Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My mother made me do it

On another blog, Janet D. Stemwedel gives her take on the news that sexuality may be determined in the womb. My reaction is somewhat different. I don't see something caused in the mother's womb as biological determination so much as environmental. It's certainly not genetic, as Andy Forrest from Stonewall, quoted in the BBC article, seems to think. The extension of this is that it's not impossible to foresee a time in the future when we will be able to advise pregnant women to eat certain things, or take certain pills, to reduce the risk of their child being born gay.

I'm not at all sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, there are disadvantages to being gay that most parents would want to spare their children: the discrimination and prejudice, the far narrower field of potential mates, the inability to have (or at least difficulty in having) genetic offspring. If it were a matter of taking a pill to reduce the risk of your child being born disabled or stupid, I can't see many parents refusing it – in fact, we already do it in the form of vitamin supplements and whatever it is the government is advising us to eat this week.

But what if it were a pill to reduce the risk of your child being born red-headed? Or, less obviously unacceptable, how about a pill to reduce the risk of your child being highly emotional? Emotional people (easily upset) can be put at great disadvantages in life too.

I don't agree that there's anything intrinsically wrong with saying that some states of being (such as being able to walk) are better than others (such as being paralysed), in the sense that the 'better' state is generally more enjoyable for the person concerned (not that the person in the 'better' state is intrinsically a 'better' person for it). But even with a continuum of characteristics with number of usable limbs at one end and hair color at the other, it's unclear where sexuality should come on the scale.

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