Calling It What It Is: Homosexuality as Evolutionary Abnormality

I’m well aware that since the early 1970s homosexuality has been more or less excluded from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due, in part, to the high level of functioning that had always been attained by a vast number of those within the gay community and to what appears to have been an increase in socio-political pressure. I’m also well aware that this apparent gold standard of mental health treatment has long been criticized by some professionals as a “hodgepodge” of “scattered, inconsistent, and ambiguous” research to the point that even the National Institute for Mental Health has distanced itself due to the fifth edition’s lack of scientific rigor. All of this while the other “experts” are still quibbling about the precise nature of normal human behavior; so I trust you’ll forgive me for squinting my eyes and cocking my head in skepticism at the fallacious claim, which I actually heard on at least one occasion, that homosexuality must be a completely normal variation of human behavior, “because,” as they tell me, “the DSM says so.” Sure. 

Very recently I stumbled across Michael Levin’s 1984 article, originally published in The Monist, entitled “Why Homosexuality is Abnormal,” in which (surely you won’t be surprised to hear) he argues for precisely that same conclusion: one which I came to independently and in much the same way. Now, it certainly isn’t any challenge to find a number of thinkers saying exactly the same thing, as recent occurrences make clear, though it has appeared to me that in many cases such individuals are approaching the issue from a religious basis or in a somewhat overly-simplistic fashion, rather than from, shall we say, a more theoretical foundation rooted firmly in evolutionary science. For sure, you’ll hear and read numerous speeches and articles talking about the potential bases of same-sex attraction, all well and good, many quite enlightening. But seldom will you hear any researchers simply calling homosexuality what it is: an abnormality and deviation from normal human functioning. (At most they’ll call it non-adaptive — a spandrel, if you will — but that’s only when they’re in the right mood.) Dig around and you’ll find that some don’t want to even study it anymore. And if you read between the lines, you’ll see it’s because they know exactly where it leads.

As far as I’m aware, it is an obvious truism for those taking Darwinian evolution to its logical ends that sexual intercourse has as its primary function the reproduction of a particular species, in our case the human one ― and please note that I said “primary,” not “sole.” Equally obvious (and painfully so for males) is that females tend to be far more selective in their choice of sexual partners, as confirmed by Hatfield and Clarke in their well-known experiment, wherein of college students propositioned for casual sex not a single female complied, whereas nearly three-quarters of the males were ready and willing. (Surely the remaining 25% must have been gay!) And far from being a mere “social construct” (a term so misused you might consider fleeing, as Joseph from Potiphar’s wife, should it be uttered in your presence) this sort of dichotomy can be observed among other animal populations as well, who can hardly be said to have any advanced notion of culture. And for good reason this phenomenon exists as males have been gifted with a virtually endless supply of sperm, while females are stuck with a limited number of eggs, thus invoking simple economics as the women strive to avoid wasting resources on unfit chaps who may provide unfit offspring.

A strong, vigorous, and resourceful gentleman will do the trick nicely, though, who in turn seeks above all a young, healthy, and attractive lady (it’s really not just what’s inside that counts, you know), both of whom, when they come together, fall in love, have children, and live happily ever after. Cue the olfactory system, and to put it simply, add a measure of dopamine here, a bit of serotonin there; ignore the sweaty palms, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. Dim the lights; you know what comes next. The neuroscientists and psychologists tell us of a remarkable system in which hormones and neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin and vasopressin, work to bind the pair and thus equip them for parenting, thereby making sense of that common post-coital awkwardness which often comes to those not seeking commitment. Pedants smart enough to see the excessive simplicity of this example should also be smart enough to see its purpose, namely, that every element of the human mating process can be reduced to biological mechanisms that are also easily explainable in terms of genetic survival via reproduction, from the initial gaze, to the mindless obsession, to every sensation that draws a male and female together. Yet it must be that gays also experience these same emotions and desires, which are, to repeat, emotions and desires that have as their basis the fertilization of an egg and the rearing of offspring, but which are, in the case of those seeking solely same-sex relationships, directed exclusively toward activities that are inherently non-reproductive.

It might be best to define the term “normal” in the present context as something like “that which is consistent with an organism’s proper mode of functioning.” I dislike the word “natural” since it’s far too fluid to use in any meaningful way and since I’m entirely cognizant of the homosexual behavior that appears in what we call the “natural world.” What does that really tell us, anyway? Nothing from my view, except that an appeal to the animal kingdom can no longer be used by those arguing that such activity is, as they say, a peccatum contra naturam. After all, animals are subject to physical and psychiatric abnormalities as well, so it’s hardly worth our time to consider them exemplars of health, wellness, and morality. And besides, despite what you may have thought and probably insist on thinking, morality isn’t even the topic I’m attempting to address. My point in all of this is to make the very simple proposition that, from an evolutionary standpoint, homosexuality ― as a primary orientation in particular ― can almost certainly not be considered a normal and healthy variation of human sexuality any more than using other organs primarily in ways which conflict with their essential nature can be considered normal and healthy. Perhaps such use isn’t entirely unhealthy, but it can hardly qualify as what we would call biologically ideal, and to make claims to the contrary, as seems to be the trend, is, at best, misleading and, at worst, harmful.

In case you’re wondering, I’ll tell you. Thus far there is no consensus within the scientific community on the causes of homosexual behavior, and it’s frequently suggested that a combination of genetic, epigenetic, and environmental influences play a role, no doubt partly because it’s not uncommon to find identical twins ― who are virtual clones ― exhibiting different sexual preferences. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t this really just another way of saying that something went wrong? And even if one stubbornly chooses to embrace the “gay gene” supposition ― that most charitable of hypotheses ― we can really only posit that same-sex attraction might be little more than a residual effect of some other selected gene which has certain benefits. But even then it must be admitted that this still can’t necessarily classify as “normal.” Sickle-cell anemia, after all, is precisely just that: an unfortunate accident in the natural fight against malaria. Those with the gene do show an increased immunity to the disease, but only at the cost of numerous other health issues. And if the residual effects could be discarded, so much the better.

Now don’t begin entertaining the idea that homosexuality is on the same level as such things like sickle-cell anemia in consequence and prognosis. Quite obviously this isn’t the case at all. Nor should you conclude that homosexuality as a disordered use of the reproductive organs must be quite as harmful as a disorder of some other bodily system, such as the digestive from which quite obvious and severe damage can come. It’s not. The notion of a completely safe homosexual lifestyle, however, might be open to question on biological and psychological grounds as the persistent use of bodily members solely for unintended purposes could well lead to some measure of psychological strain. Indeed, as recently as 2011, a study in the UK, led by Apu Chakroborty and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found once more that gays are indeed at a higher risk for mental health issues, just as older research suggested.

The go-to hypothesis for these findings is almost always that of what is called minority stress, the reduction of which should correspond to a reduction in psychological turmoil. Perhaps. But why must we suppose that the totality of negative experiences within the LGBT community are reducible to little more than social rejection? If, as I’ve already pointed out, homosexuality is largely a deviation from nature’s own selected behavior, then wouldn’t this be enough to warrant equality of consideration for the competing suggestion that at least some of the observed health issues among gays and lesbians stem from their lifestyle instead? After all, a brain wired for reproduction could also plausibly be a brain disturbed at the perpetual and inevitable frustration of its default setting, even if that frustration doesn’t always manifest itself in overtly traumatic ways but instead by producing lesser forms of life satisfaction. 

This last bit of speculation may prove to be false, but that still wouldn’t affect the essence my main contention: a contention which will, no doubt, be contentious to say the least and almost certainly misunderstood by those not willing to understand. In fact, I’ve fully prepared myself for the onslaught of hate mail accusing me of trying to spread bigotry and intolerance of gays, so if that’s what makes you happy, fine. What I’m really attempting to do is to keep anyone from making the very silly assertion that homosexuality proper as a dominant orientation is merely a variation of normal sexual functioning or a form of expression equivalent to heterosexuality: that “underneath it’s all the same love.” It’s simply not. And anyone with a modicum of common sense should know better.