New Book Collects ‘Gay Brain’ Research

Gaybrain With Carl Paladino's gay "brainwashing" scandal bringing up the always controversial question of whether homosexuality's a choice, Harvard neuroscientist Simon LeVay's celebrating the publication of his new book, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, which sheds more light on that very inquiry.

LeVay achieved fame in the 1990s for publishing a study, often called "the gay brain" report, which revealed that the third Interstitial Nucleus of the Anterior Hypothalamus in heterosexual men was twice as large as the one found in gay men's brains.

His work launched a new wave of biological examinations into human sexuality, and this new book contains the findings for more than 650 such studies.

“When I conducted my initial findings in 1991 and wrote ‘The Sexual Brain’ in 1993, there was no science to really talk about,” remarked LeVay. “The new book details the weight of the evidence, which is a lot stronger now, and bolsters my initial conclusion that homosexuals have a predisposition to being gay.”

Of course all these answers bring up even more questions, including the ultimate conundrum: once science has proven once and for all that homosexuality is a choice, how long before someone starts fighting to take that choice away? Paladino, any comment?


  1. pete says

    I think the article is meant to read, “homosexuality is (NOT) a choice”

    If they can prove unequivocally that it is physiological, can we then have equality?

  2. StillmarriedinCA says

    “….once science has proven once and for all that homosexuality is a choice” ?????? The story that you posted states just the opposite, which is what we have known all along.

  3. ila lwara says

    I am so sick of the technique gays are trying to use that it’s not a choice. Honestly, who cares if it’s a choice or not!? THIS IS THE LAND OF THE FREE?!

  4. Trev says

    I don’t understand this question: “once science has proven once and for all that homosexuality is a choice, how long before someone starts fighting to take that choice away?”

    The science seems to support the idea that homosexuality is a matter of biological predisposition and is therefor not a choice (duh). Doesn’t that pull the rug out from under those who say it IS a choice and that gays should have no civil rights protections because they choose to be gay?

  5. wtf says

    What? Who posits this “conundrum” (which, by the way, is not a conundrum at all)? I do not follow the logic in this post that leads to a choice. I am not familiar with this work but, as presented here, there are some very confusing statements.

  6. FizziekruntNT says

    That last paragraph *is* somewhat perplexing, other than as a possible story tie-in with the Paladino diarrhea-of-the-mouth, lie-of-the-minute shuffle. Was that meant sarcastically? Something was lost in the context. Not a critique, just curiosity. It’s not easy to run constant storylines, be the editor, and still keep it interesting.

    Anyway, ILA LWARA makes a good point. The bigger picture here is why it’s anyone’s damned business or concern.

  7. says

    “once science has proven once and for all that homosexuality is a choice,”

    don’t u mean NOT

    science is showing h0omsexuality is not a choice

  8. says

    (I assume that “is a choice” should read “is physiological”.)

    Even assuming that one has a gay brain, the religious conservatives have maintained it is a brain abnormality that should be lived with, with abstinence, just as one with a brain predisposed to alcoholism abstains from alcohol.

    They have an answer for everything.

  9. Joe says

    Please fix the error. It is really glaring.

    Other than that I think the question you posed at the end is the same one Ann Coulter posed at homocon: once it is proven that being gay is biological, some people will start asking how they can prevent their children from being gay. It will be interesting/humorous to watch the religious wingnuts start to champion scientific gene research to get rid of gayness. Those people have no moral and are only against what they do not like. Either that or they will start telling us that God made us this way to be condemned and hated or that the devil interfered (much like radical racist arguments that blacks were made out of mud so they should be slaves or were cursed with blackness).

    I don’t understand how one can really think homosexuality is a choice. Why would anyone choose to be discriminated against?

  10. KEW says

    Happy Monday, Andrew,

    You are going to catch hell for this one all day!When dealing with a sensitive and serious topic,if you’re gutsy enough to use sarcasm you better be able to hit it out of the park. Better luck next time.

  11. justaguy says

    I liked the question asked. I mean, what if someone showed “evidence” that it is a “choice”? Or, what if for a few people, ir really is? Should it matter?

    It’s a little bit absurd that some in the gay movement seem so driven to rely on the notion that there is no choice involved. Why should it be any less a civil rights issue if some level of choice IS involved at least for some people?!

    Isn’t the world a shittier place when most people who might have a larger personal choice in the matter become knee-jerk heteros who, by the way, too often become the biggest anti-gays out there?

    Is the risk of a few more people experiencing gay love so offensive that it’s worthwhile that we’ve built our whole gender system around discouraging gay love–to the point of encouraging gay suicides?!

    Somthing’s gotta give, people. And studies suggest there are like twice as many bi-folk as there are full-blooded gays. Not that we want to turn them. And not that the total really would even then extend beyond 10 percent of us.

    The point is that the issue can be bigger than gay rights for gays. How ’bout a right to be who you believe you might be — or who you want to be? Or the right to be ok with a part of you that you happen to not express much/ever? Is that so wrong?

  12. randy says

    “The new book details the weight of the evidence, which is a lot stronger now, and bolsters my initial conclusion that homosexuals have a predisposition to being gay.”

    Or that heterosexuals have a predisposition to being straight.

  13. Steve says

    It shouldn’t matter if it’s a choice or not.

    But legally it does in the United States. Look up the criteria for the application of strict scrutiny in constitutional law. One of the requirements is the presence of an immutable character trait.

  14. says

    My comment is about the ultimate conundrum: once science has proven once and for all that homosexuality is a choice, how long before someone starts fighting to take that choice away?

    I think I understood what you were trying to say, about if being gay is part of our hardware, one day they may try to remove or change whatever it is that makes people gay.

    Your phrasing however was interesting because it makes it seem that you believe being gay is a choice, which I do not believe is the message you were trying to get across.

    That is one of the things I fear most, the day where they succeed in preventing any child from being born gay, what a boring homogeneous uncreative world that will be.

  15. Joe says

    I guess if you’re being sarcastic then I get it now, but like others have mentioned, this subject is much too touchy to use sarcasm since it is the foundation argument of why we don’t deserve equal rights.

    Good job at pointing out that even if it is considered a choice it shouldn’t matter and that Paladino types are bigots… I guess.

  16. Dave L says

    The civil rights issue isn’t and shouldn’t be tied to whether or not it is a choice.

    We protect religion and what could be more of a choice than that?

    However helping others see that it isn’t a choice will further the cultural issues.

    We (should) get equal right regardless of if it’s a choice.

    But we gain faster cultural acceptance when more people are educated that it is not a choice, but a benign and innocent characteristic.

  17. Jeff says

    Why is everybody so upset about this wording? First of all, brain studies have almost no bearing on the “is it a choice?” debate as you could easily make the argument that the choice to be gay changes the way the brain develops and thus how it looks in its final state. Second, the most recent scientific evidence is not as clear-cut as some of you (and certainly LeVay) would like. It appears exceedingly unlikely that sexual identification is entirely biologically determined; see Bearman and Bruckner’s study of same-sex attraction in opposite-sex twins for a very different take.

    So let’s be really clear about our terms here. I don’t think I ever chose to have same-sex attractions but I definitely did choose to be gay. And that is a very meaningful distinction. Essentializing sexual identities through genetics or biology really only makes sense to middle-class white gay men like LeVay (and, I presume, most of the readers of this blog) who experience an unproblematic relationship between their desires and their identification. The lived experience of other queer people attests to the fact that this relationship cannot be taken for granted. (Consider, for instance, women whose sexual-object choice changes through the course of their cycle.) The adoption and foreclosure of identities is an opaque process but I’m not convinced that there is no element of choice involved.

    I fully understand the political advantages of asserting that being gay isn’t a choice but it is mal foi. As has already been noted, what matters is not what causes certain varieties of sexuality but whether we, as a society, have an obligation to protect their free expression. We don’t need a gay gene to win that argument.

  18. says

    OK, now I’m in meltdown.
    If my gayness is due to my brain physiology then how could it be a choice that could be taken away ?
    Or is John Hillegass, above, correct ?
    When they discover that they can identify gayness in the brains of the foetus they will start eliminating us.
    Or perhaps it is not identifiable in the foetus (fetus US) ……would we be safer ?
    Every gay man will agree that being gay is not a choice or acquired.

    John Hillegass, above, has pointed out the ultimate obscenity; once they can”fix” us , they will.

  19. MadM@ says

    “Homosexuality” is a concept that is not that old considering the long history of sex. I’d like to see how these differences change with people being raised entirely in an environment where the only actual variable is sexual orientation and not that plus all the social stigma, double life leading, paranoia, stress, etc.

    What about people that are bisexual? Or Asexual? Or people that will have same-sex sex but only really commit to an opposite-sex relationship? Would the PET scanner just explode at that point?

    I don’t think medical science is nuanced enough to describe human sexuality adequately. Anthropology, yes; Neuroanatomy, not so much.

  20. TANK says

    People who don’t believe that science is nuanced enough to explain sexual orientation, and indeed, just about every feature of our mental life (save, perhaps, qualia), either believe that it’s not yet sufficient (granted, neuroscience is in its infancy), or are engaging in a form of magical thinking. There is no real alternative to scientific explanations for just about any phenomenon (and further, there is no phenomenon that science is forbidden from investigating), and the belief that there is comes loaded with assumptions of faith and superstition.

    Of course, there are some who believe that “reality” is a social construct (entirely mind dependent), and that there are no innate mental characteristics. All this belief comes to is that if we used different terms to describe something, we’d be describing that thing with different terms/concepts….leaving objective reality unscathed. E.g., if a meter could be described by fewer inches, it wouldn’t change the actual height of the empire state building; rather, it’d be described by a greater number of them than it currently is.

  21. MadM@ says

    I was just saying that considering there are still a lot of admitted unknowns on the path from [brain lesion —-> behavior], why so much hoopla about a neuroanatomical finding? Big friggin’ deal.

    Science also can’t explain coming of age rituals for young Latinas in diaspora communities but that doesn’t mean they’re not studied. It just means if you chopped up their quince dresses and ran them through a mass spec it wouldn’t be as useful as, say, an ethnography. At no point am I making a plea to anything supernatural and ineffable. I just think if we’re going to ask the universe those giant sized questions, we might as well phrase our question properly.

  22. TANK says

    Yes, as I stated, neuroscience is still in its infancy. But no one questions that consciousness and the brain are inextricably linked, and that brain processes bring about mental states. Why? The evidence is too powerful. When certain parts of the brain are damaged, specific capacities diminish or are eliminated. Serotonin levels are correlated to mental states such that fluctuations affect mood, and on and on and on. As a research programme, this theoretical committment has shown the ONLY promise in terms of treatment of mental disease and defect. And excuse me, but the only hope for cures for such diseases as parkinsons and alzheimers are not just “big friggin’ deal”s.

    Now, you aren’t seriously trying to suggest that sexual orientation is similar to a social custom, esoteric tradition, practice, belief, etc, are you? Just because its a relatively new concept doesn’t make it a “social construct”. Biological evolution is a relatively new concept, and yet no one doubts that it says a great deal more about humanity than the work and operational concepts/theories of any anthropologist ever could.

    Homosexuality exists in all cultuers, regardless of what the individuals who belong to them classify the phenomenon as. Just because there is variance in concept doesn’t mean it’s false. You don’t believe this…the concept of the stars has changed dramatically in as short a time as five thousand years, and yet would you argue that stars don’t exist, and are a social construct?

    Of course, cultural anthropologists have unearthed fascinating bits of information about cultures…but cultures and all of their practices are mere historical accidents. Cultural anthropologists are chroniclers of historical accidents (e.g., no one disputes that humanity evolved the capacity for verbal language; however, English isn’t an evolved language…it is an historical accident as are all extant natural languages). And these are fascinating…but they don’t say anything about man (full stop)…instead, they say things about certain cultures. If you want to learn about man (full stop)…you turn to science…and that applies to sexual orientation–a natural phenomenon that science will explain completely.

  23. Aaron says

    Jeff, I love you. Can we meet?

    Tank, with all due respect, I think you misunderstand what it means to say something is socially constructed. It does not mean that that thing “does not exist”. We can say that money is socially constructed – the exchange of pieces of paper and metal for goods requires a shared understanding and consensus within a community and need not be organized as it currently is. This doesn’t mean that money does not exist. Clearly it does. It is certainly less interesting to say that money is socially constructed than saying this about sexual orientation, but that does by itself negate the use of social construction to describe the latter.

    I also disagree with your assessment that “there is no phenomenon that science is forbidden from investigating”. I’m not sure what you meant by “forbidden” exactly but if I understand you to mean something like “science can be used or applied to any phenomenon” then I disagree. Most scientists still subscribe to some sense of Popper’s notion of falsifiability to distinguish scientific questions from non-scientific ones (though there are later critiques of this standard). This would of course limit what kinds of questions science can answer. It is generally agreed by philosophers that questions regarding the existence of a diety for example cannot be addressed using the methods of science. These questions are left to debates among philosophers, theologians, etc.

    As for a scientific basis of understanding sexual orientation, I would certainly agree that the etiology of sexual orientation is and can be framed as an empirical question. However, there is often little agreement among and between groups of scientists as to what constitutes the best measurable (and operationalizable) aspect(s) of sexual orientation and little agreement that sexual orientation is defined the same across cultures and throughout history. There is so much disagreement within the scientific literature on how to best measure sexual orientation that one needs to proceed cautiously when trying to generalize from the studies. Are the studies useless? No I don’t think they are useless. But claims about brain differences between “gay” and “straight” people are certainly questionable and do not settle the debate between those who look to biology for their explanations of sexual orientation and those who think that the very definition is culturally and historically embedded in important ways that structure the kinds of questions that scientists deem appropriate and testable in the first place. This is the cruxt of the social construction argument. But no self-respecting social constructionist that I know (who understands the intent of the term) would argue that because desire, behavior and identity have meant different things to different people at different times means there is “no such thing” as gay people or that gay people don’t exist (I have heard this bastardization of the argument by people on the religious right, but they have very little understanding and mobilize this non-argument in strategic and disingenuous ways to advance their side – and at great expense to a more nuanced and sophisticated discussion of the topic).

  24. TANK says

    Oh my goodness…with all due respect, I don’t think you understand what it means to think clearly. Social construct reality theorists are antirealist thinkers. They believe that reality is mind dependent. Enough of your antirationality, antireality crusade. A little logic, and poof, you’r gone.

  25. TANK says

    Now falsificationism isn’t a criterion of meaningfulness. Let’s put it this way: something that isn’t falsifiable isn’t a phenomenon–that is, says nothing about the way things actually are. Verificationism of some kind, is.

  26. TANK says

    And further, I’ll take that I don’t know what the antirealists are saying as compliment. I don’t think they know what they’re saying, either (many of them).

  27. TANK says

    Seriously, Aaron (nice name, guy)…I didn’t mean sound like a dick (but most of the time, I can’t help it…yeah). I’d be genuinely interested in a less charged conversation about these topics. So long as we both agree that social constructionists aren’t simply arguing about the difference between a brute and social fact; instead, they’re arguing that brute facts don’t exist.

  28. Aaron says

    Hey Tank,

    We just have very different conceptions of what a social constructionist is. I think there is a kind of pop version of how a SC views the world – created in part by the Science Wars of the 1990s – but no social constructionists that are taken seriously in academia today would state that because something is socially constructed, it does not exist. This a conflation of anti-realism and social constructionism when they simply do not have the same referent. Is it possible to find some people who refer to themselves as social constructionists who hold onto some version of anti-realism – sure – but the arguments are not interchangeable.

    I can give you some names: Philosopher and anthropologist of science Bruno Latour has been characterized as a social constructionist and accused of somehow believing the objects of his analysis (and reality?) do not exist. He writes about this and how it is a gross misunderstanding in the first chapter of a text called “Pandora’s Hope” if you are interested.

    Philosopher of science Ian Hacking’s book “The social constructionist of what” looks at the silly uses of the term social construction and lays out what social constructionism is and isn’t (and when it has been used to ill effect).

    Numerous social scientists in anthropology and sociology subscribe to some version of social constructionism and they do not argue that facts have no basis in reality as you seem to imply. Again, the force behind the argument is in contextualizing those facts – understanding the contingency of those facts, how those facts have a history and so on. The idea of a “brute fact” is somewhat confusing to me, I must admit. To what does the “brute” refer? There are many examples of “scientific facts” that were long regarded as being “the way things are” that were later overturned by scientific investigation. If a brute fact refers to a fact that cannot be any other way, then it seems science has collapsed into absolutism.

    Finally, one might also attach (somewhat anachronistically) the term social constructionist to a biologist and medical doctor named Ludwig Fleck. His text “Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact” suggests the contingencies of what you might regard as brute fact and he was a practicing physican and well respected researcher. This book is quite similar to the work of Thomas Kuhn, also considered by many to be a social constructionist of some ilk.

    Finally, I appreciate your latest post to me much more than your first one. I meant you no disrespect, even if we may disagree. I wish that dialogue on this site could avoid putting each other down, but I guess we all have our different styles.

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