Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Cure for Homosexuality

If There Were a "Cure," Would You Take It?

I just now read this New York Times piece. Reporter John Tierney begins:
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.

Read the whole story (which I'll also copy below) or this other version of the story from the University of Illinois.

For sure, we humans are more complex than fruit flies. Nonetheless, I find the article, and the questions it poses and suggests, chilling. And challenging. Not being a scientist, I immediately skipped over the technical and asked the more pragmatic question: If such a drug were available and could turn me into a heterosexually-oriented person, would I take it?

All of a sudden, I began thinking about left-handedness. I've always envied left-handed people. My experience – or is it my bigotry? – suggests that lefties are generally smarter and more creative than us right-handed folk. If a drug could turn me into a lefty, would I take it? I don't think so. Do I think a leftie would take it, in order to become a "rightie"? Without a doubt, life is harder for the lefties among us. "Normal" scissors and many "normal" kitchen implements don't "work right" for them. If they could suddenly become right-handed, would they?

This led me to much pondering to and fro. Yes, the world would be easier, less complicated, if we were all heterosexual. And it would be easier if we were all right-handed. I suppose it would also be easier, at least in the good ol' U.S., if we were also all "white."

For a variety of reasons, I concluded that, no, I wouldn't take a "make-me-straight" drug if such a thing became available for humans. Being a lesbian isn't just about the ordering of my sexual attraction. It's a way of seeing the world – a way with which I've become comfortable over the past four decades, and a way that does not seem inherently sinful or "wrong" to me. To change my affectional and behavioral orientation now would leave me dizzy and ungrounded. It would be like a sighted person suddenly becoming blind, or vice versa. I would have to learn the whole world from the ground up, as it were.

On the other hand, for the many self-loathing gay men and lesbians we know, this might just be the miracle for which they have been praying.

Here's a happy thought, though: If scientists could discover a "cure" for something that seems as hard-wired as sexual orientation, do you reckon they could find a cure for bigotry? And, when they do, can I get expedited shipping to Abuja, Nairobi, and a few other select destinations?

But seriously: What do you all say? If you LGBTs could take a pill and become "straight," would you do it? If you could avoid all the stigma, would you do it? If you could just take a pill and never again have to worry about whether your family and friends would accept you and your "spouse," would you do it? What do you think would be the price for "normalcy" [as defined by the prevailing culture]? I would really love to hear your responses to this. I know you all are out there. I know many of you read here, though few comment. I'd love to hear your comments on this one.


Please comment here, or proceed to read the full text of the article, posted December 11:

Turning Homosexuality On and Off
By John Tierney

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.

“It was amazing,” Dr. Firestone said. “I never thought we’d be able to do that sort of thing, because sexual orientation is supposed to be hard-wired. This fundamentally changes how we think about this behavior.”

I asked Dr. Firestone 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.

This morning, I received an email from a transsexual 5 years into her hormone therapy. She told me she regularly modifies her libido and orientation with diet and drugs. She even sent me a scientific reference explaining why her regimen might work. Now that is amazing research.

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.

So let the discussion begin. I don’t think of homosexuality or heterosexuality as an “illness” to be “cured,” but I wonder how people would use the ability to control sexual orientation — to have a designer libido. Would some people, gay or straight, who weren’t having luck attracting one gender decide to switch to the other? Would some people casually switch back and forth?

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?

9 Comments:

Blogger Suzer said...

This is thought provoking, but I'm afraid too complex for me to answer in a comment. Not even sure exactly how I feel about it yet. This would take a lot of thought. Didn't want you to think the post had gone unnoticed, though. :)

12/13/2007 11:32 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thank you for this, Suzer. I was indeed surprised by the thundering silence in response to this article.

I understand your wanting more time with it. It kicked up some pretty strong feelings and thoughts for me.

12/13/2007 8:54 PM  
Blogger Max Rainey said...

I, on the other hand, am a simple thing. No way.
Queer i is and queer i remain, joyfully. mostly 'cause the miracle that is L instills in me, every day, that longing for the realm of heaven that C.S. Lewis defined as "joy." And i would never have had this as a hetero. because there has never been and never will be anyone like L, of any gender or genders.
i'm all up for the bigotry-curing pill, though.
yours in the struggle,
max

12/13/2007 9:55 PM  
Blogger Cecilia said...

Lisa, I would not take the drug. For many years, while married to a perfectly wonderful man, I experienced painful attractions to women. All through that time I prayed to God to relieve me of those feelings... not because I believed they were inherently wrong, but because I wanted to be faithful to my wedding vows. When he found a more satisfying love outside the marriage he freed me to be who I really am: a woman who loves women, always have, always will. So, no. This is who I am. I agree: it's a way of seeing the world. At last I am home.

12/13/2007 10:13 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

"At last I am home." What a marvelous way of putting it, Cecelia.

You three have been truly blessed to find your beloved partners. I am grateful for your sharing part of your stories here.

12/13/2007 10:17 PM  
Blogger Rowan The Dog said...

NO. I would never do it. I know some straight people and I like them and everything but God deliver me from such a boring and beige existence. They just aren't very much fun. Plus, I don't want to have to dress like that. Eewww. And there's the icky sex. Double Eewww. Put me down as a NO WAY.

12/14/2007 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Josh Indiana said...

I would not take a straightening-out pill, because if I did I would be rejecting what God told me 33 years ago after a night of wailing, tears and pain over my homosexuality: "I love you just the way you are."

12/15/2007 10:21 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks for that painful, powerful testimony, Josh.

12/16/2007 8:47 AM  
Blogger Miss said...

I would take the pill. I however would consider myself bisexual. So I am outside the "two" worlds (news to gay and straight there's a lot more to it than gay vs straight.) I was found to have PCOS and have male like urges/physical traits. Howevere I was not always like this. I tried to "fix it" with hormones though and I did feel lost. I felt depressed, I felt suicidal. So trying to fix what causes me to feel homosexual makes me worse off. The things I want in life are with a man, like a baby from my spouse and me alone, no help. So even if I am sexually attracted to a woman I dont think I can love her fully. So for those of us who are not TRUE blue homosexual, but stuck in the middle, this can help. We can make up our minds
and not feel distracted but the occassional sexual urge that pops up. I hope that the gay community can understand that. I however would not recomend people who identify with being strictly homosexual to take the pill. You do feel lost trying to flip over, trust me.

12/09/2009 4:28 PM  

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