Sexual orientation, altruism, and epigenetics: Is this a ruse for “second class citizenship”?

Recently, the “Gay Tribal Elder” Don Kilhefner aired a Ted video by James O’Keefe, “Homosexuality: It’s about survival, not sex.”

The talk at first attempts to explain why homosexuality persists in practically all populations at a consistent level (roughly 3-10%) despite the obviously low reproduction by gay people, and in the face (especially in the past, and today in authoritarian cultures) of discrimination and persecution.

The general explanation is that sexual orientation (and probably gender identity, which is at odds with biological gender (transgender or even gender fluidity) much less frequently than homosexuality) is directly related to turning genes on and off with chemical messengers, largely generated when the bay is still in the mother’s womb.  This is called epigenetics.  It is this process which favors the development of homosexuality in a population of humans and other social mammals.

If you look at the natural world, with social carnivores (and perhaps many primates like bonobo chimps, and maybe some whales and dolphins), it seems to be common that not all of the males reproduce or get their genes propagated.  There is often an “alpha male” dominance (lion prides, wolf packs).  This might sound like a Machiavellian “survival of the fittest”, which seems offensive to consider today (remember the debates on eugenics early in the last century and where that led).  But there may be another reason:  in animal social groups or extended families, the survival of the tribe as a whole is enhanced if some adult members specialize in altruistic behaviors for the rest of the members of the group rather than in propagating their own genes.  A similar model also applies, as O’Keefe argues, with social insects, like bees and ants.  This raises another question in my mind, about distributed consciousness capable of transcending and surviving an individual member’s own mortality;  that’s an idea I’ll come back to again in a future post.   O’Keefe argues that in most of these animals, chemical messengers turn on and off various genes, influencing future behavior.  In a matriarchal ant colony, a queen can determine the “personalities” of individual workers (warrior or forager) by selecting their food when the young are still larval.

So it is in human families.  When a mother has several children (especially several sons), the brains of later born (younger) kids are likely to get different chemical stimulation in utero.  Part of the reason is to prevent overpopulation (too many mouths to feed, although on the frontier you needed a lot of kids for labor in the past).  But the other reasons is to provide altruistic backup for family members who do bear the kids and future generations. It does seem true, later born sons are more likely to be gay.  And sometimes among identical twins there is discordance, which suggests an epigenetic influence.

My own case is unusual, as I am an only child.  Indeed, my own college expulsion in 1961 after admitting “latent homosexuality” to a college dean (after prodding) now sounds motivated by the idea that I was announcing a “death penalty” for my parents’ hope of a future lineage, which might matter in religious or spiritual matters (again, I’ll cover later).

I was also an example of the “sissy boy” syndrome. While that expression was a popular myth in the 1950s and Vietnam-draft 1960s, in general it does not turn out to be true of the gay male community as a whole, when you talk about cis gay men (not trans).  Gay men, for example, can play professional sports, an idea that the big leagues must embrace. (Baseball will probably have a trans relief pitcher some day, but that’s another matter.) What seems remarkable in retrospect is that, at least in cis gay men, sexual orientation (attraction) is linearly independent from all other physical expressions of what we perceive as “masculinity”.  That’s really apparent on most gay disco dance floors, where lean masculinity seems to be celebrated. (Milo Yiannopoulos is dead right about this.)

As my own adult life unfolded, independence became a paramount value for me, particularly as an answer to otherwise possibly clinging to people.  For long stretches of years, I lived in other cities far away from my parents and their social groups, and developed my own “real world” contact groups, long before social media.  That seemed to be what an adult was supposed to do.  I did, necessarily, have a double life, until after retirement, where work and personal relationships and personal cultural expression (even publications and books) were separate.  That became normal.  Publicly recognizable personal accomplishment, whether winning chess games from masters or publishing books on issues like gays in the military, became a primary virtue;  family, having or adopting and raising children, became viewed as an afterthought.  I viewed the rest of the “straight world” this way.  When I was working, I thought everyone felt this way, particularly for my own lens of “upward affiliation” in personal relationships.  I got a taste of “otherwise” at the Ninth Street Center in the 1970s, but I really didn’t have to come to grips with this until my own mother’s heart disease and decline, as well as the “social” values that were pushed on me in retirement, where salesmanship (even outright and aggressive hucksterism), rather than content production, became the new expectation.  Manipulation, driven by tribalism, seemed to replace individualized truth-seeking.

O’Keefe’s video seems to imply that gay people (equates to non-procreative) are expected to stay around home to be the backup for the rest of the family when things happen. Indeed, this was often the case in previous generations especially for spinster women (not so much gay men). With there being fewer children today, the childless (as I found out the hard way) are more likely to become involved in their parents’ eldercare for years.  In some families, childless people wind up raising siblings’ children after family tragedies (like in “Raising Helen” or the series “Summerland”), sometimes as a condition of a will.  Many states have filial responsibility laws that, while rarely enforced (with a notorious 2012 situation in Pennsylvania) can undermine the independence of childless people.

Likewise, in the workplace, in many areas with salaried (non-union) people, childless people sometimes wound up doing the unpaid overtime for their coworkers who took family or maternity leave (DADT-1 reference).  This happened to me sometimes in the 1990s, and has contributed to the movement today for paid family leave (or at least parental leave). I was the person with the disposable income would could be leaned on for sacrifice.   Sometimes I was feared as someone who, with fewer responsibilities, could work for less (“gays at a discount” was a common insult in the 1990s) and lowball the salaries of others.  That sort of thinking at one time had even affected the thinking of the military draft, when John Kennedy wanted to allow marriage and fatherhood deferments (dashed by the Johnson buildup in 1965, although student deferments remained until 1969).

So I have to see O’Keefe’s views, at least in my own life, as a call for second-class citizenship.  But that may not be the case for people who necessarily experience life through surviving as a group or tribe together.  Many tribal societies (most notably in the Muslim world) are ferociously anti-gay and want every adult to share in the responsibility of having children (as do some evangelical Christians, for example).  O’Keefe shows that these ideas, however religiously driven, don’t promote the long term welfare of the group.  Biological immutability seems relevant.

On the other hand, the whole idea of marriage equality, in my own perspective, has been about “equality” for those like me who remain topological singletons.

(Posted: Saturday, September 23, 2017. At 12 noon EDT)

States get ranked by how they deal with underprivileged kids

I received an email this morning from Wallethub discussing the statistics about underprivileged children in the 50 states.   The information relates to August as Child Support Awareness Month.

The best link summarizing the findings is here, ranking the States by the proportion of underprivileged children.

The state with the worst record in this regard seems to be Mississippi (last visited by me in 2014). The District of Columbia (Washington) regarded as a state, comes out badly. The states that came out best seemed to be New Jersey and New Hampshire. In the table provided, having fewer points is better.

Some key statistics:

  • “Mississippi has the highest child food-insecurity rate, 26.3 percent, which is 2.8 times higher than in North Dakota, the state with the lowest at 9.4 percent.
  • Mississippi has the most infant deaths (per 1,000 live births), nine, which is 2.3 times more than in New Hampshire, the state with the fewest at four.
  • Alaska has the highest share of children in foster care, 1.41 percent, which is 5.6 times higher than in Virginia, the state with the lowest at 0.25 percent.
  • Mississippi has the highest share of children in households with incomes below poverty level in the past 12 months, 31.8 percent, which is 2.7 times higher than in New Hampshire, the state with the lowest at 11.8 percent.
  • Nevada has the highest share of uninsured children aged 0 to 17, 13.0 percent, which is 8.7 times higher than in Massachusetts, the state with the lowest at 1.5 percent.
  • Massachusetts has the highest share of maltreated children, 2.22 percent, which is 16 times higher than in Pennsylvania, the state with the lowest at 0.14 percent.

I’ve recently covered on this blog several topics that are particular significant to “freedom”, at least my own. Some of these include the downstream liability-Backpage issue (which also affects kids, above, indirectly at least), the net neutrality issue, immigration and hosting, and specifically, in the last couple of days, North Korea. It is not possible to cover the details of some of these matters every day on one blog, as the events break too fast. Yes, I’m very concerned about the general idea of “shared responsibility”, because (ironically) we all bear te consequences of things as individuals when the outside world knocks on the door with aggression or demands. I my own situation, I guess I am in some danger of winding up as a metaphorical Scarlet O’Hara (“Gone with the Wind”) and it’s hardly clear I have the personal resilience for it. Coercion matters, in a way that impacts making good choices and “personal responsibility”. Stay tuned.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 9, 2017 at 8 PM EDT)

Non traditional families and singles can (often) adopt children; should they be expected to?

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Should same-sex couples adopt?  It seems likely settled, in historic turnaround, that they can, in all 50 states, after a decision turning down Mississippi’s anti-same-sex-couple adoption law this spring, with opinion shown in this Huffington article.  I’ll add an article supporting the idea that children raised in homes of stable gay couples do as well as anyone.

I must prefix the rest of this by noting that the DC Center for the LGBT Community in Washington plans an information forum in November 2016 on adoption and foster care.  It may be intended mainly for couples, but there is a suggestion that all are welcome.

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There’s no question that suitability of a parent depends on the character of the parent.  It’s pretty easy to imagine Alan Turing as an ideal father figure because he had such unusual integrity and charisma, even though he never tried that role.  As a single “straight” man. Edward Snowden comes across the same way to me, because of focus on a moral ideal.

When I was working on my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the 1990s, I was surprised to find out how far the subject of gay parents had advanced (when compared to the debate on gay marriage, which was just then livening up in Hawaii). I read a book “Getting Simon: Two Gay  Doctors’ Journey into Fatherhood” by Kenneth Morgen, about how determined a Maryland gay couple was to raise a son.

But I want to come at this question through a back door.  Should non-traditional parents adopt children?  That means not just same-sex couples but singles as well.  It also includes ancillary questions like offering foster care, or even overseas sponsorship.

That would seem to depend on the overall level of need, about which evidence online is quite variable and inconsistent.

But if the need is great, that could imply a moral obligation for those who are able to consider adoption.

Adults seem to vary widely on whether they want children.  Some couples struggle with fertilization and it is their narratives that sometimes gives valuable clues to the need, as in some cases couples don’t find that there are that many “suitable children” to adopt.  A poster at Babycenter notes this real-world experience of many (traditional) couples.

But other sources point to the need for adoptive families for non-white children, or children with special needs.  And then consider this blog post.

I recall my last year living in Minneapolis, 2003, where I would see seats or signs at bus stops indicating a need for single people to adopt or offer foster care.

There is also a lot of tension on the Internet over whether all capable adults should be prepared to raise children, or if there is something wrong with not “wanting” them.  There’s no question, that the “educated middle class” perceives a loss of economic opportunity (men as well as women) and considerable economic risk in having kids at the most “desirable” ages (mid to late 20s).  Student debt is a problem.  The issue obviously interacts with the intellectual shallowness of the paid family leave debate (like who pays for it?)  In a real world, single people often wind up raising siblings’ children (sometimes as a condition for inheriting estates).

The idea that not every adult “wants” kids seems to rankle some people.  As this article from Australia suggests, some see it as a kind of “draft dodging”.  The BBC reports  that people who say outright that they don’t want kids being bullied on social media.  Time Magazine even dismisses the reasons for not wanting kids as inappropriately self-serving.  The Federalist   even refers to a book  “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster”  I note the idea of the “personal (mis)use of sex”.

An important process behind this kind of thinking is the idea that much of what is interesting in life only works when “everybody else has to do what you have to do.”  In an individualistic world, no one has a right to expect that sort of mandatory solidarity from others.  But that’s how authoritarian societies (probably inhabiting whole planets) work.

So, let’s comeback to the questions: can (and should) single people adopt?  Parents magazine (generally conservative) gives a guarded “yes”.   “Unmarried equality” backs this up with more specifics  and notes that some states have specified precedence rules requiring considering married couples first.  There’s also the synopsis of a debate from Brazil on whether single people should be allowed to adopt.

Besides adoption and foster car, there is the idea of informal sponsorship of children overseas, which many charities propose.  These involve having correspondence with a particular child.  To me this now seems a bit inappropriate unless “you” are ready for full responsibility, could travel there and try to adopt.

There is a cold, existential reality that “people life me” face.  It is hard to feel personal connection (beyond intellectual empathy) to children of the next generation needing to be supported and reared, without having successfully connected to a member of the opposite sex through sexual intercourse, with a total surrender of self implicit in the process, however temporary and usually reversible.

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Update: Oct. 1

A group called UMFS (United Methodist Family Services) had a booth today at northern Virginia LGBT Pride and told me that single people, at least for foster care and probably adoption, were needed.  The spokesperson said that couples who claim they cannot find children to adopt usually are “picky” about who they will accept (by age, race, and lack of special needs). Older children who have been in foster care often do have behavior problems.

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An aunt in Ohio took care of two foster children on a farm in the 1950s when I visited in the summer.  The boy played baseball and was an avid Indians’s fan — and I saw many games in the “Mistake by the Lake” in Cleveland (with the Senators).  The girl became a journalist in the Cleveland area.

(Posted: Friday, September 30, 2016 at 3:30 PM EDT)