Thursday, December 13, 2007

Turning Homosexuality On and Off

Recent study results with fruit flies and the ability to modify sexual orientation will no doubt have some Christianists salivating at the possibility of (1) using this information to attempt to further beat down gay rights and/or (2) demand that gays seek out a cure if one were ever discovered. This piece in the New York Times ( looks at the new research and also at the issue of should sexual orientation be changed. Personally, I say it should not - for whatever reason, God made gays for a purpose even if we humans cannot figure it out. Moreover, but for the hate and abuse disseminated by the Christianists (and their Muslim and Hindu counterparts), growing up and living life gay would be a non-issue. Rather than change people, perhaps the better course is to change the hate based and homophobic religions? Otherwise, next they may be wanting blacks and other non-whites to change the skin pigmentation if an easy and inexpensive method were developed. Read the Christianist organizations' web sites: they are NOT friends of racial minorities or gays. Here are some highlights:
What if you could take a drug that would quickly alter your sexual orientation from straight to gay, or vice versa? To their surprise, neurobiologists have discovered that homosexuality can be turned on or off in fruit flies. They’d known that sexual orientation can be genetically programmed, but they didn’t realize it could also be altered by giving a drug that changes the way the flies’ sensory circuits react to pheromones.

Within hours of the treatment, previously heterosexual male fruit flies would be courting other males, and treatment could also cause flies who had been engaging in homosexual behavior to become exclusively heterosexual, the neurobiologists report in Nature Neuroscience. You can read a summary of it here from the University of Illinois at Chicago, the home of one of the researchers, David Featherstone.
I asked Dr. Featherstone if it might be possible one day to quickly alter humans’ sexual orientation. Here’s his answer: Although I am not sure my research is a big step in this direction, I think that ultimately the answer will be: Yes. After all the goal of neuroscience is a complete understanding of brain function. Understanding in science is typically demonstrated by the ability to control a process.
The question of whether or not homosexuality should be turned on and off is not a scientific question. It is an ethical/societal dilemma. I am glad my work is stimulating the discussion earlier rather than later. History is replete with poorly thought out attempts to ‘cure’ societal/behavioral ‘illnesses’ that turned out, with proper perspective, to not be ‘illnesses’ at all.
Would some social conservatives (like Leon Kass), who normally object to biologists “playing god” and pharmacologists altering “human nature,” change their minds and urge the use of biotechnology to promote heterosexuality? Would some social liberals try to restrict the use of this biotechnology? Would parents, gay or straight, want to regulate their children’s sexual orientation — and should they or their children be allowed to do so?


FullMentalJackpot said...

Whatever the case this a personal decision for the individual to make. No one group should dictate their standards to another. Some people are distressed by their sexual thought and if there is a way to stop them , scientifically, we have to do that.
This should never be used on the unwilling, but should never be denied to those that want it.

Assuming we can interfere or alter the behavioral pattern.

Java said...

I agree with you on this one, though I suppose if someone really wanted to change then perhaps he/she should be allowed the opportunity. But really, as you said, God designed each human being with his/her sexual orientation, so don't go messing with it. That leads to questioning a transexual's right to gender reassignment, too. Hmm. A sticky question. It is a huge can of worms. But I so agree with you that if the societies of the world would not be so hatefully homophobic it wouldn't be a big deal to live an openly gay life. Utopic? I don't think so. Happening next week? Nope. But I'm hoping, and doing what little I can to make effective changes in the world. Great post, Michael.