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Monday, March 13, 2006

 

Gay or Straight? 60 Minutes and Sexual Orientation

Update: The producer made some comments about the segment on the CBS website.

Just some of my reactions to the 60 Minutes segment on sexual orientation. This is addressed to an assistant to the segment's producer who invited me to respond.

Robin:

In the piece, this narration was near the end:

"Then there's the question of how something in the womb could affect one twin but not the other. There are many more questions at this point than answers, but the scientists 60 Minutes spoke to are increasingly convinced that genes, hormones, or both — that something is happening to determine sexual orientation before birth."

There are many problems with the segment but this narration reveals the crux of the matter. You acknowledge there are many more questions than answers, but you still reference your experts as having the conclusion that sexual orientation is determined before birth. You documented numerous exceptions to the theories you presented and then you make a conclusion that is unwarranted by that information. Given those exceptions, you could just as easily have concluded that the certainty that many people used to feel about sexual orientation being inborn might be misguided. In fact, we do not know why people experience the sexual attractions they do.

In fact, in this body of research, there is a relationship between gender non-conformity and later homosexuality but there are numerous exceptions (some effeminate men are straight and some masculine men are gay). However, while gender non-conformity is associated with genetic similarity, sexual orientation is not strongly correlated with being genetically alike. Bailey's own work shows this. There is a role for the environment to play in the pathway from gender nonconformity to sexual feelings. Your broadcast did not address how gender nonconformity might lead to homosexuality. It was just assumed that gender nonconformity was a precursor to homosexuality. In the process, you reinforced all of the stereotypes about gay men being effeminate and helped to reinforce the social environment that assumes effeminate boys will become gay. You could just as easily presented effeminate straight males and asked why they are straight if being gender nonconforming causes homosexuality.

The problem here is you assumed correlation means cause. A correlation between gender nonconformity and homosexuality does not warrant a conclusion that gender nonconformity directly causes homosexuality. A plausible explanation, at least for some gay men, is that the environment mediates in some way which effeminate men will become gay and which ones will not. In fact, a theory exists that suggests just this kind of mediation but it was not mentioned. Daryl Bem at Cornell has developed such a theory and it was irresponsible for you to discuss gender nonconformity without presenting Bem's work. In my opinion, you incorrectly led your viewers to believe that no credible science supports social environmental factors which might mediate the development of sexual attractions.

Even the hormonal theory does not specify how gayness might arise from gender nonconformity. This theory only relates to how people might express gender nonconformity. A feminized brain might lead to gender nonconforming behavior but this does not specify how such people might develop attractions to the same sex.

In this context, you presented the older brother theory and allowed Dr. Breedlove to suggest an intrauterine theory for this phenomenon. However, you did not state that even the developers of that theory predict that between 15 and 29% of gay men might owe their homosexuality to the older brother effect. While interesting and important, this theory (which is not at all proven) fails to account for a large majority of people. Instead you provided no context and left the impression that hormones may account for most homosexuality. You also ignored 2002 research by Yale sociologists Bearman and Bruckner that demonstrated another familial effect: opposite sex fraternal twins. They found that boys having an opposite sex fraternal twin are twice as likely as other boys to experience same sex attraction. In contrast to your report, they found that the presence of an older brother diminished reports of same sex attractions.

I think the only fair thing for you to do is to revisit the issue and provide some kind of balance. While there are numerous ramifications of presenting incomplete and therefore, misleading information, the primary matter I am thinking about this morning is the impact of stereotyping on young sensitive, effeminate kids. With your program, you have added to this stereotyping that labels such boys as gay from an early age and results in teasing, pigeon-holing and self-doubt.

I said at the top this is a beginning and I could go on (especially about the lack of discernment of putting on air the young fraternal twin pair) but I think I will stop now. Sexual orientation research is indeed a difficult topic to present in a 15 minute segment. However, I believe future investigations could be much more accurate and balanced if you bring in a wider range of researchers, theorists and thinkers in the field. Toward that end, I would be glad to provide documentation and further nuance if desired.

Appreciate the opportunity to present these reactions,

Warren Throckmorton, PhD
Associate Professor, Psychology
Fellow, Psychology and Public Policy
Grove City College

Comments:
thank you, thank you, thank you - I really appreciate how you broke this down and put it in such a logical persepctive. The way you explained what was left out ought to warrent a response from them - if not, they are obviously presenting a very biased point of view. I found it particularly disturbing that a mother would allow her son to wear nail polish to school - this bordered on child neglect because it exploited her child in the worst way possible by holding him out as a target for ridicule and harrassment. What is missing in the mother that she has to use her son like this, without intervening, for her own attention? She is encouraging and enabling him to act in a way that is harmful to his well being. Sometimes it seems like the people who are chosen to represent this subject are doing it for their own source of entertainment and can then walk away or have no conscience about what they leave behind for others to pick up the pieces. Thank you Dr. Throckmorton for being the fair and honorable man you are and wanting to present all sides so we can come to some factual understanding about this and help those who chose to be helped.
 
'60 Minutes' Quotes Reprimanded Homosexuality Scientist

Posted by Stacy L. Harp on March
It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows "60 Minutes" on a regular basis that the reporters have a problem with presenting facts, or at least truth in disclosure concerning the “experts” they bring on to give us the facts.


Case in point, Lesley Stahl. In the March 12, 2006 episode of "60 Minutes" she presented a piece about science and sexual orientation. However, what Stahl conveniently left out of her piece and failed to tell the viewing public, is that her “expert” J. Michael Bailey has been exposed and charged for “research misconduct” concerning the research he is best known for on transexuality. Turns out Bailey received many complaints from the transsexual women he interviewed for his book The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism, saying that they didn’t know he was using them as research subjects and that he distorted versions of their case histories that appeared in his book.


As a result of this, Bailey was under investigation for researcher misconduct in 2004, and ultimately resigned from his position as chairman of the Northwestern University department of psychology after being sanctioned. To this day, controversy surrounds Bailey and his associates that Stahl interviewed for her piece. With that knowledge, let’s now look at what CBS presented concerning the science of sexual orientation.

Using Bailey as their expert, Stahl looked at studies with twins. The highlighted twins were Adam and Jared who are nine years old. Adam displays what Bailey calls childhood gender nonconformity, while Jared appears to conform to normal behaviors and likes of boys and Adam prefers things girls like.


There's no indication that this mother is prone to raise very feminine boys because his twin is not that way," says Michael Bailey, a psychology professor at Northwestern University and a leading researcher in the field of sexual orientation.

Bailey says he doesn't think nurture is a plausible explanation.


Psychologists used to believe homosexuality was caused by nurture — namely overbearing mothers and distant fathers — but that theory has been disproved. Today, scientists are looking at genes, environment, brain structure and hormones. There is one area of consensus: that homosexuality involves more than just sexual behavior; it’s physiological.


Ironically, or maybe telling is that Stahl and Bailey fail to mention anything about the father of these twins. They also fail to recognize that the environment that the mother of Adam and Jared provide is indeed part of their nurturing.



Bailey also seems to forget that the idea of nurture being disproved is not a fact. There are many psychologists today that believe that nurture plays a part in the development of the child. Sadly, Stahl did not have on an opposing view, not because there aren’t researchers out there who don’t believe differently than Bailey, but because Stahl wasn’t apparently interested in showing both sides of the story.

Bailey and Stahl then talk about the sex lives of heterosexual and homosexual men.


"... Straight men are more interested than straight women in having casual, uncommitted sex. Gay men are like that, too," says Bailey.

"One has the impression that gay men are much more inclined toward casual sex than straight men," Stahl said.

"They're just more successful at it, because the people they're trying to have sex with are also interested in it," Bailey explained.

"But don't you find this interesting that the one big area where gay men are more like straight men is in sex? I mean, that is…both amusing and odd," Stahl said.

"It suggests that whatever causes a man to be gay doesn't make him feminine in every respect. There must be different parts of the brain that can be feminized independently from each other," Bailey replied.


The piece ends by Stahl showing another set of twins, this time as adults, where one is gay and one is straight. Not surprisingly, there is no mention of their father or how he may have influenced them. Which suggests that maybe a lack of a father, or powerful overbearing or weak mother did have some impact on their son’s sexual orientation and that maybe it isn't all about genetics as they would like you to think. Afterall, if being gay is simply genetic and nurture plays no part, then once a cure is found no one will have an excuse for being gay. On the other hand, if the cause of homosexuality can be traced to nurture, environment and choice than we have an issue of morality which some are too "non-judgmental" to face.
 
This exchange reminded me of how reparative drive theorists meander when exceptions to the theory are presented:

"... Straight men are more interested than straight women in having casual, uncommitted sex. Gay men are like that, too," says Bailey.

"One has the impression that gay men are much more inclined toward casual sex than straight men," Stahl said.

"They're just more successful at it, because the people they're trying to have sex with are also interested in it," Bailey explained.

"But don't you find this interesting that the one big area where gay men are more like straight men is in sex? I mean, that is…both amusing and odd," Stahl said.

"It suggests that whatever causes a man to be gay doesn't make him feminine in every respect. There must be different parts of the brain that can be feminized independently from each other," Bailey replied.


Could be I suppose but just saying it could be doesn't make it so.
 
Warren, I'm also annoyed that 60 minutes wasn't more inclusive. They missed a good one from the ancient Greeks, as example.

(You remember, the theory about the three original beings who are divided and spend the rest of eternity looking for their other half. One was originally half man, half woman... that's where heterosexuals come from. Cool theory, hey?)

Perhaps next time you could share that 15 minutes of “60 Minutes” fame with a Professor of Ancient Greek History.

As for the continued confused presentation of two intersecting aspects of people... I'm only going to offer this illustrative graph up once.. I'll leave it for you to label the axis, but the two aspects of sexuality could, of course, both be biological in origin; perhaps even sharing some common genetic or chemical influence.

The two aren't in conflict, even if socialization causes the person to be – and that would be the point at which Bailey too often disappears into a suspended reality.

"...the idea of nurture being disproved is not a fact. There are many psychologists today that believe that nurture plays a part in the development of the child."

Anonymous, is that so? I would appreciate you asking Stacy L Harp to name who these researchers are, and what studies they did. She seems very confident, so I assume she must have those at hand.

No one disputes that the social and family environment influences the development of a child. Poorly educated or narrowly experienced people often appear to be ignorant buffoons, for example. However, there is no revealed influence of social or family environment on sexual attraction.

(And this is quite apart from the fact that much early learning -- such as the acquisition of one's native language -- is not open to change. Once acquired, the “hard wiring” peculiar to the language is never lost and cannot be "cured". Even if you were the type that thought it should be.)

However if someone was to offer enough money or pull a gun I'm sure even Stacy could "act" homosexual or heterosexual at that moment. Prostitutes and rape victims do this every day. Many gay men and women previously did the same. A lobotomy is also a tried and true method for removing any and all sexual attractions, a rapid method to "exgay" or "exstraight" yourself.

As to the dilemma of using bribes, coercion or violence to impose sexual behavior contrary to a person's sexual attractions -- well, now that presents a serious "issue of morality" that's conveniently neglected by some...

And I do presume – absent that long promised “cure” – that Stacy currently must think that there is therefore no excuse for being anti-gay.

Or do her demands only flow one way?
 
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