Why do straight parents keep having gay kids?

I’ve known I was gay for over thirty years, and I can trace hints of it back to when I was four years old. Of the two kids my age who lived down the street at the duplex, I preferred spending time with Max more than Gifi (a girl). They were both nice and into me, but Max’s attention meant more to me.

And as an adult gay man, I started running into “metrosexual” straight guys that read gay to me, people whose gender and sexual preference was fluid, hermaphrodites, and men and women who presented a spectrum from butch to femme. I studied biology a bit, but I eventually left that behind and focused on writing.

I noticed that when I started writing, my characters were, not surprisingly, I suppose, just like me in many ways except for one. They were mostly hetero. It took awhile for me to realize that the media I had consumed was not the only way it could be, and I started branching out to female characters, queer characters, and characters of different races and religions.

It has only been in the past year that I have started to include bisexual, transgender, and nonbinary characters in my writing. (My current novel-in-progress has a bisexual, blind, and physically disabled protagonist.) So although I’d been reading up on gender and sexual variations for years, it has only been recently that I can truly represent the widest possible variations in the nonfiction book I’d been simmering for so long.

It had started as an exercise many of us undertake at some point. Why am I the way I am? It finds an easier answer for straight people, I suspect; you can trace most of your uniqueness to one or both parents. It may be why adopted adults so often seek information on their birth parents.

But when you have something about yourself that isn’t true of either of your parents–or even their parents perhaps–you have to cast a wider net. I allowed myself to take the half-answer that science had offered: I was a statistical outlier, but a perennial possibility. But why me, and not my sisters? Why me and not my cousins or uncles or grandparents? I wondered about my maiden great-aunts, and I had a second cousin who seemed destined to join the rainbow brigade and didn’t. I was not just a statistical outlier. I was an outlier in my family.

I was a little too proud to consider that I had been the architect of my sexual variation. I had pretty clear proof by the time I was sixteen that it was the direction I was heading. Even decades later, the idea of sex with a woman seems at best a dubiously pleasurable act I was unlikely ever to dare.

So then we zoom out and look at what society or Mother Nature might have to gain by minting another gay man in a small college town in Wisconsin. Some have theorized that LGBTQ people have a role to play in society as entertainers and counselors and babysitters. That seems to ascribe cause to results. When your gender and/or sexuality doesn’t fit the standard mold, you are more like to fill societies gaps and fringes.

Mother Nature seemed to be the best candidate for my force majeure. I had read about kangaroos that can halt their pregnancy until they get more water. I had read about rodent parents that start eating their offspring when resources get low. They were all seemingly responding to environmental stress. Perhaps humans had some mechanism for decreasing their overpopulation too.

The breakthrough in my search came when I read a chapter in a book with the title “Recipe for a Lesbian Sheep.” It appears researchers in New Zealand figured out the time during a ewe’s pregnancy when they could inject testosterone and be assured of a young ewe that would grow up to mount other ewes and be treated as a ram by rams.

I knew that human mothers frequently experienced hormonal imbalances. There needs to be a balance between estrogens and testosterone, or the woman experiences adverse reactions. In the best circumstances, we convert cholesterol into the hormone that begets all other hormones downstream. That hormone can become either cortisol or DHEA. The latter can be converted into either sex hormone, depending on which is in shorter supply.

When we are stressed, we produce more cortisol, less DHEA. This cortisol stealing means that sex hormone imbalances can persist longer. If, as our lesbian sheep experiment shows, our sexual orientation can be affected by a flood of a particular sex hormone right at the time that part of the fetal brain is forming, stress could be the catalyst.

In that case, a pregnant woman, near the end of her second trimester and the beginning of her third, might experience a stressful event. In primordial times, the stress would likely be about scarce resources, and in that case, you would want fewer reproducing offspring. In modern times, it could be brought on by any number of stresses, which could (to greater and lesser degrees) relate to crowding, scarce resources, or more generally overpopulation. The imbalance of hormones could easily change the sexual orientation, mannerisms, or gender identity, depending on what part of the fetal brain was being built at the time.

So if homosexuality is an environmental response to overpopulation, it would continue to pop up with a certain random percentage of the population. There is no gay gene to breed out. That’s why straight parents keep having gay kids.

I hope to complete some research and start writing a book to examine this thesis in more detail. Let me know in your comments if you’d like to participate.

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