When in life is a person's sexual orientation
determined? What are the early symptoms?
A note about terminology:
The terms transgender and transsexual refers to a person who is identied at birth as being of one gender, but who identifies as either the opposite gender or as having no gender later in life. Some of the references in this essay use the term "gender identity disorder" to describe this condition. This was a common term prior to 2012. However, it is now considered stigmatizing. It has been replaced by the term "gender dysphoria." "Dysphoria" means a state of unease or generalized dissatisfaction with life."
There appears to be no consensus on when a person's sexual orientation is
determined. Many gays, lesbians, and others suggest it happens at conception;
others believe that it is determined sometime during gestation; still others
suspect that it happens in early childhood -- perhaps set up by one's genes and
triggered by some unknown event in the environment.
Religious and social conservatives often teach that it happens sometimes
after puberty when they believe that a small percentage of people make a consious decision to
Beliefs of religious conservatives:
A common theme running through
literature from the larger fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian organizations is that
homosexual behavior is unnatural, abnormal, and despised by God as an
is echoed by many conservative Jewish and Muslim writers. They
derive this from their interpretation of some key
passages in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures and
Qur'an. Most also believe that a person chooses their sexual
orientation after puberty. They believe that some youths experiment with
homosexual behavior, and quickly become addicted to it. Other religious and
social conservatives suggest that poor parenting and/or sexual molestation as a
child contributes to the decision by the post-pubertal youth to become gay.
Because of these
beliefs, many religious conservatives are opposed to any positive
representations of lesbian and gay characters in TV programs. (e.g. Ellen, Friends,
former Will & Grace, Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy....). They feel that any move
towards accepting homosexual orientation and behavior as normal and natural for a minority of adults will
cause more youth to experiment with same-sex relationships. Religious
conservatives also frequently oppose educational programs about
homosexuality, high-school support groups for gay and lesbian youth
and their straight supporters, etc. because the latter
generally teach that homosexuality as normal, natural, and discovered -- not chosen.
- Detection of homosexual propensity in children: Richard Green, a psychiatrist from UCLA has
compared effeminate and
"masculine" boys. 1
that children who grow up to become
homosexuals often engage in "gender inappropriate play" in early childhood.
2 "Feminine' boys played about four times as much with
the doll...a third as much with the truck."
By interviewing their child subjects
later in life when they were in their teens and early twenties, the researchers found that
75% of the effeminate boys had become gay in adulthood. It is obvious that these boys were
not taught this behavior. They did not copy their behavior from other children in the
family; they were often under harsh and severe pressure from their parents to change. One
reasonable conclusion is that that they are driven to this type of behavior as
very young children by an innate
trait which is outside of their control and consciousness.
- Cross-cultural study: Whitham and Mathy studied 375 homosexual men in
Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States.
They consistently found that 25% of homosexual men had shown highly gender atypical
behavior, while 50% had shown marked gender atypical behavior as young children. They played
with what are normally considered girls' toys and were regarded as sissies. These studies also find the same effect among adult lesbians; however, the percentages
are much lower.
Studies on young children indicate that the factor or factors which determine sexual
orientation often effect very early in a child's life (perhaps before birth).
Impacts of detecting and treating "gender inappropriate play" in children:
The term gender dysphoria normally
refers to adults whose genetic gender does not match their perceived gender.
They often feel like a man trapped in a female body, or vice-versa. This is an
extremely rare condition, affecting perhaps three person among a thousand
adults. Prior to 2012, it was referred to as gender identity disorder or GID, a term that is now considered stignatizing.
The American Psychiatric Association's DSM-IV-TR manual of
diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses and disorders lists criteria for
identifying gender dysphoria in children. They noted that:
"Only a very small number of children with Gender Identity Disorder
with continue to have symptoms that meet criteria for Gender Identity Disorder
in adolescence or adulthood. 5
That is, an extremely small percentage of children who exhibit Dender later
become transgender or transexual as adults. Meanwhile, most therapists
recognize that a very large percentage of children who exhibit GID become
homosexuals during their teens and early adulthood -- perhaps on the order of 3
out of 4.
GID Reform Advocates discussed author Phyllis Burk who:
"... describes cases of children as young as age three institutionalized or
treated with a diagnosis of gender identity disorder for widely varying
gender nonconformity. She presents evidence of increasing use of GID for
children suspected of being 'prehomosexual,' and not necessarily
transsexual. Diagnosis and treatment is often at the insistence of
non-accepting parents with the intent of changing a perceived homosexual
orientation. Burke quotes Kenneth Zucker, of the GID subcommittee, that
parents bring children to gender clinics for the most part 'because they
don't want their kid to be gay'." 6,7
GID Reform Associates also discuss the studies by Zucker and Bradley of Gender Dysphoria in
children. They noted that:
"... homosexuality is the most common postpubertal psychosexual outcome for
children" with GID. "... there are simply no formal empirical studies
demonstrating that therapeutic intervention in childhood alters the
developmental path toward either transsexualism or homosexuality."
If there is no evidence that early intervention will prevent children from
maturing as transsexuals or homosexuals, then there may be still another
therapeutic industry promoting a therapy whose efficacy and safety have not been
determined in advance. In the 1980s and early 1990s, many therapists practiced
Recovered Memory Therapy and
Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder therapy. The
former caused many tens of thousands of adults to falsely believe that they were
sexually or ritually abused during childhood; tens of thousands of families of
origin were seriously disrupted. The latter therapy convinced many clients that
they had many personalities functioning largely independently within their
brain. These therapies left a massive trail of devastation in the form of
destroyed lives. Other, more recent, therapies are
reparative therapy and evangelical Christian transformational ministries
which attempts to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. They also appear to
have a miniscule success rate and have not been
evaluated for safety.
GID Reform Associates continues:
"This misuse of Gender Identity Disorder for children and youth was
condemned by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the
San Francisco Human Rights Commission in1996:
"The San Francisco Human Rights Commission calls on the American
Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association to
take immediate steps to stop coercive and inappropriate treatments of
gender atypical children based on GID."
Far from promoting consistency in diagnosis and treatment, ambiguous and
conflicting language in the DSM-IV and TR has created much confusion and
controversy. Interpretation of the Gender Identity Disorder of Children may
range from a narrow definition of objective distress to an overinclusive
loophole to the 1973 American Psychiatric Association decision to declassify
homosexuality as a mental disorder." 6
- Richard Green, "The 'Sissy
Boy Syndrome' and the development of homosexuality", Yale University
Press, New Haven CT (1987)
- Op Cit, Chandler Burr, Page 116-7.
- Frederick Whitam & Robin Mathy, "Male Homosexuality in Four
Societies: Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines and the United States,"
Praeger, New York NY (1986)
- Bruce Bagemihl, "Biological Exuberance: Animal homosexuality and
natural diversity," St. Martins Press, (1999)
Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- "DSM-1V-TR manual," American Psychiatric Association, (1994), Page 579.
- Kelley Winters, "Issues of Psychiatric Diagnosis for Gender
Nonconforming Youth," GID Reform Advocates, at:
- Phyllis Burke, "Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female,"
Anchor Books, (1996), Page. 100.
- K.Zucker & S. Bradley "Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual
Problems in Children and Adolescents," Guilford Press, (1995), Page 270.
Copyright © 1996 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2010-OCT-15
Author: B.A. Robinson