Nature vs. Nurture

I sit here writing in January of 2021 and some part of me is still surprised that the nature vs nuture debate for LGBTQ people still exists. If you are familiar, it basically states that  being LGBTQ comes down to being born that way or a product of how/where you are brought up. This isn’t a new debate, but it is one that many would like to see come to an end.

The Nature Debate of Sexuality

As recently as the 1950s, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness. The American Psychological Association trained psychologists and psychiatrists on ways to treat and cure homosexuality. One of these was using conversion therapy. In 1899 a German psychiatrist, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, claimed  he had turned a gay man straight using 45 hypnosis sessions and a few trips to a brothel.

Eugen Steinach, an Austrian endocrinologist, believed that homosexuality was tied to men’s testicles. Now I know many of you are probably saying, duh that’s what gay men like. However, Steinach’s assumption led to the emergence of testicle transplantation experiments. This involved castrating gay men and in turn giving them heterosexual testicles. The inherent flaw in this is that the men that would be donating testicles, would have had to have self identified that they had been heterosexual.

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Many of these techniques passed into history and paved the way for treatments like aversion therapy. Essentially, the belief is that if you can condition people to become disgusted of their sexuality, they will change it. Some examples were people being given chemicals that made them vomit when they looked at pictures of their lovers or hooking up electrodes to men’s genitals where they received shocks when looking at gay pornography. The results of these kinds of treatments varied and were never conclusive in their “curing.”

During this time, there were also studies to determine whether to not homosexuality had a genetic cause. In the 1990s, Pillard and J Michael Bailey believed they had found proof that homosexuality was largely biologically determined and not environmentally influenced. They studied identical twin brothers, fraternal twin brothers, and non-related brothers that had been adopted. Their studies showed that if one identical twin was gay, there was a 52% chance the other was, as well. There was a 22% chance in fraternal twins and only 5% chance in non-related adopted brothers. These findings have not been explicitly proven and Pillard, himself, states that even they do not understand all the things that make up sexual orientation.

Photo by August de Richelieu on

Raising Kids to be LGBTQ

On the other hand, there are still many people who believe there are outside factors that make each of us LGBTQ. I can remember we a kid being called a faggot, fag, gay, and a few others. The one time that it still sticks with me was on a 5th grade trip to Washington D.C. It was in April, I think, and my mother was a chaperone. We were waiting outside of either the hotel or some monument in line. It was chilly to my mother wrapped her arms around me to keep me warm. All the boys in class started snickering and making comments. As they continued and got bolder, their voices raised to where they could be heard saying, “Look at Keith, the mommy’s fag boy.” Sure one could argue that in 5th grade they didnt understand the term fully. I would argue they understood it well enough to use it. My mother didnt take to it so kindly.

So children that are allowed to not follow traditional gender roles are believed to have a greater chance of becoming LGBTQ, according to the nurture side of the camp. If a mother lets they daughter be more of a tomboy then she will have a greater chance of becoming a lesbian and not follow what is perceived to be the path of a “normal” woman.

The Ties Of Sexual Abuse To Being LGBTQ

Even further down that rabbit hole is the belief that sexual abuse can cause a child to grow up to become LGBTQ. There was the belief that young girls who were abused by men could grow up to seek comfort from women due to the aversion they have to men due to the abuse. This logic doesn’t hold when you look at young boys who have been abused by men, as children.

There was even a study that said your first sexual encounter would indicate the type of sexual orientation you would carry into adulthood. Basically if you had a sexual experience with someone of the same sex, you would grow up to be LGBTQ. There was a study conducted with the Sambia of New Guinea that showed men between the ages of 7 and 10 years of age were required to engage in ritual same sex contact with older male youths for several years before their first interactions with females. The result showed that the vast majority of these males went on to become heterosexual. We can also look at all boys/girls schools where same sex interactions have no greater chance to become LGBTQ than those that went to more diverse schools.

Photo by Kat Jayne on

In the end, we do not know any more now than we did then, as to what makes someone to be LGBTQ. The real question is, why does it really matter. Whether we are this way because of genetics or because of the environment we grew up in doesn’t change who we are. Nor does it negate the need for our basic rights. Fundamentally, at the core we are all the same, whether we are straight, queer, CIS, trans, black, while, young, old, physically/mentally challenged, or not. Isn’t it time that the Nature vs Nurture debate be but in our rear view and focus on topics that are more important?


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