Homophobia and evolution: Nature or Nurture

I notice that once again the choice/not choice debate about homosexuality is going on.

Personally I think I’m a pretty strong-willed person and if heterosexuality were an exteme minority that was villified, I would probably be a homosexual. This probably wouldn’t be too difficult, as my wife says “penis is an acquired taste.”

Seeing as I learned to like coffee, I don’t see why this would be such a problem.

But seriously, I see no reason to doubt the opinions of homosexuals and the preponderance of evidence that says their sexual preference is not a matter of a choice, and I don’t want to debate it here.

Homosexuality is odd at first glance from an evolutionary standpoint. One would assume that if it were a genetic trait, it would have had a tough time propagating itself.

One wouldn’t really be able to consider it an abnormality or a deviance or a mutation any more than one would consider red hair an abnormality, deviance or mutation. Both pop up about as often.

Yet it seems that most of the time homosexuality arises from nonhomosexuals. It doesn’t appear to be a typical inherited trait.

Rather, it seems that it’s a part of our genome which shows up from time to time, maybe roughly 10% of the time.

This is common and frequent enough to come to the conclusion that there is an evolutionary advantage to having a minority homosexual population. It takes a lot of effort to raise a child. Raising one that it is not interested in competing to pass on its genes is on the face of it counterproductive, a waste.

Clearly this interpretation has to be wrong. Producing a certain percentage of homosexual children must be advantageous, otherwise our ancestors would have lost out to those that do not, and the tendency would have been eliminated.

The question then is what is the advantage?

Really, it can only be one thing. Having members of a society who are not competing for mates and having children every sixth months, and competing to provide for those children, must make it easier for those who are.

Simply put, a tribe or society with a percentage of the population being homosexual will have more adults on hand to help raise children and perform the tasks of society.

A tribe of 10 adults and 3 children is probably a lot stronger and more flexible than a tribe of 7 adults and six children. More redundancy, more of a safety margin, a better success rate. Such a tribe, such a society is tough.

That much seems pretty apparent. Let me delve into some speculation and take it further.

If you live in an environment with plentiful food and an easy climate, this advantage isn’t all that great. In fact, it might be counterproductive. A tribe that produces the occasional homosexual might get bred right out of existance, by a tribe that breeds less, or none.

If everything is easy, a higher ration of adults to children isn’t desirable. The advantage would be to those that maximize their offspring to take advantage of a favorable climate.

However, climates and environments change. New pressures occur. To maximize its advantages re homosexual population one would need a way of taking advantage of the homosexual population when it was needed, and getting rid of it when it wasn’t.

What possible trait could do this? It seems like a solution would be extremely difficult. In fact, though it may be simple.

Homophobia. Consider a population having a certain level of dislike and abhorrence toward homosexuals.

If a population had such a thing built into it would be overridden in times of need. As a cavedweller you find UROK you’re gay tribe member icky, and you may dislike him. But, if he’s helping bring meat back to the cave in tough times when you have mouths to feed, chances are you’re going to tolerate him.

If on the other hand, you are living in a place where the food jumps from the sea and falls from the trees, the climate is copacetic and life is easy, there’s no reason to tolerate UROK the gay caveman and he can be safely ostracized from the community.

So, the question for debate is:

Is homophobia a natural part of our genetic makeup?

It seems to me it might be. So many different society’s seem to have a large degree of it. It seems that a certain degree of homophobia might make some sense.

Now, from the standpoint of political correctness this an ugly possibility.

First off, it says something pretty shitty about humanity if we have the natural trait to be fair-weather friends and breed homosexuals simply for utility and then cast them off like worker bees if they’re not necessy.

Secondly, it gives validation to those who feel homophobic.

Homosexuality is not a choice. Therefore it doesn’t say anything about the quality of a person who is homosexual.

If homophobia is not a choice though, than wouldn’t homophobes deserve not to be ostracized for something that isn’t their choice either?

But why stop there?

Clearly, mankind is an animal that is prone to prejudice and discrimination. There’s a natural advantage to it. We view people that look and act like us as members of our tribe. We are inclined to look favorably upon them because we evolved in an environment with smaller populations, spread out.

If you were a short, stocky white man with a big nose and black hair, and everybody else in your tribe was also short, stocky, had a big nose and black hair, you might do well to be alarmed at the sudden appearance of a tall black man. It might mean danger, competitors. If you were inclined to look favorably upon people who were different from you, then the energy you spent assisting them is energy robbed from your tribe, your gene pool.

If a stallion takes over a herd, it will attack the pregnant mare that do not bear it’s children. It will attack colts that are not of its line.

There’s an evolutionary advantage to disliking and hurting people that are different, that don’t share your genes.

So, maybe a degree of racism, prejudice and discrimination are natural.

Which brings us to a difficult question. If we are not to judge a homosexual because it is likely he has no choice in the matter (and therefore it neither reflects positively or negatively on his quality,) then how can we judge a homophobe or a racist who also may not have choice in the matter?

At the start of this thread I made a joke about choice. It’s really not a joke though. I beleive we always have choice. I tend to believe that somebody is weak goods indeed, of poor quality, if they are not able to master themselves.

These things that we have are tendencies. Whether you are a homosexual, whether you have a racist tendency, whether like me you have the tendency to be a total prick, whether you have the tendency to be fat, or whatever tendency you have…

These tendencies are nothing more than the negative of a photograph. They are not you. You are the picture.
While it’s true that all you have to work with is what’s in the negative, any trait may be developed well, or poorly… or not at all.

How you do that is a matter of your nurture and the choices you make.

The bitch of this though is that no matter how hard you try, you can’t put anything into the picture that wasn’t there in the negative.

So, how does this apply to homosexuals, homophobes, racists and what have you?

Given the power of choice, one would assume that if a homosexual wanted to badly enough he could live as a heterosexual. There is choice.

There’s really no reason why a homosexual should exercise it, though.

If a gay guy were the last man on earth and there was a dozen fertile women, than we might make the argument that the gay guy owes it to humanity to perpetuate the race.

Failing that though, why should he exercise what choice he has?

But, if homophobia and racism are a natural part of our biology, what should a person do about these tendencies?

Within our current society these tendencies do no good. In fact, they harm the current society. Necessity dictates that one must exercise choice, one must master himself.

Now, I have no idea whether or not this is true. I don’t know whether or not homophobia or racism are biological traits. I thought it might be interesting enough to share though.

He shor do talk purty, don’t he?

Nope, but he sure do got a puuuuurdy mouth!:slight_smile:

It seems to be a common cultural trait for individuals in a society to have animosity towards those who are different. Either different within the society or different from outside the society. I don’t see why you need to look any further than this tendancy to explain animosity towards homosexuality. And it’s our ability to reason that can get us over that animosity. Either for race, for creed, or sexual orientation.

Repeat after me: not every single goddamn trait that humans, or any other organism for that matter, exhibit, whether morphological or behavioral, necessarily has a heritable genetic component, nor are they all adaptations for some damn thing or another.

Many, yes. All, no. Homophobia is a choice and has squat to do with evolution.


As to why homosexuality survives at all from an evolutionary standpoint, it’s just as likely that it is a fallout from other genes that make perfect sense from a strict survival point of view. For example, humans are clearly intensely social animals and need to be able to form close social groups in order to survive. The suite of genes responsible for producing these close social groups might very well overlap with the suite of genes that pushes us to form intimate, sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex. Perhaps the price we pay, as a species, is that sometimes those genes get mixed in such a way that an individual is attracted sexual to members of his or her sex. Perhaps those population that don’t produce these types of individuals have overall weaker relationships between men and men and women and women. And perhaps those population are less likely to survive, as populations.

Anyway, this is an untestable hypothesis. But the fact remains that homosexuality is observed across many cultures and seems to be an integral part of what we are as a species. Animosity towards homosexuality is not demostrably part of what we are a species, other than the generalized animosity we have (as I stated previously) for behaviors and characteristics out of the norm in a given society.

No. Homophobia is a sociological construct.

Actually, before we begin debating whether it is an innate or learned behavior, we might want to survey whether it appears in all societies, or whether it only appears in societies dominated by one of the three related religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Given that there are a number of societies that were known to be quite tolerant of homosexuality, arguing for an innate (to say nothing of genetic) origin would seem to be an uphill battle from the get go.

Interesting OP, Scylla, but you do realise that arguing in favour of homosexuality from an evolutionary standpoint will, for a considerable portion of the opposition, be like trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

The OP, besides being wildly speculative, also suffers from a faulty premise that any negative genetic characteristic is breeded out through evolution. This is demonstrably untrue - anyone can look around and see all sorts of genetic afflictions which have not been bred out by evolutionary processes. Maybe at some point they will be, but evolution is an extremely slow process. For all anyone knows, homosexuality is right now in the process of being extinguished by an evolutionary process, but in order to get from whatever point is started from to absolute zero takes a zillion years.

This seems pretty obvious to me, and it’s incredible that intelligent-seeming people bring up this argument as an argument against a genetic basis for homosexuality.

As for the homophobia, I think you need to clarify what is meant by homophobia - there’s a lot of discussion on this point, and a lot of disparate position are sometimes referred to as homophobia. But I’m assuming that for purposes of this discussion, what is meant is an emotional dislike of homosexuals. Here I think it is a mistake to view homophobia as an independent mental phenomenon that applies to homosexuality specifically - it is more likely part of a general tendency to dislike and distrust those who are not like us - this has an survival advantage to it. (I see on review that John Mace has already made this point). I imagine that the natural distaste that people have for sexual practices that hold no erotic appeal to them adds to this aspect.

Well I agree that we have an inbred tendency to shun/attack the unkown or outsider. So racism would come from there… its natural. Homophobia is directed at a member of the community thou… so its less justifiable… even if its understandable to some.

As for evolutionary reasons for homosexuals… well maybe it is some kind of population control. Or everyone carries a tad bit of homosexual tendencies that we demonstrate only thru same sex friendships. This makes us social beings even to those we don’t want to sleep with. Some guys just are born a little “badly regulated” and like to sleep with other men. Some are “midway regulated” and sleep with either sex.
(Thou remember that woman is the basic building model… men are women injected full of testosterone.)

I strongly doubt that a small percent (10% say) of homosexuals will effect breeding patterns in a very primitive society. Firstly breeding is dependent only on the number of available females so long as there is at least one sexually active male. I suspect that in any very primitive society every female will be pregnant all the time, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, as males are physically strong enough to ensure this through rape or coercion.
I suspect instead that having a percentage of the males not engaged in battling each other for sexual access to the females would be advantageous to the tribal family group, they would be more productive as they don’t expend energy fighting within the tribal members. If their percentage was low, then they would be unlikely to fight amongst themselves for sexual partners and would also be likely to find sexual partners amongst the unsuccessful heterosexual males (who would then achieve sexual release without passing on their inferior genes).

Utter nonsense. Males (human males, anyway) are determined by the possession of a Y chromosome (or, more specifically, the “sex determining region” of the Y chromosome). Fetuses do not start out as females and develop as males only if the right hormones are present; they start out undifferentiated and develop based on the hormones present.

It is not necessarily the case that evolution proceeds so ponderously. The effects of selection can occur quite rapidly, as has been observed in any number of birds, insects, domestic animals, and so on. Granted, in a large, interbreeding population, it can take a very long time for an allele to entirely disappear. But that would tend to point more towards the trait being selectively neutral in the first place.

All of which proceeds n the assumption that homosexuality is genetic and heritable, neither of which I believe has actually been demonstrated. Natural selection will have no effect on a trait if it is neither. It could, for example, be the case that homosexuality, if genetic, could be the result of a novel, but (relatively) easily accomplished, mutation. Since most homosexuals will not reproduce, the gene would not typically be “passed on” - but then it doesn’t need to be for the trait to continue to show up. And, I rather doubt there have been many studies regarding the heritability of homosexuality in the first place.

Discussions about any supposed evolutionary benefits of homosexuality are entirely speculative, since, again, it has not even been established that the trait falls under the purview of natural selection at this point.

I don’t know what you’re trying to say here. Just because the effects of selection can occur quite rapidly doesn’t mean that it has to, as you say. So before trying to make an argument about genetic origins you’ve got to figure out whether it should or shouldn’t in this case. You can’t just make an argument because something might have happened.

In general, there needs to be a clearer distinction between survival advantages and reproductive advantages - we are talking about the latter here. Complicating factors are that many carriers of the (presumed) gene are not themselves gay, and that many gays do reproduce. Until you can put some sort of mathematical model out there that assesses and accounts for these factors, you can’t even begin to make the argument. (And you also need a starting point.)

I see this argument as being pretty much analogous to arguing that predisposition to cancer or heart attacks etc. cannot be genetic because otherwise it would have been bred out by evolution. Can’t think of any difference.

I find fault with this theory for the same reasons outlined by Bippy.

Darwin’s Finch

I disagree. The behavioural genetics data I’ve seen cited puts the heritable component of homosexuality at 30-50%, which is most certainly enough for natural selection to come in to play, especially given the nature of the trait we are looking at.

This thread discussed the potential origins of homophobia. I discussed a theory of mine there, and I’d like to bring it up again here.

The basic idea of it is that homophobic homosexuals could be just as fit as heterosexuals. This is consistent with empirical evidence as shown in the Adams study.

The Adams study shows us that homophobes subconsciously find gay porn more arousing than non-homophobes. However, they consciously report that they are not aroused.

Given the Adams study, statements such as

are complete and utter tripe.

Someone got whooshed. :slight_smile:

To my knowledge, anthropological evidence shows that it is not present in all cultures. However, there is an important difference between a cultural norm of homophobia and an individual feeling of distaste for homosexual acts.

Geez, I’m all embarassed now, Mr. B :slight_smile:

Most of the points I might have made have already been stated rather well by John Mace and Darwin’s Finch.

One consideration I might add, however, is that if it is sometimes beneficial to have non-breeding individuals in the population, why should that take the form of homosexuality, rather than simply asexuality? Why should someone be attracted to their own sex, rather than not be interested in sex at all? (Actually, it might be interesting to find out what the rate of asexuality is in human populations compared to homosexuality.)

My own take on why homosexuality persists as a trait in human populations despite what would seem to be strong selection against it (due to behavioral near-sterility) is similar to that of John Mace: most likely it is linked to selection in favor of alleles that are adaptive in other combinations. Also, although homosexuality appears have a heritable component, sometimes it is probably the result of non-heritable developmental effects.

Homosexuality, AFAIK, is present in every human population that has been looked at in any detail. Homophobia, also AFAIK, is absent in many human societies. In my opinion, this argues strongly against any genetic link between them.

Actually, in terms of my immediate response to your quote (the first paragraph following your quote), I was simply pointing out that it is not always (and may, in fact, be seldom) the case that it takes “a zillion years” for natural selection to have a noticable effect on a population. It may take significantly longer to completely eradicate a trait, but it is becoming more clear that evolution does not (always or necessarily) proceed at the snail’s pace that Darwin advocated. More of a general caution than an outright disgareement.

Then, perhaps you can explain what, exactly, it means to be “30%-50%” heritable. Those sorts of statistics are nonsensical: either a trait is heritable, or it is not. That’s also a pretty substantial range (20%!), which leads me to believe that the margin for error in measuring this alleged “percent heritability” is likewise so huge as to make any resulting statistics worthless. This sort of numbers game has been played with IQ as well, with various claims as to the “relative heritability” of intelligence.