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In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that it is a fundamental right to marry. The decision made it that states must allow same-sex couples to marry and essentially making gay marriage legal in the United States. In the U.S., homosexuality and gay marriage remains a massively polarizing topic. A Gallup poll shortly before the Supreme Court decision found that 51 percent of Americans believed that people were born either gay or lesbian and 30 percent believed that homosexuality can be the result of their upbringing or their environment. The case studies of Samoan fa’afafine and David Reimer offer some insight into the genetic and environmental component of homosexuality. The science on homosexuality isn’t quite clear, but case studies and anecdotal evidence suggests that people are born gay.
More often than not, gays and lesbians will tell you that they knew they were homosexual as far back as they can remember. This anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that homosexuality is genetic. In science, it is still a question that has not been concretely answered as genes coding for homosexuality has not been identified yet. While polls have shown that the majority of Americans now believe that there is a genetic component to homosexuality, I could not find any data on how many gays and lesbians believe that they were born gay, but I would surmise that the percentage is very high. The genetic science is not yet clear on the subject, but there are a number of case studies that strongly hint at a genetic component to homosexuality.
The fa’afafine are males in traditional Samoan societies that exhibit feminine qualities and generally live bisexual lives, although Samoans do not explicitly believe in homosexuality. The fa’afafine are generally considered a third gender in Samoan societies. Due to the openness about gender groupings, researchers have focused on these Samoan societies in studies pertaining to sexual antagonistic selection. If there is a gene that relates to homosexuality, the lower birth rates among homosexuals should eventually lead to the extinction of those gay genes, instead they are present at relatively high numbers that do not match what is expected in statistical models. One explanation scientists have for this is sexual antagonistic selection, where the heterosexual females make up for the low birth rates of their homosexual kin by having more offspring. The hypothesis is that in families with homosexual men, the gay genes present in that family will cause the females in that family to be more attracted to men and as a result, produce more offspring to offset the low birth rates among their male homosexual kin. In a study published in PLOS ONE, in fa’afafine families matching this criteria, researchers found evidence to support sexual antagonistic selection, which may suggest that there is a genetic component to homosexuality that manifests itself in an increased fecundity among heterosexual females in those groups.
In another case that tested the environmental and upbringing link to homosexuality involved David Reimer. Reimer is probably the most prominent John/Joan case in the United States. After an accident during a circumcision procedure when Reimer was 8 months old, Reimer’s penis became non-functional. As a result, his parents were referred to a psychologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital named John Money, who was a proponent of gender neutrality. He believed that gender is the product of your environment and upbringing and suggested to the Reimers that David should be brought up as a girl. With Money’s guidance, Reimer’s parents raised David as a girl and renamed him to Brenda. David was given female hormones and was surgically reassigned as a female. Money saw David as a perfect test case because he had a twin brother named Brian, who could act as a control to this gender neutrality experiment. Money began reporting that this experiment was a success, but the reality was that David Reimer was showing signs of being displeased with being a girl very early on. As a girl, he would refuse to wear dresses and exhibited masculine behavior throughout his adolescence. As a teenager, he was finally told the truth about his gender reassignment and it all began to makes sense to him. Due to various troubles, including the mental anguish of his circumstances related to his gender, David Reimer committed suicide at age 38.
In the cases of Samoan fa’afafine and David Reimer, we find that there is some evidence suggesting that homosexuality is genetic. The fa’afafine are very open about their standing in Samoan society and gives researchers one of the clearest opportunities to test the sexual antagonistic selection hypothesis. The results supported the hypothesis with findings that indicate that heterosexual females with fa’afafine kin were more likely to produce more opposing on average than heterosexual females with non fa’afafine kin. Reimer was raised as a female, but the fact remained that his genetics were those of a male. It shouldn’t be ruled out that there could potentially be environmental factors that contribute to homosexuality, but it does appear that most cases are likely to be of genetic origin.
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