2 min

Nature 1, nurture 0

That bitterness is the real you

This month when I’ve not been waiting for Survivor II’s bitchy Jeff Varner to come out – his favourite TV show is Sex And The City, his favourite movie is Coal Miner’s Daughter and his favourite magazine is Details, for God’s sake! – I’ve been reading up on the book of life.

My introduction to genetic science has been Matt Ridley’s 1999 book, Genome: The Autobiography Of A Species In 23 Chapters. It’s an enthusiastic primer to the subject and, par for the course, Ridley wrestles with the gay gene thesis. He gives us tidbits like: If a male’s maternal uncle was gay, the chances he’ll be a homo are much higher; a man with one or more older brothers is more likely to be gay than a man with no siblings or older sisters; as for lesbians, who knows?

Personally I’m tired of being told I was born that way. It’s Ridley’s comments about IQ, personal interests and aptitude that continue to ring in my head.

“As you grow up and accumulate experiences, the influence of your genes increases. What? Surely it falls off? No… as you grow up, you gradually express your own innate intelligence and leave behind the influences stamped on you by others. You select the environments that suit your innate tendencies, rather than adjusting your tendencies to the environment you find yourself in…. Environmental influences are not inexorably cumulative.”

This idea of becoming more yourself as you grow older upends how mainstream society has treated issues of sexual interest and sexual orientation. With its prohibitions, rigid family structure and lack of control, childhood isn’t the blank slate; adulthood is.

It’s a new starting point for consideration of censorship, child rearing and “deviant” sexual expression.

For example, it sweeps aside the notion that young people are corrupted by adults or dangerous images. They might be corrupted for a while, but they reclaim themselves as they grow older, becoming increasingly attracted to what their genes have deemed them to be attracted to.

Pornography, then, is not a tempter and corrupter. It exists as an outlet for people who have these interests anyway; the interest precedes the product. Which makes censorship seem less about public interest – keeping society from spiraling out of control – and more about mean-spiritedness, an unwillingness to let go of childhood control.

“Fringe” sexual practices like SM are not signs of decadence, sexuality warped by abuse, psychological trauma or boredom. They are the activities of people who have thrown off society’s often arbitrary nurturings and reclaimed their natural tendencies. (See elsewhere on this site for Nancy Irwin’s story on the reluctance of Toronto’s lesbians to go public with their SM.)

A healthy adulthood is not about being a “survivor,” but about sorting your way through the clutter of what’s been thrust upon you – and pursuing what really gets you going.

A disturbing fatalism hangs over this scientific theory. You rose to the challenge of high school, but really you’re not that smart and the sooner you quit your job and start making pottery, the happier you’ll be. Your bitterness and neurotic behaviour at age 30 is closer to the real you than your blissfully happy childhood.

Your need to have your left nipple bitten 30 times before orgasm is more true to your core self than the excitement you felt as a confused teen seeking furtive contact with your best friend.

This fatalism takes me back to Jeff Varner calling the shots in the Australian outback, just like big fag Richard Hatch did to win Survivor’s island adventure.

We’ve developed a politically-correct schtick to explain homo successes – how we’ve developed survival skills in reaction to a homophobic society, how we’ve learned to compartmentalize private and public selves, how we’ve toughened up in the face of oppression.

But it’s all bunk. Homo survival skills are there in the genes, getting stronger as we grow older.

So much for the scarring trauma of childhood.

Paul Gallant is Features Editor for Xtra.