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UCLA to Study Identical Twins

Timothy Kincaid

May 31st, 2008

twins.png Anti-gays cling to the mantra “there is no gay gene” to comfort them when troubled about their efforts to legislate discrimination. As long as sexual orientation is not genetic then they can claim it is not innate and therefore gay people can be blamed and punished.

Anti-gays know we can’t change our genes, but if they can convince themselves that orientation is brought on by environment, well then it can be reversed and they can insist that gay persons choose to change. And if we don’t, then they have every right to deny us marriage, redress from organized bigotry, the opportunity for housing or employment, and the rights to serve our country, raise our children, and care for our own.

If “there’s no gay gene” and gays choose to stay “in the lifestyle”, then anti-gays can convince themselves that they aren’t monsters, but that we are.

Hey, we all have to find a way to sleep at night.

One of the “evidences” that anti-gays use to insist that sexual orientation is not based in genetics is the fact that not all identical twins have the same orientation. As Focus on the Family’s Melissa Fryrear puts it

The third major study trumpeted as “proof” of homosexuality’s genetic link was also conducted in 1991 by psychologist Michael Bailey and psychiatrist Richard Pillard. Using pairs of brothers — identical twins, non-identical twins, biological brothers, and adopted brothers — Bailey and Pillard attempted to show that homosexuality occurs more frequently among identical twins than fraternal twins.

Again, what the majority of people do not know, and what the media did not accurately report, is that this study actually provides support for environmental factors versus genetics! If homosexuality were in the genetic code, then both of the twins would have been homosexual 100 percent of the time, yet this was not the case.

Most researchers see the differences of orientation matching (50% in identical twins and 20% in fraternal twins compared to a general population rate of probably less than 6%) as an indication that genetics are a factor. But anti-gays magically find just the opposite. Since Melissa’s research credentials are, well, not particularly solid, she relies on NARTH’s Neil Whitehead to back up her assertions.

Identical twins have identical genes. If homosexuality was a biological condition produced inescapably by the genes (e.g. eye color), then if one identical twin was homosexual, in 100% of the cases his brother would be too. But we know that only about 38% of the time is the identical twin brother homosexual. Genes are responsible for an indirect influence, but on average, they do not force people into homosexuality. This conclusion has been well known in the scientific community for a few decades but has not reached the general public. Indeed, the public increasingly believes the opposite.

Fryrear may be excused for having but a layman’s understanding of genetics. But when Whitehead implies that genetics can be disregarded he is either demonstrating a willful ignorance or is cynically seeking to play on the public’s lack of expertise.

Genetic influence is not limited to a gene’s presence. Identical genes do not behave identically. And a research team at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Center for Gender-Based Biology is setting out to study just what role genes play in determining sexual attraction. Out in America reports

Identical twins provide a unique model to study the role of gene regulation: “Both twins have the same genes, but they might use these genes differently,” says Bocklandt. “And that difference in gene use could explain the difference in sexual orientation.”

“If we can identify specific genes that are ‘turned off’ or ‘turned on’ among our gay and straight twins, we will have excellent genetic targets for further investigation with respect to sexual orientation,” Bocklandt adds.

Study researchers will measure the chemical signal attached to the DNA that controls if and when a gene is turned on and off. Utilizing novel DNA-chip technology, large parts of the human genome can be screened for differences in gene regulation between the twins. “Because identical twins have the same DNA sequence, we can study a ‘gay genome’ and a ‘straight genome’ within one single genetic background, and that’s extremely powerful,” says Bocklandt.

The study is headed by Drs. Eric Vilain, Cisco Sanchez, and Sven Bocklandt. Drs. Vilain and Bocklandt were part of the team that observed the extreme skewing of x chromosome inactivation in the mothers of gay men. Bocklandt also worked with Hamer on his earlier gene research (which was horribly misreported) and is one of the “gay sheep guys” who researched the variances in the brains of same-sex attracted rams. These researchers are at the very forefront of studying how genetics and orientation interplay.

This research promises to add to the growing knowledge on what does and does not contribute to sexual orientation. It may help understand whether genes can be solely, significantly, or only minimally responsible for the sex to which each of us are attracted. And while I doubt that a “gay gene” that indisputably determines orientation is likely to be the result, additional information in this field of study is very welcome.

The team currently has about 20 sets of mixed-orientation identical twins and is seeking to double that size. If you are an identical twin whose sibling does not share your orientation, check out the study to see if you would like to participate.

If you are not an identical twin but are a gay man with a gay brother, please consider contributing to the work being performed by Dr. Sanders at Northwestern University.

Comments

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COMMENT : PinkNews.co.uk
May 31st, 2008 | LINK

[…] Read more…. […]

Emily K
May 31st, 2008 | LINK

let me just say that the twins in that picture look unbelievably stereotypically gay: shaved, muscular, “youthful” in appearance, cut up tank top, even the haircut is gay…

.. but one of them could be straight…

Zeke
May 31st, 2008 | LINK

How do these people explain identical twins that have different handedness orientation? The fact that differently handed twins exist proves at least one of at least two points:

1) Twins can have identical genes but have differing expression.

2) An orientation, like handedness or sexual orientation, may be partly, wholly or not at all influenced by genetics but even if it is not at all influenced by genetics it doesn’t mean that it isn’t an INNATE orientation.

Another question I have is how do they determine if their study subjects are straight, gay or bi? Through self testimony? That is a terribly inaccurate method for determination when dealing with a subject such as gay identification. I have a very good gay friend with a twin brother. My friend came out as gay over twenty years ago while his brother was 100% straight. He got married and had kids, in fact he got married THREE times. Well surprise surprise his “100% straight” brother came out last year as a gay man and says he always was gay but he just couldn’t deal with it until now; and he had an out twin brother all this time. My point is, how do we really determine what percentage of twin brothers exist where both brothers are gay? I know we just have to do the best we can with what we got but I think it’s important to keep in mind that just about ALL of these studies are likely to be scewed to show fewer gays than actual.

Popsiclestand
May 31st, 2008 | LINK

“Anti-gays know we can’t change our genes, but if they can convince themselves that orientation is brought on by environment, well then it can be reversed and they can insist that gay persons choose to change. And if we don’t, then they have every right to deny us marriage, redress from organized bigotry, the opportunity for housing or employment, and the rights to serve our country, raise our children, and care for our own.”

This argument sickens me and makes no logical sense. If a person used this argument for something like race (assuming race is not genetic and can be changed) would these same people be on the boat about denying people of a certain race these same equal rights? I seriously doubt it.

That’s not even tackling the fact that just because there’s no known specific gene for something doesn’t mean that it isn’t inborn. Many things happen between conception and birth, most of them having very little to do with specific genes and very much to do with the developing environment (ie, what goes on in the mother’s womb).

And beyond that, though I personally know it’s not true, what IF being gay was a CHOICE? So what? Don’t we live in America, land of a government whose only job is to protect us from hurting one another and not to police personal chocie that affects only the individual? Aren’t we free to believe what we want, particularly concerning religion (which is what most of the anti-gay bias is based on)?

Rant over. Lol.

Anyway, even if they found a gay gene or genetic correlation in these twin studies, the religious right would just use that as a reason to find a “cure”. This battle can’t be won with logic or science, because the core of the bigotry that has somehow found its way into our public policy is illogical.

Gabriel
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

Religion is not genetic. Religion is a choice. People often change how devout they are in their faith through time or change faiths altogether. But you still cannot fire someone or deny them a marriage license because of their faith. Religion is protected not because it is genetic or immutable but because it is essential to one’s sense of self and identity. Sexual orientation should be protected in law for the same reasons religion is.

Jason D
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

“Religion is not genetic. Religion is a choice. People often change how devout they are in their faith through time or change faiths altogether. But you still cannot fire someone or deny them a marriage license because of their faith. Religion is protected not because it is genetic or immutable but because it is essential to one’s sense of self and identity. Sexual orientation should be protected in law for the same reasons religion is.”

Couldn’t agree more. They accuse us of recruiting? Please, they send people halfway round the world to recruit, heck they set up schools across the globe to “indoctrinate” children, they even charge people to indoctrinate their kids! They will stop you on the street, or show up at your front door! Sure, there might be a few gay bad apples, but has their been a gay version of the spanish inquisition, the trail of tears, the crusades, and or the salem witch trials?
And it’s not just one religion that’s got blood on it’s hands. Anyone know how many wars were started by atheists? Agnostics? If paganism, wicca, and satanism are supposed to be horribly evil, how is it they haven’t managed the attrocities and body counts of more mainstream religions like christianity?

If homosexuality is a choice, well it seems to have good company wih religion and political affiliation, and doesn’t seem to have near as much violence and bloodshed on the world as heterosexuality and religion.

And finally, saying “change is possible” and “you don’t have to be gay” is a lot like saying “freedom from an unattractive nose!” or “You can have the natural glow of a suntan the way god intended!” or “You don’t have to have small breasts! Change is possible!”

Drowssap
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

Good thread, but let me just add one thing.

Whether SSA is created by a gene, germ, hormone or socialization that really doesn’t say much about what SSA actually IS.

SSA happens because something in the brain creates this reliable and predictable set of feelings and behaviors.

Evidence points strongly in the direction that male/female sex-type instincts are encoded in ALL brains.

Flies get ‘mind-control sex swap’

When Minnie Turns Mickey

In Fruit Flies, Homosexuality Is Biological But Not Hard-wired, Study Shows

Instincts like attraction to men, attraction to women, feel like a man, feel like a woman, etc. etc. are probably encoded in every human brain. Neurotransmitters or hormones determine which trait is expressed and which lies dormant.

Ephilei
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

Did anyone else notice the inconsistency between Neil Whitehead’s 38% versus the studies 50% correlation of orientation between twins?

As far as I know, there are now three studies of male twins and orientation. Why the limitation to males?

I’ve heard there was a study of twins where at least one was transgender but I can’t find it. Has anyone heard of this?

I fear the quest to understand the genetic link with orientation will do hurt the gay community more than help it. Does prenatal care already do genome analysis to detect genetic diseases like down and klinefelters syndrome. If the gay gene is found, I fully expect gay testing to get added. Then parents can choose to abort children who have a high chance of being gay. Here is a sad consequence of abortion. I don’t expect this to be a significant problem in the US (but a problem, nonetheless) but in the 70 countries where same sex acts are illegal, expect to see a new breed of pre-ex-gay ideology.

Timothy Kincaid
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

Ephilei,

This study at UCLA is for both male and female.

banshiii
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

yea, my expreience with twins has been.. one is out, one is only out when he is drunk.
tehehe.
true.
straight to bed.

cowboy
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

I’m grew up with a couple of one-zygote-split twins who are both gay. Their personalities are different. Their goals and aspirations in life are vastly different yet they both have life-partner attraction for males.

The UCLA researchers might consider finding identical twins in the very closed-communities of polygamists. The gene pool is limited with so much inbreeding and certain polygamist societies are…can we say…virginal with the outside world. The environmental factors would be ideal for researching the gay gene factor(s).

Just a thought.

In my non-scientific observation I have found gay twins are more likely to be left-handed.

Drowssap
June 1st, 2008 | LINK

cowboy

Twins in general are more likely to left handed than single births.

A lot of things raise the odds of being a lefty. Older mother’s have more left handed children. Long or stressful births raise the odds of being left handed. Roughly half of all premature babies are left handed.

As of today only one gene has been discovered that raises the odds of being a lefty. I’m sure that plenty are out there but scientists haven’t been able to find them yet.

Drowssap
June 2nd, 2008 | LINK

Cowboy
Eh… more to your point

A) Twins are more likely to be left handed
B) Gay men are more likely to be left handed

Combine the two and yep, your observation is probably correct. Gay twins should be left handed quite often. This effect is probably even more pronounced in Lesbians. They are almost twice as likely to be left handed while gay men are only about a third more likely.

People who don’t believe there is a biological difference between gays/straights are silly IMHO. I don’t think the difference amounts to more than a half ounce of neurotransmitters, but sometimes tiny things make all the difference.

Ben in Oakland
June 3rd, 2008 | LINK

I will throw in another thought or two, tho’ what has appeared so far is pretty good.

Gay vs. straight is not a bipolar phenomenon, except for certain fundamentalists of the Haggard ilk (giggle). Kinsey posited that it is in fact a continuum, probably skewed more towards the hetero side, but a continuum nonetheless. I’ve met quite a few allegedly ‘straight’ men who can’t wait to get a little male companionship on the side. I don’t doubt that the bulk of their interests and experiences lie on the straight side, and I wouldn’t think of them as gay men– they are bisexual. All of the straight sex they have is not making them any straighter, nor the gay sex making them gayer. But they are expressing something innate, because i have lots of straight friends who have never had the slightest interest in other men (or women, depending).

Most of my gay friends, with a few exceptions, tried to fly a little bit on the straight side but ultimately didn’t. A few are repulsed by the idea. I myself tried a bit back in my 20’s, not because I had any belief that I was really straight, but because I wanted to see what it was like.

What was it like? I had a lot of fun, but ultimately, had no interest in it. Sort of like an amusement park ride– good to try, but you wouldn’t want to live your life on a rollercoaster.

This is just another point underlining that the fundies have it wrong– it’s not what you do, it’s really who you are.

In one very limited sense, the fundies have it right– you have a choice as to whether you express your orientation, but about what that might be, there is no choice. (ted Haggard is the poster boy as to why they are wrong everywhere else on this issue). Cowboy’s point about the gay twins he knew just underlines it. There are a lot of factors that determine whether someone actually expresses his gayness. My own brothers are non-identical twins. One fought against being gay his whole life (I don’t know where he went with it–long story). The other I think has a 5% queer factor, but that is just my guess, not a necessary reality. But it is clear that he is not conflicted about it.

My point is that I doubt there actually is a gay gene in the sense that there is an on-off switch. There is just no evidence for that at all. On the other hand, the testimonies of thousands of gay people about their lives and experiences have to be taken into account. Otherwise, you are just ignoring reality, which is not science, though it might be called faith.

cowboy
June 3rd, 2008 | LINK

Yes, Drowssap! A few tiny neurotransmitters are certainly powerful…as we can certainly attest with raging adventures in the back seats of cars/extended-cab trucks.

I have a female co-worker who jokingly (I think) says to me I just haven’t had the right kind of sex with a female. I might have to use something like the left-handed analogy with her to explain. Would you force a left-handed person to write with his right-hand? Would he be happy with writing with his right hand? Would that really make him a right-handed person? No. In the same vein…(or on the other hand)…would you force a gay to be straight and would he be happy?

I’m fascinated with mathematics and complex matrix computations. The human mind is far more complex than even a few neurotransmitters and on-off switches. Our brains are not digital ones and zeros. Our DNA is far more complex …we may never comprehend. It’s not just a gene. It’s not just environmental factors. There are a bunch of complex synapses occurring in our brains that react differently. That’s what makes us so diverse…and what makes us so wonderful and not robotic or act like sheep. (Observe a flock of sheep in a field and you know what I mean.)

And yes, Ben-in-Oakland, Ted Haggard might be the poster boy but I’m still waiting for Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s explanation on why he isn’t gay.

Brady
June 4th, 2008 | LINK

Whitehead is confusing the terms biological and genetic (in addition to giving the power of genes too much credit). I have an identical twin brother, and although we have the same genes, I am about half an inch taller and have a rounder face (we look different enough that many people no longer guess we are identical twins). Anyway, our heights surely are genetic, but are obviously influenced by other biological factors.

FWIW- I’m gay and my twin brother does not diclose his orientation.

Drowssap
June 4th, 2008 | LINK

cowboy

There are a bunch of complex synapses occurring in our brains that react differently. That’s what makes us so diverse

I have to disagree. Sexual oriention is probably an extremely simple instinct in men.

A) Orientation is present in most people’s earliest memories
B) Orientation is virtually impossible to unlearn
C) Attraction triggers instantaneously
D) For nearly all people attraction is focused on young, healthy, virile mates
E) Orientation and attraction are instincts in every other animal. Why should we be different?

If you think about sexual attraction for even a second it feels exactly like a strong, magnetic instinct.

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