The binary fallacy of evolutionary sexual preference
Jesse Bering, evolutionary psychologist & often entertaining explorer of salacious human behavioral marginalia, has found some actual science in the form of a 1993 study by research psychologist Gordon Gallup that Bering feels passes the smell test in placing the cultural norm of homophobia within the explanatory framework of evolutionary psychology.
So far, so good, in theory. Human behavioral norms are certainly deeply embedded in our genetic coding. Evolutionary psychology is an attempt to tease out these threads and account for their fitness as benefits the survival of the species. Yay for science!
But science has its own norms, and as Jeremy Yoder, Jon Wilkins, and P. Z. Meyers (all of whom, as opposed to me, are actually real live scientists) have written, there are many legitimate questions to raise about the scientific veracity of the Gallup study that Bering has championed.
I’m gonna defer to their tingling spidey-science sense, but I’ve got some serious tingling of my own going on about what appears to be foundational assumptions in Gallup’s whole approach to gay/anti-gay social studies — the notion of sex preference as dual-state.
This passage from Bering’s recent interview with Gordon Gallup reveals a decidedly un-nuanced view of sexual desire:
GALLUP: Now, what about homosexuality? For most of human evolutionary history, exclusive homosexuality would have been tantamount to a ticket to reproductive oblivion. Even today, adult male homosexuals who also engage in heterosexual intercourse are the exception rather than the rule. If homosexuality were only heritable, it would have disappeared long ago. In the context of our discussion of homophobia, what would have been the fate in future generations of genes being carried by parents who went out of their way to encourage and engineer homosexual lifestyles among their children? Enough said? Not quite. What causes homosexuality? Heterosexuality does, both literally and figuratively. Unless you’ve been conceived through artificial means, everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, owes their very existence to the heterosexual activity of their parents.
“Homosexuals who also engage in heterosexual intercourse,” huh? This must be kin to the “one drop rule” of race. At the risk of shrinking reader boners with economic terms, human sexuality is fungible, not zero-sum; like, well, just about any other damn interest humans feel compelled to pursue.
The distinct cast molds imposed by a culture can obscure this diversity with the result that more marginal behavioral norms get suppressed, hidden, or glossed over among those who can adjust to the constraints. Among those who can’t, or won’t, the expression of the non-normative behavior is that much more of an outlier. And so we are left with a false binary impression of a common behavioral norm on one side, an smaller opposite ab-norm on the other, and little lunch meat in the middle. This allows us to use (or read) phrases like “homosexuals who engage in heterosexual sex” without blink or challenge.
When we talk about the cultural conditioning of sexual preference, that’s where the beef of the beast is. Just as those conservative cultural crusaders love to warn, so-called “gay culture” does indeed influence an individual choice about how comfortable one feels expressing non-heteronormative sexual preference. This is the way cultural identity works. Just as exposure to vibrant alternatives to politics, fashion, music, can deeply influence profound decisions about what square or hipster tribes we join up with.
Talking about being gay or straight as regards sexual behavior is about as valuable as talking about being Dem or GOP as regards political behavior. Which is to say, extremely valuable in certain contexts, and absolutely douchenozzle in others.
So let’s get real about what gets us off, shall we? Humans are undeniably sexually motivated, and within cultures that are permissive a wide and surprisingly variagated feast of off-getting gets on. & yes, Furries are most definitely included among my definition of humans.
So I’m thinking I can see another plausible adaptive benefit to homophobia not investigated by Bering, Gallup, et. al. The benefit being that a homophobic or otherwise sexually conservative culture pushes all those devious pervs who’d like to get it on with similarly-sexed-up folks into constrained but reproductively fertile situations. Yep, they get married & have kids. And all those perverted genes can live to see another generation.
Take that bigots!