Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Closeted Charedim

Scientists have discovered an odd correlation. For each additional older brother, a boy has his chance of growing up gay increases by one third. At the same time growing up with older stepbrothers has no effect on whether younger brothers will be gay; but having an older biological brother, even one who grows up separately, does. It appears that the biological fact of being a later occupant of the same womb make it more likely that a boy will grow up to be gay. Somehow the prenatal uterine environment fosters homosexuality in later sons. The causal mechanism that is being suggested is this: Giving birth to a child mixes fetal and maternal blood which causes the mother to develop antibodies to the foreign male proteins of her first born. These antibodies cross the placenta in subsequent pregnancies, thus exposing fetuses to these maternal antibodies. The brain development of a younger son might somehow be affected, increasing his chances of growing up to be gay. After 11 older brothers, the estimate is that the 12th boy has a 50-50 chance of being gay.

I learnt all this from an article in the WSJ, (6/31/06). Let’s assume the correlation is correct, and in time scientists understand in greater detail how the mechanism works. And furthermore let us suppose that the correlations will remain stable and become widely disseminated. Every parent at that point will have a well confirmed probability estimate matching each male child with the estimated chance of growing up gay. It might be something like this, assuming the relationship is linear: 0 previous boys=2%, 1=6%, 2=10% and so on. Couples with 6 previous boys who choose to have another child and know its sex, are bringing a child into the world with approximately a 25% chance of being gay. Nisht kein kleinikeet as we say. Such an outcome is not trivial. The results can be more startling if the function is non linear.

All this raises some curious problems for Ultra Orthodox people who choose to have large families with 8-12 children. Clearly it is not their intent to have a gay child, and if they did they would not want that result. So far so good. But there is this curious problem of its being foreseen with a stable probability distribution. True it is not a certainty, what the Talmud calls a psik rayeshaw. It is not like a case where you chop someone’s head off and then say “Who knew he was going to die?” It is more like playing Russian roulette with 3 empty cartridges and one bullet, and the victim dies. I am not sure about the halacha, but I would think morally and legally the killer is a murderer. At some point, frum people are playing Russian roulette with their children’s sexual preference. They are causally responsible for their child’s sexual preferences. I am also curious, if in such a case, the parents can be said to be an accomplice in the child’s sexual history?

One tempting way of dealing with this narrow halachic issue might be to differentiate between impulses, desires, propensities, etc. and homosexual activities. A homosexual is someone who has actual sexual relations with someone of the same sex. If there is no sexual activity, there is no homosexuality. It’s like the famous line of Reb Chaim Solovetcik. A crook is not someone who knows how to steal, or dreams of a life of crime. A crook is someone who steals. The same for a scholar ( a lamdan). We can add the same for being a homosexual. At most, the parents are responsible for the desire. They bear no responsibility for the activities, because of free will etc. In real life, it is not so easy. They have some part in the misery of celibacy, and might be considered by the child as bad parents for having brought him into the world. And the crook in the Reb Chaim witticism is not a g.f.b, a ganiv (crook) from birth. In some not insignificant way being gay from birth cannot be separated from the subsequent sexual relations, even if there isn’t a genetic marker.

Putting these issues aside, there are some interesting empirical consequences. I urge interested readers to work out the math for themselves, but there are going to be or already are, many more gay men in Ultra Orthodox circles than has been estimated heretofore. It should exceed the national average of 2%, since the vast majority of gays do not come from very large families. If you assume there are a million charedim, there is no growth in population and gays become in time 4%of the male population, we are talking 20,000 frum gay men in our midst. These men have four choices. They can leave Orthodoxy. They can lead holy and pure celibate lives. They can marry and muddle through. They can be single or married, but closeted. The last possibility is serious insofar as it will invariably lead to innocent charedi women and children with AIDS. An epidemic, however, is unlikely since we now know that circumcision is a major protection against AIDS.

I hope the research is not confirmed, and I hope I made some mistake in my reasoning. As much as I hate religious zealotry towards the gay community, I pray the problem of a large, closeted frum gay community will never arrive.


At 1:43 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Usually, sexuality refers to a person's impulses, not to their actions. A heterosexual person is still heterosexual even if they never perform heterosexual intercourse. Someone can be bisexual, but a "practicing" homosexual or heterosexual. Etc.

At 3:17 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Halacha,I believe agrees with me. There is a deeper consideration...if you count homoerotic impulses as instances of homosexuality there is no end to it. I feel strongly that in a counselling or therapeutic situations the distinction I made must be preserved or all is lost. Imagine an anxious teenager coming to you with a dream or fantasy ...

At 6:45 PM, Blogger Baalabus said...

I am sure you're aware of the deceased Chief Rabbi, Sir Jakobowitz regarding aborting a fetus expected to be born gay.

At 8:07 PM, Blogger lakewoodyid said...

>They are causally responsible for their child’s sexual preferences. I am also curious if in such a case the parents can be said to be an accomplice in the child’s sexual history?

"They" are not the slightest bit responsible. If the study is true, then its God who allows nature to run its course in such a way. And the same God wants us to have lots of kids.

Accordingly, the parents aren't an accomplice.

BTW, you have a nice blog.

Keep it up.

At 8:33 AM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Baalabus...I am not aware of the ruling.I feel like Rip van Winkle, and await tuition.

Lakewood Yid...I am honored by your words of encouragement.I am a fan of your blog and continue to admire your wit and tenacity. On the substantive point, I think you might be mistaken. When someone throws a human being out the window from the 20th floor, we don't say God did it by letting nature run its course. It is the same from the 2nd floor. Statistical laws of nature are just as lawlike as universal laws. It does appear God can command us to do something that we can after the fact be blamed. The problem arises in the Torah on more than one occasion, the most vivid example being God's command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.


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