In a recent HuffPost blog entitled "Science Fiction or Science Fact? What Happened to the Gay Gene?," Marten Weber raises the interesting and important question of the origins of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, his post contains a series of inaccurate statements and misleading arguments that seem to be aimed at promoting his own self-published science fiction novel rather than answering or even logically discussing the issue. Because of the continuing importance of this subject to the ongoing quest for the civil and human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people everywhere, it's important to correct some of the more egregious errors.
First, contrary to Weber's insinuation, neither I (Dean) nor any of my scientific colleagues have ever claimed that there is a "single gene controlling human sexual orientation." Rather, as clearly stated both in The Science of Desire and in my second book Living With Our Genes, there are likely to be a large number of both heritable and other factors involved in human sexuality, just as there are for all complex human behavioral traits. Indeed, my laboratory and others spent many years searching for these additional influences, discovering along the way that certain epigenetic factors play an equally important role. The "one gene" fallacy is nothing but a straw man, plain and simple.
Second, Weber's assertion that my scientific research somehow underlies the horrific abuses of so-called "ex-gay therapy" is both false and malicious. To the contrary, all of the quack psychologists and pseudo-therapists who promote this cruel practice are insistent that there is NOT any genetic influence on sexual orientation, and that being gay is a choice -- a bad choice that can be changed. I am no friend to the ex-gay movement; in fact I am their worst nightmare, because they know perfectly well that once people understand the deep, innate roots of sexual orientation, the idea of changing it by prayer, electroshock, aversion therapy or whatever particular brand of nonsense they subscribe to will be seen for the charade it is.
Third, the implication that scientific knowledge is somehow harmful to the quest for fairness and equality is both illogical and untrue. In reality, public opinion polling data consistently shows that people who believe that gays are "born that way" tend to be supportive of full equality, whereas those who believe it's "a choice" are opposed -- even to the point of calling for criminal sanctions against same-sex behavior. Moreover, exposing students to information on the causes of sexual orientation has a direct, positive influence on their opinions about gay rights. As I wrote in The Science of Desire, "Although the topic will probably always be controversial, when it comes to sexuality, we have far more to fear from ignorance than from knowledge."
Normally I wouldn't bother responding to a post about science fiction, but as I and my partner Joe have traveled across the country with the Out In The Silence Campaign and the new Youth Activism Award it inspired, I have met so many people of all ages who have suffered the consequences of sexual ignorance and fear. The 80-year-old woman who knew she was attracted to women from an early age, but had stayed single and lonely all her life because she was taught that same-sex attraction was "unnatural." The teen boy whose father locked him in the trunk of his car and dumped him at the doorstep of his estranged wife because "no son of mine could be gay."
While science by itself cannot overcome the deep underlying causes of anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination, it can help to combat the myths and old wives' tales that underlie so much of homophobia. That's why it's important to distinguish what is science and what is science fiction.