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When in life is a person's sexual orientation
determined? What are the early symptoms?

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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 It has been replaced by the term "gender dysphoria."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."

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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 become homosexuals.

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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 abomination. This 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, the 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.

Scientific studies:

  • Detection of homosexual propensity in children: Richard Green, a psychiatrist from UCLA has compared effeminate and "masculine" boys. 1
    He reported 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. 3

    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). 1,4

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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


  1. Richard Green, "The 'Sissy Boy Syndrome' and the development of homosexuality", Yale University Press, New Haven CT (1987)
  2. Op Cit, Chandler Burr, Page 116-7.
  3. Frederick Whitam & Robin Mathy, "Male Homosexuality in Four Societies: Brazil, Guatemala, the Philippines and the United States," Praeger, New York NY (1986)
  4. Bruce Bagemihl, "Biological Exuberance: Animal homosexuality and natural diversity," St. Martins Press, (1999) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  5. "DSM-1V-TR manual," American Psychiatric Association, (1994), Page 579.
  6. Kelley Winters, "Issues of Psychiatric Diagnosis for Gender Nonconforming Youth," GID Reform Advocates, at:
  7. Phyllis Burke, "Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female," Anchor Books, (1996), Page. 100.
  8. K.Zucker & S. Bradley "Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents," Guilford Press, (1995), Page 270.

Site navigation: Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > here

Copyright 1996 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-OCT-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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