06/04/2012 04:24 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Science Fiction or Science Fact? What Happened to the Gay Gene?

Ever since The Science of Desire by Dean Hamer (1993), the scientific world and gays and lesbians around the world have been plagued by the idea of a single gene controlling human sexual orientation. The specter of de-gaying by gene therapy has haunted us ever since.

Attempts to remove gay or effeminate traits have been going on for centuries. People have been burned at the stake, imprisoned, tortured, electrocuted, and psychologically tortured for a long time. Children as young as 6 are reportedly treated for "effeminacy" and "gay behavior." Christians, Mormons, and increasingly Muslims, too, are at the forefront of the ex-gay crusade, with shocking consequences. Despite a concerted campaign online, Ecuador and Malaysia still run hundreds of dedicated de-gaying clinics. Many such groups are expanding at a rapid pace, from Exodus Global Alliance to the Catholic's Courage International, the Mormon's "Evergreen" and the Jewish JONAH. All of them are based on outdated psychological theories, failure to understand or even employ scientific concepts, and a religious zeal to fulfill irrelevant or misinterpreted scripture. What makes the latest attempts so devastating is the blatant misinformation underpinning them, the same nonsense Hamer started spreading with his nonetheless groundbreaking research.

The release of my latest book, Bodensee, last week has spawned speculation over whether what I describe is actually possible, or will be possible in the near future. The fact that some people question whether "medical" de-gaying actually exists shocked me. It shows how important it is to share information about the attempts of religious fanatics and conservatives to screw up the world. My book is not science fiction at all. It is, most unfortunately, science fact, as evidenced by one of the first "fan mails" I received -- from a pastor congratulating me on writing a book "promoting scientific cures for gays." (I wish people would actually read books before sending off insulting fan mail.)

In the matter of genetics, there are, for the simple-minded, two options: Either there is a gay gene (in which case it might be possible to remove, alter, inhibit, "switch off," or in other ways manipulate the gene) or there isn't a gay gene (in which case some might claim that homosexuality is a learned behavior and can be untrained). Any geneticist will tell you that it isn't that simple. We already know that there is no 1:1 relationship between single genes and human traits. Most likely, sexuality is controlled by a combination of genes, prenatal environment, hormones, and postnatal conditioning (in other words, a complex interplay between nature and nurture), much like everything else in the human body and psyche. However, that still leaves the possibility for treatment in the future. There must be some physiological basis, scientists are saying -- and if there is, somebody will dream up a treatment. So really, the question is not how we should "treat" people differing from the "norm." The question is: Why the hell should we?

In the near future, once genetic manipulation is underway on a large scale, will we all birth blond, brawny, blue-eyed, brainy (straight) hunks and fertile, full-breasted, foxy females? Will there be a convergence of esthetic tastes sanctioned by medical science?

As a human race, we really should not go down this road. There is no evolutionary advantage in uniformity; on the contrary, it is variety that makes human civilization worthwhile, diverse, and superior at survival, and which allows for different jobs and creative output. Imagine a world in which every man is 6'2", good at football, a maths genius, and an Abercrombie & Fitch model with an eight-pack. How boring would that be!

So, ultimately, as a human race, we'll have to decide if we'll use the tools of biogenetics to our advantage, or to create a uniform super race of lookalikes. Once we've made the right choice in this overarching matter, the ridiculous question of de-gaying will finally disappear. If we choose variety over uniformity, we'll also choose varying forms of sexual expression, no doubt.

Unless, of course, we insist on classifying being gay as a form of disease. And that's where my nightmare really begins. The battle depicted in Bodensee is well underway, and it seems that reality is quickly overtaking the "science fiction" I have created. Maybe subtitling my book "A Nightmare" is really the only visionary aspect of it. But judge for yourself.

Marten Weber is the author of numerous books about modern and historical gay lives. For more, visit