By Crystal Defatte
Tomorrow is National Coming Out Day, a day in which many straight, cisgendered people may find themselves learning of a friend or family member’s status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Having a friend or family member come out can often lead to questions and difficult emotions to process, so I wanted to put together an informational guide that will hopefully help people to process and understand their loved one’s journey to coming out.
How did this happen?
Research has shown that homosexuality may mostly be the product of genetics and environment during fetal development. Research done by Andrea Camperio-Ciani of the University of Padua showed that the mothers and maternal aunts of homosexual men had higher fertility rates than the mothers and maternal aunts of the heterosexual men in the study. Simon LeVay, a neuroscientist and commentator on sexuality at Stanford University in California, had this to say in regards to Camperio-Ciani’s findings: “This is a novel finding. We think of it as genes for male homosexuality, but it might really be genes for sexual attraction to men. These could predispose men towards homosexuality and women towards hyper-heterosexuality, causing women to have more sex with men and thus have more offspring.” (Coghlan) A 1996 study by Ray Blanchard and Anthony Bogaert showed that men who have a greater number of older biological brothers were significantly more likely to be homosexual than men who have fewer older biological brothers. (Zyga) Bogaert conducted another study in 2006 that included a sampling of men who had a greater amount of biological older brothers as well as men who had a higher number of adopted brothers in order to determine if his earlier results were due to more social-environmental factors or if they were more genetic. This study showed that there was still a significant correlation between homosexuality and the number of biological older brothers and no statistically significant correlation between homosexuality and the number of adopted older brothers. (Bogaert) This suggests that with each male fetus, a mother develops an increased immunity to the antigen produced by male fetuses and that this antigen plays a role in “masculinizing” the brain, essentially linking the cause of homosexuality in men to environmental factors in the womb.
While most studies have focused on the causes of homosexuality in men, research done by scientists Sergey Gavrilets and William Rice has shown potential similar genetic links to homosexuality in females as well. “We know that homosexuality (gay or lesbian) can be caused by simple genetic changes in fruit flies, and since so many reproductive and neurological genes are shared by flies and humans, it seems highly likely that there are major genes influencing homosexuality in humans,” said Rice. (Zyga) Rice later expanded on his theories by suggesting that perhaps it isn’t so much a specific gene that causes homosexuality in both sexes, but it may be epi-marks (extra layers of information that control how genes are expressed) that play the largest role. Rice said, “There is compelling evidence that epi-marks contribute to both the similarity and dissimilarity of family members, and can therefore feasibly contribute to the observed familial inheritance of homosexuality and its low concordance between [identical] twins. These epi-marks protect fathers and mothers from excess or underexposure to testosterone — when they carry over to opposite-sex offspring, it can cause the masculinization of females or the feminization of males.” (Koebler)
There have also been biological links to transgenderism. Spanish investigators—led by psychobiologist Antonio Guillamon of the National Distance Education University in Madrid and neuropsychologist Carme Junqué Plaja of the University of Barcelona—used MRI to examine the brains of 24 female-to-males and 18 male-to-females—both before and after treatment with cross-sex hormones. Their results, published in 2013, showed that even before treatment the brain structures of the trans people were more similar in some respects to the brains of their experienced gender than those of their natal gender. For example, the female-to-male subjects had relatively thin subcortical areas (these areas tend to be thinner in men than in women). Male-to-female subjects tended to have thinner cortical regions in the right hemisphere, which is characteristic of a female brain. (Such differences became more pronounced after treatment.) (Russo) Research has also shown that there is a higher chance of transgenderism when the hormones generally associated with the sexes, estrogen for females and testosterone for males, are introduced earlier or later in fetal brain development than when they would normally occur. (Hines)
Have you tried not being gay/transgendered/etc.?
There are some mental health “professionals” who offer conversion therapy designed to “convert” members of the LGBTQ+ into heterosexual, cisgendered people. The word professional is in quotes because conversion therapy is not considered a valid form of therapy by the American Counseling Association. The CEO of the ACA has stated, “Because there is no scientific validation of any conversion-type therapy, we don’t support it. Our code of ethics is really grounded on ‘do no harm.’ Our feeling is that people who are exposed to sexual orientation change efforts are exposed to all sorts of harm.” (Grisham) Of course there are some who are in favor of conversion therapy. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality recognizes the biological causes of homosexuality, at least in reference to the hormonal influences on fetuses, but they also argue that this simply predisposes people to be attracted to members of the same sex and that there are psychological factors that come into play. It is their belief that because of the psychological factors, people can modify their sexual behavior, identity, and arousal or fantasies. (NARTH Institute) The American Psychological Association, however, does not believe homosexuality is a mental disease and therefore does not need treatment. That position is backed by more than 480,000 mental health professionals comprised of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of School Psychologists and the National Association of Social Workers. Speaking of the so called social/external environmental influences on homosexuality, Dr. Eric Vilain, Professor of Human Genetics, Pediatrics and Urology at UCLA, and the Director of the Institute for Society and Genetics, has said, “For the purposes of sexual orientation, every time researchers have looked at the broad external environment — the macro environment — so for instance family structure. Is it true that single mothers are more likely to raise gay kids? That would be an influence from the environment. Well, you can actually test this hypothesis, and it’s been done by teams at the Kinsey Institute. And there is absolutely no evidence that this kind of environment, the family structure, influences sexual orientation. The environment can be past sexual experience whether pleasant or unpleasant, and again, this has been studied and there no evidence that that is the case. Child abuse. You can ask gay men or lesbian women if they have been abused sexually. And if you do that and do that in a control group of straight men and women, you actually find that there is no evidence that these kind of environments change you, or is associated with different sexual orientations.” (LGBT Science) Studies conducted have overwhelmingly showed that conversion therapy has had little to no effectiveness in changing sexual orientation or gender identity. (American Psychological Association), which is not surprising considering no external environmental factors, and therefore no psychological factors that could be worked through to “overcome” a person’s sexual orientation, have been found to exist. On the other hand, the harm done by this controversial therapy is obvious. In 2013, the group Beyond Ex-gay announced the results of a survey of more than 400 ex-gay survivors.
- 74% (306 of 413 survey participants) reported that they felt the ex-gay experience “harmed”, “harmed a lot”, or “devastated my life”
- More than half of 384 survey participants reported the following harm from their ex-gay experience (Question 10):
- 80% “Shame”
- 79% “Emotional harm”
- 71% “Depression”
- 62% “Reinforced self-hate “
- 62% “Fear”
- 59% “I didn’t change”
- 58% “Angry”
- 56% “Disappointment”
- 53% “Psychological harm”
- 52% “Lack of self-esteem”
- 84% (346 of 406 survey participants) reported that they are still affected by the harm caused by the ex-gay experience (Question 11). (Conversion Therapy Survivors)
So yes, there are ways to try to not be LGBTQ, but they are not only ineffectual, but harmful to those who undergo the therapy. The mental anguish only piles onto someone who is a part of a group who is already more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression due to a heteronormative culture that often times rejects, belittles, and condemns them.
Ok, fine, but why are you telling me this?
Coming out is a difficult decision to make and even harder to actually put into practice. Fear of rejection by loved ones, coworkers, and the world at large often leaves people too afraid to come out of the closet. This denies people the right to be open about who they really are. If someone doesn’t tell you their sexual preference, how are they to ever introduce you to their partner? Human beings are social creatures. Most of us will eventually build a life with someone. The fact that someone feels the need to clue you in on their sexual orientation means that they want and expect you to be in their life enough to where you would inevitably meet their chosen partner. Trying to hide their orientation would only build a wall between your loved one and yourself. By coming out they are saying they want to let you in on one of the most important aspects of their life. For those who are transgenedered, there is an even bigger reason to share who they are. Feeling like you don’t belong in your own skin is one of the most damaging things that can happen to a person’s psyche. Sharing their gender identity is a step that will inevitably need to be taken in order for them to transition into the person they are meant to be and still keep you, their loved one, in their lives.
Well now what?
Now life goes on as it did before. Your loved one is still the same person they have always been. They were LGBTQ+ yesterday, a month ago, a year ago, etc., and you loved them that whole time. You enjoyed spending time with them, and all the things you used to do together can still be done together. You probably have never felt uncomfortable around them before you knew, and you don’t have to now. Nothing about them has changed; the only thing that has changed is your level of knowledge and insight into their lives. The only choice that exists within the equation is whether you choose to keep caring for the person you’ve always cared for. Hopefully you’ll make the right choice.
American Psychological Association. 6 October 2016 <http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/just-the-facts.aspx>.
Bogaert, A.F. “Biological versus nonbiological older brothers and men’s sexual orientation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 11 July 2006.
Coghlan, Andy. New Scientist. 13 October 2004. 5 October 2016 <https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn6519-survival-of-genetic-homosexual-traits-explained/>.
Conversion Therapy Survivors. 6 October 2016 <http://conversiontherapysurvivors.org/what-harm-is-it>.
Grisham, Lori. USA Today. 10 April 2015. 6 October 2016 <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/04/10/conversion-reparative-sexual-reorientation-therapy/25515619/>.
Hines, Melissa. NCBI. 17 February 2011. 5 October 2016 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3296090/>.
Koebler, Jason. USA News. 11 December 2012. 5 October 2016 <http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/12/11/scientists-may-have-finally-unlocked-puzzle-of-why-people-are-gay>.
LGBT Science. 2013. 7 Oct 2016 <http://www.lgbtscience.org/biological-factors/>.
NARTH Institute. 6 October 2016 <http://www.narth.com/narth-position-statements>.
Russo, Francine. Scientific American. 1 January 2016. 5 October 2016 <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-something-unique-about-the-transgender-brain/>.
Zyga, Lisa. Phys.org. 7 December 2006. 5 October 2016 <http://phys.org/news/2006-12-homosexuality-gene.html>.
Crystal is a 32 year old mom with a passion for progressive politics and activism. She currently resides in Bettendorf, IA.