The Gay Brain

[Note: links to the important articles by Alfred Kinsey and C.V. Tripp are at the bottom of this page.]

The Gay Brain and other such nonsense
by John Lauritsen

    Attempts have been made, at least since the beginnings of “sexology” in the 19th century, to explain “homosexuality” (the presumably abnormal sexual attraction to members of one's own sex). (In the interests of concision and clarity, this essay will confine itself to male homosexuality: sex and love between males.) Almost as soon as “homosexuality” was coined in 1869, the term acquired a clinical character based on the false assumption that only a tiny minority of human males are erotically attracted to each other. Sometimes homosexuality was defined negatively — that is to say, a homosexual man was defined as incapable of desiring or having sex with females — a notion refuted by the Kinsey studies, which showed that almost all “homosexual” men can and do have sex with females. [Note 1]
    In light of abundant anthropological and historical evidence, theories on the causes of “homosexuality” — including hormonal imbalance, brain abnormalities, “decadence”, “sickness”, and genetic aberration — fall apart. Those who expound these theories are anti-scientific — and perhaps wilfully so, as they intransigently refuse to acknowledge the relevant evidence. [Note 2]
    Male love (comprising sex, love and friendship) does not need to be explained. When males have sex with each other, they are expressing an ordinary, healthy component of male sexuality — something phylogenetically inherent in the sexual repertoire of the human male, and thus a product of evolution. If a man has any libido at all, it has a homoerotic component, whether or not he accepts it or is even aware of it.
    From here on I'll try to avoid using “homosexual” or “homosexuality” — which are unacceptable on etymological as well as theoretical grounds — instead favoring such terms as “gay”, “male love”, “sex between males”, “homoerotic”, etc. I define a gay man as one who is erotically responsive to other males, whereas a straight man, for whatever reasons, is not. “Straight” is an entirely negative term, meaning “not gay”; it is not a synonym for “heterosexual”.
    Such spokesmen for the emancipation of male love as John Addington Symonds were quick to debunk the anti-gay sexologists. In demolishing the ideas of Paul Moreau (Author of Des Aberrations du Sens Génétique, 1887) — who believed that sexual inversion was a disease of the sexual sense, the product of a hereditary taint — Symonds demonstrates the power of historical argumentation when wielded against pseudo-scientific bigotry:

“Moreau regards sexual inversion in modern Christian Europe as a form of hereditary neuropathy, a link between reason and madness; but in ancient Greece, in modern Persia and Turkey, he regards the same psychological anomaly from the point of view, not of disease, but of custom. In other words, an Englishman or a Frenchman who loves the male sex must be diagnosed as tainted with disease; while Sophocles, Pindar, Pheidias, Epaminondas, Plato, are credited with yielding to an instinct which was healthy in their times because society accepted it. the inefficiency of this distinction in a treatise of analytical science ought to be indicated. The bare fact that ancient Greece tolerated, and that Modern Europe refuses to tolerate sexual inversion, can have nothing to do with the etiology, the pathology, the psychological definition of the phenomenon in its essence. What has to be faced is that a certain type of passion flourished under the light of day and bore good fruits for society in Hellas; that the same type of passion flourishes in the shade and is the source of misery and shame in Europe. The passion has not altered but the way of regarding it morally and legally is changed. A scientific investigator ought not to take changes of public opinion into account when he is analysing a psychological peculiarity.” (John Addington Symonds, A Problem in Modern Ethics, privately published, 1891)

    Symonds deals sharply with Richard von Krafft-Ebing, author of the sexological best seller, Psychopathia Sexualis. After summarizing his convoluted theories, Symonds rebuts them in one splendid sentence: “It would be absurd to maintain that all the boy-lovers of ancient Greece owed their instincts to hereditary neuropathy, complicated with onanism”. Krafft-Ebing, by the way, considered himself, and was considered to be, a friend of the homosexual rights movement. He believed that sexual inverts did not belong in prison, but under the care of a physician — like himself.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. The latest writer to offer invidious explanations for “homosexuality” is Simon LeVay, author of the recent Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why (Oxford 2010).
    Simon LeVay, who is openly gay himself, is obsessed with his own faulty hypothesis: that “sexual orientation” is based on inherited physical traits. He believes that gay men and lesbians are physically closer to their opposite sexes than are straight people — in other words, they fit the stereotype: gay men are more feminine than straight men, and lesbians are more masculine than straight women. In LeVay's words: “Homosexuality is part of a package of gender-atypical traits.”
    LeVay is entitled to his hypothesis, but fails miserably to verify it. Time and again he demonstrates ignorance of relevant historical and anthropological information, as well as elementary statistics.
    LeVay mentions the Kinsey studies briefly, but clearly has not read and understood them. Rejecting, for no apparent reason, Kinsey's emphasis on behavior, LeVay opts for surveys which typically just ask respondents whether they are attracted to males, females, or both. This won't do. Kinsey's thorough descriptions of methodology, in both his Male and his Female studies, should be required reading. Getting truthful answers from respondents, and obtaining representative samples, is far more difficult than just asking people what sex they're attracted to, or just accepting those respondents who volunteer themselves. Basically, Kinsey found that the sexual behavior and desires of American males run on a continuum from exclusively heterosexual during a lifetime (category zero) to exclusively homosexual (category six). In-between (categories one through five) are men whose sexual desires and behavior include both females and males. Kinsey makes a strong case against labelling individuals, as opposed to labelling behavior. However, using the Kinsey categories, one might say that at least 50% of American males qualify as “gay”, on the basis of their sexual desires and/or behavior. Or, one might consider as “gay” the 25% of American males who, for at least a three-year period in their lives, experienced sex more often with males than with females. LeVay, however, goes along with more recent and inferior studies, which found far lower incidences of homosexual identification — less than 3%. Obviously this huge disparity (<3% versus 25% or even 50%) needs to be explained, but LeVay doesn't attempt to do so.
    LeVay's initial foray into sexology was a 1991 paper, where he claimed that hypothalamus glands in women and in gay men were much smaller than those in straight men. There were two fatal flaws in this study: 1) the sample size of the gay men's brains was ridiculously low (only 13), and 2) all of the gay male brains were taken from those who had died of “AIDS”. Obviously, to anyone with a grasp of elementary statistics, an absurdly non-representative sample of 13 cannot yield stable data. Those who died from “AIDS” were hardly typical of all gay men, and they were undoubtedly treated with toxic drugs such as Bactrim, Septra, AZT or ddI, which might have caused part of the brain to atrophy. Significantly, Levay's graph of this on page 196 neglects to give sample sizes, an inexcusable omission.
    A 1941 paper by Alfred Kinsey, “Criteria for a Hormonal Explanation of the Homosexual” (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, May 1941), critiques a study which was similar to LeVay's, and almost as bad. After acutely exposing the methodological shortcomings of the study, Kinsey describes the criteria which “any hormonal or other explanation of the homosexual” must fulfill, in terms of his own survey findings. In addition, I would add that any such explanation must address the facts of history, anthropology and animal studies — which neither the 1941 study nor LeVay's have done. (For Kinsey's paper see link below.)
    To make my own position clear, I believe that both homoerotic and heteroerotic desires are products of both nature and nurture, but much more strongly the former. In historical-anthropological perspective, human males who are attracted to other males constitute the great majority, not a tiny minority, as LeVay imagines. As I detail in my book, A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love (1998), the condemnation of male love is the product of superstition — specifically, the taboo in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, which punishes sex between males with death. In the absence of condemnation, male love flourishes, as it did in Ancient Greece.
    Although this book has a long Bibliography, I doubt that LeVay has read and understood all of the books — especially not Wainwright Churchill's Homosexual Behavior Among Males: A cross-cultural and cross-species investigation, which effectively falsifies LeVay's leading hypothesis. Notably absent from LeVay's Bibliography are important books by Alfred Kinsey, Louis Crompton, Benedict Friedlaender, Magnus Hirschfeld, Wayne R. Dynes, Hans Licht, C.V. Tripp, C.S. Ford and F.A. Beach, Ferdinand Karsch-Haack, and John Addington Symonds.

    Some “socio-biologists”, notably Michael Ruse and James D. Weinrich, have attempted to explain “homosexuality” in evolutionary terms — which at least is positive, since they assume that same-sex behavior increases survival for the individual and his family. It is tempting to engage in speculation along these lines, and I'll briefly do so myself. I speculate that men who can successfully bond with each other have greatly enhanced chances for survival. Two men who have bonded together constitute a far more powerful fighting unit than an isolated man. In addition, a good-looking man, who can bond successfully with other men, has a greatly enhanced possibility of obtaining a desirable female for a mate. Let me explain: A powerful older man might mate his daughter to one of his younger favorites, or a brother might mate his sister to his own lover. In this paradigm, it is not that a male attracts a female, but rather that a male attracts another powerful male who, as father or brother, controls access to a female.

    To sum up: male love in all its forms (sex, love, friendship) is a hereditary component of male sexuality, which does not need to be explained. What does need to be explained is its condemnation, which is primarily the product of superstition, the taboo contained in the Holiness Code of Leviticus.
    Although some males, both gay and straight, are more feminine or masculine than others, this does not explain their attraction to other males. In fact, the only significant difference, either psychological or physical, which Kinsey and his associates found between gay and straight men, is that gay men have a more powerful sexual substrate (or sex drive), as indicated by such factors as earliness of puberty and frequency of having sex. According to C.V. Tripp, in a talk he gave in the 1980s to the New York Scholarship Committee, a powerful sexual substrate (a high sex drive) is desirable, since this correlates positively with good health, longevity and intelligence. Male love per se, including its sexual manifestations, is a desirable and fully virile activity.

1. For information on the relationship between early sexology and the homosexual rights movement: John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1884-1935), Times Change Press 1974, Revised Second Edition 1995. A few copies are still available for sale. Contact me.

2. There is an extended discussion of these issues in my book, A Freethinker's Primer of Male Love (Provincetown 1998). A description of the book is here.

• Alfred Kinsey's 1941 article, “Criteria for a hormonal explanation of the homosexual”, is a precursor to his landmark study, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948). In it Kinsey critiques a hormonal-explanation study on both methodological and theoretical grounds, and describes the criteria which “any hormonal or other explanation of the homosexual” must fulfill, in terms of his own survey findings. To read the Kinsey paper in pdf form click here.

• C.A. Tripp's 1982 review of Sexual Preference: Its Development in Man and Women, by Alan P. Bell, Martin S. Weinberg & Sue Kiefer. Tripp considers the book “a shock and a disappointment” for its wrong-headed attempts to explain homosexuality through genetic and hormonal factors. Tripp writes: “It is of far-reaching significance that inversion rides on the crest and not on the trough of the androgen curve.” To read Tripp's review in pdf form click here.

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