Thursday 26 January 2012

Peter Tatchell comes clean that homosexuality is neither biologically determined nor fixed

Many people think that homosexuality is a biological characteristic like race or sex – biologically fixed and genetically determined.

They think this because this is the view that has been successfully propagated by the gay rights lobby for decades in order to provide a justification for arguing that ‘homophobia’ is a form of discrimination akin to racism or sexism.

This belief has also been behind moves to treat discrimination against 'practising' homosexuals as a human rights issue by pretending that homosexuals are a biological category like 'women' or 'asians' whose distinctive features are genetically determined rather than just a group who have simply made a certain life-style choice.

But in fact the strength and direction of erotic attraction, although relatively stable in some people, can be quite changeable in others – it is often not fixed at all.

Similarly identical twins often have different sexual orientations proving that, although sexual orientation may have some genetic influences, it is not genetically determined. There is, in other words, no such thing as the gay gene.

Sexual orientation is much more accurately thought of in the category of a conditioned (and often variable) preference than a determined biological condition.

Most researchers now accept that sexual orientation (the predominant direction of sexual attraction one feels) is the result of a complex interaction in which nature, nurture and choice all play a part. But whether one acts on those feelings by having same sex relations is actually a matter of personal choice (see my previous blog on the difference between same sex feelings, orientation, identity and behaviour).

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has stated, ‘some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime’. The APA also says that ‘for some the focus of sexual interest will shift at various points through the life span...’

A report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health similarly states, ‘For some people, sexual orientation is continuous and fixed throughout their lives. For others, sexual orientation may be fluid and change over time’

And in a recent Huffington Post article, ‘Future Sex: Beyond Gay and Straight’, gay rights activist Peter Tatchell affirms the fluidity of sexual attraction.

First he affirms the reality of bisexuality:

‘We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is an fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction.’

Then he challenges the traditional view that gay and straight are distinct categories:

‘Research by Dr Alfred Kinsey in the USA during the 1940s was the first major statistical evidence that gay and straight are not watertight, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive sexual orientations. He found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings - even if they do not act on them.’

He then goes on to quote Kinsey’s (grossly inflated) assessments of the incidence of homosexuality whilst acknowledging that they ‘have since been criticised as out-of-date, exaggerated and unrepresentative’.

Tatchell also acknowledges that ‘evidence from sociology and anthropology (shows) that the incidence and form of heterosexuality and homosexuality is not fixed and universal, and that the two sexual orientations are not mutually exclusive. There is a good deal of fluidity and overlap.’

‘What's more,’ he adds, ‘although scientific evidence shows that human sexuality is significantly affected by biological predispositions - such as genes and hormones - other influences appear to be cultural, including social expectations, peer pressure and the availability and opportunity for sexual release. These influences channel erotic impulses in certain directions and not others.’

In fact he even goes so far as to suggest that some homosexual identities are formed as a result of people reacting to perceived prejudice in others:

‘Gay and lesbian identities are largely the product of homophobic prejudice and repression. They are a self-defence mechanism against homophobia. Faced with persecution for having same-sex relations, the right to have those relationships has to be defended - hence gay identity and the gay rights movement.’

Tatchell, despite these admissions, grossly inflates the true incidence of exclusive homosexuality.

The best evidence (1,2,3) actually suggests that only a very small percentage of men (1-2%) and women (0.5-1.5%) experience exclusive same-sex attraction throughout their life course. It appears that more men and women experience mixed patterns of sexual interest. This includes shifts of interest from one sex to another at various points in their lives or attractions to both sexes at the same time.

Tatchell is right though in saying that bisexuality appears to be more prevalent than exclusive gay/lesbian and if defined in terms of same sex behaviours in past year, may be as much as 5% in men and 11% in women aged 15-44 (4).

Sexual attractions are therefore best understood as lying on a spectrum rather than in terms of a simple dichotomous binary categorisation. Survey data suggest that mixed patterns of sexual desire, including attraction to both sexes at the same time, appear to be more common than exclusive same sex attraction, especially among women.

So what?

Well, like many, I am getting rather tired of the term ‘homophobic’ being used as an accusatory label to tar anyone who does not accept, approve and celebrate same-sex sexual relationships and believe that homosexual orientation is a biological characteristic like race or sex.

There are a large and growing number of people (I call them ‘homosceptics’) who neither hate nor fear ‘gay’ people but simply believe that sex outside a lifelong exclusive heterosexual marriage is morally wrong and the fact that we have certain feelings of sexual attraction does not mean that we should therefore act on them.

These people are also highly sceptical about the key presuppositions on which the gay rights movement has based its campaign, such as the beliefs that:

• Homosexuality is genetically determined
• Homosexual orientation is always fixed
• Sexual orientation is a biological characteristic like race, sex or skin colour
• Feelings of same sex attraction should be welcomed and acted upon
• Offering help to those who wish to resist or eradicate these feelings is always wrong

Tacthell’s arguments above, and the findings of recent research, confirm that these beliefs are actually more ‘ideology-driven’ than ‘evidence-based’.

But Tatchell, by suggesting that gay and straight are not distinct categories at all, has also pulled the rug out from under the feet of the gay rights’ movement.

Of course if you accept these ‘key presuppositions’ in spite of the evidence to the contrary you may well believe that people who don’t are ignorant, bigoted, prejudiced or even immoral. You might even feel that such people should not hold public office, publicly express their views or hold any job which involves having to condone, promote or facilitate same-sex intimacy. And you might feel justified in branding everyone who does not share your views as 'homophobic'.

But if you have any sort of intellectual integrity, then you should accept that you have adopted these beliefs in the face of, in fact in spite of, the evidence.

And if so you should stop using divisive labels, and accept rather that there are some people who believe with good cause that to treat homosexual orientation as a fixed biological characteristic like race or sex is to confer upon it a status that it does not and should not have.


1. Dickson, N, C Paul, and P Herbison. ‘Same-Sex Attraction in a Birth Cohort: Prevalence and Persistence in Early Adulthood’.Social Science & Medicine 56, No. 8 (2003): 1607-15.

2. Laumann, Edward O., John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael, and Stuart Michaels. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

3. Savin-Williams, RC, and GL Ream. ‘Prevalence and Stability of Sexual Orientation Components During Adolescence and Young Adulthood’. Archives of Sexual Behavior 36 (2007): 385-94.

4. Last year, two important reports have been published in the United States. The 2011 National Health Statistics Report (NHSR) is a nationally representative, multi-stage study that investigates a wide range of sexual attractions and behaviours (A. Chandra et al., Sexual Behaviour, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). A review from the UCLA School of Law combines data from nine recent surveys (G. J. Gates, How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?, The Williams Institute, UCLA, 2011)


  1. >> a distinct biological category like 'women' or 'asians'

    Losing your grip here, mate - neither women nor Asians are a "distinct biological category". Both belong to the human species, same as you and me. What kind of doctor are you, anyway?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. He didn't say that women and Asians were distinct species. Are you suggesting that women are not biologically distinct from men?

    3. Biologically distinct, as the Anonymous who commented before me remarks, does not mean "species distinct". Sexes and races are biological characteristics that distinguish human beings and separate them into different groups.

      This is an example of how people who do not check their facts, including definitions, before leaving comments are irritatingly wasting everybody's time.

  2. This is a great article. Thankyou. Tatchell is constantly described by the media as a "human rights campaigner". I think what he says shows that the human rights he is campaigning for are rights to do what we want sexually without reference to society at large. As if we have no need to control our sexual impulses. That may be why he commented years ago about underage sex, saying it could sometimes be "beautiful". Food for thought.

  3. Yes, yes and YES!!!
    Thanks for putting that into clear and concise words. If I ever have to preach on this issue, I'll be quoting you!

  4. I don't think Tatchell's remarks play into conservative hands half as much as you think. Yes, some people are bisexual - but that doesn't mean you can necessarily choose who you are attracted to, or when you are attracted (Vita Sackville West's biography makes interesting reading in that respect). Similarly a sexual identity partly shaped by environment rather than genes doesn't mean it's necessarily reversible. As James Allison says, the proof is in the pudding: conservatives have been trying very, very hard for years to find a 'homosexual cure' and only a vanishingly small number of people claim to have found one. A good number of those people have subsequently been discovered in gay bars a few years down the road. It's difficult to have a grown up discussion about what sexuality is -- which is surely hugely complex and a little mysterious to all of us -- when one group of people actually have only one goal, which is to make everyone conform to one way of being. Myself, I'm glad God made a more complex world.

    1. Your assertions don't make sense, and you have clearly missed the main points of this article... but, to be quite honest, you don't sound like the kind of person who's authentically interested in listening carefully to evidence and reason, so: say what you will. You probably always will.

  5. Good article. Thanks.

  6. Anyone who doubts what Dr Saunders (a medical doctor, James - as you would have discovered if you had taken a moment to read the "About me" paragraph!) has stated could do worse than read the article at

    1. C.B. Ross,
      Having an irony bypass moment, are we? I'm aware that Dr. Saunders is a genuine medical doctor. I was being sarcastic, mate.

    2. @James: do everyone a favor and don't write any more comments until you (a) learn to read properly (b) learn to think clearly.

    3. @Anonymous : Do everyone a favoUR, and learn to spell properly. This isn't America - we speak and write "proper" English here.

    4. @James: American English is just as proper as British English. They are just two variants of the same language.

  7. Peter Tatchell, as a self-proclaimed 'sexual subversive' uses the mantle of human rights in an attempt to disguise his real interest - Gay Rights and the smashing of conventional mores.


  8. Let's take these one by one.

    • Homosexuality is genetically determined
    Who states this? I don't know of any mainstreams gay rights groups that do. Many DO state that their personal experience is that they 'were born that way'. There are many ways that could happen without a single or multiple genetic 'trigger'. That it is partly genetic is disputed by only the most extreme skeptic.

    • Homosexual orientation is always fixed
    Who states this? Straw man argument. It only matters that (most) gay men experience it as fixed from an early age. What you are trying to and what Peter Tatchell tries to do is to deconstruct ALL sexuality into some pre-reflective state of bisexuality. HIs ideas are suffused with the writings of Foucault and Queer Theory but if were you, I would be careful about setting store by deconstruction.

    The most current and the best evidence states that sexuality is experienced as either fixed or moves in a long slow arc towards being lesbian or gay through bisexuality.

    • Sexual orientation is a biological characteristic like race, sex or skin colour

    You have no proof that it is NOT like sex or skin colour. There are strong biological correlates of sexual orientation with things that are also sex differentiated, indicating that may share certain biological entities or pathways.

    • Feelings of same sex attraction should be welcomed and acted upon.

    Feelings of sexual attraction should be welcomed and acted upon in order to be fully human.

    • Offering help to those who wish to resist or eradicate these feelings is always wrong

    Agreed - no one is born with a religious identity but being gay has the attributes of an innate inborn state of normative humanity. People have a right to seek help from where ever they choose if they are unhappy but no one has the right to offer misleading, unhelpful, unethical, unproven, potentially dangerous, religious mediated counselling passing itself off asa credible therapeutic modality. Behaviour modification of something as fundamental as our key drives, is a dangerous path to tread for any organisation claiming to practice ethically.

  9. I really don't understand Christians these days. Surely the Bible makes it very clear that the duty of a Christian is to love and not to judge. I don't see much love in this campaign against gay people. And I see a whole lot of judgement. I think a lot of Christians would do very well to return to their Bibles, go back to what Jesus actually said and rethink a lot of their very hateful attitudes.

  10. Why does it seem like many conservative and religious people tend to deny reality when it is blatant to everyone else? The following is from the blog post we all just read.... "‘What's more,’ he adds, ‘although scientific evidence shows that human sexuality is significantly affected by biological predispositions - such as genes and hormones - other influences appear to be cultural, including social expectations, peer pressure and the availability and opportunity for sexual release." Do you really think that people have social expectations to have same sex relationships? Or people are peer pressured into same sex relationships? There may be more opportunity for sexual release with a same sex partner in an all boys school but not in state-run schools (actually it's the complete opposite for the later – see peer pressure). Peter Tatchell is explaining that sexuality can be a broad spectrum influenced by biology as well as society. Society instills heterosexuality. I have never heard of anyone being peer pressured into being gay, only news pieces about the bullying and suicides of young people who have been ostracized for expressing anything other than heterosexuality.

    Peter Tatchell's criticisms of the trappings of creating a “gay identity” based on reacting against prejudice are not the same as saying that sexual preference derives from that reactionary identity. Intellectual integrity indeed. Sexual preferences that are contrary to social expectations and pressures lead to prejudices that create a political gay identity as a reaction. The sexual preference is always there but the “gay identity” developed as a reaction to the prejudice against these preferences. But even Tatchell knows that this political identity expanded to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered) in the 90's. If anything, it sounds as though Peter Tatchell is indirectly expressing his regret for dedicating so much of his life to trying to change the minds of ignorant and biased people. For all reading this, Peter Tatchell is more of an expert in gay politics than human sexuality.

    In the end I agree with Eric James above, religious folk should leave the judgement for experts like God and try to use the teachings of Jesus as an example to live by. From what I understand, God would be much happier if you all focused more on love and forgiveness rather than promoting prejudice and disdain.

  11. Dr Pete, what a vile, bigoted, homophobic, theocratic fascist bully you're showing yourself to be.

    You seem possessed with an anti-gay agenda (I'll call it that, since you're averse to the term homophobia, preferring "homoskeptic". I presume this sits easier in your "moral Christian" conscience?). For months now, you've been promoting your reasons for opposition to same-sex marriage, all defeated with reason and logic (, and now you seem to be peddling the notion that people in fact do choose to be gay, and so gay people should not have specific rights for their choice: How wrong you are! Being gay is certainly NOT a choice!

    You've cherry picked quotes from Peter Tatchell, without referencing it (so I am unable to read the source), much in the same way you cherry pick quotes from the bible. In recent months I have witnessed you:

    Declare that paedophile rapists will still be allowed in to heaven if they repent:

    State that you have a two-way dialogue with god:

    Claim that the US fiscal cliff is a result of the US nation turning away from god:

    Now, the above may make a reasonable person think that you have a mental illness (see diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia), but I shall refrain from ad hominem attacks as they aren't, on the whole, useful.

    I pointed out to you that your claim that the US fiscal cliff being the result of the nation turning away from god, makes you no different to right wing religious groups (including the Westboro Baptist Church) claiming that the Sandy Hook school massacre, the recent Frankenstorm and hurricanes et cetera are the result of the US allowing same-sex marriage and turning away from god. You seemed to emphatically deny this, but I cannot see how it is any different - you are claiming an economic disaster is due to divine intervention, much as they are claiming natural disasters are. Perhaps you denied this as again, it doesn't sit well with the moderate "Christian morals" you like to think you have?

    But I digress, let's get back to the article and your claim that being gay is a choice. Perhaps it'd be helpful to give you some background about me. I'm gay, I have had sexual relations with women, I was brought up in a religious family, and was not bullied at school. Whilst as a child I didn't know what it was, as an adult looking back at my life it is blindingly obvious that I've always been gay. No choice, it's always been there. Why, may you ask, did I sleep with women? Well, the answer is simple - social pressure. Society's expectations (and my family's religious expectations) were that I'd marry a woman from the same religion, settle down and produce grandchildren. So, I tried relationships with women, and ultimately realised that whilst I did find some attractive, were drawn to them as close friends, I would never be "in love" with them and never be happy. Sure, I could've married them, had kids, but that would've been a lie. So, in my early 20s, I came out as a gay man and have never looked back.

    Personally I now know a few, at the time closeted, people who married and had kids, but they're now divorced, in same-sex relationships and much, much happier. Whilst they'd never regret having the children, they were (and still are) racked with the guilt of the emotional turmoil they've put their ex-wives through, and also for the children who not only had the divorce to contend with, but will no doubt suffer prejudice from bullies with attitudes similar to yours. The reason they got married and had kids was simple - society expected them to.

    [out of characters, for full response click here: @nightynouse]

  12. This is a late comment, but I'm new to the site.
    Tatchell doesn't suggest that sexuality is a matter of choice, or that for an individual it is changeable.
    It may well be that Christians want to believe 'that homosexuality is neither biologically determined nor fixed", but that does not make it so.
    Some organisations assert that sexuality is modifiable, and some people want this to be the case, but that doesn't mean that it is modifiable, or that Tatchell said that it is.
    In fact he says that sexuality is varied. Some of us are bisexual to certain degrees. To twist that to suggest that he thinks sexuality isn't biologically determined or fixed is to mislead.
    Shame on those who mislead to win their flawed arguments.

  13. This article about sums it up for me, and is what I've been thinking for years. And as for Eric James, homosexuality is either something God intended or not. If he didn't, then it falls short of what God intended, and is therefore a sin. If someone is sinning, then Christians shouldn't just ignore this using the excuse "don't judge". We are to show truth and love as Christians. If we knew that someone was blatantly sinning in the church, and they didn't care about it saying it was normal, it would be our duty to challenge them. We wouldn't just let them carry on by saying "don't judge." We love them by telling the the truth. We wouldn't persecute them as Christians are often accused of.


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