If homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle, a “preference” open to whim, then it is easier for the fundamentalist preachers to justify the hatred they spit from their pulpits. Further, it is easier for those who have little interest in religion to remain undisturbed at the homophobia they or those around them distribute so casually. Most members of society have trouble fathoming why any sane individual would—frequently as a child—chose to become a “homosexual” with its attendant meanings of outlaw, leper, sinner, pervert (and here you can also insert the ugly names coming immediately to mind). Many heterosexuals, bewildered by this bizarre choice, simply wash their hands of the issue and leave such strange people to stew in a soup of their own making.
Let us begin by supposing that homosexuality is not a choice. If not, where does it come from?
Those who favor the “nurture” side of the nature (born that way)/nurture (caused by environment) debate, would argue that one or more factors, typically supposed to occur in early life ("before age five” is the current phrase), conspire to send the toddler down the homosexual path never to return to the broader and better byway of heterosexuality. The problem here is that the data simply do not support this theory. Homosexuals seem to emerge from the same settings as heterosexuals, and recent studies all show this. If you’re heterosexual, consider this question seriously: how difficult would it be for you to change that orientation and become a homosexual if it were very important for you to do so? For that matter, think back—do you remember choosing between the two orientations?
This brings us to the biological solution: the possibility that homosexuality is genetically induced, a solution that founders on the rocks of a paradox. Genetic characteristics enhance survival and expansion of the species, but homosexual couplings do not result in offspring. How are we to explain a genetic characteristic that does not fulfill this basic function?
Some people have made valiant attempts. In his 1978 Pulitzer Prize-winning book ON HUMAN NATURE, Edward O. Wilson, the eminent sociobiologist, came up with his "kin selection" theory. According to Wilson, their freedom from child rearing duties permitted the early homosexual cave dwellers to concentrate on other matters essential to the survival of the tribe. These child-free activities of the gay clan members were so beneficial to everyone else that their siblings, who did produce children, passed on homosexual characteristics to some of their offspring so that the next generation could also benefit from the helpful homos.
Well, it's a nice try. And Wilson's book is otherwise so impressive that I wanted to believe it along with the rest. But a few things stuck in my craw. For one, there is more homosexuality around than the theory accounts for (elaborated on below). For another, the theory makes a typical heterosexual presumption: homosexuals do not have children. Since homosexuals do in fact have a lot of children (huge numbers of them marry the opposite sex and produce progeny), the theory rests on a faulty premise. Finally, the theory makes the usual mistake of thinking homosexual and heterosexual orientations make up discrete classification, which is simply wrong.
When I first came out to my father, we had a series of conversations on the topic of homosexuality over the course of a week, conversations that lasted until dawn. His parting thought was, “Well, Doug, whatever you say, homosexuality is just not normal.” I’ve spent much time thinking about that—thinking, reading, and amalgamating the ideas of others. I now present for your consideration my “Iceberg Theory.”
This theory postulates that homosexuality is normal; that homosexuality is a genetic characteristic shared by almost all people on the planet, being stronger in some than others. The persons that we now call “homosexuals” are simply those in whom the homosexual component far surpasses the heterosexual component (if any), leading us to believe that all homosexuality is present only at this level. But the visible, self-identified homosexuals are but the tip of an iceberg. The reality is that a far bigger mass of humanity is also subject to homosexual desires of varying degrees of strength, a homosexuality hidden deep in the complexities of every society on earth.
In the late forties and early fifties, Dr. Alfred Kinsey and associates at Indiana University published ground-breaking studies of human sexuality in the male and female. Kinsey's then-shocking statistics on homosexuality led to the conclusion that more or less ten percent of those interviewed (and many thousands of subjects were interviewed) were predominantly homosexual for at least three years of their adult life. Kinsey devised a scale by which to measure homosexual orientation; the scale goes from “zero” (totally heterosexual) to “six” (totally homosexual), with the numbers in between reflecting increasing homosexual desires. Someone who is truly bisexual would be a "three" on the Kinsey scale. The fives and sixes on Kinsey’s scale (predominantly and totally homosexual) total to around ten percent, which is where that oft-heard ten percent estimate of the number of homosexuals comes from. [This is only a rough description of Kinsey’s scale, which is actually more complicated than that, particularly for females, but it will do for this discussion.]
I think the Kinsey scale is right in that people have very different attractions to homosexual behavior, but I think Kinsey got the percentages all wrong. Kinsey himself recognized the difficulties that bother me.
The first is that Kinsey only interviewed volunteers who were willing to talk about the most intimate aspects of their sex life. Granted that Kinsey found many such people, but they can hardly be representative of the whole population, particularly where the subject is as alarming as is the topic of homosexuality. My father was a student at Indiana University when Kinsey took his survey and was in fact one of the people Kinsey interviewed. Had I been in his place and one of Kinsey's assistants had asked me if I, Douglas Whaley, would be willing to grant an anonymous interview about my most private sexual thoughts, I would have stiff-armed the assistant immediately and fled the scene in absolute terror. In my own college days I was still caught in the throes of societal homophobia, and I was not even talking to myself about homosexual urges. I dare say this is true of many, perhaps most people who later admit the truth and “come out.” Indeed, in the 1940s a large percentage of those aware of their homosexual desires must have been most unwilling to be interviewed by Kinsey and his crew.
Another difficulty with the Kinsey percentages lies in the definition of “homosexuality.” Even if Kinsey had a definition for the term (and he did), his subjects were not likely to appreciate it, and their own internalized homophobia would lead them so stretch everything they could into a heterosexual mold. My father, for example, believed that the excited recipient in an oral sexual encounter was not engaged in a homosexual act and could therefore truthfully answer “no” to the question of homosexual attractions. I hold that there are more people in the middle part of the Kinsey scale than anyone (even me) suspects. These people don't think of themselves as “homosexuals,” but they have some homosexual desires, and many of them on occasion act upon them. What they don't do is admit that this is happening. These people are the submerged portion of the iceberg.
If the iceberg theory were true something must be done about the genetic paradox mentioned above. If homosexuality doesn't encourage the production of offspring, how could nature select homosexuality as a genetic characteristic?
Let us consider human beings in the early days when they were merely a primitive tribe. The genetic characteristics we now exhibit were developed many thousands of years ago by ice age peoples in a period of pre-history, pre-civilization. If homosexuality helped such a tribe survive, then it’s a good candidate for genetic selection. As mammals existing in the pre-agricultural past, human tribes consisted of a group of roughly fifty individuals. More than fifty people and the tribe could not sustain itself. But humans have the further problem of an unlimited supply of babies. Homo sapiens have a very strong sex drive. Human females face the possibility of becoming pregnant at each heterosexual coupling. In the days before the pill (etc.), birth control methods were of the crudest sort, the most typical choice being infanticide. Unwanted extra babies (particularly females, who if allowed to grow up would produce yet more babies) were simply exposed to the elements and left to die.
Infanticide is a cruel practice and could not have been popular even with our most brutish ancestors. Abstinence from heterosexual conduct is an alternative, but abstinence from all sex is impossible for normal human beings. In such a world, homosexuality is very explainable, very desirable, because it channels sexual activity into harmless outlets.
In fact, sociologists and historians will tell you that a common pattern for primitive tribes and early civilizations is to have a ritualized period of male homosexuality, a period in which young teenage boys are sodomized by older men. As the boys get older they are expected to mate with the females, produce the number of children necessary to the survival of the tribe, and, as they mature, slake their sexual appetite by consorting with the most recent crop of teenage boys. Similar female homosexual activity freed women from excessive maternities, though it was typically less ritualized for the usual sexist reasons.
In the ice age homosexuality was such a boon that members of the tribe were expected to engage in it. All but a few (the “zeros” on Kinsey's scale) did so. If a tribe member was so heterosexual in orientation that he could not participate in the expected homosexual couplings, and instead insisted on mating only with the opposite sex, producing unwanted babies, he was promptly booted out of the tribe, as were excessive trouble makers of any stripe. Thus homosexuality was the tribe's safety valve, and homosexual genes were passed on to most all tribe members.
Once agriculture developed however the rules, of necessity, changed. With a predictable supply of food, the tribe could grow, and indeed had to grow in order to compete with other burgeoning tribes. As this growth phenomenon occurred, the societal need for homosexuality disappeared. Homosexuality, limiting as it does the amount of heterosexual activity and thus depressing the size of the tribe, became a societal evil. Early religions—almost all of them—reflected this shift in attitude by removing homosexuality from a list of condoned practices and putting it close to the top of forbidden ones. In the 21st century it is difficult to appreciate just how important it was for early societies to grow as quickly as possible. But if the cave people over the mountain are increasing in numbers faster than your own tribe, a competition is underway and breeding has a top priority. Societal attitudes towards homosexuality would have shifted rather quickly from supportive to homophobic.
But genetic characteristics, once acquired, do not disappear simply because society no longer needs them. In modern times, as in the early cave days, most human beings still possess a genetically-programmed homosexual response, stronger in some than others. Those in whom it is so strong that they have little or no heterosexual component (the tip of the iceberg), we call “homosexuals”; those who can repress this trait or don’t have it at all, we call “heterosexuals.” Even in most of the latter, however, the trait is still there, ready to spring forth under the right (or the wrong) circumstances. As one of the characters in the play The Boys in the Band remarks, “With the right wine and the right music there're damn few that aren't curious.”
If true, a genetic theory like this explains much. During puberty many adolescents experiment with same sex fun; no one thinks much about this. Adults isolated from the opposite sex (in prison, or the military, etc.) will engage in what is called “situational homosexuality,” reverting to heterosexual behavior when it is again possible. This seems to surprise no one. If the iceberg theory is right there is a lot of hidden homosexual activity in the world and also a tremendous amount of suppressed homosexual desire. Those who can suppress this desire (or who hate themselves for their “sin” when they cannot) are certain to be antagonistic to humans who “flaunt” their homosexuality. This tension is at the very heart of homophobia. A gay rights movement is therefore struggling for more than merely societal tolerance of the gays at the tip of the iceberg. Whether gay activists know it or not, their efforts force almost all members of society to confront internalized homosexual desires. Gays asking for acceptance will meet incredibly homophobic responses as the rest of the iceberg displays its inability to accept its own homoerotic impulses, whether faint or strong. The “zeros” on the Kinsey scale are rarely remain homophobic once they’ve really thought about the issue.
Until the very end of the last century, society's response to homosexuality had been to try and lop off the top of the iceberg and classify “out” or obvious gays as sinners, criminals, or mental cases. The rest of the iceberg was ignored. Nonetheless, throughout history and all over the world, condemned as it has been and no matter what the punishment, homosexuality has never been eliminated, never even been stopped. Every society on the globe, primitive or advanced, ancient or current, has had to deal with homosexual behavior by its members. Genetics explains why. You cannot change a genetic trait merely by discouraging it for a few thousand years. Human beings are still very much the same creatures they were before the dawn of civilization. Efforts to stifle basic instincts by law, by medicine, by religion, will fail, and the instincts, though concealed, are present still. As attitudes toward homosexuality have varied throughout history, the tip of the iceberg has grown in periods of tolerance and, correspondingly, the berg has sunk low in the water during periods of inquisition. But whether floating high or low, the size of the berg has not changed.
Two thousand years or more of societal repression is tough to overcome. But the task, though difficult, is not impossible once understood. Homophobia itself, after all, is not a genetic characteristic (it is a choice), and through understanding and education it can dissipate. And while society has had no luck at all in stamping out homosexuality, a society that realistically confronts the issue (and, I might add, a society that certainly has no shortage of babies) should in time be able to accommodate not only the tip, but the entire berg. That accomplished, we can get on to things that really do matter.
“Straight Talk,” May 10, 2010
“Marijuana and Me,” July 11, 2010
"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011
"The Homosexual Agenda To Conquer the World," February 8, 2011
"Seducing Straight Men," March 3, 2011
"Coming Out: How To Tell People You're Gay," March 27, 2011
"Jumping the Broom: How 'Married' are Married Gay Couples?" July 17, 2011
"The Legacy of Homophobia," August 2, 2011
"The History of Gay Rights in Columbus, Ohio," June 4, 2012
"Disowning Your Gay Children," October 9, 2013
"Republican Politicians: Reluctant Homophobes?" November 26, 2013
“Gays Will Be Able To Marry in All States By July of 2016 (and Maybe 2015): A Prediction,” February 14, 2014
“Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Gay People?” March 19, 2014
“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality and Gay Marriage?” June 29, 2014
“Are Gays Really Just 1.6% of the U.S. Population?” July 22, 2014
“A Gay Hoosier Lawyer Looks at Indiana’s RFRA: The Religious Bigot Protection Act,” March 30, 2015; http://douglaswhaley.blogspot.com/2015/03/a-gay-hoosier-lawyer-looks-at-indianas.html “A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013