COVER STORY 'Born that way' far from being scientifically verified
by Peter Kelleher
News Weekly, September 10, 2016
Towards the end of August, The New Atlantis, a respected journal of science and ethics, published the report, “Sexuality and Gender”.
The 143-page report examines some 200 peer-reviewed studies on sexual orientation and gender identity and concludes that science has by no means provided any substantive foundation for many of the assertions that are made about these issues.
Such issues include that sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property – that people are “born that way”; that gender identity is an innate, fixed human property independent of biological sex – so that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body”; and that children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behaviour will continue to do so into adolescence and adulthood.
These issues are commonly asserted as part of the political push for same-sex marriage and, in Australia, to bolster the arguments for introducing into schools programs such as the Safe Schools Coalition Australia to teach children about LGBT issues.
However, the report finds that none of these assertions is supported by scientific evidence. At most only a tiny minority of children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behaviours will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood. And there are most serious contra-indications that all – or any – such children should be encouraged to become transgender, much less subjected to hormone treatments or surgery.
Moreover, the evidence that is available indicates that non-heterosexual and transgender people have higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, as well as behavioural and social problems (substance abuse, intimate partner violence), than does the general population.
Another important finding is that discrimination against persons who are LGBT does not by itself account for the higher incidence of mental-health problems among LGBT people. This discrimination has been termed “social stress” and is one of the key cards that social engineers bring out in their attempts to use gender and sexuality to have laws changed.
The authors of “Sexuality and Gender” are among the most highly respected practitioners in their fields. Dr Lawrence Mayer is scholar in residence in the Department of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and professor of statistics and biostatistics at Arizona State University. Dr Mayer is an epidemiologist trained in psychiatry who has been a full-time tenured professor for more than 40 years. In that time he has taught at Princeton and Stanford and many other leading institutes.
Dr Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, served for 25 years as psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His work in the 1970s helped to end the practice at Johns Hopkins of sex-change surgery for adults.
We may expect that the authors of “Sexuality and Gender” will be vilified in the mainstream media for daring to challenge the narrative on these issues, not least of all for opposing new treatments for children who identify as transgender and for disputing claims that same-sex attraction has a strong genetic basis.
Science debased in public square
The authors warn that the public debates about same-sex attraction and gender identity can omit many details and make assumptions that the science, as we so far have it, does not warrant.
“Popular understandings of scientific findings often presume deterministic causality when the findings do not warrant that presumption,” they write in the report.
In the introduction to the report, the editor of The New Atlantis, Adam Keiper, writes: “The report has a special focus on the higher rates of mental-health problems among LGBT populations, and it questions the scientific basis of trends in the treatment of children who do not identify with their biological sex.
“More effort is called for to provide these people with the understanding, care and support they need to lead healthy, flourishing lives.”
When the authors turn to the question of whether there is a genetic basis for same-sex “orientation”, they note that large studies of identical twins do point to the possibility of some role for genes in the development of sexual orientation. However, they also refer to findings that lead to the conclusion that a complex of several factors, experiential as well as genetic, play their part in determining sexual orientation.
“So the question, ‘Are gay people born that way?’ requires clarification. There is virtually no evidence that anyone, gay or straight, is ‘born that way’ if that means their sexual orientation was genetically determined,” the report says.
“But there is some evidence from the twin studies that certain genetic profiles probably increase the likelihood the person later identifies as gay or engages in same-sex sexual behaviour.”
The experiential factors that the authors cite include having been sexually abused as a child and having been attacked by their peers.
Who do you see?
Statistics off the chart
When it comes to mental health and sexual violence among LGBT persons, the incidence is shockingly high.
For example, in the United States the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) finds that a shocking 41 per cent of transgenders have attempted suicide. By contrast, the proportion of the overall U.S. population that reports “a lifetime suicide attempt” is 4.6 per cent.
To explain this enormous disparity some experts have proposed “social stress” as an explanation. That is, that the experience of stigmatisation and alienation from the community leads to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among transgenders and other sexual minorities.
While the authors recognise that social stigma can inflict deep emotional wounds, they found that no study had adequately tested the “social-stress” hypothesis. The answer they propose is that well-designed studies to test the hypothesis be carried out.
Mayer and McHugh warn of the social engineering project that drives much of the gender theory that infests institutes of higher education.
They write in response: “The scientific definition of biological sex is, for almost all human beings, clear, binary, and stable, reflecting an underlying biological reality that is not contradicted by exceptions to sex-typical behaviour, and cannot be altered by surgery or social conditioning.
“By contrast, gender identity is a social and psychological concept that is not well defined, and there is little scientific evidence that it is an innate, fixed biological property.”
The authors end with a note of urgent warning: “In reviewing the scientific literature, we find that almost nothing is well understood when we seek biological explanations for what causes some individuals to state that their gender does not match their biological sex. … Yet despite the scientific uncertainty, drastic interventions are prescribed and delivered to patients identifying, or identified, as transgender.”
Political tinkering running wild
The issues that Drs Mayer and McHugh examine are important in themselves, for the integrity and real progress of scientific knowledge. But the social conclusions that are being drawn from the science – or rather, lack of it – are having the ramifications that we see all about us as the gender agenda expands in all directions: in Safe Schools, same-sex marriage, restrictions on speech, the irony of bullying as what for millennia were considered as unremarkable comments on reality are stigmatised as hate speech and homophobia.
(Apparently, only homophobes would want to express their democratic right through a plebiscite – or, better, a referendum – on the question of whether a fundamental element of society, marriage, be altered forever.)
Yet, perhaps the most dangerous and disturbing consequences in society are to children and to the LGBT community itself. I won’t rehearse the dangers to children that lurk in these waters; they are glaringly apparent to the bleariest eye. But the dangers to LGBT persons themselves are not sufficiently repeated.
If homosexuality, gender fluidity, transsexualism and the rest enter the mainstream of society, one result will be to leave immured in the gay and other like lifestyles the many who struggle with their behaviours and thoughts and feelings and would otherwise seek help to emerge or at least handle these.
That such seeking is already stigmatised (see the Orwellian named Health Complaints Act that passed earlier this year in Victoria) there is no doubt. That the stigmatism attached to such seeking will have tragic consequences for LGBT persons is also pretty much beyond doubt.