Everybody has an idea: It's genetics--we're born that way. It's our mothers
and testosterone in the womb. It's the environment as we were growing up.
One thing we know for sure: The possible explanations raise as many
questions as they answer, particularly: What would happen if we found the
one true answer? and, Would we change if we could?
Mark Stoner pins it on the clarinet.
Ever since Stoner, a 41-year-old creative director for an advertising agency
in Lancaster, Pa., realized that three out of four of his childhood friends
who played the clarinet grew up to be gay, he has taken note of who
among his adult gay friends once played the instrument. What he calls an
"exhaustive but unscientific" survey covering two decades indicates that
"there is an extremely high correlation between playing the clarinet and
being gay," he says.
"My theory is that most boys want to play the trumpet," the former
woodwind player says, only partly in jest. "But the more sensitive boys
wind up with the clarinet, and we're the ones who turn out gay."
Stoner's theory, of course, is offered tongue-in-cheek. But in the past
decade or so, researchers from disparate fields spanning genetics,
audiology, and behavioral science have amassed bits and pieces of
evidence that they believe indicate what may determine sexual orientation.
If they're right, our sexual orientation may well be fixed long before any
maestro blows his first note.
But despite some compelling studies that indicate that the propensity to be
gay or lesbian is determined before birth--either genetically or through
biological processes in the womb--most researchers today agree a
complex combination of genetics, biology, and environmental influences
work together to make the determination. Just how much is predetermined
by the forces of genes and how much is shaped by influences such as
society and culture remain unclear--and hotly debated. So too does the
corollary question of whether sexual orientation is somehow an innate trait
and thus fixed for life or whether it is malleable and thus changeable over
More than scientific curiosity hangs in the balance. For years the gay and
lesbian political establishment has leaned, at least to some degree, on the
argument that sexual orientation is inborn and permanent and thus should
not be a basis for discrimination. The tactic has proved incredibly
successful. Polls repeatedly indicate that Americans who believe sexual
orientation is either genetic or biological are much more likely to support
gay and lesbian civil rights than those who believe it is determined
primarily by environmental influences.
In a Gallup Poll conducted in May, half of those surveyed said they believe
homosexuality is genetic, and half said it is environmental. In a 1977
Gallup Poll, respondents pointed to the environment over genetics by more