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Blog: Why gender is rooted in nature and not nurture

Right from the womb, every cell that is born from the division of the zygote carries with it the knowledge of what and how to be, whether it is to be the muscle that regulates one’s heartbeat, the grey matter that will help one pass his algebra class or the bit of skin that connects one’s scrotum to his perineum.

Genes correspond immediately to visible traits – the kink in the hair, the skin’s oily texture  – as well as the not so visible traits such as blood type, predisposition to disease and thousands if not millions of biochemical processes that comprise and determine life, and to some extent if I may add, even how it should be lived.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I had made a personal vow to finish Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex, a 600-paged novel on protagonist Calliope Stephanides, who has a 5-alpha-reductase deficiency; a deficiency in her biological soup which seems so obscure and unrelated to real life but which results in her having no ovaries and a higher amount of testosterone and a larger clitoris than other females of her generation.

It’s a genetic hiccup that is quite unlike having a sixth non-functional finger on a hand or a second areola on a breast, which most people tend to live with if not do away with surgery; the book illustrates with great sensitivity and thoroughness of research that it’s the type of hiccup that intimately determines not only how Miss Stephanides functions but also how she feels about sex.

One cannot function independently of one’s biological capacity, just like one can’t see the colour and shape of a chair if he doesn’t have eyes, but I’m beginning to think that one also cannot feel outside of one’s biological capacity, especially where attraction and sex is concerned.

Over and above social pressures and the environment, how one makes his life choices such as choosing a career or partner can be partly attributed to life experiences in his formative years. Traumatic experiences such as parental abuse and poverty tend to negatively impact the brain’s circuits; this is why people who have experienced trauma in their formative years tend to gravitate towards people and situations that are not supportive of their well being (even if they cognitively know that they are bad for them) and this may take years of therapy to undo.

And layers beneath that, the subconscious often leads our decisions; human feelings such as jealousy, fear and attraction are often entangled with the most primal instincts such as hunger, the fight and flee instinct when faced with an enemy and yes, even sex.

This is why you can’t always explain why you like certain types of people and not others.

Some people like redheads, others like blondes or brunettes. Some like giants, others like midgets. Some like women, others like men. And even within each broad category, there are so many different subtle nuances that we get triggered by and are attracted to that it is simply impossible to pinpoint every one.

In response to Pastor Lawrence Khong’s comment on homosexuality that “I’m confident that research as a whole will show you that there is zero proof that homosexuality is natural”, there are probably millions of stretches of acid chains called DNA carrying mutations swimming in our systems today just waiting to manifest in the right conditions to the right triggers, waiting to be discovered and dissected by the scientific community. I have reason to think that because the division of labour and the concept of child-rearing have evolved so much since prehistoric times with generations living on genetically modified food sources, human beings will one day become like earthworms, developing male or female genitalia depending on their reproductive requirements.

Gender is in the genes

Recently an old childhood friend looked me up online. I have not seen or met her in over two decades as she had migrated to Australia with her family; every now and then when I hear a certain song on the radio or talk to a common friend, I will think of her and wonder if she is well, sometimes with a smile on my face.

I had met her at a time when my life was much simpler, prior to my stepmother’s death and all the complications that came with my father’s remarriage which had led to my having to move house eight times since then.

She was the happiest, funniest person I knew then. She was the cool tomboy who excelled in sports and introduced me to rock music; there were songs that she had introduced me in her small flat opposite my school that I still revisit today; songs that have become the soundtrack of my writing. Our countless pranks and inside jokes represented the youthful abandon and respite for what could have been for me an infinitely more confused and lost childhood. In spite of being the heterosexist that I was destined to be and I’ve always been, it was not difficult for me to see why other females would be attracted to her.

We have only been united for a few days, but like old friends, we simply picked up from where we left off.  In the middle of our banter, in a few indirect words, she told me that she is a lesbian.

My immediate mental reaction was, “Of course I knew! You’ve been that way since you were six!”

But I told her instead, “I don’t care if you’re a monkey. You’re my friend and you’ll always be.”

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