Tell me more about my gay genes!
August 30, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

So I'm gay. Turns out a lot of folks in my extended family are as well. What are the odds? Has anyone studied extended family charting specifically?

So I'm gay. Turns out a lot of my extended family are as well.

I had an long conversation with a distant cousin the other day. She was talking about problems my 2nd cousin (my father's first cousin's daughter) has had since she came out as a lesbian. We then started talking about various family members and she threw something my way that blows my mind.

Turns out, out all of the offspring of my Grandad's generation (there were 9 of them born between 1895 and 1910 who lived into adulthood and had kids) there are 30+ people in my generation, 10+ of whom are gay and a number of whom are closeted for a number of reasons. There were a handful in the last generation as well. None of us has a gay sibling. Maybe everyone's family is like this and I just know all of these distant people, but this seems like it should be interesting to somebody besides me.

Has this been written about? Where can I find good, solid scientific links on homosexuality in family lines? Yes, I have googled, and am working my way through the links there, but I would really appreciate more info if you guys know of specific studies/articles.

Also (but not necessary): So what should I do? My inclination is to call a research institute and try to corral everyone into genetic testing, but that seems like a stretch, as does my fantasy of a gay family mafia!

Sorry for the breathless-ness of the question. I grew up with a lot of homophobia, it is something I try to recognize and avoid, and so this THIS! got me really excited - the information I am getting could really put a huge dent in the fear and misrepresentation on that side of the family and maybe even help Science! at the same time.

Bare-Bones tl;dr: Links to extended family tree genetic research as it relates to homosexuality, please.
posted by Tchad to Science & Nature (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a relatively recent paper that discusses mathematical models of homosexuality. It contains a fair number of references to recent genetic loci hunts.
posted by benzenedream at 3:46 PM on August 30, 2010

I found this from Google Books: Evolution's rainbow: diversity, gender, and sexuality in nature and people By Joan Roughgarden -- pg. 253: A 1999 study found that the brother or sister of a gay man is about 2-3 times as likely to be gay as a random person from the general population.

You might be interested in this page, especially the section with the heading "Direct study of genes." I'm not sure of the credibility of the website (it has a religious angle), but it does give details of specific studies with cites.

The Google search I used is [homosexuality "runs in families"]. I don't know if many sources would use your phrase, "family trees."

It's not very surprising if homosexuality clusters in certain families. You'd expect this to be the case whether it's congenital or environmental or both.

Look, even if you believe that people have free will and that homosexuality is a choice, you should still expect it to cluster in families. Choices aren't random -- they're influenced by outside factors.

I'd imagine it's still uncommon for one family to have as many gay people as yours, but this could be a statistical fluke.

Note: You should feel fine about being gay no matter what causes it or how it's distributed among families. I don't see how any particular scientific study is going to have much effect on cultural attitudes. People are going to believe what they want to believe, no matter what "science" says.
posted by John Cohen at 4:08 PM on August 30, 2010

I think a lot of people have stayed away from this question, because of the homophobic reaction of whether gay people should have biological children, if it is in fact genetic. Equally, I have heard of some research about (I think) the hormone levels of the pregnant mother being connected to the sexuality of the child. As interesting a question as it is, I fear that the next step is being able to choose the sexuality of said child. (I don't know how rational that fear is, but I don't think I'm alone in this worry.) Related: some stuff about being "Second Generation" gay.
So if you're not finding a lot of research, that may be why.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:54 PM on August 30, 2010

Yes. Here is one of several examples. Search terms for this kind of research are "linkage analysis" and "pedigree" and "extended pedigree" and "family based association" and "trio study."
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:30 PM on August 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks so much! I appreciate it!

John Cohen is dead-on when he says "You should feel fine about being gay no matter what causes it or how it's distributed among families. I don't see how any particular scientific study is going to have much effect on cultural attitudes. People are going to believe what they want to believe, no matter what "science" says."

But this is news to me and very exciting. I am going to spend the next year trying to contact all of these people and build bridges. This side of the family is more than a little eccentric and could really provide a lot of interesting stories (and commiseration, unfortunately). I think it is a strength in numbers thing. Or it could be.
posted by Tchad at 5:46 PM on August 30, 2010

Leaving aside genetics and the family tree thang, because, well, I don't care, I'm one of 5 brothers, two of whom are gay, myself being one.

I confess that I didn't follow a single link given above. Been there, done that. Much more important to me is building a meaningful life with people I care about and who care about me.

I'm 58, so it should perhaps be added that, in my dotage, I don't give a shit about what others think about my sexuality. YMMV.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:49 PM on August 30, 2010

I found this piece very interesting when I read it a couple years ago: Are Highly Fertile Women More Likely To Have Gay Sons?

"What’s more, Camperio-Ciani and his team now say male homosexuality is an example of sexually antagonistic selection—meaning a trait that gives one of the sexes a reproductive advantage diminishes the reproductive advantages of the other. [...] Homosexuality means men will probably have fewer children, but their female relatives will have more, keeping homosexuality in the gene pool."

(On preview, I see it links to the same study given in the first comment. But maybe the links/explanations in the article will give you more to go on?)

Here's a couple links to previous MeFi posts/discussions: (2005) (2004)
posted by flex at 7:09 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I remember reading some study where the more children, especially sons in a row, that you had, the more likely the younger ones were to be gay.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:11 PM on August 30, 2010

Well, this professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto has done a number of studies on the relation between the number of older brothers and homosexuality, and fraternal birth order and homosexuality. Wikipedia summary of his work here.

I wouldn't consider myself qualified to make any comment on the validity of his work.
posted by keep it under cover at 9:33 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been doing genealogical research on my family for 10+ years now, and one branch of my family appears to be strong with Teh Ghey too (though manifesting as bisexual in the women). The earliest probably-gay relative I know of in that branch was born circa 1874 in a town about 30 miles south of Kiev, Ukraine. He was the only one of the seven kids in his family not to come to the US in the 1890's, and was a "melamed", an Orthodox Jewish religious scholar, which helped give him cover for not marrying (although Judaism strongly encourages rabbis and other religious figures to marry and have kids, unlike Catholicism). At least two of his brothers had American-born sons who were openly gay -- i.e. the kids were first cousins -- and probably more family members who were closeted and married, what with this being the very early 20th century and their family being Orthodox Jewish and all. One eventually married an ex-nun who may have been a lesbian, as mutual cover for each other in the 1950's.

And for what it's worth, at least three generations of the women in my family are pretty damn fertile, as in "gets pregnant on the first try", but that could be just a coincidence.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:56 PM on August 30, 2010

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