Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Politics of Gay Sheep

Sometimes you see a story so silly, you can't help but wonder what strange psychosis has gripped those involved.

Case in point: Some researchers at Oregon State University have been conducting research on "gay*" sheep that turns them straight. By changing hormonal levels in the brain, rams become much more inclined to mount the sheep rather than other rams.

And so, what happens? Critics become vocal, declaring that the research is an attempt to cure homosexuality and is the most horrendous attack on their dignity. Of course PETA gets involved, but they're against anything involving animals, their opinions aren't really important here.

So, could this cure homosexuality in people? Well, eventually. Maybe. Remains to be seen.

In strictly humanistic terms, homosexuality is a biological** deviation which reduces reproductive fitness. Biologically speaking, any mutation (or other abnormality) which reduces the ability of a species to reproduce is bad. I suppose if you're so-minded, getting rid of homosexuality isn't a bad thing.

I don't think like that, though, and I can't speak for those protesters, so I'll share my own thoughts on the matter.

First, I wonder what the possibility of hypocrisy is here. It's still in the realms of fiction where parents can genetically design their babies, but science is catching up. I find such work to be somewhat insulting to human dignity, but how many people think it's okay? If it's just peachy to craft a tall, athletic, blue-eyed supergenius in the womb, is it also okay to make sure he'll pass on his genes? If the "cure" is administered prenatal, what happens to a woman's choice? It seems to me if a woman can choose to kill the unborn child, she can choose to prevent homosexuality in it as well. Not that abortion has to be concurrent with this, but again, I'm wondering if there's any hypocrisy at play here. I'm not pro-choice, so I can't speak for them.

What if it's something administered to adults? In this case, that would be an individual choice, and despite the hysteria of the protesters, should be left to each individual to decide. Maybe some people don't want to be gay. Why shouldn't they be allowed to determine that? I'm told all the time that it isn't a choice. If it could become a choice, why shouldn't they be allowed to choose?

So, I'm okay with any potential adult treatments. Prenatal treatments, I'm undecided on. For conditions which threaten someone's life, I'm fine with such developmental tampering. Further than that, and I'm uncertain. Does it impinge on human dignity? Do we step on God's toes by custom-crafting human beings? (Ooh, I just thought of a good one; does God have feet so big that even he can't make shoes big enough for them?)

All I know is, you'd think from the reactions of the people in the article that these guys were kidnapping gay men off the street and dissecting their brains. Let's keep some perspective, and try to talk rationally about the science advancing. If I can remain calm about Amendment 2 in MO, I think we can be civil about this.

* - I use the "scare quotes" because I'm not really certain how they quantify homosexuality in animals. Because the rams like to mount other rams? I'm no expert on the matter, but it seems like non-human homosexuality has more to do with humping anything rather than humping specific genders. But like I said, that's my limited experience talking.

** - Again, I'm not aware of research which limits this to genetic causes or developmental causes. And if it's developmental, are we talking prenatal or postnatal development?


Jim Newman said...

PETA’s big lie:

Just so you know. The false suggestion that the research is aimed at curing homosexuality was made by PETA. Yes, the animal rights group.

Of course PETA has their own motives for receiving press on this story. In fact, PETA heavily edited quotes by the researchers and even fabricated information to generate press coverage. Many weeks ago, a writer in the states looked into PETA false claims. Here’s what he found:

Jim Newman said...

PS - I am pleased that a writer has thoroughly investigated the article. As he reports, the Sunday Times article is filled with major errors and false claims. His analysis also raises important questions about the timing of the article which comes almost five years after the research was actually conducted.

Here’s a link to that analysis that anyone who is interested in this topic should read:

A wolf in gay sheep's clothing: Corruption at the London Times

meera said...

hal, what's your view on transgendered folk and sex-change operations?

also, ryan wants to know if you've seen x3.

Hal said...

I have seen X3. The ironic similarities did not escape me.

As for the transgendered, well, that's a bit more complicated.

I think if you're going to talk about it, you ought to be clear on what you're referring to. Some people get sex change operations because they were born gender inspecific, and end up not "feeling" like they gender they were surgically created to be at birth. Some people get them because the gender problem was less obvious, visible genitalia for one gender but the gonads acting for the other (such as having a penis and ascended testicles which act more like ovaries). Then there's some people who just feel like they ought to be the other gender and get the change for the heckuvit (a gross generalization, but enough for just a blog comment).

I can't speak for the people whose bodies were born in such states of disorder. I have no clue what that must be like.

Still, that third category is the place where I start having qualms. Especially when such groups get tossed in with people who have legitimate biological disorders.

And Jim, thanks for the links. I'll read those when I have the chance.

-Murphy said...

The whole thing was just made the hell up by the deputy Politics editor, actually.