Sunday, December 17, 2006

Playing the Odds

To add to that last post, I thought it would be interesting to do a back-o-the-envelope calculation as to how many people have these supposed gay causing events in their history. I mean, it seems like a lot of kids felt alienated at one time or another and many kids are from split families, right? So down the same list:

1. Sexual molestation: It’s not easy to find good numbers on child sexual abuse, as secrecy can be a huge problem, but, when asked as adults, it seems “20% of adult females and 5 to 10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident” (1). I’ve seen numbers reported as high as 38%, but couldn’t find a traceable reference. Let’s just say that’s 10% of the population and ignore the likely substantial underreporting problem.

2. Early consensual homosexual experience. Of course consensual would indicate the orientation was already there, but… The best I could find here was a study of which I’m already dubious for reasons I hope to get to eventually, mainly for the conclusions drawn regarding adult sexual orientation using people as young as 12. But they did ask about the same-sex behavior in this group of 12 to 18 year old kids. About 1.5% report same sex intimacy (which is to be taken with a grain of salt as, at such an age for example, I wouldn’t have reported such but one of my straight friends would have :-)) (2). But there’d likely be significant underreporting by the closeted. Let’s just say 1.5%.

3.The demonization or glorification of sex. Boy, I’ve no idea how one would get numbers on that. Let’s just say 0% of the non-gay population experiences either and generously leave it out.

4. Weak or effeminate males (and I suppose strong and tomboyish girls). Again, how to find the percentage of the general public who fall into this category? Let’s just say 5% of the population are noticeably outside their assigned gender roles when they’re young. Seems more than fair, doesn’t it?

5.Having an older sibling of the same sex on which to fixate. It seems the average male has 0.6 older brothers. How to translate that into the odds that any male would have at least one older brother? Thinking back 7 years to Statistics... Oh my, where’s my text? Let’s just say the average person has a 50% of having an older sibling, and then a 50% chance they’re of the same sex. That’d be 25% and because I fudged it let’s error against my argument and say 15%.

6. Domineering mother and distant father, or vice versa. As I can’t find numbers on it let’s just give it to the other side and say everyone but gays have perfect parents in the minds of conversion therapists. Sad as this is supposedly a big one for them, but they win by forfeit here :-). 0% then.

7. By the age of 15, about 40% of the US population born into a union has experienced that union’s split (3). About 17% of us are born outside of a union, married or cohabitation, and 50% in total will have experienced living outside a home with a parental union by the age of 15. So, to be generous again, let’s just say 40% odds of not having an intact home by age 15.

8. Fitting in with peers of own sex. Again, how to find numbers on this one? I’d say only about 10% of kids go through their teens never feeling substantially left out, the popular elite :-). But lets, for caution’s sake, reverse that and say only 10% feel left out of their peer group, alienated or “different” (Isn’t that how most describe being a teenager? :-) I am a generous man in my statistics.).

In the end we have 10%, 1.5%, 0%, 5%, 15%, 0%, 40%, and 10%. Let’s see… subtract from one… multiply… carry the teen angst… Okay: 61%.

Even with all those concessions I gave, which are substantial :-), the average person, who over 90% of the time ends up straight, would have over a 61% chance of having at least one of these characteristics in their “nurture.” (Note that this has some weak assumptions about the independence of some of these but I did error on the side of caution.)

So, simply, if you’re gay and you’re dad left home at a young age or you didn’t get along well with your peers or you were molested as a child, I’d hesitate before assuming such event as a cause in who you are today. Even assuming some of these events do influence a person’s orientation, gays do exist without such in their past, and so certainly gay men who are gay for reasons having nothing to do with these events may still have them in their past, as most straight people do.

I’d fear if such a man were to go into conversion therapy, the therapist may reflexively seek out, say, the fact that a he was from divorced parents. I’d fear that a therapist in such a business would reflexively (not necessarily out of homophobia mind you) build upon such facts a false, though well-honed psychological narrative that could possibly be convincing to the gay man without any part in reality.

On the other side, for this same reason, you can’t yet claim or know that, for example, having a gay older brother means you're gay by nature. Many people have gay older brothers; just as many spent their youth without their dad in the home. Even for the fraternal birth order effect, it’s calculated by the theory’s major proponents that only 24% of gays with one older brother can attribute their homosexuality to such an effect (4). Thank goodness there’s no cure being sold for the nature side of the fraternal birth order effect, yet :-).

Lastly, instead of making another post of this, I’d like to point out, as many have, how the causality in such nurture arguments may easily be muddled. Choosing homosexual experiences in a young age is said to lead to homosexuality, but to me such behavior, of course, suggests homosexuality in the first place. We’ve already gone over the older brother effect (here and here) and nurture in that one has been significantly undermined. As far as being effeminate goes for men, well, of course. Homosexuality, for men is having a typically female trait in a male mind. It’d be no surprise that whatever mechanism feminizes men or masculinizes women in one way, may also do it in a range of other ways, on other aspects of their personalities. Then, of course, those made with such a noticeable difference from the rest of their peers, don’t fit in as well, and may feel like an outsider, particularly when the strong emotions of attraction tell them they should be much closer to even same-sex peers who do not treat them as different.

Anyway, what a complicated mess, huh? :-)

1. Finkelhor, D. 1994. Current Information on the Scope and Nature of Child Sexual Abuse. The Future of Children, 4(2):31-53. Center for the Future of Children, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation.
2. Bearman, P. and H. Bruckner (2002). "Opposite-Sex Twins and Adolescent Same-Sex Attraction." American Journal of Sociology 107: 1179-1205.
3. Andersson, G. (2002). "Children's Experience of Family Disruption and Family Formation: Evidence From 16 FFS Countries." Demographic Research 7: 344-364.
4. Blanchard, R. (2004). "Quantitative and theoretical analyses of the relation between older brothers and homosexuality in men." Journal of Theoretical Biology 230: 173-187.


Beck said...

As much as I'd like to have someone pinpoint the exact nature / nurture cause of this homosexuality in me, I've come to the conclusion that it just IS! There isn't an exact formula that adds up in a neat and tidy equation that ends in the net result of gayness. For me, several of your "causes" here don't fit my case. So why is the net result still the same? I've decided that I can't worry about the "why". It's a mess all right and I don't see a clear way to solve the riddle.

Kalvin said...

In a way, I agree with Beck. Why is it that we have to pinpoint a cause to celebrate who we are? For genetic purposes people within a race vary more within a race than across races; therefore, race isn't about biology. In many ways we base it on visible characterstics, and same-gender/same-sex/homosexual/queer love another visible characterstic? The only difference is how much easier the average gay person can pass for straight than the average person of color can pass for white.

Scot said...

"Why is it that we have to pinpoint a cause to celebrate who we are?"

I agree with you and Beck and also don’t care; it’s not important info, on its own, to me. But it seems there’s people out there who are more likely to treat, in practical terms, our families and us fairly if they can call it nature but not nurture. Add on all those gay kids meticulously going through their past looking for something they can “fix”, and here I find myself writing on that about which I don’t care ;-).

Oh, and hi Kalvin. :-)