A Difference, Not a Defect

In reference to James’ post below, it’s worth pointing out that a biological cause for homosexuality does not, in any sense of the word, make for a birth defect, and we should be careful how we define the phrase. Calling homosexuality a “birth defect” (as some will no doubt begin to do so), implies that homosexuality causes some interference in a person’s flourishing or capabilities. Clearly, it does not. Calling homosexuality a “defect” is akin to calling left-handedness a “defect”–it doesn’t make sense, because being left-handed doesn’t affect health or flourishing. Neither does homosexuality. Homosexuality is just a difference from the norm. But from a purely biological perspective, there’s nothing wrong with it.

It’s worth considering, too, that calling homosexuality a “defect” is based purely on the Judeo-Christian moral sense. Homosexuality is certainly not a taboo in many human cultures, and has been celebrated in many. Additionally, from a pure empirical perspective, you’ll have a tough time convincing me that being gay would be bad for my kids when you consider that homosexuality appears to be based partially on brain structure. Given how intwined the various aspects of brain function are, you have to consider that if a “cure” had been available and used throughout history, there’s a good chance that human culture would have been deprived of the works and ideas of:

    * Michaelangelo
    * Socrates
    * Alexander the Great
    * Desiderius Erasmus
    * Francis Bacon
    * Walt Whitman
    * Oscar Wilde
    * Cole Porter
    * Leonard Bernstein
    * T.E. Lawrence
    * Christopher Marlowe
    * Leonardo da Vinci
    * Horatio Alger, Jr.
    * Hans Christian Andersen
    * Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
    * Alan Turing

And many, many others. How sad this world would be if parents tried to change the very structure of their children’s brains because of a primitive superstition regarding love between persons of the same sex. If you ask me, a desire to mold your child into being a person who satisfies your own selfish desires is the defect, not homosexuality.

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Science & Technology, , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. It is hazardous to imagine that we now understand the extent of nature vice nurture or the complex interactions between them in such determinations. All the arguments pro or con should be able to be made without the hubris of imagining that we now know how it all works based on the latest released study.

    Your final paragraph is somewhat specious, or perhaps I just misread it. We change the structure of our children’s brains from the word go by nurturing them, reading to them, etc. And I will admit to being selfish enough to want to mold my children into what I believe is important, i.e., cultured, physically active, critically thinking, independent adults, rather than leaving it entirely up to all the official entities who will never care for my children as much as I do.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    It is hazardous to imagine that we now understand the extent of nature vice nurture or the complex interactions between them in such determinations. All the arguments pro or con should be able to be made without the hubris of imagining that we now know how it all works based on the latest released study.

    I agree with you on this–to a degree.

    Your final paragraph is somewhat specious, or perhaps I just misread it. We change the structure of our children’s brains from the word go by nurturing them, reading to them, etc.

    I may not have been clear–I was referring to the idea of “curing” a child of homosexuality. I also take a dim view of parents who push their children into leading lives that the parents wanted to live, e.g. stage mothers, fathers who push artistically inclined sons into sports, etc.

  3. James Joyner says:

    The snarky retort I generally make to this sort of argument is to note the number of truly rotten people who we might theoretically been saved from. A disproportionate share of serial killers and pedophiles are homosexual, for example. (Possibly, a function of society’s treatment of homosexuality rather than any innate predisposition to these behaviors. Who knows?)

    But the real answer, as you and Charles note, is that we’re far from having a sufficient understanding of such things to know what the effects of hormonal “cures” would be. Which is probably as good a reason as any not to attempt them.

  4. Bithead says:

    Note, please that in my discussions in the other thread, I made no judgements… another time for that… but it would interest me to know on what basis people make such judgements.

    Here then is the question we each must face honestly, or this discussion will go where it’s always gone… nowhere…

    Posutulate two similar maladies… one involving sexual preference, the other merely involving other aspects of behavior, where the proximate causes of each are very closely related. What makes one thing an abnormality to be treated and cured, and another a “lifestyle choice”?

  5. Boyd says:

    Alex, I think one could reasonably argue that homosexuality is a defect due to the vastly reduced likelihood of having children.

  6. Boyd,

    I think the word you are looking for is maladaptive, meaning that homosexuality doesn’t help propagate the species. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a defect.

  7. Boyd says:

    Robert, since “maladaptive” is not in the day-to-day vocabulary of most Americans, I maintain that “defect” is the most appropriate word in common use. Plus, it’s the word that Alex used. And thirdly, I did say “reasonably argue.”

    And on a side note, it’s good to see you blogging again (although you could have been doing it elsewhere and I just didn’t know about it).

  8. Bithead says:

    I’ll second that.
    It’s nice to see you, Robert.

  9. yetanotherjohn says:

    I can understand the politically correct sensitivity to the question of calling something a birth defect, but what would you call a congenital condition which makes it much harder to have children absent medical intervention? Wouldn’t that be accurately described as a birth defect? And the fact that the person could have a full and fulfilling life absent the children wouldn’t change the situation.

  10. Boyd & Bit,

    Thanks for the welcome back. Fair enough about the common use argument, but defect does have a rather negative connotation.

  11. dutchmarbel says:

    A disproportionate share of serial killers and pedophiles are homosexual, for example. (Possibly, a function of society’s treatment of homosexuality rather than any innate predisposition to these behaviors. Who knows?)

    Is that a fact or an assumption? I thought most pedophiles were incestuous fathers with little daughters and I never heard that most serial killers are homosexual.

  12. Michael says:

    Fair enough about the common use argument, but defect does have a rather negative connotation.

    Homosexuality does have a rather negative effect on reproduction. If we assume that reproduction is a fundamental feature of who we are, then homosexuality would be classified as a defect as much as asexuality or hermaphroditism.

  13. dutchmarbel says:

    If we assume that reproduction is a fundamental feature of who we are, then homosexuality would be classified as a defect as much as asexuality or hermaphroditism.

    Due to how you phrase that I assume that you assume that that is part of natural instinct, survival of the species and such. So how do you explain animals being homosexual?

  14. just me says:

    Is that a fact or an assumption? I thought most pedophiles were incestuous fathers with little daughters and I never heard that most serial killers are homosexual.

    I don’t know anything about serial killers. I have read some studies with regards to pedophilia.

    But keep in mind that it said “disproportionate” not more. The vast majority of pedophiles are going to be heterosexual, because there are far more of them in the population.

  15. Michael says:

    So how do you explain animals being homosexual?

    If they are exclusively homosexual, and not in fact opportunistically bisexual, then I would consider that a biological defect as well since it would prevent their reproduction.

    Mind you, I’m not passing judgment about it being good or bad, right or wrong, sinful or not. Just because something is a biologically defect, doesn’t make it bad, immoral, or anything other than a biological defect.

  16. tom p says:

    all too often we get tied up in labels…

    is Homosexuality a “defect”? Is choosing not to have children until one is 50 yrs old a “defect”?

    According to Darwin’s laws… pretty simple… The whole point of having progeny is passing on one’s genes. If you do not do that, you are a “failed” gene line. End of story.

    That does not make one a failure, it just means your gene line is. (face it, most of ours are anyway) (amazing how many people get upset at that simple statment of fact)

    Still, as an about to be grandfather (the baby girl I always wanted and never had) I CAN’T WAIT!!! (One week or less)

    tom

  17. Bithead says:

    Well, of COURSe we get tied up in labels. IN a society so utterly dependant on law and government, how can it NOT be so? Everything needs be exactly defined, and basically, binary, for law to work.

    Thing is, we’re dealing with a double edged sword, here…

    Without making judgements about the lfestyle chocies themselves for the moment, I submit to you that homosexuals have spent many years trying to force their views and lifestyle chocies off on the culture by means of laws and the court system, to be able to shy away from such things as binary labels, now.

  18. Michael says:

    homosexuals have spent [too] many years trying to force their views and lifestyle chocies off on the culture by means of laws and the court system, to be able to shy away from such things as binary labels, now.

    The law of unintended consequences doesn’t discriminate, it hits everybody. However, this shouldn’t have caught them by surprise either, anybody could have seen this as the logical end of classifying homosexuality as a biological difference.