Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Brave New Whorled

Matt over at yon Malcontent has up a linkage to an article discussing what appear to be certain characteristics strongly associated with gayness -- in particular, being prone to left-handedness or ambidexterity, and the way in which the hair whorls on one's head spin.

In short, if you spin Southern Hemisphere, you're more likely to be straight, and if you spin Northern Hemisphere, the odds are better that you're not (which still doesn't explain why there are so many hot men in Australia, but I digress).

Crazy, right?

Well, thanks to my admittedly-unusual background, I can tell you.....not really.

Horse trainers and rodeo cowboys have made observation for years that the position of the hair whorl on the forehead of a horse or a cow relative to a horizontal line drawn between its eyes and a vertical line down the middle of its forehead to its nose is a good predictor of its temperament. In bulldogging, a steer whose hair whorl is below that horizontal line tends to keep its head down and plod, meaning you have to reach lower; in contrast, one that is above the line tends to be flighty, faster, and -- paradoxically -- a stopper, who when you pass it on your horse, will probably slam on the brakes, jerk its head up, and knock your teeth out if you're not careful. Same with horses; the more their whorl varies from the crosshairs -- where those two lines meet -- the less desirable their behavior.

Of course, tobacco-addled folk like myself aren't always the best judges of what's what, so one day an amazing person -- a lady by the name of Temple Grandin, whose life is a story in and of itself and who I've had the pleasure to work and speak with -- decided to test this scientifically. Sure enough, she found that it WAS true -- cattle with whorls that were off-kilter, or no whorls at all, tended to be more agitated and showed behavior like high heads and jerky movements like we in the rodeo area know so well (and painfully). Furthermore, as Temple pointed out in more detail (search for "Hair whorls"), the hair whorls are formed from the same embryonic layer at the same time that the brain is forming, which would provide some degree of explanation for their seeming predictive power on behavior.

An interesting and disquieting point in Temple's research, though, is that a strong correlate for it comes from human studies; namely, it has been known for quite some time that humans with Down's syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, schizophrenia, and autism tend to exhibit unusual physical traits, such as abnormal hair whorls, a higher tendency towards left-handedness, and a high number of physical anomalies -- i.e. relative finger lengths and appendage sizes -- than the average person with none of these.

On the one (left) hand, that makes a strong argument for homosexuality being in large part biological; all of these particular syndromes have a strong genetic component, with environmental factors playing more of a trigger role than a shaping role. However, on the other hand, that makes of homosexuality a brain misfire -- or, as Doctor Laura famously (and tactlessly) put it, a "biological error".

On the other hand, the implications of this are a bit to the right of cataclysmic. In the majority of the cases of syndromes just mentioned, people can bring themselves closer to "normal", if you will, through medication, therapy, and learning to work around the limitations of their particular situation.

Can the same thing be said for gays? Should the same thing be said for gays?

The answer, in my opinion, is: it all depends. I cannot say that homosexuality is always a blessing, any more than someone else can say it is always a curse. There are simply too many situations, too many scenarios, in which it is one, either, both, or even neither. We all know lives that started and stopped, families torn apart and put back together, utmost joy and blackest despair.

I suppose it all boils down to this; whatever works best for you. And that is why I will not bother getting excited or upset about "ex-gay" organizations, or reparative therapy, or potentially curbing homosexual urgings through drugs, or un-gaying babies in the womb; they will work for some people.

But not for me, thanks.

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