Contrary to Lady Gaga’s lyrics, a report finds scarce scientific evidence to conclude that gay and transgender people are “born that way.”
The 143-page paper, published this week in The New Atlantis journal, combs through hundreds of studies in search of a causal, biological explanation for sexual orientation and gender identity, but comes up empty.
“The belief that sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property — that people are ‘born that way’ — is not supported by scientific evidence,” says the report, written by a psychiatrist and a biostatistician at Johns Hopkins University.
“Likewise, the belief that gender identity is an innate, fixed human property independent of biological sex — so that a person might be a ‘man trapped in a woman’s body’ or a ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’ — is not supported by scientific evidence,” the report states.
The study’s authors, Drs. Lawrence S. Mayer and Paul R. McHugh, also point to evidence indicating those traits are more fluid than conventional wisdom suggests.
However, the authors stress that the lack of scientific evidence does not mean sexual orientation and gender identity are choices. Rather, additional research is needed to determine to what extent biology and environment shape sexual orientation and gender identity, and to what degree such properties are fluid, they say.
“I’m not suggesting the statement [that gay and transgender people are ‘born that way’] is false,” Dr. Mayer, a biostatistician and epidemiologist, told The Washington Times. “I’m saying there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support the statement.”
The authors also say there is scarce evidence to suggest that sex reassignment medically benefits patients — one reason that Dr. McHugh, in his capacity as psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, ended the practice in the 1970s.
Sarah McBride, national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, said The New Atlantis report is another instance in which Dr. McHugh espouses “his own personal prejudice against LGBTQ people.”
“His latest essay runs contrary to the overwhelming consensus of the medical community and would crumble if held up to any scrutiny, which is probably why he chose a publication that is not a peer-reviewed scientific journal,” Ms. McBride said. “Despite McHugh’s obsession with attacking LGBTQ people, neither he nor his co-author have ever published an actual research article on gender or sexuality in a scientific journal.”
The report cites several studies by J. Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University who has studied the concordance rate of sexual orientation in twins extensively. In a 1991 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Mr. Bailey showed that identical twins (who are genetically the same) are more likely to both be gay than fraternal twins (who are genetically different) or adoptive siblings (who are genetically unrelated).
Mr. Bailey replicated those results in a 2000 study using the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Twin Registry, finding higher concordance rates with regard to sexual orientation among identical than fraternal twins.
“I would say they’re probably the strongest evidence that there’s some biological basis,” Dr. Mayer said. “If you look at the — what [Mr. Bailey] calls the level of concordance between the pairs, he gets very high rates. That is probably the strongest evidence, the twin studies.”
Yet even those studies fail to show to what extent sexual orientation is a biological phenomenon rather than a product of one’s environment, Dr. Mayer said.
Mr. Bailey said he agrees and disagrees with various aspects of the Mayer-McHugh report. He said the notion of fluid sexuality is plausible for women, but pointed to his own research demonstrating that sexuality is more fixed in men.
Additionally, he agreed that the “idea of innate, fixed gender identity is not consistent with empirical evidence” but said sex reassignment may still be the best option for some people.
Despite his disagreements with the report, Mr. Bailey praised the authors for their willingness to discuss a controversial topic that he said deserves more scrutiny from the scientific community.
“Most importantly, I agree that all of these issues should be openly discussed and researched,” Mr. Bailey said. “There is little government support for open-minded investigation for these controversial issues. That is unfortunate and exactly backwards. Support should be directed to resolve the most contentious issues.”