Within this phenomenon we refer to as ‘gay’, for all sorts of reasons and circumstances we find people who are very diverse. For some, it’s their number-one identity; others identify that way for a period of their lives; some don’t self-identify but are regarded as gay by a lot of other people.
Some people say, from a very early age, that as far back as they can remember, they were looking at other boys, and are very clear about it, so they might well have been born like that. One friend of mine was given a toy baseball bat when he was six, and his parents came home and found him hoovering with it, which might just be about gender, though he did turn into a big old queen in later life! And then other people things might have turned out differently.
You have someone like the Edwardian-era poet Rupert Brooke, who had sex with men and with women, but what was he? You can slap on a convenient label such as bisexual, but there’s no evidence that he thought of himself that way. We don’t know, actually, whether fundamentally he happened to have sex with men because that’s what was happening in his public school, or maybe he had fallen in love with one particular person who was quite feminine-looking. That that happened could have just been a matter of chance.
Rupert Brooke, photographed in 1913
In the 1940s the Kinsey scale, which measured heterosexuality and homosexuality from zero to six, found some men and women to be one or the other, straight down the line hetero and homo, and then there was the blurry bit in the middle – so there’s a spectrum. On the subject of whether there is a gay gene or not, there are good reasons why species don’t entirely breed true, but constantly create variations, because that’s how evolution works: you’re trying out different things all the time, and some variations help species, and others don’t. Mating behaviour is no exception to that.
So it’s not surprising that complicated animals such as humans have a diversity of emotional and genital expression. But that’s different to saying it’s hard-wired into an individual’s genetics and not into someone else’s. Epigenetics looks into why certain genes are activated at different times, so in other words, much of your individual coding is latent. So every single person has some queer, or variable, potential in their genome that hasn’t yet surfaced – so there’s this degree of unpredictability of how you’ll turn out.
You could say, let’s genetically engineer humans to get rid of a ‘gay gene’ but there isn’t a gay gene. What there is in being human is the potential to turn out in diverse ways, and if you tried to engineer that out, you’d produce something that wouldn’t be human anymore.