Thursday, December 10, 2009

Science Says It's Time We Board The Gender Peace Train

It's dawned on me that I am approaching the whole question of gay marriage and gender/orientation from a completely different starting point than opponents of gay marriage. For me it's an issue of scientific truth, for them it's an issue of biblical truth. These are not compatible truths in any scientific sense.

The following is the most succinct statement I've read concerning the scientific truth. It's written by Dan Agin who authored the book 'More Than Genes'. Dan doesn't mince words.

Dan Agin Author/Neuroscientist Huffington Post, 12/09/09

Nowhere is the gulf between science and religion more evident and more enormous than when we confront the issues of sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, and homosexuality. It seems bizarre that in the 21st century so many people in America and elsewhere are still confused by ignorance and self-deception--by rampant stupidity.

The science of the issue is clear to every biologist and was cogently summarized in a recent review by two endocrinologists (1). The authors make the following points:

The human fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. (To put this differently, all embryos start out female. Therefor the biological foundation of humanity is feminine.)

In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb.

However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in transsexuality.

This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain.

There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.

The above points are made by endocrinologists, but you don't need to be an endocrinologist to understand the facts and the implications.

The first important implication is that sexuality and sexual orientation and gender identity are not questions of choice but matters of biology and hormones and circumstances in the fetal environment.

The second important implication is that all the chief religions are apparently completely out of kilter in their understanding of biological realities concerning these issues.

The third important implication is that there's no rational basis for prejudice, discrimination, or persecution of homosexuals, transsexuals, or whatever--and in fact such hostile attitudes are from the standpoint of science and reality blatantly disgusting. (I'm sure they aren't appreciated by the Creator of the cosmos either.)

Most religions base their doctrines on ancient books with obsolete knowledge of the real world. As the human species moves forward in time, our knowledge of the real world increases in quantity and quality, and it seems to me that any religion that hopes to survive must either change its books or ultimately implode for lack of relevance.

Meanwhile, people in and out of religion need to understand the reality of the 21st century. We need to understand that the human species exhibits a whole spectrum of sexualities, sexual orientations, and gender identities, a smooth continuum from extreme female to extreme male, with all sorts of combinations of orientation and identity and sexuality in between the extremes.(2) That's biological reality--and for the sake of sanity it should be our social reality. There's no reason to oppose gay marriage except stupid ideas based on old books, irrational fears, and psychiatric hatreds. It's time to grow up. (The use of the word stupid is a little strong, willfully misinformed is closer to the truth.)

Note (1). Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF. (2010). Endocr. Dev. 17:22-35.
Note (2). A full discussion of fetal variables in sexuality and gender identity plus some interesting cases can be found in Chapter 7 of my new book More Than Genes, Oxford University Press, 2009.


Lot of us think the Church needs to develop an updated theology of sex. JPII's theology of the body is not updated, it's just spun a little differently. It's foundation still assumes the pre eminence of the male over the female. He uses his notion of complementarity between men and women exactly as he did his notion of complementarity between the clergy and laity. Which meant the laity are to help the clergy do their job, not usurp clerical rights and authority. His sexuality is based on his belief that Genesis explains all there is to know about sex and gender and that includes the foundational notion that Eve came from Adam.

The science concerning gestation states just the opposite. In the real scientific world Adam comes from Eve. This little fact is true in an embryological sense just as it is in the pregnancy sense. We are all born of woman and start out as female. In the biological scheme the male prototype is secondary. The male (in general) was created bigger, stronger, and free from the limitations of pregnancy in order to protect and defend the generator of life and the resultant progeny. This is vastly different from lead, control, and own.

Somewhere in the distant past humanity made a decision in which the physical power to manipulate the environment was more important than the power to promulgate and create future generations. The strength of the male took pre eminence over the fertility of the female, controlling the present became more important than insuring the future, and the developing human consciousness and intelligence was derailed in the interests of power and manipulation.

Humanity entrained itself to use these higher neural attributes in the service of the ego 'I' (mostly protecting itself from fear of annihilation) and that became vastly more important to our notion of survival than using intellectual attributes in the service of the communal 'we'. As long as community served the needs of the ego I, the community was supported.

In the 21st century all this has led to a very large mess in which the very creative potential of the planet is threatened with extermination. What we call the masculine is on the brink of completely stamping out the creative feminine impulse, and humanity has been on this track for a long time. Collective humanity seems so self absorbed it can't believe that this track leads directly to it's own demise. Try to control or stamp out the feminine and all one accomplishes is the perversion of the masculine.

Gay males represent a real challenge to patriarchal thinking about the place of the feminine. I sometimes wonder if gay homophobia isn't an unconscious denial of the pre eminence of the feminine in the real scheme of things. That this homophobia represents an under lying distrust and resentment of the feminine. That this homophobia is in essence just another face of misogyny. That these two issues are so closely entwined they can't be dealt with separately.

Powerful males may THINK they control the world, but the reality is that the feminine impulse CREATES the world. The first is an illusion of intelligent thinking generally reinforced by exploitation, and the other is just a biological and scientific fact. However it's also a scientific fact that it's difficult for the feminine to create in chaos. That's where the real complementarity of the masculine lies--to keep chaos at bay and maintain enough stability for the progressive evolutionary movement of the creative impulse. That kind of complementarity does not lie in controlling and stifling the creative impulse or dictating it's evolutionary expression.

Evolutionary progress is a delicate balancing act just as embryological development is a delicate balancing act. We need to work very hard at finding a workable balance. Bashing gays and denying women full equality is not that track. That's the track that leads to the final train wreck.

Roman Catholicism in the guise of it's official hierarchy are welcome to take that track, but they don't have the divine right to insist the rest of us must board the same train. Baptism is not a ticket to a train wreck. It's supposed to be a ticket to a much more evolved world. As Cat Stevens would sing, it's time to board the gender Peace Train.


  1. I agree very much with the depth of what you are saying about gender, but Dan Agin is not the last nor the latests scientific word. Remember before there is testosterone or estrogen, there are X and Y Chromosomes. It is of course how these sex chromosomes are expressed or not expressed that causes so much variation in Gender. So I am not certain that we are all female to begin with. That testosterone has a large early influence is correct, but it is also important to keep in mind that both men and women produce both hormones to greater or lesser degrees and that is true through the spectrum of human growth and development.

    The problem is with the Catholic or other churches that wish to think of truth as something determined in an historical context. This leaves no room for the Holy Spirit to allow us to observe differences in the present. It really comes down to knowing that very little of what we know can be infallible truth. It is also interesting to understand that history itself is often written by the powerful and has the bias of its own context of time society and person.

    There are others that do agree with Agin, but I and many others have some differences.

    Peace and understanding,

    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  2. Dennis, you and I would disagree on this. The basic prototype is influenced by the Y chromosome. The basic prototype is X. That would be feminine. X always comes before Y. :)

  3. Coleen, I could say something like X goes before Y when boys open doors for women -- the problem with that is that the Y of grown men seem to open the wrong doors until they are forced by the intelligence found in some XX ers. I went to medical school in the 60's, Guess how many XXers were in my graduating class. Well, I guess we physicians made some progress because when my daughter graduated from the same Jesuit Medical School, the class was almost 60% women. Now if only some of those women were high paid executives of Heath Insurance companies.

    The ethics in my profession certainly is superior to that of the Roman Catholic clergy as we see the XXers that are blindly excommunicated with their ordinations. I think that in my medical class, the XXers were some of the very best people and physicians I have met. I am very sure that the same is true of the ordained women. It is time for XXers and XYers to fully recognize equality of opportunity especially in the Catholic Church.

  4. When science is able to identify sexual orientation and other atypical sexualities "in utero" I expect many "right-to-lifers" will make exceptions to justify abortions.

  5. Thanks for this interesting article and for your blog.
    Apparently, I would be called a "normal heterosexual man" by most people. But I am very aware that we are all women, so we are all lesbians!!! Homosexuality shouldn't be a problem at all. But only a mystical mind can understand that truth...

    I am still looking for scientific foundations on this issue. Will science someday demonstrate that humanity is feminine? Is there any interest on demonstrating that?