I think it is human nature to try and classify things. We always try to identify ourselves within finite groups. But the diversity within the human population often makes this very difficult. Sex usually seems like the easiest way to divide people, but even this is not as easy as previously thought. Using a spectrum to describe sex, gender and sexual identity, as was presented first by Alfred Kinsey, is a much more advantageous method. Not only does it incorporate the many identities throughout a wide range, it also seems to create a feeling of relatedness. It was easier to separate the ‘self’ from the ‘other’ when there was not a continuous spectrum connecting everyone.
One thought that I have always silently pondered is the reason behind the evolution of non-heterosexual desire and action. Biologically, fitness is defined as the extent to which an organism is able to produce offspring. The desire to have sexual relations with a member of the same sex (thus, not being able to produce offspring) should have un-advantageous, and over time removed from the population. The fact that it is still present in humans as well as in other species means that it confers some advantages. One idea brought up by Schwartz and Rutter in their chapter Sexual Desire and Gender is that it promotes group bonding, which in turn increases the fitness of the entire group. Whatever the reason, non-heterosexual behavior doesn’t seem like it is going to go away anytime soon so we might as well traverse this ethical bridge sooner rather than later.
I think the biggest issue facing non-heterosexual behavior is misinformation. Upon entry of Ghana we were welcomed with 6 important rules, 3 of which informed us that any sort of homosexual acts are prohibited by law. This outlawing is consistent in many places throughout Africa and is designed to curb the spreading of AIDS. From my conversations with many people there, it was surprising to me how widespread and deeply rooted these sexually oppressive beliefs were. Rather than keeping their countries in the ethical dark ages, I think it would be a much more effective measure to educate their constituents. Both hetero- and homosexual behavior have the risks associated with STIs and both are protected by safe sex practices.
There is no reason to squander and regulate the sexual diversity present within the human race. Evolutionarily, it is doing something beneficial or else it wouldn’t still exist. We live in a country and time period where we place so much emphasis on how technology and the government is going to lead to a loss of our freedoms, yet some of those same people readily fight to deny sexual freedoms to others. I think education has the ability to open people to the idea of accepting others for the way that they are. We should live in a society where sexual diversity (as well as every type of diversity, for that matter) is celebrated.
I really like your biological analysis on non-heterosexuality. One thing I could not understand was “The fact that it is still present in humans as well as in other species means that it confers some advantages”, because even with some advantages, non-heterosexuality cannot be inherited to the future population unless the individual with such trait eventually mates with the opposite sex in order to reproduce.
I was actually thinking about very similar question in my evolutionary biology class couple of days ago. My own question was ‘If non-heterosexuality is something inborn, meaning that the cause is in their genome, and assuming they are not attracted to the other-sex (zero reproductive fitness), how can LGBT’s still exist?’ They will not be able to leave their genes unless they ‘mate’ with the other sex… Here are some possible explanations I came up with..
1. The gene works in simple Mendelian inheritance where only recessive homozygotes become non-heterosexuals.
2. Both genetic and acquired experience are needed to make a person non-heterosexual.
3. Non-heterosexuals had been assuming heterosexual life styles in the past, producing fertile offsprings.
Because you explained your analysis very well, I kind of assumed you were biology major..please let me know if I used too many jargons..
Humint: Science aside, it is important to remember that sometimes sexuality is fluid i.e. sometimes someone marries someone of the opposite sex and has children. Then they get divorced and get into a same sex relationship. Also, sometimes lesbians and gay men reproduce. Lesbians with the help of a known or anonymous sperm donor and gay men with the help of a surrogate.
Kienbean: I was struck by a phrase in your post. You said: “Not only does it incorporate the many identities throughout a wide range, it also seems to create a feeling of relatedness. It was easier to separate the ‘self’ from the ‘other’ when there was not a continuous spectrum connecting everyone.” This act of separation is a powerful one and it is a surefire way to dehumanize someone. This is how the “us/them” ideology works. If someone is “not like you” or an “other” they are easy to dismiss, discriminate against, or in some cases kill.
You also say “The desire to have sexual relations with a member of the same sex (thus, not being able to produce offspring) should have un-advantageous, and over time removed from the population.” It is important to remember that same sex couples may not be able to reproduce with one another but being gay does not equal being infertile. As I am sure you are aware reproductive technologies have improved leaps and bounds in the last twenty years such that lesbians can inseminate either at home or in a doctors office. One can also do in vitro fertilization or IVF. And, in some cases, lesbians just have sex with a man to get pregnant. Gay men, on the other hand can be the man the lesbian has sex with and therefore sometimes take on a fathering role, they can also pay a woman to be a surrogate, and then, of course, there is always adoption for gay people and straight people. As we talked about in class, families are created in all kinds of ways.
Lastly (I promise) I am surprised by the policies of Ghana. I’m not surprised by the homophobia, that is everywhere, I am more concerned with the ignorance about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted through heterosexual sex as well. And it was my understanding from our Viral Cultures class last semester that heterosexual transmission of HIV/AIDS is the biggest problem in most African countries.