I attended a lecture yesterday on whether the genes in a person’s make-up were a deciding factor in whether or not that person grew up to be gay, lesbian or heterosexual. The lecturer was very pedantic in insisting studies proved it was all down to genes, and that upbringing and experiences in childhood had little or no influence.
This is, in my view, not only a sweeping generalization, I don’t believe it is true, and it also seems that the conclusions were reached before the figures and studies were even looked at. It seemed to me that they decided on a politically correct outcome, and this was that people are born gay or straight and have no choice in the matter (just as people are born black or white) but they also made sure to add the proviso that this did not mean Nazis or prejudiced people could weed out the gay gene. This was because many genes were involved, and if you tried to gerrymander them you’d also interfere with a lot of other characteristics in the person’s make-up. All far too clean-cut and convenient, I thought, and it didn’t tie in with my own and other people’s experience.
I think the truth of the matter is that there is something in a person’s genes which could potentially mean they turn out gay, but it depends on a lot of other factors as well. Otherwise, surely, siblings would tend to all be gay or straight since they inherited the same genes from their parents.
The fact is we are all born with a mixture of male and female characteristics. This has led some academics to say nobody is 100% heterosexual or homosexual, we are all to some extent bisexual and with a mixture of masculine and feminine aspects to our character and make-up.
This sounds reasonable to me, and upbringing, environment and experiences in childhood and adolescence almost certainly do influence our sexual orientation in adulthood, despite this lecturer insisting such theories were discarded in the early 1970s.
The hostile or absent father figure and over-dominant mother was often cited in the 1960s and earlier as a factor which would make it more likely that a boy would grow up gay, and I think this is absolutely correct.
Take my own case. I must have had some gay genes in my make-up from birth as at primary school I was always trying to play in the Wendy House, which was reserved for girls, and in later childhood years, whilst I didn’t play with dolls, I loved playing shops, or building towns whilst my brother found such things boring, and used to ‘bomb’ the towns I created.
Another theory of this lecturer and his colleagues was that having an older brother made a younger brother more likely to turn out gay, but I had a younger brother and no other brothers or sisters. He was always the more macho and the dare-devil. He’d take the lead in climbing trees and doing risky things. I always had a much more passive, feminine nature if you like. For instance, I was a pacifist ever since I was a little child, never got involved in fights, and insisted that I would be a conscientious objector if ever called up for the army (in actual fact National Service was abolished a few years before I would have been old enough to be conscripted).
I had many of the elements in my childhood which would, under the old rules, make me likely to turn out gay. Quite apart from the passive, more feminine traits in my character/genes from birth, I not only had a largely absent and hostile father and over-protective mother figure, but I was scared stiff of men in my early childhood as I’d had so little contact with them.
My father came from a different culture, Greek-Cypriot, which is extremely macho and chauvinistic. I hardly saw anything of him in my early childhood as he was out gambling, drinking and womanizing most nights and sleeping during the day. My most vivid memory of him is when he started smashing up the family home, tearing open wooden boxes, etc. in a blind rage when my mother was leaving him when I was aged 6. He used to get drunk and beat her up, and though I never witnessed this, he was a distant and hostile figure who I never really got close to all my life.
Having left my father, I was then brought up almost entirely by dominant women, namely my mother and grandmother. We lived in the same house as my grandparents, but my grandfather was a very quiet man, completely dominated by his wife, and I was rather scared of him too. He used to scold us if we damaged his garden out the back, but otherwise was very much in the background.
I attended two predominantly girls’ schools when growing up. A private primary school for girls where I was sent for a year or two to catch up because I’d missed so much schooling due to hospitalization for a club foot, one leg shorter than the other, cleft palate, hare lip, broken leg at aged 6 and there were other things which came much later.
The girls’ primary school had all women teachers of course, cats roaming round freely, and playtime consisted of walking in line sedately round the garden (there was no playground) doing ladylike exercises. Boys were only admitted up to age 7.
My last school, a commercial college course, was also predominantly girls with just a few boys in the class. It was mainly a course for girls who wanted to be secretaries or shorthand-typists, plus a few boys who wanted to be chartered accountants but who also had to take shorthand and typing. I excelled at typing, which most of the other boys were not good at, they much better at accounts which I hated.
Then there was the constant hospitalization I suffered as a child, with endless operations. The nurses and sisters were all women who by and large tried to make me comfortable; the men were all hostile figures (doctors and consultants) who planned horrible operations. This also planted the fear of men in my early childhood.
So bad and real was this fear of men that I cried all night, unable to sleep, at age about 8 when I was due to go into a male teacher’s class for the very first time.
In my first primary school I was so alienated from men and innocent about their ways, that I kept going into the girls’ toilet on my first day. The girls ushered me out into the boys’, but all I saw there was the disgusting sight of boys urinating against the wall, or so I thought. I’d never seen a men’s or boys’ urinal; the only toilet I’d known was the sit-down variety. My father was never around to take me into a men’s toilet facility.
Nevetheless by the time I was in secondary school I had three good male friends, and was so fond of a girl in my class that I made my brother take the long route to school so we could pass her house, and I’d follow her to school and get my brother to pull her ponytail, etc. just so she’d turn round and look at us and talk to us.
One of my friends who I hung around with at lunchtimes especially always had books of nude or semi-nude women, and we’d fantasize about these. He’d tell me stories with a high sexual content, all heterosexual, and his favorite fantasy figure at the time, and probably mine too, was the actress Diana Dors.
So you can say up until the age of about 13 I was, despite the ‘gay genes’ in my make-up, predominantly heterosexual. I had no sexual fantasies about boys at all that I was aware of, they were all directed towards women. That is I was turned on by the photos in the nudie books which circulated at school, by the idea of busty actresses like Diana Dors, and I had some strange attraction to this girl in my class who I followed to school.
Then some dramatic things happened which made me gay almost overnight. First the girl I was fond of died suddenly in the Asian Flu epidemic of 1957, when I was only 12. I’d never even got on speaking terms with her, or had a chance to tell her I was fond of her. Had she lived, she might well have been my first girlfriend, who knows?
Then I was hospitalized in early 1958, when I was 12 and about to turn 13. I had an operation on my leg, one on my lip, but was kept in hospital and doctors kept looking at my private parts. Nothing was said to me until the day before a third operation to bring about puberty. This was planned in total secrecy when I was only 12, and performed when I was just about turning 13. Quite outrageous, because puberty in boys back in those days anyway often didn’t come about naturally till later.
Whether it came about naturally or not, it was the secret, underhand nature of the way the operation was planned which amounted to child abuse, akin to rape. These are strong words, but I believe them to be accurate. I cannot blame my mother or grandmother, I was partly to blame, but mainly it was the doctors. They should have realized the trauma springing this operation on me would cause (I was only told about itÂ a day or so before the operation was to be performed).
I don’t believe I was ‘not developing properly’ as with retrospect I remember my grandmother reporting to the hospital on an outpatients visit. I think I was perfectly normal. I was not yet fully sexually functional, but I certainly got aroused. However it was a female-dominated environment at home, and also a sexually repressed one. Such things were not discussed, and although I knew the basic facts of life (learnt from my mother), I knew she disapproved of my schoolfriend with the girlie books and fondness for Diana Dors, and that she felt he was a bad influence on me.
Therefore, when my brother first got aroused during the night and asked my mother about it, she brought me into the conversation and I denied that I ever got similarly aroused. Of course I did, but I was ashamed to admit it. I’m sure this is what brought about the inquiries which led to them thinking I wasn’t developing properly, and since I was in hospital anyway they might as well do two operations to bring on puberty.
Whatever, the operation was done, and a second operation to remove the deep stitches a few months later. These two operations left both physical and mental scars, deep ones which took years to heal.
They also had another effect. Just before the first operation my mother sprung the news on me why I could not leave hospital after two operations (on my leg and lip) but had to have a third on my private parts. She said if I didn’t I couldn’t have children. I remembering rebelling and saying I wasn’t meant to have children, that was why the girl I was fond of died. I also felt the operation was separating me from the women who had been so much a part of my life as a child, turning me into one of those alien creatures I’d been so scared of – men. I clearly remember these feelings. What it means is I was not ready to undergo such an operation, and would need time and counseling to get used to the idea and the implications of having it, postponing it or not having it at all. In 1958 children of 12 and 13 weren’t offered counseling; they were just treated as things with no rights whatsoever. At least that’s the impression I got from the way the doctors treated me.
If there was ever a moment when I became gay, it was then, when those operations were suddenly sprung on me. I can pinpoint to the month when I became gay: August 1958. That was just after the second operation which removed the deep stitches in the vicinity of my private parts.
My brother and I were sent to a home in Saffron Walden, Essex for a holiday for disadvantaged boys, and we had to share a dormitory with two other boys. This was the first time I felt sexual attraction towards anyone of my own sex, namely the two boys who shared our dormitory. Nothing sexual ever happened, but I definitly felt a strong sexual attraction to them.
Someone I told this story to said that the operations for puberty would have aroused my sexual feelings, but this is not the case. I had heterosexual desires before these operations. All they did was allow me to function fully, a process which might or might not have come about naturally in a year or so. Some boys don’t reach puberty till 13, 14 or even 15, or didn’t back then in the 1950s.
Whatever, it was not so much the operations but the way they were planned in secret and then suddenly forced on me which caused the mental trauma. I retreated completely into my shell for the rest of my college days. I changed schools in the Summer of 1958, just after that final operation to bring about puberty, and I never made another friend my own age for the rest of my college days, or indeed for the rest of my teenage.
I isolated myself from the other boys in my class (on the predominantly female commercial couse at a technical college) and wouldn’t join in their talk and games, some of which were undoubtedly of a sexual nature. I would not take part in Games or anything which involved undressing or showering in the presence of other boys because I was scared they’d see the scars around my private parts.
I didn’t actually discover the gay world or do anything sexual until I was well into my 20s. But I knew I was gay from the age of 13, from August 1958 immediately after that second operation to bring about puberty at that holiday home in Saffron Walden.
From then on my fantasties about girls and Diana Dors receded into the background and disappeared, virtually overnight. No longer was I at the school with my friend Peter showing me the nude girlie books, telling me sexy stories about women, or fantasizing about Diana Dors and the like.
So don’t tell me I was simply born ‘gay’ and it was all in my genes. Yes, I had genes and things in my natural make-up which would potentially make me gay, but it was my upbringing , environment and the things that happened to me during my childhood and adolescence which finally determined my sexual orientation.
Other gay men I know have also had things happen in their childhood which influenced their later sexual orientation. Hostile or absent fathers are a common feature. Another factor is child abuse. My life-partner was abused by a girl cousin when he was only about 8, as his mother lay dead or dying at Christmas time. This undoubtedly made him fear any kind of sexual contact with women (and incidentally made him hate Christmas.)
Later a stepbrother arrived on the scene, and a short but very influential sexual love/hate relationship developed between them. It is not entirely clear who initiated the sexual aspect, but certainly this relationship and the incidents which happened between them influenced my partner’s sexual preferences for the rest of his life, as he tried to recreate the mild sado-masochistic scenarios he’d experienced with his stepbrother.
What happens in our childhood and adolescence, and our general environment and upbringing, has a tremendous influence on our sexual orientation in later years, but I can concede that so-called ‘gay genes’ (that is feminine qualities/chromosomes in boys and masculine ones in girls) also play a part.
Oh yes, my brother is married to a woman, by the way, so what happened to the ‘gay gene’ he presumably inheritied? His childhood background was different to mine. A potential girlfriend didn’t die, he didn’t suffer all those traumatic operations. And also he was more orientated to boyish activities than I was, for whatever reasons, thruout his childhood and into his adult life. He has always indulged in dangerous, macho activities, such as caving/potholing and taking risks which I could never even contemplate.
The whole question of sexuality and sexual orientation is very complex, and no one factor is the cause. It is a mixture of things. Put a heterosexual man in an all-male environment for years, and he will be quite likely to change his sexual orientation at least temporarily.
It is not a thing we voluntary choose, that’s true. But it is something which comes about beyond our control due to our genetic make-up, environment and upbringing. You cannot say it is all down to a ‘gay gene’ which for some unexplained reasonÂ makes some siblings gay and their brothers and sisters straight.Â Other factors come into play to decide our eventual sexual orientation.
To say it is entirely down to a ‘gay gene’ which cannot be engineered is a politically correct concept which has been decided in advance by certain gay liberals, and the statistics skewed to fit that conclusion.