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Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for June, 2010

Study: gay men recognize faces similarly to women

Timothy Kincaid

June 22nd, 2010

There is another study which looks at the interplay between brain use, sexuality, and handedness. (Science Blog)

The study, published in the journal, Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, examined the influence of gender, sexual orientation and whether we’re right-or-left-handed on our ability to recognize faces. It found that when memorizing and discriminating between faces, homosexual men show patterns of bilaterality — the usage of both sides of the brain — similar to heterosexual women. Heterosexual men tend to favour the right hemisphere for such tasks.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, handedness made a difference

Steeves and her colleagues also investigated the influence of hand dominance on such tasks. They found that left-handed heterosexual participants had better face recognition abilities than left-handed homosexuals, and also outperformed right-handed heterosexuals.

Hand dominance is thought to be linked with both hemispheric functioning and sexual orientation; previous studies have shown that homosexual individuals are 39 per cent more likely to be left-handed.

This can be added to the growing pile of studies that identify specific biological differences between heterosexual and gay men (and, to a lesser extent, heterosexual and gay women).

This past weekend I was at a conference where a very well-intentioned man droned on about the causes of sexual attraction. After far too long listening to him read his slides about Freud and Foucault and infant parental relationships (along with Engels’ perspectives thrown in to add credibility), I was ready to scream.

Yes, the way in which we respond to our sexual attractions, the way we think about ourselves as either individuals or members of a group, the limitations we put on ourselves, and the way we talk about our attractions are all impacted to some extent by our culture, its expectations, and our own self-identity. Of course our upbringing assigns roles and expectations that carry with us through our lives.

But you simply cannot overlook the increasing evidence that biology is also at play. All of the Freudian theories or NARTHian models just can’t get around the twin studies, brain measurements, spacial navigation, click response, pheromones, handedness, hair whorls, x-chromosome deactivation, and all the other peculiarities that appear when we decide to stop theorizing and begin measuring.

Review of Family Research Council’s study on lesbians

Timothy Kincaid

May 24th, 2010

The Family Research Council, an avid anti-gay activist group, has released a new ‘study’ which purports to inform about the factors contributing to the sexual orientation of lesbians.

Women (aged 14-44) who have not had a homosexual sexual partner in the past year are more likely to worship at least weekly and to have grown up in intact families than those who have had a homosexual sexual partner in the past year. According to the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), 2.1 percent of women who grew up in intact married families and attend religious services at least weekly have had a homosexual sexual partner in the year prior to being asked, followed by women who grew up in other family structures and worship at least weekly (4.6 percent), those who grew up in intact married families and never worship (7.3 percent), and those who grew up in other family structures and never worship (9.5 percent).

The database selected was the National Survey of Family Growth conducted by the CDC in 2002-03 (and includes women aged 15-44). The CDC provides an easily readable abstract of sexual behavior of Americans and shines some light on FRC’s claims.

Let’s look first at FRC’s discoveries about women and church attendance. I wasn’t able to locate the NSFG stats on church attendance, but I’ll assume that they didn’t just make them up:

Let’s stop for a second to chuckle about the astonishing discovery that lesbians are less likely to currently attend church. Oh, gee, gosh, why ever could that be?

The FRC seems to think that going to church chases the gay away, that women who go to church are less likely to catch the lesbian bug, but I think that they have the cart before the horse. The answer is found in their own “related insights”:

Michele Dillon of Yale University reported that 44 percent of frequent Catholic church attendees “said that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were wrong,” compared to 10 percent “of those who attended occasionally or never.”

I don’t find it particularly surprising that lesbians avoid the place where they are four times as likely to have “good Christians” actively seeking to make their life miserable. I’m just surprised FRC thinks anyone is so foolish as to see this from the opposite direction.

But I was surprised at a few facts.

For example, I didn’t know that over half of frequent Catholic church attendees don’t find sexual relations between two adults of the same sex to be wrong. That’s encouraging, and that was from a 1996 report.

And I also didn’t know that nearly 3% of all women who attend church weekly or monthly have had a same-sex relationship in the past year. That’s pretty impressive. As we’ll see later, that’s nearly three quarters of all lesbians, a much higher percentage than I would have guessed.

But let’s look at the more serious claim, that family structure can influence eventual orientation. Or, as FRC put it, (Catholic News Agency)

“This research further undermines the claim that homosexuality is largely genetic or biological in origin,” said Dr. Patrick F. Fagan, director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute at Family Research Council, and co-author of the study.

“It is clear that social factors have a significant impact on whether a woman chooses to engage in homosexual relationships,” he noted.

Let’s address, for a moment, the nonsensical language equating homosexuality and “chooses to engage”.

Supposing that there was an identifiable link between childhood family structure and “whether a woman chooses to engage in homosexual relationships”, this would not automatically say something about her sexual orientation. It might tell us something about how she responds to her attractions, desires, or longings, but it would not inform us about whether they were there.

And the FRC knows full well that it is being deceptive on this issue. No credible scientist, activist, theorist or blogger has ever claimed that how one responds to one’s attractions – that is, “whether one chooses” – is genetic or biological. When discussing homosexuality, we are discussing attractions, not choices and FRC demonstrates their inherent dishonesty by seeking to conflate these separate issues.

But let’s see if a causal relationship between family structure and same-sex female relationships can be found in the NSFG data. I’ve not recalculated FRC’s percentages, but here is their graph:

FRC sees this as two demographics, married intact (the good families) and all the rest (the bad families). But, they don’t present the data in a way that is informative.

Looking at this graph one might think that each category has equal weight and is statistically valid. And one might also assume that having been raised in a married, always intact family greatly reduced the odds of a woman “choosing to engage in homosexual relationships.” But what FRC convenient forgets to mention is what the NSFG reports as the total percentage of women who actually have had a same-sex relationship in the past year: 4.4%.

In other words, FRC is seeing significance and relevance in reporting that there was 0.4% fewer women who had same-sex relationships from “good” families than from the population as a whole.

Zero point four percent.

Now I’m not sure how FRC got to their numbers. Either the cohabiting step-family category was so small a sub-sample as to have little influence on the population as a whole or they had a little problem with their excel schedule. But in any case, four tenths of one percent variance certainly does not demonstrate a correlation, much less a causation.

And if FRC cared in the slightest about honesty, integrity, or truth they would feel shame and retract their statement. But I think there’s about a 0.4% chance of that happening.