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Mister, That Dog Ain't Right (11/05/03)

     Jake was a hunting dog: A big lean creature of unknown ancestry that weighed about a hundred pounds. Jake was perhaps best known for his passion for disemboweling other woodland creatures like raccoons and badgers. His owner was quite proud of his ability to track and kill game, and took him everywhere.

     One day, Jake and his master pulled into a rest stop off the highway. Master went inside to relieve himself, while Jake roamed the grounds (neither of them were believers in leash laws.) When the human end of team came back out, he was greeted by rather indignant yelping, and quickly spotted Jake...who was joyfully sodomizing another visitor's male beagle.

     And that was the trouble with Jake, that macho terror of plains and forest: He was unrepentantly gay. Even in heat, female dogs didn't hold the slightest attraction for Jake, but his owner's other male hunting dog slept with his rear end backed into a corner and one eye open.

      The why and how of Jake's sexual orientation is a bit of a mystery, but it seems safe to say that he did not, as certain religious groups have claimed of gay humans, turn gay out of rebellion against the will of god.

    Jake's case is also hardly unique among the animal kingdom. Although humans might be the only species to make a political issue of it, homosexuality is found in many species, from ducks to sheep to chimps. Being gay is clearly not unnatural, just somewhat unusual (like a real blond in California.)

      What makes somebody (or their dog) gay? It may have something to do with a little bit of wiring near the center of the brain that seems to be responsible for identifying who is a potential sexual partner. In heterosexual males, this network is visibly different from the same structure in heterosexual females, being about twice as large. Studying rats, scientists found that if you gave a developing female rat male hormones, this 'what do I want to fuck today' nerve system grew larger, like in males...and the female rats began to act like male rats, even trying to mate with other females.

     Obviously we can't do the same experiment with humans, but the next best thing has been tried: Studying the brains of deceased gay and strait men. As suspected, this 'sexual targeting' system in the gay men was about half the size of that in strait men, comparable to the brains of strait women.

     Studies of twins have given some support to the idea of a genetic influence on sexual orientation, but genes don't entirely explain it (if one identical twin is gay, there's only about a fifty-fifty chance the other one will be.) Thus, is seems likely that non-genetic developmental processes, probably occurring during fetal development, play a significant role as well.

     It is of course possible to choose a sexual lifestyle that's different from your natural inclinations (I'm sure we've all seen prison movies) but the basic wiring of your brain, what you identify as sexually attractive, is probably set long before we become consciously aware of our own sexuality. For the vast majority, it's just who they are...not a 'lifestyle choice.'