First we found our pride. Now gay men and lesbians are working to make same-sex marriage legally recognized across the United States and other democratic nations. Many same-sex couples are even raising chidren of their own issue, by surrogacy or adoption. And with poll after poll now showing that homosoexuality is becoming increasingly accepted by mainstream populations in democratic nations, all gay men and lesbians need to fully enhance and realize our self images is a world view that accounts for our reason for being. A reason--like that of procreation for heterosexuals--that gives us a deep and profound sense of purpose in the world. A reason that not only is bestowed on us by Nature, but which makes being homosexual essential to the balance of Nature.
We have that reason, of course. The world of nature is screaming it out to us today, though most of us don't hear or see it despite it being right in front of us, all around us, really. In my case it took a heated exchange to realize what should have always been obvious to me.
It came to me when a priest I know to be a self-affirmed heterosexual recently engaged me in a debate on the merits of heterosexuality vs. homosexuality. The conversation went something like this:
"Procreation, Mr. Denson, is a creative force. Those who bring life into the world are vital."
"And those who secure life's essential balance, Father ... they are crucial."
"How do homosexuals secure the species, Mr. Denson. I mean as sexual beings?"
"We preserve the species. We are conservation realized. We provide nature's ... restraint ... on procreative extravagance. We keep human production from becoming ... overproduction ... pollution ... destruction unbridled. We keep the human race from becoming ... an obscene cosmic joke."
There was a silence lasting several seconds. I couldn't myself believe it had all come spewing forth. A reason for my being. Wholly formed and evident in the world. But I was annoyed.
"Is it sinking in, Father? Or is it too practical ... too sensible ... too organic?"
The exchange represents much more than an ideological crossfire. Homosexuality as a deterrent to overpopulation is a hypothesis proposed by scientific researchers applicable not just to homo sapiens, but throughout the animal world. Geneticists have gone so far as to propose the existence of a gay gene that all humans and animals contain within them and which is turned on or off like a switch depending on the circumstances of the individual.
But the gay gene has eluded discovery despite two decades of enthusiastic anticipation. It was in July 1993 that the journal Science published a study by researcher Dean Hamer suggesting that there might be a gene for homosexuality. National Public Radio and Newsweek jumped on the prospect, prompting The Wall Street Journal to announce misleadingly, "Research Points Toward a Gay Gene...Normal Variation."
A decade later, in April 2003, the International Human Genome Consortium announced it had completed the Human Genome Project in which it identified between 20,000 and 25,000 genes -- but without finding any evidence of a gay gene. Although the news disappointed some in the LGBT community who sought biological affirmation, it brought relief to others who had feared a genetic marker such as a gay gene would give rise to a call for the genetic engineering, or "fixing," of homosexuality.
In fact, we don't require the discovery of a gay gene to show that homosexuality is ubiquitous in nature, which could mean it serves some purpose to the species. Repeated field observations have established that among numerous animal species, males and females alike form homosexual bonds. It's an observation found even when opposite sex partners, territories, and breeding grounds are plentiful, eliminating hypersexuality--the overstimulation of sexual desire in the absence of the opposite sex--as a contributing factor. Clearly, even among animals, there exists the occurrence of same-sex preference that cannot yet be distinguished as a trait inherited or stimulated by the environment.
If a century-and-a half of observation in the wild has taught us anything, it's that species have the capacity to adapt their physical features and behaviors in response to environmental shifts affecting their survival. Adaptation is the evolutionary process accepted across the scientific community to explain how a population -- plant, animal, or human -- becomes better suited to its habitat. Observed to take place over generations, adaptation is one of the basic phenomena of biology explaining the diversity of nature. Simply put, animals and humans equipped to adapt to environmental distress would naturally adjust to the dangers of environmental crowding, food depletion, and pollution even when they themselves bring these dangers on.
Historically, civilizations have been observed to decline in accordance with an overabundant growth in population that the environment cannot support. Today overcrowding, urban sprawl, pollution, and increased yet inadequate farmland are negatively affecting both wildlife and the humans who cause it at an alarming rate. Given what we know about natural selection as an eminently versatile response to environmental endangerment, and what we know about the genome's metabolic adaptability, it follows that humans over generations would develop a mechanism within them to check and balance procreative extravagance.
If in the face of all this theorizing a truly scientific hypothesis of homosexuality still eludes us, consider that it is in no small part because even science is negatively affected by human prejudice. It has only been little over four decades since homosexuality began to be studied by social and natural scientists in a climate of increasing openness -- an openness that is not yet adequately shared by the public and private agencies funding research. As we all know with regard to stem cell research and efforts to combat HIV, the social stigma and religious conditioning attached to certain subjects of study still slow scientific advancement.
As for the discovery of a gay gene, this year a group of Korean geneticists led by Chankyu Park announced in the June 2010 issue of BMC Genetics that the sexual preferences of female mice had been altered by removing a single gene. Labeled FucM (No, it's not a joke. It's short for fucose mutarotase.), the gene isn't by definition the gay gene, but it is linked to reproductive behavior. Once the mice were deprived of the FucM gene, they gravitated toward mice of the same sex.
It's a study that will have to be repeated on demand by various independent researchers before the scientific community will consider ratifying it as scientific. Yet even if the FucM gene leads to a true genetic marker of homosexuality, it will still require a great leap in our understanding of how such a gene works to claim it is directly responsive to the stimulus of overpopulation. But in one respect it really doesn't matter whether it is or not. For even without a causal link established between homosexuality and population management, the obvious reduction in population growth attributable to homosexuality by itself indubitably works to preserve the species.
Of course population control also provides gays and lesbians, and in particular gay and lesbian youth, the purpose in life we seek. We're concerned today about the rate of suicide among gay teens. It's not enough for young people to be reassured that to be gay is good and beautiful. It's important that young people have some justification for their lives in the larger scheme of life. This kind of purposeful world view has from time immemorial been supplied by religion. But the religions born of past millennia that can't expand to encompass contemporary knowledge about the world don't provide the kind of self-purpose that progressive minded gays and lesbians require. Science and nature, on the other hand, can. Specifically the science and nature of population control, which makes homosexuality essential to the balance of life.
With the natural world on the brink of demise largely because of overpopulation, unrestrained homosexuality, as one of a variety of ethical and democratic measures available to us today, offers perhaps the most natural option to be enjoined. What other options are as attractive? We don't want to die young. We don't want to face illness or catastrophe. Many individuals and societies refuse abortion and birth control. Few would condone or submit willingly to the kind of international law imposing a one-child policy like that exercised by China on all nations. And we hardly need to be reminded of the history of racist, eugenicist, and militarist agendas for imposing growth control on unwilling and unknowing populations. So why shouldn't homosexuality be seen as providing a viable option to overpopulation--to the point that the world's nations come to encourage its practice and esteem its benefits? It is, after all, the most harmonious way to control the population--considering all that's required is that we love and support our gay sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parents, friends, lovers, and selves.
G. Roger Denson is the author of Voice of Force, a novel that has been called a microcosm of ancient familial fear in its chronicling of the escalating estrangement and tragedy that ensue as a gay man and straight man search for mutual ground despite the family, faith, profits, and politics dividing them.
Read other posts by G. Roger Denson on Huffington Post in the archive.