one thing I don't like about some of the guys. They're pretty viscous about just about anything going on. They're quick to gossip (granted, with the amount of sex gay guys have, there's a lot of gossip about), and they're pretty quick to judge, which is really surprising considering they're an ostracized group, collectively speaking. For instance, another friend of mine is in kind of an awkward place. He's probably gay, but he's had a few good str8 relationships, so he ends up going back and forth. Bi-sexuality is actually pretty rare among males (whereas it's almost the norm among females... given enough alcohol), so the rest of the guys give him a hard time about this. To me, that's just cruel. It isn't like this is a funny quirk about a person. He's genuinely trying to figure things out, and the rest of the guys are teasing him.

Gay attitudes
I've tried to rationally figure out my attitude toward sexual orientations, but I can't. On one level, I'm absolutely fascinated that there is this population with a 180 orientation in this *one* narrow area. In science, you tend to look for singular differences because you have a reductionist perspective on a phenomenon. For something as seemingly complex as sexuality to present itself in essentially non-overlapping dichotomous forms, that's just weird. Why this hasn't been more thoroughly studied says a lot about cultural attitudes... none of it very good.
I've grown increasingly interested in the social norms within gay culture as well. For example, which gay jokes are appropriate? It isn't the same as racial humor where you can say "What's up my nigga?!" I tried to be conscientious of this when I was writing the captions for, say, the Halloween galleries out in Oak Lawn. I mean, I'm an outsider, so if I made a joke that addressed sexuality, I double-check how the guys are going to read it. I threw out a few things before I posted it, but none of them were funny enough to actually miss.
To that end, I found this in a blog earlier:
Gay marriage.... There are some new rules:
1) On the day of a gay wedding, it's bad luck for the two grooms to see each other at the gym.
2) Superstition suggests that for good luck the couple should have: Something bold, something flirty, something trashy, Something dirty.
3) It's customary at gay and lesbian nuptials for the parents to have an open bar during the entire ceremony.
4) Gay wedding tradition dictates that both grooms refrain from eating any of the wedding cake because it's all carbs and sugar.
5) It's considered bad luck for either of the grooms to have dated the priest.
6) During the first dance, it's considered unlucky to use glow sticks, flags, whistles or hand held lasers.
7) For good luck at the union of a drag queen, the bouquet is always thrown in the face of a hated rival.
8) The reception hall must have a disco ball and at least 1 go-go dancer.
9) The wedding singer is not allowed to play/sing Let's Hear It For the Boy, It's Raining Men or I Will Survive.
10) The father of the Bottom pays for everything!
As far as being around the guys goes... it's funny, all of the above issues away. They're just guys. Granted, better looking guys for the most part, but still.
I don't know when my inherent homophobia dissipated (you know, "You fag!" "No, you're a fag."). I know I didn't have a problem with my old roommate even before he moved in. I guess that's obvious, since I asked him to move in. I really didn't know him very well, but, like Jack on "Will & Grace," he was kind of obvious to everyone... well, except himself. His first clue should have been the fact that his record collection was Madonna, Mariah, Janet, and Japanese-only Madonna dance mixes. Yeah, exactly.
For all his problems, he was a good guy, and it was unfortunate that a lot of his troubles were exacerbated by his orientation. As a child, his step-father used to verbally abuse him, calling him a faggot and sexually loaded terms. A lot of his internal unrest was built around the fact that his self-denial was rooted in ensuring that this idiot in his past was never proven right on this point. A lot of my collective empathy for the GBLT community (and, conversely, my hatred of fundamentalists and other abusive groups) sprung from this singular case.

Homophobes are stupid
That's like hating someone for being left-handed. You know, in some parts of the country, racism could be justified because there's a culture that narrowly defines itself by it's color and/or national origin and/or religion and hangs on to a set of counterproductive attitudes and values. You cannot make any such case against the gay community. Cause we're part of it.

Unless you're at a gay bar, guys are pretty much ignored by potential partners. I mean, I caught this one girl checking me out in the grocery store for less than a full second and it made my week. Actually, a girl I ran into a few days ago was really flirty with me (who interrupts someone reading to just start talking to them?), and she was definitely very cute, but I'm kind of off the market and am *very* conscious that I'm in a relationship I simply do *not* want to screw up. I have too many bad points to think I can be choosey.

When I was in college and we ended up on Burbon St. near the Pub one night. That area was a lot more happening since that was the end of the street with all of the gay bars. I went down there with my roommate who was, well, you know Jack on "Will & Grace"? Well, imagine him with some Jim Carrey thrown in. One night I was with him and ran into this guy who I always suspected was gay but who was completely in the closet. Here I was with this guy who was obviously gay on the gay end of the block, and he's like, "Ummm... so, uh, what are you doing here?" What was completely disconcerting to him was that, not only was he "outted," he was completely confused about whether I was playing for the same team (especially since he knew I was with this really wild, hot girl the summer he and I met in college). I didn't bother to explain to him that, no, Robert, I am still straight... all appearances to the contrary. He was left to try and balance that equation for the rest of the night.

A Beautiful Mind and distorted movie
John Nash (subject of the book/film "A Beautiful Mind") had a number of homosexual relationship with other mathematicians in his department (including while he was married). Pretty weird. The movie neglects to mention this and the fact that he had an illegitimate son by an earlier relationship than with his wife and the fact the he divorced his wife and remarried her along the way and the fact that one of his sons (I can't remember which) is severely schizophrenic. Sort of shatters the fairy tale version depicted in the movie, doesn't it?

Gay guys
[from an email with a friend]
>Everybody knew he was gay except him. Then he graduated and discovered he was gay and we all nodded our heads knowingly.
That describes several guys I went to high school with as well. They're always the last to know. The unfortunate thing is that they're shamed by society for considering the possibility. Fifty years ago we were doing the same thing to people who were left-handed. I only hope we're over the gay thing in another fifty. Wait a second, we are! It's called Europe, and they couldn't care less about this bullshit. Canada either, for that matter.

Four sexes
One of my biggest annoyances with this conservative culture is that humanity isn't viewed as multiple sexes. Researchers look for differences between men and women, but don't bother to partition gay men into another group. It is only research that specifically studies homosexuality (which is a minority compared to the gender-based research) where you see interesting differences between gay and straight populations.

I rarely think of gay guys as feminine. If they were, maybe I would, ironically, be a little more gay (i.e., attracted to them) myself. If anything, I tend to think of gay guys as ultra-guys. When you have a genuine (i.e., not "Showtime" version of a) relationship between two people of the same sex, you've distilled that interaction into the pure version of sex between members of that gender. For example, the other day Dani and I were watching this movie where these guys started kissing really intensely. She said, "That's the way you always want to kiss me." I said, "No, that's the way *guys* kiss." When a guy kisses a woman, he has to reign it in, but when guys get together, they kiss like guys want to kiss.

Mix 'n' match
This is an area of gender studies I'm really interested in: This idea that a gay man or a gay man would have a collection of traits that would never be present in someone at the opposing "straight" ends of the spectrum. For example, there was this gay couple on Northern Exposure who were doing archeology at one point. I'm paraphrasing and making up my own examples for the most part here, but the conservative old guy in town observes that they have the manly drive to explore, but they're very gentle with the delicate artifacts the way women might be.

>There are some basic similarities I can assign to how hetero couples deal with illness. I could probably break the men into about 4 categories and the women into 3. With gay and lesbian couples it gets confusing.
I wonder if the variance in the population is largely because they don't have role models. I remember reading something PFLAG (sp?) or someone put out that addressed misconceptions about gays and lesbians. One question asked if someone has to be the "man" and the other the "woman" in the relationship. The author pointed out that when everyone is closeted, then you pretty much don't have anyone to look to other than the hetero couples all around you, and that's what you draw from. However, they acknowledged that there is a lot of difference now.

This is largely unrelated, but a fairly indisputable fact is that gay male couples tend to exaggerate the masculine agenda (e.g., more sexual interaction, more infidelity/multiple partners, etc.) while a lesbian couple is overall more committed and is exactly the opposite in many ways. Straight couples appear to be a compromise between these two extremes.

After a friend and I went out to a bar the other night, we ended up at a local 24 hour breakfast place. There was this one table with very country (and for the most part masculine) lesbians. I was really interested in watching the dynamics of how they interacted. Society builds things around ideas of gender roles, such that certain roles are assigned based on your genitals. However, when you have a same-sex couple, then you have to figure out who (if anyone) is going to take on that role, and it becomes a lot like a post-feminist culture in which guys are forever trying to figure out if they're supposed to hold the door and pick up the check, who asks for/gives the phone number, who calls firsts, etc.
I really would like to see some serious research on this instead of having to reply on things that are naturalistic but largely anecdotal. For example, a while back I was at a country gay bar (the Roundup in Dallas). A friend of mine and I were watching the guys (and a few ladies and mixed couples) dancing. The people there were really good and knew what they were doing, but my friend looked confused and commented, "How do they know who leads?! I'm gay, and I can't even figure it out." I guess that's a microcosm of what I would like to understand.

No, I'm not gay. I have a lot of empathy for the gay community. I have gay friends now, but more importantly, my best friend years ago was gay, and he was a tragic story. He knew deep down he was gay, but hated himself for who he was because he grew up with an abusive step father who used to tell him he was gay as an insult. He hated the step father, so he tried to prove this asshole wrong. As a result, he was incredibly conflicted and had a lot of emotional problems. He was a very complicated person, and I hated seeing how badly this general attitude of homophobia could mess someone up. This isn't calling someone a name, it's about attacking who they are, and that affects every aspect of their lives.

I wish people spent more time studying the dynamics of same-sex relationships. I think everyone could learn a lot about how to function in all sorts of relationships from examining how things change between individuals based on which role(s) they adopt with respect to gender.

Qualitatively different
I've had this on-going discussion with a friend about how same-sex relationships are qualitatively different. I mean, it's more than you simply substituted a man for a woman (or vice versa). Now, as far as the law is concerned, this shouldn't matter. However, between the two individuals, there's a completely different dynamic. Whereas hetero couples have two different genders that have to compromise and balance one another, same-sex ones can push things to a completely strange and dysfunctional extreme sometimes (e.g., gay males and promiscuity, infidelity, etc.).

On average, the most stable, monogamous couples are lesbians. On the other hand, gay guys are the complete opposite. Again, on average.

Him too?
I love finding how who's gay. For example, Rob Halford (recently reinstated lead singer of Judas Priest) came out a few years back. It was awesome because he did the whole leather thing in the '80s as a way of expressing himself when he had to be completely closeted. He would run around the edge of the stage with a whip and guys would run up for him to whack them. There were t-shirts that said "I got whipped by Rob Halford." These guys thought they were totally straight, but they were playing into his fantasy in front of thousands. That's just an awesome degree of irony.

>I found myself looking at the arms of the passengers on the subway in Montreal and looking to see if there were similar physical characteristics to the population there that were different from here.
I do something similar when I'm around gay people. I used to look for physical differences since developmentally, if there's a change in one place, very often that results in a change elsewhere. I hoped maybe I would pick up on something that people had missed, but not so far. Instead, I'm looking at them more like an anthropologist would. There are so many interesting things about the culture that emerges from the shifted dynamics of the gay community, and it's a shame that it's largely being overlooked by the general population for the most superficial reasons.

I think a lot of the gay community's problems stem from two factors:
-1) They don't have any models for how to act since they are basically marginalized to the point where they are invisible even from one another. I mean, you and I are straight. We had straight parents, straight neighbors, watched straight Bill Cosby and Clair raise their kids, etc. If you're gay you have, what, "Will & Grace"?
-2) There aren't any women in the relationship! Women do have their excesses, but they at least understand moderation. Of course, I'm generalizing, but so's the issue we're exploring.

Gender roles
>Don't some members of gay couples assume the male or female role in the relationship? That gives them role models to look at, sort of.
Yes, but it isn't their natural inclination. I mean, guys are still guys, regardless of whether they happen to like guys or not. What I'm curious about and don't know as much about is when the variation is from "gender norms" (if there really are any). For example, many guys are totally male (some even more masculine than average), whereas others are "flaming" and effeminate. I would love to see what the distribution of these traits are as a percentage of the gay (and straight?) population and is it is correlated with any other traits.

Bi bye
In general, guys are rarely bi. In statistics, there are two types of distributions you see with respect to gender and sexual orientation. With women, it's a "J" curve. Most women are on the right: A cluster of 99% heterosexuality (I'll add 1% because women will do anything when there's alcohol involved). On the far left are women who are essentially lesbians all the way. However, there's a curve toward either end. Straight women can be a little bit gay and gay women can be a little bit straight. With men, this is rarely the case. Although gay men usually go through a period where they're forced into denial by society, once they come to terms with things, if they're gay, then that's what they are, and straight men don't seek homosexual encounters as long as there are women around. The only exceptions seem to be closeted gay men who force themselves to "play" straight to fit in.

Girls crushing on girls
>I saw a magazine article once, "Why Girls Crush on Each Other." Either I didn't read it or it had nothing useful to say cause I don't remember a damn thing other than the title. It's true tho. For me, at the time I made out with Jenny, I think it had alot to do with the fact that I was in a relationship with a guy I had started to hate (but was still trying to make it work) Kissing her was a way to get that type of affection w/o cheating on him cause he had no problem with it of course. Anyway, guys just don't 'crush' on each other that way. A guy would never be at a concert drunk, dancing with another guy, then suddenly start making out with him. (yeah, that happened to me once) Is it just an idea society puts in our head? Would we act that way if there weren't guys watching? I don't know.
There are partial explanations for some of those questions. For example, women have problems with men fooling around with either men or other women since that means the family provider is dividing his attention between partners. However, men have no problem with a woman fooling around with another woman. After all, she isn't going to get pregnant, so he doesn't have much to worry about.
Now the question as to why a supposedly (or at least predominantly) straight woman *would* be inclined to make out with another woman? I don't have an explanation for that... although I can certainly empathize. I don't know why guys don't fool around with guys either, and even though I have no desire to, it would make perfect sense since males would find more willing partners on a regular basis if males were even remotely inclined toward same-sex pairings. The odd thing is that straight males aren't even remotely interested.

Double standards?
>>Now the question as to why a supposedly (or at least predominantly) straight woman *would* be inclined to make out with another woman? I don't have an explanation for that...
>Ah, the double standards...
I don't know that it's fair to call it a double standard. There's no discrimination going on; either sex is following what they prefer, and no one is imposing anything on anyone else. In fact, it seems to work out for the best since guys like watching girls make out. It isn't something that females find especially repugnant, whereas straight guys won't do it for just about anything.

Copyright Alexplorer.

Back to the index