Saturday, October 27, 2007

Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw with Matching Pumps

There was an article in the Salt Lake Tribune a couple days ago about gay worms. That’s not exactly the sort of creature you want getting press as gay, but hey, it’s local research.

“The researchers isolated the nerve cells responsible for sexual attraction in nematode worms, then "flipped" a genetic switch in the brains of female worms so they became attracted to other females.”

Of course nematodes ain’t humans, and expecting such a relatively simple genetic on/off switch for homosexuality for us would be a mistake.

Gaiety is, however, abundant throughout creation. I’ve collected research on everything from gay penguins to kangaroos, from dolphins to fruit flies, from mice to guppies (1,2). I’d be hard-pressed to think of a creature on this earth that does not have some measured occurrence of gaiety. In fact, some of our closest genetic relatives, the bonobos, are almost famous for their gay sexual activity.

Not only do we see same sex attraction in most every creature, we also know how to create it. We’ve made some species gay through genetic manipulation (3,4), others by hormone exposure (5-7), and even others by brain surgery on once straight mammals (8,9). I’d not, however, expect such research on humans to be forthcoming :-).

In all, it’s kind of surprising a study on worms even makes the news.

But I suppose it’s for a reason. There are still many folks who deny the existence of homosexuality outside of humanity, and others seem to ignore it in hopes of downplaying biological causes. The desire to do so is understandable. Biological causes feel more permanent to folks who hope to change us, though that’s certainly not the case; nurture or nature may both have permanent or malleable results. While such folks would rather blame, say, distant fathers or domineering mothers, I doubt near all these gay mammals, birds, insects, and marsupials were raised under such conditions :-) (I know I wasn't and I can't stand these tactics that aim to insult some great parents).

In all, and as I’ve said before in more detail, the causes of homosexuality must include at least one prime biological cause, and that is what such research on other creatures can possibly pin down for us. Such a cause is a necessary requirement, and no nurture or psychological cause that anyone may claim can be a sufficient cause. Simply, however we are created, there must first be a switch to flip and circuitry set there in the gay mind to cause the eventual feelings of with whom you are supposed to couple, just as it’s there to cause the feeling of, say, red.

Of course, I also know many in the gay community fear such research in both our species and in others, and, as stated in the Tribune article, it may become be a double edged sword. I know there’s interest in such research on gay livestock, if not to “cure” them, then to avoid purchasing or breeding for young animals that will eventually be found gay. I mean, what breeder wants a ram who’ll only be interested in rams (10), right?

Thank goodness, though, humans are so much more than a commodity, like livestock, or nematodes :-). Thank goodness life thrives off of its diversity, not merely in spite of it, and that human morality is becoming more and more about treating each individual as we’d want to be treated, rather than the tribalistic Darwinian arms race of our past. I’m pretty sure the day will come when we will be able to alter the biology of humans to the extent that we could change which sex we innately love, but I’m also pretty sure(/hopeful :-)) that, by that time, not very many people will care.

1. Bagemihl B. 1999. Biological exuberance. New York: St. Martin's Press.
2. Vasey P. L. 2002. Same-sex sexual partner preference in hormonally and neurologically unmanipulated animals. Annual Review of Sex Research 8:141-179.
3. Ryner L. C., S. F. Goodwin, D. H. Castrillon, A. Anand, A. Villella, B. S. Baker, J. C. Hall, B. J. Taylor, S. A. Wasserman. 1996. Control of male sexual behavior and sexual orientation in drosophila by the fruitless gene. Cell 87:1079-1089.
4. Kitamoto T. 2002. Conditional disruption of synaptic transmission induces male-male courtship behavior in drosophila. Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Science 99(20):13232-13237.
5. Woodson J. C., B. W. Balleine, R. A. Gorski. 2002. Sexual experience interacts with steroid exposure to shape the partner preferences of rats. Hormones and Behavior 42:148-157.
6. Baum M. J., M. S. Erskine, E. Kornberg, C. E. Weaver. 1990. Prenatal and neonatal testosterone exposure interact to affect differentiation of sexual behavior and partner preference in female ferrets. Behavioral Neuroscience 104(1):183-198.
7. Thompson R. R., F. L. Moore. 2003. The effects of sex steroids and vasotocin on behavioral responses to visual and olfactory sexual stimuli in ovariectomized female roughskin newts. Hormones and Behavior 44:311-318.
8. Kimchi T., J. Xu, C. Dulac. 2007. A functional circuit underlying male sexual behaviour in the female mouse brain. Nature 448(7157):1009-1014.
9. Paredes R. G., M. J. Baum. 1995. Altered sexual partner preference in male ferrets given excitotoxic lesions of the preoptic area/anterior hypothalamus. Journal of Neuroscience 15(10):6619-6630.
10. Roselli C. E., K. Larkin, J. A. Resko, J. N. Stellflug, F. Stormshak. 2003. The volume of a sexually dimorphic nucleus in the ovine medial preoptic area/anterior hypothalamus varies with sexual partner preference. Endocrinology 145(2):478-483.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Every morning I get up, make breakfast, feed the boys, and get them in the tub. While they splash and soak, Rob makes their lunch and I do the Sudoku puzzle from the Tribune. Yesterday, though, someone (ahem, Alan) got to it before I did:

I think I follow the rules a little bit better, but he said he wanted to be like Papa. :-)

Now if that didn't melt me (it did :-)), Brian gave me a replacement puzzle so that I could still do my morning ritual:
Super cute; they make each day a welcome surprise. I may, though, need some help solving Brian's puzzle. :-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Though I know it’s long dead…

…I should get this off my chest.

Let me be clear. I am not a US Senator. I have never been a US Senator.

Sure, I was arrested for and pled guilty to attempted caucus with an undercover officer, but I didn’t do it. I just wanted the accusation to go away and thought saying I did it would help.

See, I just naturally have a wide political stance. I was not, in any way, attempting to create law with the cop. In fact, he approached me saying something like, “Hey dude, you wanna take a look at my school voucher proposal.” I refused and merely then reached down to pick up a piece of legal pad, which I thought was trash, and the guy claimed he saw me write statute on it. It was clearly entrapment, or something.

Anyway, I have been asked by gay command to resign my place as a gay man, and am seriously intending to do so, next month. Really. I just hope the rumors that I may be a closeted member of the legislative branch have not caused anguish in my community, or mortally wounded my reputation.

I mean, I’ve seen the polls; I know how the public feels about those kind of people (11% approval, ouch).

There, I feel better :-)… So another anti gay rights figure was found soliciting hot gay sex, allegedly (for both the “soliciting” and the “hot” part of that sentence… especially allegedly for the “hot” part).

Days after the story broke, a talk show host here was saying how nasty and hypocritical liberals were for claiming to be for gay rights, but then complaining about a Republican’s soliciting anonymous public sex in a place where families were travelling, allegedly. To him, the gays and their rights, they are all about the anonymous bathroom sex.

To be misunderstood in the minds of those out to legally harm your family can both discourage and encourage. I mean, unlike most political arguments, where there’s some nuance and complexity on both sides, you directly know the other side is up in the night, and there’s hope in the idea they may notice. They could take a second look if they found out that people like me--admitted, avowed, and confirmed--learned all about toe tapping and stall wall palming right along with the rest of the country.

Simply, such secret protocol wasn’t developed for or by my gay culture; we’ve no use or want for it. It was developed for and by your culture, Mr. talk show host, to help manage some of the more unfortunate folks hiding in your culture, not mine. We rarely even see these folks, unless they’re attacking us or until they stop treating their attraction as an addiction, but they are your religious leaders, business partners, and politicians, and they are making these sad compromises based on your rules.

(This same host once insulted my family and called me, personally, on air, a fruitcake during the Amendment 3 debate; so, sure, maybe I’m more heated than I should be here :-))

Anyway, it’s no wonder a man like Senator Larry Craig, who’s alleged actions would’ve only confirmed the most bigoted views of gay people, is also against equal rights. Sad that, and all too common in my state. Allegedly.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I mentioned I was busy with some vague professional issue in addition to all the other stuff, but didn’t explain in full why it meant I should take a total break from blogging. Now that I’m done with the biggest project, aren’t out of town, or building a play ground, I can take a breath, and I guess I should write a bit in this blog, huh?

This may be a boring tale but hey; it's a blog. In short, a while ago I put my business on the back burner, and decided to go back to my PhD work.

I began my PhD with a good deal of enthusiasm for my career. I was all about science, my office was full of novel inventions, and depictions of data were my idea of a creative outlet. Okay, maybe I still get off on beautiful graphs and microscopy images; I’m queer that way. Point is, that was one of my main concerns in life, moving that boundary of ignorance by whatever fraction I could.

A couple things changed that.

Right away--I’m talking the first month of my PhD research--I discovered something quite unexpected and a bit exciting; something that I probably could have gotten into Nature or Science at the time. This may sound like a lucky break for an aspiring young candidate. Not even close. I was met with strong skepticism from the professionals in that field of study, and was not able to publish for it. I was just a student, and Protein X, by the current understanding of proteins like X, wasn’t supposed to do what I was reporting in my findings.

The reaction was strong enough that I began wondering if I was fooling myself. But after a lot of work, I could find nothing wrong with my analysis and neither could my advisor. I even developed a whole new and independent method of analyzing such data, just to get confirmation on the first method.

Now, I don’t want to come off as complaining. Science should be harsh to new ideas, even mine ;-). If they survive testing then that’s great; if they don’t then that’s great too. The goal should be truth, not proving a particular belief true, and so I’d not want to have rushed it. Nevertheless, if you’re a PhD candidate, my advice would be to, at the start, stick closer to the “known” realm of that border of knowledge than the “unknown” ;-).

In the last couple years all that changed. Firstly, I learned how to explain my methods in a way most folks in that slim area of study could best understand, and I learned from them what could be going on to cause Protein X to do what I was saying it did, and how to say it in their jargon (sadly, very important). We can’t all, of course, be experts in everything and these are the problems of interdisciplinary research.

But more importantly here, established and reputable researchers began publishing findings similar to mine on related proteins. Now it wasn’t just some PhD student; it was a good deal of literature saying that proteins like X can behave in the way I was reporting. Alas, now my findings aren’t near controversial.

Sure, I really wish I could have published before they all did, when I first had my findings. But that’s the way the culture of science goes, and it admittedly should work that way. In the end, my results survived and are now “good work.” It just sucks that having a success too soon could mean a delay :-).

Then there is the biggest reason things changed for me: our kids. When they were born, my career went from a source of pride to the thing I do for them, the thing I do until I can get home to see them. I don’t care to have my name on some equation anymore or to be the first to pin down a certain phenomena. Being a parent numbed the sting of the above resistance quite a bit, but it also numbed my urgency to force my findings through.

I simply got much more work done before they were born and stuff like walks around the neighborhood with them became a priority. Once they were here, I took months off to help Rob care for them. Then I started a company and focused on what that could get my family, with my PhD moving to the backburner.

Though I'd certainly not change a thing, it is something to keep in mind if you're thinking of having kids while climbing your particular ladder. Your career will take a back seat, save for where it helps them.

Anyway, I decided last spring that, with the new friendlier climate for my findings and the boys headed to kindergarten, I was going finish my PhD. I wrote a 200-something pain in my neck of a dissertation that I don’t care to reread ever again and sent it out to my committee. A couple days ago I stood in front of those five professors and defended my work. This was stressful, but much easier than I anticipated. When I was done they had me leave the room, whilst they did their secret doctorate chant or something. I was soon asked to come back in and was told I passed, and unanimously. I’m also pleased to say I didn’t have to make any changes to my dissertation. I kind of feel now like I put too much effort into the work and could have gotten away with what I had years ago, but hey. It’s done.

So that’s it. The rest is paperwork. Sort of anticlimactic :-).

Unfortunately, with this done, though, I can’t say I’m back to blogging. I still have to get the final version to the library and am in the midst of writing another proposal. In a way it seems free time will be less available now than it ever has been. At least as a “student” with my little company I had things I could put off, like my dissertation. Now most of the things I’ve got have deadlines :-).

Anyway, after some emails and nostalgia, I just wanted to explain my not being here a bit better and to share in the good news (If I had failed to pass I’d just have claimed to have been working on our sandbox for the past 3 months ;-)).

Once my carpal tunnel calms down I think I’ll write some of the posts I’d have written in last couple months. Man, I can’t believe I was absent for the whole Larry Craig thing!