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    Saturday, December 10, 2005

    A Homosexual Pill?

    Alright, this and this have finally pushed me to post on a very sensitive topic in America today, but one I have been mulling over the last 3-4 days or so.

    Clearly, homosexuality is changing in America. Currently, best estimates show people who define themselves openly as gay or lesbian at around 8% of the populace--statice since numbers were first taken.

    However, as shown in Brokeback Mountain, homsexuality is becoming far more open in America's culture.

    Is there historical precedent?? Yes. Homsexuality has been around since historians first started writing. Ancient Greece was known for its rampant homosexuality, pedophilia, and bestiality. Young boys were expected to be lovers to the men for whom they apprenticed, and marriage ages often meant the child was closer in age to the mother than the father (often 35-40 year old men would marry 12-14 year old girls). This also explains why the oedipal complex wasn't such a big deal back then (or uncommon).

    Rome conquered Greece, and in its leaders love affair with Greek philosophy, they also adopted its Bacchinalian additude about life, including orgies and open homosexuality.

    With the conservative Christian backlash during the darkages, homosexuality became known as "the Greek plague." It never went away, but was definitely stifled socially. Today, as western society again adopts the Bacchinalian attitude of ancient Rome and Greece, our love for life's pleasures has again led to a social acceptance of homosexuality.

    This is not just a western thing. I'm currently watching a pretty good anime called Samurai Champloo (also see here). It's not a history, but it is set in the Edo period of Japan (before the Meiji Revolution). This reminded me of my asian history classes, where the Edo time was also characterized by rampant sexuality. Homosexuality in Japan during the Edo period was regarded as the highest form of love. A recent movie I saw (and did not like) on this issue is Taboo (also see here). Of course, the Japanese culture was always sexual before that, including but not limited to, polygamy, widespread acceptance of mistresses on top of plural wives, etc. Japanese culture went through an anti-homosexual backlash of its own right after the Meiji Revolution.

    So what does this huge tangent prove? Nothing, really. Just what we all know. Homosexuality is not new, nor is social acceptance of it.

    But what is new is science--biochemistry, microbiology, psychiatry, neurology. That is a field I am immersed in every day. At work we frequently discuss the biochemistry of the myriad of mental illnesses diagnosed today. I have intimate experience with manic depression. Coworkers have had family members with various other mental issues.

    Mental problems stem often from a mixture of nature/nurture. What I mean is that life experiences can make people depressed, as can chemical imbalances. Often the two combine in certain ways to exacerbate the issue. For some people it is more chemcial than experience, and for others it is more experience and less chemical.

    Currently, scientists are addressing this issue in alcoholism.
    Serotonergic and anticonvulsant agents promise to play more of a role in the treatment of alcohol dependence. Although not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for this indication, the anticonvulsant topiramate and several serotonergic agents (e.g., fluoxetine, ondansetron) have been shown in recent studies to increase abstinence rates and decrease drinking.
    From ADD/ADHD to manic depression and shizoparanoism, western medicine is using pills to correct chemical imbalances in people and treat these diseases. Now western medicine has taken the step towards treating behavior. Alcoholism has symptomology of a mental disorder, but it also stems from behavior (versus manic depression, which you just have, and affects how you react to situations). Someone may be biochemcially predisposed to alcoholism, but if he/she never drinks, he/she will not be an alcoholic. Alcoholism is seen as socially destructive and society views the action negatively. A drug working on serotonin or another receptor that quenches the desire to drink, and hence stops alcoholism, helps the mental issue, but also attacks a social ill.

    So where does it stop? Should it stop? If homosexuality has a biochemical cause in addition to a "nurture" aspect, then it too could be curbed or changed by pills that target certain biochemical pathways. Not only homosexuals--anyone with a "deviant" sexual prediliction could be "fixed" with a pill--rapists, pedophiles, necrophiles, or people deemed to have an overactive sexual appetite. All it would take is identifying what hormone paths are turned on, and modify them.

    But what about limits? Who defines what is "deviant" and what is not? Obviously, christian religious conservatives believe homosexuality is morally wrong, but I doubt anybody would put it on a footing with alcoholism. Society does not see it as a social ill in that sense. Who are we to determine that homosexuality is deviant and should be curbed (with a pill)? But then, if we can't, why are we justified in doing it for other sexual behaviors such as pedophilia?

    Obviously the current limit is harm it causes another. Homosexuality harms nobody because consenting adults participate. Rape, pedophilia, etc all harm others against their will.

    Should a pill be pursued? Many people are very happy with their homosexuality, and would not want a pill. Perhaps even offended by the notion. But what of others, who have strong religious beliefs in opposition to homosexuality? Would such a pill be a God-send--allowing he or she to live a life in concordance with their personal faith? And then what of the opposite? If a pill curbing homosexual tendencies could be manufactured, could it's opposite also be manufactured? Would it be the right of two homosexual parents to give their adopted children such a pill to make them homosexual as well? Or what of heterosexual parents who notice homosexual tendencies in their children under 18? Do they have the right to give a pill to their children and curb their homosexuality before he or she has the ability to determine for his or herself whether they want to be homosexual or not??

    This issue has been bouncing around my head for days now. I believe that a pill curbing sexual appetites of all variations is definitely feasable, if society wants to make it. And then, all of these ethical dilemmas will become paramount. I definitely have no answers for these questions, but I would like to discuss this with others. What do you think?

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