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The Guardian Revisits Hair Whorls

Timothy Kincaid

September 15th, 2009

hair whorlThe Guardian has an article today revisiting the somewhat unorthodox study of Dr. Amar J S Klar and his observations about hair whirls.

Dr. Klar is a geneticist working at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland. One day on vacation he ended up on a gay beach. And there he noticed a peculiarity: gay men seemed to have counter-clockwise hair-whorls more frequently than could be expected. Far more frequently.

So the next year he went back and checked again. And, yep, gay men have gay hair.

He reports that “altogether in a combined sample of 272 mostly gay men observed, 29.8% exhibited counterclockwise hair-whorl orientation”. This, he says, is “vastly different from the value of 8.4% counterclockwise rotation found in the public at large, which included both males and females”.

Although Klar’s paper, Excess of Counterclockwise Scalp Hair-Whorl Rotation in Homosexual Men (pdf), was published in 2004, it didn’t seem to catch much attention in the gay community or among mainstream media. In fact, I don’t know whether psychologist Richard Lippa was entirely aware of Klar’s paper when he conducted similar research at Long Beach Pride in 2007 (his results – 23% counterclockwise).

Although none of this is new, it is important. One of the primary arguments against gay equality is that it is not biological in origin and thus is mutable. There is no gay gene! You can change! (So you don’t deserve civil rights!)

And as part of their argument, many anti-gays will create interesting hypotheses as to how physical distinctions are created without biology. Recently some NARTH affiliates sought to discredit measured brain variances by arguing that the brain is plastic and therefore such differences were the result of conditioning based on behavior.

But hair whorls, well there’s just no way to learn ‘em. They’re pure biology. And there’s just no credible way to explain them away.

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Penguinsaur
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

So who went to check in the mirror after reading this? Whats it called when you just have a line zigzagging from your forehead to where the whorl is in those photos?
PS: if clockwise is straight, and counterclockwise is gay, does that mean this is the hair of a bisexual?
http://dermatlas.med.jhmi.edu/derm/IndexDisplay.cfm?ImageID=242

Mel
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

So long as having a clockwise whorl doesn’t mean I have to turn straight….

Burr
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

Well.. I comb in a clockwise direction but I remember a barber telling me once I was combing it the wrong way so I guess it’s counterclockwise.

This and the finger length correlation are quite the curiosities..

Alan
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

Taking a somewhat more serious turn here…say that there was no gay gene, that gay men could indeed change.

Why would they not deserve civil rights?

It’s wrong to discriminate against someone because they’re a Democrat or a Presbyterian, and they can change that.

So how can the anti-gays claim that gays can be discriminated against if there’s no biological basis for sexual identity?

Timothy Kincaid
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

Alan,

Good question. And the answer is, of course that absent religious condemnation there is no good reason to discriminate against gay people at all regardless of whether orientation lies in biology or just momentary whim.

But biological bases for orientation go further than just political arguments. Behind all of the “there is no gay gene” claims lies a deeper concern, a religious concern.

If one becomes gay by means of genetics or other biological reasons… then God did it. YIKES!!! That scares the bejeebers out of those who justify their biases by their dogma.

Now they’ll say that God also makes all people and that because of the fall of man and sin entering the world that humans are flawed. So it doesn’t justify sin if you have a sinful genetic flaw. But their dirty little secret is that they really don’t believe it.

Anti-gays know – and polls confirm – that if people believe that orientation is inborn then they support gay rights. Even the conservative religious folks who believe its inborn.

So studies like these, while whimsical, are extremely effective tools at changing hearts and minds.

Lucrece
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

It hasn’t caught up because it’s junk science. Pretty poorly conducted process. It’s already been dismissed over countless science-interested websites.

There is no gay gene. It’s most likely a cooperation of many genes. Finding out the exact workings is not only rather far away given how much uncovered field there is in genetics, but also based on the fact that the US– the country with the most concentrated research in the globe– will not see any funding to research of this type. There’s nothing particularly lucrative about such research, and it can only court controversy and political interference toward the scientists involved.

Cole
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

No one demands to know whether heterosexuals innately behave heterosexually or chooses to. It is oppressive to constantly demand to know whether gay people genetically are gay or not. Plus, it won’t move the vast majority of heterosexuals to sympathize with gay people. They already hate us and believe we deserve less or no rights at all.

Burr
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCzbNkyXO50

Funny, semi-related YouTube..

Rebecca
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

Note: When ‘phobes bring out the “The identical twin of a gay person has only a 50% chance of being gay!” shtick, the response to that is “The average person has a 5% chance of being gay, so a person with a gay twin is ten times more likely to be gay, isn’t that right?”

Doesn’t have to be genetic to be biological.

Elise
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

Sigh. Another study that makes no effort to include women at all. So freaking typical. If I were a scientist, I might be inclined to study the other half of the human race every now and then… just for kicks and giggles, of course.

Emily K
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

I agree with Elise. The majority of sexual-related science has been conducted concerning men, even though the male and female psycho-sexualities are apples and oranges. And among gay research, mostly it’s men that get talked about, studied, and sensationalized. Only now have scientists realized “huh, maybe women ARE different from men in their brains and stuff.”

Leonard Drake
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

Elise, and ALL interested readers:

There have been some WONDERFUL studies concerning homosexuality and bisexuality in women, comparitive studies regarding female sexualities over time (i.e. age) and possibile explanations from a psychoevolutionary perspective — all by Lisa Diamond. She is currently at the University of Utah, I believe. She also discusses why there are fewer studies focused on women, including sexism, heterosexism, and the particular issues that female sexualities bring to play within these fields of research completely unreleated to the “-isms.”

Specifically, I would suggest the following:

Diamond, L. M. (2008). Sexual fluidity: Understanding women’s love and desire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

Leonard Drake
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

Let me add to the previous comment. There have been studies conducted regarding female [homo]sexualities by others within the scientific communities — not just Lisa Diamond, but she is a foremost expert on the topic.

It has been a few years since I have studied on this topic (at least extensively), but I do recall female sexualities tend to report — via the study results — as more fluid and variable throughout age. Male sexualities, on the other hand, TEND to report as consistent, steady, and polar toward heterosexual or homosexual. Rateds of male bisexuality, while reported, were much lower than that of female bisexuality. Lisa Diamond also incorporated a cross-national perspective into her study, whereby cross cultural “understandings” of how homosexuality is reported is also taken into account is also reported (i.e. not just western or occidental “gay” or “lesbian” hegemonical constructions of sexualities).

mobile hairdresser
September 15th, 2009 | LINK

As a hairdresser, I find this article fascinating.

William
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

I’m going out in a few minutes to have my hair cut. Will my barber notice that I’m gay?

Ephilei
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

My hair’s too short to check myself.

Never fear, heterosexists will find an excuse to justify their beliefs. Maybe they’ll say everyone is “born” with clockwise hair and the hair must change as their mothers overbear and fathers underbear.

I think Jones and Yarhouse should include the hair patterns of their ex-gays. If their orientation has changed, their hair should change too, right?

JimInMa
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

Interesting. What about those of us with 2 whirls in our hair? One on the left goes one way, one on the right goes the other. And this is also not uncommon. I’m pretty sure I’m not bi!

Ivan
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

I have a double whorl! What can this mean? Lol.

On a more serious note, Alan, Timothy and others here might find interest in these articles by Peter Tatchell (a well known human rights activist in the UK) re. homosexuality being genetic or not and the implications of this:

http://www.petertatchell.net/

(Scroll down the left hand sidebar to “gay gene”. The article titled “Gene Genie” is probably the most relevant of the bunch.)

Chris McCoy
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

Ivan wrote:

On a more serious note, Alan, Timothy and others here might find interest in these articles by Peter Tatchell (a well known human rights activist in the UK) re. homosexuality being genetic or not and the implications of this

While Mr Tatchell does make several salient points, he falls into the same trap as the “gay gene” proponents he aims to discredit – that genes are on/off switches – that the presence or absence of “the gay gene” is all that it would take, if there was a genetic cause for homosexuality.

If the on/off idea of genetics were true, every person with green eyes would have the same color of green, every blue eyed person would have the same color of blue – because this “eye color” gene would be either “on” or “off”.

In reality, genes often work in groups – this set of genes works together to determine which shade of green, that group of genes works together to determine which shade of hair color, another group of genes determine your height.

Some genes, when present, work to inhibit the expression of other groups of genes, or to change the result so that is is different than if the one group were not present.

We are complex people, we humans, and to think that we can point to one spot and say “there, that’s the one” is naive at best. To say that a single on/off switch is solely responsible for the gamut of human sexuality is to exhibit a gross lack of understanding of the complexity of the genetic code, but at the same time to pretend that genetics has no role, or a limited role, is also to misunderstand the significance of genetics in the makeup of our bodies.

That being said, I agree with Mr Tatchell on the main thrust of his argument – that the cause of homosexuality shouldn’t matter – that we shouldn’t point to genetics and say “pity us, we can’t help being gay” – we should fight for our right to be treated the same as all other human beings because it is the right thing to do, not because we are victims of some unfortunate genetic curse. In the end, it shouldn’t matter who or what or how we are gay. It should be a non-issue – like being left handed, or red haired.

Timothy Kincaid
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

It should be a non-issue – like being left handed, or red haired.

Yes, indeed, it should be.

But it will not be until orientation is perceived as innate and immutable… like being left handed or red haired.

Orientation is likely based to some extent in genetics (the latest twin studies suggest as much as a 50% contribution) and the rest is either biological or non-biological environmental influences. Some suggest that these are pre-natal but in any case they are determined early and do not seem to be changeable by means of therapy or other efforts.

“Born gay” and “gay gene” are inaccurate shorthand for arguing ideology.

Timothy Kincaid
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

Incidentally, guys. Immutability plays a roll in law. It is one of the factors which goes into whether a subpopulation is a suspect class. It is one of the questions that the judge asked in the Olson/Boies lawsuit to overturn Proposition 8.

Richard W. Fitch
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

The question should also clarify the difference between immutable and suppressible. I had an uncle (b. 1909) who showed dominant left-handedness. As a child and a student he was forced to write with his right hand. Years later he rejected the whole thing and resumed his left handed nature. His script was beautiful – he was the one who was always asked to inscribe our various presentation Bibles. [You can draw out the rest of the anecdote.]

Ivan
September 16th, 2009 | LINK

Chris/Timothy

Thanks for the comments.

Peter Tatchell (who over the last 30 years has gone from Being ‘a threat to society’ etc. to ‘a national treasure’ via a spectacular but ill-fated attempt to arrest Robert Mugabe) does some fine work and I hope you find time to have a look at some of the other stuff on his site.

In the meantime, back on the subject in hand, I’ve just remembered this interesting article from The Economist a while back:

http://www.economist.com/sciencetechnology/displayStory.cfm?story_id=12465295

Of course, having said all this, it’s religion, the source of so much anti-gay rhetoric, that is without doubt a lifestyle choice.

Jed Gumban
October 11th, 2011 | LINK

I currently doing my Journal Critique as one of the requirements in our genetics..and this is the topic that I choose..thanks for all the comments..It helped me a lot to criticize this journal..you give me so many ideas.! :D

Payday Loans
December 12th, 2012 | LINK

Guys, thanks for the info and debate.

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