My questions: Do genes determine sexual orientation, and is 23andme trying to answer this question? Is this ethical? What are the advantages to this, and why should people like me be concerned?
While anticipating my results from 23andme, my biggest concern was finding out I had an increased chance for some serious life-threatening disease (Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, etc.). I was relieved to learn that this was not the case, and overall my health seemed to be okay. However, upon receiving my DNA analysis, my heart skipped a beat. Why? 23andme wanted me to participate in a survey about my sexual orientation. I am also gay. Ironically, I did not become eligible for this survey until the same day my results were delivered to me. Timely coincidence? Maybe. I’m not sure if anyone else was invited to participate in this survey, however in my mind the following thought occurred: that, maybe, 23andme is conducting research about a possible biological basis for sexuality, and they identified a genetic marker in me. Paranoid? Possibly. But it’s not such a novel idea.
I recently watched an episode of Law and Order where this subject was discussed. In the show, the idea was held that by identifying a genetic marker, one’s sexuality could be determined before birth. The father in that episode wanted his pregnant wife to have an abortion because his child-to-be had that marker.
Although it would be a fascinating find, should geneticists really be trying to discover this? Homosexuals face discrimination just like other minorities, we’re just fortunate enough to be able to hide our differences if needed. That is the advantage of “being gay” instead of belonging to another social group which experiences discrimination: it’s almost like an invisible identity, and is only visible if the individual is comfortable enough with it. By discovering a genetic marker that could determine sexual orientation, homosexuals would lose that advantage - they could even possibly be screened before birth. Of course, parents want the best for their child, and some might consider this to be a problem. Or maybe the child would be born into a homophobic or extremely conservative family. The amount of abortions could skyrocket. Okay, maybe that’s a bit extreme. Regardless, I think that homophobic discrimination would augment greatly.
However, this type of research could be a good thing, too. I, personally, would love to know if there is a genetic reason for my sexual preferences, for curiosity’s sake. It would also dispel the idea that: “gays choose to be this way” or “homosexuality is unnatural or immoral”. Because no, I don’t “choose” to be this way, I just am. And no, I’m not an immoral person. I actually am very proud of my morals. Many people in favor of gay rights would think of this as a good thing.
But, as I stated before, I think in the long run this would just cause more discrimination by those who are against homosexuality. For me, my sexuality isn’t my defining feature - there’s more to me than being attracted to people of the same sex. But, not everyone considers that. From my own perspective, it seems like people hold onto that one aspect of identity, and don’t really consider anything else. In fact, I had a friend once, who, upon learning my sexual orientation started introducing me to her friends as “This is (name). (S)he’s gay”. It is immature and irrelevant to introduce someone like that.
So sorry I went on a tangent, but this was the part of 23andme that worried me. It made me feel vulnerable, as if the researchers knew that I was gay. I’ve always considered myself fortunate to be fairly discrete about my preferences, but just by “becoming eligible” for this survey, I felt like I was being targeted. If the data obtained from identifying a “gay gene” wouldn’t be misused, then I wouldn’t be so concerned. But, there is a possibility that it could be, and that is important to remember.
If you’re interested more in this, I skimmed an article that goes into more detail about my post: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/ViewPage.aspx?pageId=77