I have been perfectly happy the way I am,” wrote Christopher Isherwood. “If my mother was responsible for it, I am grateful.”
“My mother,” countered Gore Vidal, “was a traumatic experience.”
Love them or hate them, mothers are often the major woman in a gay man’s life — the one female relationship of any great depth.
Though Freudians in the past indited mothers as the “cause” of male homosexuality, the current data suggests sexual preference is a random trick of the genes.
In 1993, Dean Hamer, a geneticist at the National Cancer Institute, found evidence that homosexuality was located on a patch of DNA called Xq28. Because the genetic signature occurred on the X chromosome, the discovery confirmed Hamer’s previous studies that showed homosexuality ran in families (2% in the general population, but in families with one gay member, 13.5%.)and that the orientation was passed through the mother: The preponderance of gay relatives was always on the maternal side.
Mothers, it seemed, were indeed effecting their sons’ sexual destiny, but not in the way expected. The discovery turned the moral debate on its head. To the degree mothers played any role in homosexuality at all, the part seemed to be a mere biochemical walk-on. Mother Nature, not mother nurture, cast the deciding vote.
This is a far cry from the once unquestioned tenet that too much mother love (or too little) was the key to homosexuality. The cultural assumption was that homosexuality was a mental illness, not a naturally occurring human state. This confident premise was backed up by willful misreadings of data from biased samples: all the findings were based on men who were in therapy.
I’m referring here to the discredited study by Irving Bieber, an advocate of “reparative therapy,” which held sway in the 1960s and is still a foundation, however crumbling, of ex-gay ministries. Bieber based his conclusions on a statistically meaningless sample of no more than 106 men — of which 27% were schizophrenic, 29% were psychoneurotic, and 42% had character disorders sufficient to require professional help.
Today the neurotic mother, as a determinant of homosexuality, has been cast on the same rubbish heap of supposed causes as demonic possession and English boys schools.
And yet …
Something is getting lost among the antiseptics in the lab. I speak now to my fellow gay men. Though our mothers certainly didn’t “make” us gay (no one is more powerful than Nature herself), we — many of us — are very much our mother’s sons. Perhaps a shade more that our straight brothers. Let us examine this unique and tricky relationship. Here then is a Cavalcade of Extra-Colorful Moms.