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I have a question in the philosophy of sexuality.

Some studies reveal that homosexual men and heterosexual women have symmetrical brains, unlike heterosexual males. Also, an early post-mortem study found that a small region of the anterior hypothalamus was smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men, and no different from heterosexual women. There are many other discoveries about the brain, hormones in the womb that may influence sexuality and so on.

Considering all the biological evidence that something is biologically different in homosexuals, how was it concluded that it's normal and equal to heterosexuality? Why is it not a malformation like any other changes in the body caused by various factors, including genetic or hormonal influences? How does it relate to conditions that are typically called disorders, malformations etc? While it is no longer in the Diagnostic of Statisical Manual of Disorders, it once was. Science hasn't yet explained why homosexuality exists, there are only hypotheses, so I'm not sure about how something that is different can be called normal.

I understand that homosexuality is completely natural, so is everything that exists in nature. I agree there shouldn't be any discrimination against homosexuals. However, the fact that something is poorly studied doesn't necessarily mean it's normal. And, of course, one's political views and feelings shouldn't be taken into consideration.

So, what does it mean to say "homosexuality is normal"?

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    If you have a medical question, perhaps it is not for Philosophy?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 3:21
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    Should green eyes, red hair or left-handedness also be considered "malformations"? Most biological "changes in the body caused by various factors" are routinely ignored, "malformations" and "disorders" are reserved for those few that affect physical and psychological health, or, at times, social cohesion. For example, a society would be strained accommodating sociopaths, but that is not the case with homosexuals. Once that is settled, the difference becomes "normal" and is ignored like the rest.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 3:24
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    @Hokon red hair doesn't directly affect procreation or the shape of your brain making you potentially incapable of reproducing. Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 3:36
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    @Даедра Homosexuals are quite capable of reproducing, they simply don't desire to engage in the sort of sex that results in reproduction. How is that a disorder? If a monk or nun takes a vow of celibacy, how is that detrimental to their health?
    – Hokon
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 3:38
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    @Hokon Any question that seeks to explicate questions of normative is inherently philosophy of sexuality, and your bias against open inquiry into this matter seems to display a lack of awareness of what philosophy is and the purpose it serves. Cancel culture is an impediment to the open flow of ideas.
    – J D
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 4:26

4 Answers 4

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Normality or normativity has two senses when applied to homosexuality. One is a biological sense, and the other is a cultural sense. In socially liberal societies, to say that homosexuality is normal is to say that the society doesn't consider it unacceptable.

Statisically speaking homosexuality is deviant, however the term deviance has acquired a second sense in which it carries a strong connotation of bad, wrong, or immoral. Your question conflates the two senses. In the West, homosexuality among persons is generally acceptable and in many places protected or even supported in diversity initiatives. In many countries it is still a quality that leads to persecution, and in the extreme is grounds for execution.

Homosexuality, therefore, is statistically abnormal as a sexual orientation, but in socially liberal areas culturally normalized. Since the APA removed it as a disorder from the DSM in the 70's (IIRC), it is normal to see and tolerate homosexuality on the street (as in parades and PDA), in entertainment, and even celebrated in some Christian denominations.

Simply put, there is nothing inherently wrong with diversity of sexual identity or gender identity, and there have even been attempts to show that it actually increases sexual reproductive success in inter-tribal contexts. Claims of maladaptation and immorality are generally rooted in non- scientific thinking and folk psychology and are personal and cultural judgements, and those judgements sometimes rest on facts related to statistical prevalence. This is recognized as a fallacy called the appeal to nature. From WP:

An appeal to nature is an argument or rhetorical tactic in which it is proposed that "a thing is good because it is 'natural', or bad because it is 'unnatural'".1 It is generally considered to be a bad argument because the implicit (unstated) primary premise "What is natural is good" is typically irrelevant, having no cogent meaning in practice, or is an opinion instead of a fact.

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    +1 for the last quote. I like this clear refutation of the attempt to argue by appeal to nature.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 7:42
  • "unacceptable" seems a bit harsh. "Not accepted by default" might be better, meaning an exception can be made to make something "not normal" accepted.
    – tkruse
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 9:10
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    In any event, homosexual behavior has been observed in lots and lots and lots of species throughout the animal kingdom. So, unnatural? I don’t see a sense in which that term accurately describes real-world biology. Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:00
  • Right. Cancer is perfectly natural. Not many people want it though.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:47
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    @ScottRowe cancer is treated, though, and not considered a variant of "normality", so what's your point? Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 15:34
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There are variations in almost everything. In everyday language, if the extent or nature of a variation is to some degree striking, exceptional or especially important then we call it abnormal- often with the connotation that most people might view it as something to be concerned about. Homosexuality no longer falls under that category in most free-thinking countries. Clearly in that sense of the word, what is considered abnormal varies over time and cultures.

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  • "There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so." - Shakespeare
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:44
  • @ScottRowe Polonius, IIRC.
    – J D
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 20:48
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Our current society in the West considers homosexuality normal or acceptable. A few generations ago we did not. Other modern societies consider it abnormal and unacceptable. It is a biologically normal variant. Other examples are left-handedness and neurodivergence. It seems that left-handedness and neurodivergence have a selection advantage at a certain population percentage. Perhaps homosexuality does also. This is being currently researched.

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    idl evolutionary explanations for things, and they often come off as just so stories of no real relevance, but i think arguing that homosexuality can have population advantages is a good metaphor on how gay people have a lot to offer everyone
    – user67675
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 12:30
  • As another example, I would say that having a small number of sociopaths (1% is average I guess?) appears to have survival advantages for groups. Sometimes you need those tendencies.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 13:38
  • for groups or for the sociopaths @ScottRowe ?
    – user67675
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 15:04
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    "Our current society in the West considers homosexuality normal or acceptable" and? Another society might believe in, excuse me, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You don't seem to understand my point. I definitely shouldn't have added the "social-ethics" tag. Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 15:18
  • @scottrowe yet no one says that psychopaths are completely normal. Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 15:22
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"Normal" and "Natural" are not simple ideas; they often include value judgements, sometimes as good and sometimes as bad. One needs to consider the context of their use to discern what sense is intended in that context. But science needs to use these terms in a purely factual sense if it is to be impartially truthful. I'll return to this.

"Malformation", on the other hand is explicitly a value judgement. Certainly, to lack hands or eyes can be described as a malformation, since it affects the capacity of the individual to survive and thrive. There's no evidence that homosexuality is a malformation in this sense.

The idea that homosexuality is problematic because it does not result in reproduction. But that criterion would classify many forms of heterosexual sex as malformations. See paragraphs 3 and 4 in the section on Sexual Perversion in the SEP entry on Sex and Sexuality

Reproduction is a requirement of species survival. But evolution does not require each individual to reproduce. It only requires enough individuals to reproduce to maintain the species.

Do you know of any evidence that homosexuality is a factor in those countries that seem to have a problem about low birth rates? I have to say, I've never seen that suggestion. On the contrary, the suggested causes seem to focus entirely on the social and economic factors.

In any case, evolution has produced homosexuality as well as heterosexuality, amongst a wide diversity of other variations. Some of them are problematic in one way or another and they could be called malformations; but some of them are not and they are not malformations.

The search for biological markers is popular among scientists. But they do not deny the role of culture and environment in human behaviour, though they do not find evidence of a strong influence from these factors.

So it is relevant to be aware that attitudes towards homosexuality vary widely though the evidence is often hard to interpret. The culture of ancient Greece is a good starting-point. See Wikipedia - Homosexuality in Ancient Greece. There are other articles about China, India and Japan.

The Wikipedia entry on Homosexuality includes:-

scientific research shows that homosexuality is a normal and natural variation in human sexuality and is not in and of itself a source of negative psychological effects.

How are we to interpret this?

“Normal” and “Natural” are clearly not incompatible, but are not equivalent. A normal dictionary, such as the Cambridge Dictionary, proposes “ordinary or usual; the same as would be expected” for “normal” and “as found in nature and not involving anything made or done by people” for “natural”. So the scientists’ claim is a) that you can expect to find homosexuality among most groups of people and b) that it is not the result of anything done by people. Neither of these gives any basis for assessing homosexuality as a malformation or even a problem.

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