Archive: Conversion Therapy In The Womb?

The article that this references goes back in time, and this article is no longer timely to it, I suppose. But some of the thoughts and ramifications might still be valid, and a little chilling.
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It looks particularily creepy, the AP headline subtitle:  “Seminary president Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr. says gayness is probably biological and that in-utero ‘ex-gay’ treatment would be justified.”

It demonstrates how quickly genies can sometimes get out of the bottle.  Reading Mohler’s original blog ( http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=891 ) does in fact verify his later refutations:  he doesn’t actually state that homosexuality is genetic in origin (what he says is that he believes that science will eventually make that case, and that he pre-emptively doubts the veracity); he also doesn’t advocate tinkering with genetics, but speculates that it could happen.  He does, however, reassert the traditional Church position that sexual orientation is a choice and all that one has to do is simply not choose it.  We’ll get back to that.

But the genie is out of the bottle.  Mohler has been painted as the new granddaddy of eugenics, and the wars of words are on. 

Now, I’m not one to defend a custodian of an institution of organized religion, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s necessary to misquote.  Modern, organized, Conservative religion (which should be differentiated from faith itself and those congregations which are progressive and affirming) can do a fine job of showing its stripes all by itself.  Instead of vilification, a serious assessment of the scenario proposed in the articles, however disproportionate it has become, is called for.

You see, the genie is out of the bottle.

“Perhaps it is always hard to see the bigger impact while you are in the vortex of a change. Failing to understand the consequences of our inventions while we are in the rapture of discovery and innovation seems to be a common fault of scientists and technologists; we have long been driven by the overarching desire to know that is the nature of science’s quest, not stopping to notice that the progress to newer and more powerful technologies can take on a life of its own.” — Bill Joy

The inspiration for Mohler’s blog entry, Tyler Gray’s article in Radar magazine — “Is Your Baby Gay?” ( http://www.radarmagazine.com/from-the-magazine/2007/03/is_your_baby_gay_1.php ) — paints a disturbing, if ironic, picture.  “Conservatives opposed to both abortion and homosexuality will have to ask themselves whether the public shame of having a gay child outweighs the private sin of terminating a pregnancy…. And exactly how pro-choice will liberal abortion-rights activists be when thousands of potential parents are choosing to filter homosexuality right out of the gene pool?”

This dilemma shouldn’t be tremendously surprising to us.  The question has come up a number of times with other recent news, and is now a staple in conversation.  If you could determine in utero that your child could be genetically predisposed to to develop Down’s Syndrome, would you choose to correct it in order to spare him or her that stigma?  What about Multiple Sclerosis or ADHD?  What if there were a way to determine that the fetus could be prone to violence, while a solution would be available to ensure that the resulting child would grow up to feel more calm, more sedate, and far less likely to get into trouble?  Could it be that Burgess’ and Kubrick’s dystopian visions of behaviour modification and population control portrayed in A Clockwork Orange do not, in fact, go far enough?

History has already shown that marginalized communities are particularily vulnerable in this equation.  In Nazi Germany, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people were uniformly branded with the pink triangle and were among the first to face the horrors of the Holocaust, also appearing to have the highest mortality rate.  To think that the GLBT community of the 21st Century would be now insulated against a revisitation of eugenics would be naive.

Scary stuff indeed.  And yet not scary enough to get up in arms, for most.  We trust technology.  We trust the future.  We trust in the altruism of the people decoding the human genome.  And feeling small in the grand scheme of things, we are content to let the future run its course.  The vision of being able to shed our bodies for ones of silicon or plastic and living indefinitely is not likely to happen in our lifetime, so perhaps the questions even seem irrelevant.  After all, if it were even possible, many of us would still be unwilling to consult science in order to provide our unborn child with an inborn potential for music genius or physical excellence.

That decision might not be so easy for our children to make, knowing that failure to do so could put their child at a competitive disadvantage in society.  Because the genie is already out of the bottle.  If necessity is the mother of invention, then invention has a rather incestuous preoccupation with ensuring that her children breed more necessities. 

Hans Moravec reminds us, “Biological species almost never survive encounters with superior competitors.”  Should pockets of civilization somehow successfully manage to harness the technology to provide their children with a superior edge, it is not difficult to imagine those children becoming the forebears of a new kind of human, obsoleting the remaining concept of “human” as we understand it today.

This is entirely speculative, of course.  Any discussion of this subject at this point in time — by it’s very nature — will be speculative.  For one, genetic predisposition — to homosexuality or anything else — does not guarantee that the trait will come to fruition.  We haven’t learned how to trigger various genetic markers, how to make them dominant or certain, how to suppress them, or how to eradicate them.

Yet.

In 2000, Wired Magazine published a chilling article by Bill Joy, entitled “Why The Future Doesn’t Need Us” ( http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html ).  Within, he compares the Manhattan Project and the early days of nuclear discovery to the technologies emerging today (adding the possibly further-reaching potential of nanotechnology), reminding us that while it is impossible to put the genie back in the bottle, it is sometimes possible to cautiously regulate and relinquish, within the framework of global conscience.  But he cautions:

“The nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) technologies used in 20th-century weapons of mass destruction were and largely are military, developed in government laboratories. In sharp contrast, the 21st-century GNR [genetics, nanotechnology and robotics] technologies have clear commercial uses and are being developed almost exclusively by corporate enterprises.”

With ideas being easier to trade than plutonium, we’re looking at a far more teasingly elusive genie than the one who frightened us thirty years before.  At one time, the idea of life creation technology falling into the hands of the likes of Dr. Frederick “Fronkensteen” and his hunchbacked assistant I-gor was laughable at best.  But when cloning is easily still eagerly making current news in spite of countless attempts by various governments to impose a global moratorium, the illusion of regulation and relinquishment seem much further away than they might have been only seven years ago. 

Consequently, the questions being asked by Gray and Mohler are not so far-fetched.  Unchecked science has a twisted knack for bumbling toward success.

In recent years, there have been a number of studies on the effects of chemicals on our environment.  A number of them have produced gender or orientation-switching results in various species, from the feminization of adult male frogs to the apparent “reversing” of homosexuality in a select sample of adult rams.  Genders and orientations of offspring populations appear to be even more morphic in the presence of what are being termed “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs).  Each of these studies seems to be asking, “if we are doing this to the species around us, what are we doing to ourselves?”

The answers may already be in front of us.  In 1999, Dr. Scott Kerlin founded the DES Sons International Network, an online support and advocacy group for male children exposed, in utero, to Di-Ethyl Stilbestrol (DES, a synthetic estrogen once administered to pregnant women as a “vitamin” designed to help prevent miscarriage) — fighting the perception that the harmful legacy of DES in children was strictly a womens’ health issue. When DES Sons was only a few months old, a new member raised the issue that he had always felt that he was a girl, and was, in fact, transsexual. This initiated a flood of confessions about other members’ own gender identity issues, and quickly became one of the dominant themes raised by male children of DES births (although not all DES Sons experience transgender leanings).  Eight years later, there is still very little funding or interest to establish or refute a link between DES and other EDCs with transgenderism… and yet this connection and other genetic studies are still strong and provocative enough, and taken seriously enough that there are indications that transsexuality may be delisted as a mental health issue (currently called “Gender Identity Disorder” or “Gender Dysphoria”), and re-explored as a biological condition in the forthcoming DSM-V, the “bible” of the medical profession.

The EDC theory of transsexuality often speculates that because physical gender and psychological gender develop at different times in early fetal development, the introduction of an interruptive chemical through diet, inhalation, absorption or other methods — usually estrogenic in properties but sometimes androgenic instead — can complicate the process.

Which brings us back to what Mohler was in fact saying — his belief that in the face of possible scientific evidence to the contrary, sexual orientation (and presumably also gender identity — the religious community rarely distinguishes a difference) is a choice that can (and should) be denied indefinitely.  Should a connection between EDCs or other genetic determination ever be established, it would add significant credence to the belief that sexual orientation and gender identity are valid, naturally-occurring traits of the human condition, and create strong questioning of so-called “conversion therapies” and the notion that these things are simple matters of choice (or worse, mental illnesses).

What makes a homosexual male feel attracted to men?  What makes a heterosexual male attracted to women?  One wonders if, in a hypothetical world in which the former were the God-ordained method of procreation, there might be the perception that it would be as easy to shut off one’s desire for girls.  Or desireable.  With a need so intrinsic as that of companionship — arguably as instinctive as our needs to eat, excrete and survive — one has to wonder at a God who might instill a hunger, prepare a banquet and then say, “no, this person over here has to starve, because that’s the morally right thing to do.”  And whether that God realistically represents your understanding of God and Nature.

And if Mohler’s (and Conservative Christianity’s) contention is wrong, and sexual orientation and gender identity are biologically coded or biologically morphic aspects of our lives, and passed on hereditarily or introduced with external factors such as EDCs, then what if science does indeed develop the technology to intercept and alter those elements?  The original question returns.  If your baby had the potential to “become gay,” would you choose to do something about it?  What if the child was going to demonstratively have the physical body of a male but the psychological perspective of a girl?  Would you have it corrected?

Or perhaps it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps the propagation or eradication of one orientation in favor of another is not a fearsome concept to most.  Perhaps humanity can let go of homosexuality or transsexuality, believing that children will be better off without the anguish and sexual confusion. 

This would likely be a sad day for humanity.  Society grows progressively when it is challenged.  Powerful ideas are often inspired by the new discoveries one makes when confronted with a greater diversity than once believed.  Our individualism and variety are unique and defining characteristics of the human species.  Add to this that science may be unaware of what other interconnected traits it might be eliminating in just such a genetic pogrom.

But then, the issue is bigger than one about gay babies.  Potentially speaking, everything that can be determined to be encoded in our genetic makeup can similarily be brought out or suppressed.  Whatever the perspective, the very nature of the debate should spark concern.

The genie is out of the bottle.

  1. Woah. Too many different points for one post there, lady. But, here’s my major obejction. You say that, should EDCs be proved to be a cause of gender variance and homosexuality, that would be proof that both are natural.

    Quite the contrary. The Reich and the cons will isntantly seize on the fact to point out that both are perversions brought about by pathogens introduced to nature by human activity. The fact that both homosexuality and transsexuality have been around well before EDCs, or that the same human activity that produces those pathogens is the one that the capitalist systems they’re all abbout standing up for, they will brush aside or avoid altogether. It’s their standard operating procedure and they don’t really know any other way to operate, so they can be expected to stick to it.

    But EDCs can safely be seen as pathogens- “safely” in the sense that this won’t endanger gender variant or homosexual people’s rights. Quite the contrary. We can safely argue that homosexuality and transsexuality are natural conditions. They have been known to occur historically with comparable frequency to the modern era and if there are environmental factors introduced only lately, then those factors are not the cause of but rather contribute to conditions that can hardly be considered unnatural, since they have existed before the pathogens. The fact that a biological factor is in any way related to homosexuality and gender variance is strong evidence that the conditions are congenital and not due to the decline of western civilisation part II.

    In simple English, if EDCs can give you the gay it’s because something in your body is there to get the gay. But the gay was around before the EDCs so the body can naturally produce it just fine. Same for the trans. Actually, science is on our side on this, which is why the fundies are attacking it so viciously lately- at least in your country.

    As about the genie, I’m not sure it’s out of the bottle yet. As the analogy goes, we see a bottle, it looks like there may be a genie in it, but we don’t know yet for sure. I agree with you that we should be discussing the possibilities now, before we go and rub anything and ask anyone about wishes, but that is exactly what is going on today and I don’t see the conservatives or the religious reich winning, at this point.

  2. Oops; I meant: or that the same human activity that produces those pathogens is the one that the capitalist systems they’re all abbout standing up for, is responsible for, etc

  1. March 9th, 2008
  2. April 13th, 2008

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