Wednesday, June 27, 2007


The current issue of New York magazine has a fascinating article on the observed biological differences between gay men and straight men. A gay reporter (David France) researched and wrote the article after observing that most people -- gay or straight -- were able to effortlessly identify gay men, a skill popularly called "Gaydar" (a pun on "radar", if you don't get it).

This is not a subject I've ever read much about, so all but one of the biological differences caught me by surprise. For example:

As he recruited experiment subjects, Lippa scanned the passing scalps, some shaved clean, some piled in colorful tresses. “It’s like a kind of art. You look at the back of people’s heads, and it’s literally like a vector field,” he says. “We assume that whatever causes people to be right-handed or left-handed is also causing hair whorl. The theory we’re testing is that there’s a common gene responsible for both.” And that gene might be a marker for sexual orientation. So, as part of his study, he has swabbed the inside cheek of his subjects. It will be months before that DNA testing is complete.

I was surprised at how many people quickly agreed to lend five minutes of their pride celebration to science. “If I could tell my mother it’s a gene, she would be so happy,” said one, Scott Quesada, 42, who sat in a chair for Lippa’s inspection.

“Classic counterclockwise whorl,” the researcher pronounced, snapping a photo.

Quesada, who is right-handed and seemed to have a typically masculinized finger-length ratio, was impressed. “I didn’t know I had a whorl at all,” he said.

By the end of the two-day festival, Lippa had gathered survey data from more than 50 short-haired men and photographed their pates (women were excluded because their hairstyles, even at the pride festival, were too long for simple determination; crewcuts are the ideal Rorschach, he explains). About 23 percent had counterclockwise hair whorls. In the general population, that figure is 8 percent.

Gay men are three times more likely to have a counterclockwise hair whorl than straight men. There has long been a belief or suspicion amongst many straight people that gay men choose to be homosexual, rather than there being some biological cause for for their homosexuality. The hair whorl evidence (along with the other kinds of biological evidence covered in the article) is very difficult to square with the notion of homosexuality being a choice. It lends great credence to the (now) consensus of science: that homosexuality is derived from a biological predisposition. In other words, homosexuals are born as homosexuals; homosexuality is not acquired by choice or nurture.

The author weaves in many related topics, from the consequences of brutal suppression on Gaydar to the social implications of this research. It's a very interesting read -- so go read the whole thing!

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