Whom You Love: the biology of sexual orientation
Reviewing scientific evidence that processes at work before birth influence sexual orientation. Nature has a say in whom you love.
Did you know that…
-some babies are difficult to classify at birth as either male or female?
-the prenatal environment of a fetus can affect its later sexual orientation?
-males who have older brothers are more likely to be homosexual?
-homosexuality in women is different from homosexuality in men?
-genes influence whether a person will be sexually attracted to males or females?
-some parts of the brain are different in gay men versus straight men, and in gay rams versus straight rams?
We want to make a video documentary about the development of human sexual orientation to explain these and many other scientific findings. Our working title, “Whom You Love: the biology of sexual orientation,” comes from an old saying, “Tell me whom you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Most of us find ourselves attracted to certain people, usually people of a certain sex, by a process that seems outside our control. For many, the sense that we are gay or straight or somewhere in between is an important part of our identity. The title also refers to the overall theme of the documentary--without discounting the importance of culture and experience in sexuality, Nature also has a say in whom you love.
We would like to bring together the scientists who have been exploring why most people grow up to be straight, while a minority of people grow up to be gay, despite enormous social pressure from day one to be heterosexual (think of all those Disney movies!).
That scientific information is out there, if you know where to look and if you know how to separate the legitimate science from the myths, but no one has ever brought this information together in a program so that anyone, not just scientists, can understand that processes at work before we are born have an influence on whether we grow up straight or gay.
This project will have two parts. First, we will bring the scientists here to Michigan State this Fall so that one each week will give a lecture on their particular work exploring the origins of sexual orientation. That lecture series will be open to everyone, so if you’re in the mid-Michigan area, by all means come to the lectures. They'll be on Mondays at 4pm in Wells Hall rm 115B.
But the second part of the project, the more inclusive part, will be to videotape, in HD and all that, interviews with the scientists to use in the video documentary. Ideally, we will put together a documentary that is intriguing enough, and of high enough quality, that a mass media outlet, like PBS or a cable channel network, will broadcast it to a wide audience.
Nearly a dozen scientists have already agreed to participate if we can find the funds. I've listed below the scientists who have agreed to participate so far, and the titles they propose for their talk. With enough funds we could invite more. These scientists are all smart, articulate people who can communicate to a broad audience. Presenting their findings and ideas in an entertaining and accessible documentary will be eye-opening for some people.
So, can you help? Getting these scientists here won’t be cheap, but will be a lot cheaper than having a camera crew fly all over the world to reach them. The real expense is hiring professionals to do the videotaping, editing and other post-production processes. Like on-screen animations to show processes like how hormones work, or how a mother carrying one son might affect the developing brain in her subsequent sons. Permission for music and for film clips from other sources will be another significant cost.
The financial goal we’ve set is our best guess at the absolute minimum we would need to make a documentary, but we would love to have more to really do the material justice. If we get more than that minimum, we can get more scientists to interview, spilling over into the Spring. Also, it would be great to travel to some of the pioneers of the field, who are of an age where travel may be difficult, to hear firsthand about their discoveries. Again, with enough funds, maybe we could break the documentary into several parts, to really lay out what we’ve learned and how we’ve learned it.
If you can help out, we would really appreciate it. Even if you can’t contribute personally, if you tell your friends and they tell their friends, we might pull this off. And, of course I hope you’ll be interested in watching our final product some day. Thanks.
PS: The funds will go to a non-profit organization that will donate all proceeds to Michigan State University, which will administer the funds for us to make the documentary. Thus donations (less any rewards with a monetary value) will be tax deductible.
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LIST OF SPEAKERS:
Eric Vilain, MD. Chief, Medical Genetics, Department of Pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA: Born This Way: Biological Tales of Sexual Orientation.
Sari van Anders Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan: Beyond Sexual Orientation: Testosterone and sexual diversity in humans.
Dennis McFadden Ph.D., Ashbel Smith Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Texas, Austin: Physiological Evidence about the Origins of Sexual Orientation.
Paul L. Vasey Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of Lethbridge: No Dodos: What Cross-Cultural Research Tells us About Why Homosexual Males Do Not Become Extinct.
Charles Roselli Ph.D., Professor of Physiology and Pharmacology, Oregon Health & Science University: Barnyard Insights into Sexuality.
Meredith Chivers Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Queen’s National Scholar, Queen's University: The Puzzle of Women's Sexual Orientation - Why Straight Sexuality Isn't so Straightforward in Women.
Simon LeVay Ph.D., West Hollywood: My Brain Made Me Gay: Sexual Orientation, Science, and Society.
J. Michael Bailey Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Northwestern University: Is Sexual Orientation Chosen, Learned, Inborn, Genetic, or What?
Ray Blanchard Ph.D., Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto: How and Why Do Older Brothers Influence Sexual Orientation in Men?
Alice Dreger Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics, Northwestern University: Trying to 'Choose' Our Children's Sexual Orientation: Missteps, Misunderstandings, and the Marketplaces of Motherhood.
- (30 days)