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Does gay run in families?

02/28/2011

It sure does in mine. On one side of it, at least – which sort of proves my point.

The struggle to come out in mid-life or later, can feel awfully lonely. As I moved along my path, it helped me a great deal to know that I’m not alone. I’m not an aberration – some crazy mistake of nature. Actually, I’m a fairly unsurprising product of the gene pool from which I come. There’s a streak of gayness running through at least three generations of my father’s family. And, equally important for several reasons, none that I’m aware of in my mother’s.

My paternal grandfather was one of twelve children – 10 boys and two girls ­– born to prosperous, but hard-working, farmers in Lowndes County, deep in the southernmost part of Georgia. These twelve produced 21 offspring, my father among them. My father’s generation produced me, my two sisters, and our 46 first and second cousins.

Of the twelve in my grandfather’s generation, there were two who were possibly gay, though of course no one ever talked about it, so there’s no way be certain.  Among the 21 in my father’s generation, there were two for sure and possibly others. In my generation of 48, five of us are out, and there are couple more likely candidates. So much for the proverbial gay 10%. We blew right past it.

I know – or know about – all 80 of these folks because there’s a lake in the Lowndes County woods that belonged to my great-grandparents. It’s still in the family, and since the 1890s, four generations of us, now going into the fifth, have gathered there. This place is central to my sense of self in a number of ways. Last November, I blogged about how it figured in my development as a writer. But even more important is this: The lake has kept my large, far-flung, extended family connected across time and distance. And this connectedness has allowed me to see my being gay as something much larger than me. It’s part of my family heritage.

On the other hand, there’s this: While my mother didn’t come from as large a clan as my father, being a Southerner, she felt it important to keep up with family connections. Of the twenty or so cousins and other relations I’ve known from my mother’s side, no one I’m aware of was or is gay. Not one.

So, what does all this tell me? Well, as I said, I’m not the only one. I’m part of a significant group within my own family, and that’s comforting knowledge.

But, it also makes the by-now-obvious-to-most-of-us point that sexual orientation is a matter of hard-wiring. We are born this way. And my family – both sides of it – sort of demonstrate that. I know where I got the gene.

Not only does this help counter the bigots on the religious right who insist it’s all a lifestyle choice. It also lets everybody off the hook. It’s nobody’s “fault.” A lot of people of my parents’ generation, and some in my own, have agonized about this, but they didn’t do anything to make their children gay. Nor did our grandparents or great-grandparents. The genes did it, and you can’t choose your genes any more than you can choose your parents. They just happen.

No two families are alike of course, and yours may look vastly different from mine. You may be adopted and not know your birth parents. Or your family may be even larger than mine, you know every single one of them, and no one among them is gay … at least no one who’s out. But know for certain that someone in your background, swinging from some branch of your family tree, gave you the gene.

It’s part of your heritage.

Celebrate that.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. nanci Reese permalink
    03/02/2011 1:59 AM

    dear David,
    I have talked to you about the Kinsey scale. say 100 is totally homosexual/glbt etc. and 0 is totally hetero. Margaret Mead said NOBODY is totally heterosexual and from my class the reason red-necks and other beat up homosexual men is because they are frightened of they own homosexual feelings. In my family my brother Jim is 35 % and I am 35 % too. Jim had a relationship with 95% or so and it did not last the guy was really into Jim. (He is quite a catch except that he is a pot head( legal) and plays some super hero video game online and that is how he met his lover. Jim gave the lover a ” friendship” ring the the guy thought they were married and this totally freaked Jim out and broke it off. All my brothers are divorced. I guess you would say I was divorced cuz Greg and I lived together for 17 years. ( now we are BFF)Paul Jim’s faternal twin is the only one actively pursuing getting a girlfriend. Jim, Steve and I are not pursuing anything or rather anybody and actually not really interested in lover/mate/marriage. I guess when we all get old we will all live together and be the as eccentric as we are. the new GREY GARDENS.
    BUT I find it interesting that both him and I are 35% Homosexual. We are all into spanking but that is because when our mom spanked us as kids she said before she spanked us that she is only doing this because she loves us. Maybe this is too much info.
    Keep going. Love,
    Nanci

  2. nanci Reese permalink
    03/02/2011 2:02 AM

    DAvid – I just read my comment- lots of grammatical errors -sorry

  3. Brian permalink
    03/06/2011 3:11 PM

    Sexual orientation may in part by genetic. But even if it is a choice of sorts, it’s a completely valid decision. I heard the story of a woman receiving TANF who testified in front of Sen. Sam Brownback at a hearing about marriage incentives, and she explained that she dated women because she was tired of men hurting her babies. That’s got a pretty impeccable logic. As I recall, Sen. Brownback had little to offer by way of response.

    • 03/06/2011 4:52 PM

      Thanks for the comment, Brian. I hope you come back – and keep commenting.

      I agree that choice is sometimes involved. There is science indicating that while genes play a big part in sexual orientation, there may be environmental factors that influence how the genetic predisposition plays out. And there are many of us – me for example – whose orientation is indistinct or divided. I had lived “successfully” on the straight side of the fence for a long time before I realized that keeping this act in play would eventually kill me. So I made the choice to come out and live honestly. It was the right choice.

      But I have known so many other people both male and female – the vast majority of my gay acquaintances – for whom choice never entered the picture. They knew – some of them from their earliest moments of self-awareness – that they were gay. The only “choice” involved was to be honest or to lie.

      I am intrigued by the woman who testified before Sen. Brownback. If the choice was entirely hers, she would be very unusual indeed. But I appreciate your opinion that it can be a perfectly valid choice, as it seemed to be in her case.

      And furthermore, anyone who can leave a person like Sen. Brownback with little or nothing to say, gets a big thumbs-up from me.

  4. Steve permalink
    05/16/2013 2:49 AM

    It runs in my family as well. Both my brothers and myself are all gay.

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