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Mariah's avatar

[Potentially NSFW] Why do some physical attributes seem to correlate with orientation?

Asked by Mariah (19238 points ) October 1st, 2011

I know I’m going to need to reference some stereotypes here and it’s verging on offensive so I just want to clarify that I am asking out of pure curiosity and have absolutely no disdain for gay people.

Sometimes you just “know” that somebody is gay by observing them. It’s not always accurate, of course, but sometimes gay men have a certain distinctive vocal tone, for instance. Is this an erroneous observation? If this is true, doesn’t it seem like strong evidence that being gay is genetic and not a learned behavior?

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9 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I think there are some findings that estrogen tends to be higher in gay men vs. Straight men. If you go to South Beach, Miami, there are many many many gay men who are body builders, just to contradict this a little.

Another interesting thing to consider is there was a study done in Asia, cannot remember what country, that men who were very involved with caring for their babies when first born had lower testosterone during the childs infancy than previous to their wives getting pregnant. It would seem the environment affected their hormones. Some guess it is acting as a nurturer might influence it. It seems logical in nature this would happen, that men would be less interested in sex, and more interested in caring for the family. Plus many women have low sex drive after birth, so it would be useful if men had lower drives also temporarily.

Also, we become our environment, in that we pick up gestures, style, and more from the group we hand around. So,you probably are able to pick up on some small cues that are tells that someone is gay. Sometimes straight men have them too, but many times because they are around gay people often. Some seems to have to do with location also. There are a lot of gay people who live in large cities in America, and cities in general are more likely to have a certain style.

prolificus's avatar

My hormones have normal levels of estrogen, etc. (I had a thorough exam a year ago, hoping to find some reasons for an abnormal menstrual cycle.) Biologically, I am female. Also, I identify (mostly) as queer / lesbian.

I grew up in a “traditional” heterosexual family and community. Yet, I, while being myself and not trying to conform to family expectations, have mannerisms that can be interpreted as masculine, butch, boi, and anything other than traditional feminine heterosexual.

Hormones and learned behaviors have nothing to do with my mannerisms.

Do my mannerisms automatically lead to identifying me as a queer lesbian? If someone wants to associate those characteristics with sexual identity, then fine. But, I like to think anyone regardless of sexual orientation can have any set of qualities that are unique to the individual.

Why tag X behavior with “this is for boys” or “this is for girls”? Or, Y mannerism is typical of a lesbian woman or gay man? Doesn’t this line of thinking prohibit people from being completely themselves?

To answer your question: some physical attributes seem to correlate because the one observing those things has linked the two as a result of frequent association and non-exposure to diverse combinations of variables.

Blackberry's avatar

It has to be the estrogen. I’ve heard voices on the street of NYC behind me that I honestly thought were women, only to see it was one of the most effiminate men I’ve ever seen. Haha.

And I’m not making fun of them because they’re gay, it’s the exaggerated mannerisms that are funny.

Brian1946's avatar

If it’s a voice thing, how would that account for John Wayne being gay, or am I thinking of John Wayne Gacy? ;-)

DominicX's avatar

Sorry I don’t have an answer to your question, but I just wanted to say that I’ve always wondered about this as well. It does seem many gay men have a stereotypically “gay” voice; sometimes it’s even subtle, but it’s still there. I find it hard to believe that it’s completely faked in every instance; I don’t see how else it occur. Additionally, I’ve read that gay men are more likely to have a counterclockwise hair whorl (whatever that signifies), different finger-length ratios (something that is affected by testosterone), fuller lips (more like the tendency of women), etc. It’s interesting.

Buttonstc's avatar

Before I say anything, I want to state this important qualifier. When dealing with the subject of human sexuality, it’s extrememly difficult (and unwise) to make blanket statements which will hold true in every case. There will ALWAYS be exceptions.

It’s also still an open Q whether it’s related to genetics, hormonel influences in the womb, or both or neither.

But there is no doubt in my mind (from observing children) that the majority of gay people are “born that way” and these characteristics which set off someone’s Gaydar are inherent to the individual rather than learned behavior.

This would include your voice observations as well as other types of body language. But to further complicate the issue I think that these qualities can be strengthened by associations in late teens/adulthood.

The problem comes when it’s obvious that these generalities don’t apply across the board. There are straight men with feminine-type voices and mannerisms and gay men (many in the “Bear” category) whom most people would be surprised to find out are gay. Likewise, there are some gay folks who would insist that it was their choice rather than being born this way.

I’ll just leave it at this. The voice quality you describe is subtle but recognized by gay and straight people alike. But whether it’s due to genetics or later influences in the womb is just not known at this time. Perhaps in the future, but I kind of doubt it because there are just too many variables once environment comes in to play.

Buttonstc's avatar

I’ll also add in something similar I’ve observed but rather than voice quality it’s more in body language.

We’ve all heard the phrases “you run like a girl” or “he throws like a girl” that kids toss around while playing ball.

Here’s what I’ve observed with 3rd graders. Unless a child is incredibly gifted with the type of coordination found in top athletes, MOST 8 yr. old boys are just not that graceful. But the most typical description is “bull in a china shop” as they go clumsily careening around.

However, gay boys are the ones who are observed as “throw/run like a girl”. Unfortunately it’s being used as an insult in order to pick on them. But looking at it purely objectively, there is a grain of truth to that.

It’s difficult for me to describe precisely because it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” type of things. There really is a subtle difference between an 8 yr. old who is like a “bull in a china shop” and one who “runs like a girl” and if you are at all observant and come across it, it is recognizable.

I’m not saying that to be negatively judgemental at all. It’s just a personal observation of mine.

There was also a practical side to it as it enabled me to early identify some of the kids likely to become targets for playground bullies and helped me be alert to the little shots who’d be most likely to try to victimize them and tell these little bullies that they’d better knock it off if they didn’t care to have me on their tail. I just had an absolute zero tolerance policy for kids ridiculing others for whatever reason be it too tall, too fat, wears glasses, stutters, runs like a girl, etc. etc.

So, it’s obvious that there are certain traits that are inherent rather than learned behavior if they are showing up that young. But the exact reason just can’t be determined.

Buttonstc's avatar

EDIT

“little sNots” not shots.

Damn you Auto-Correct !

Yes, there are days when I HATE my iPhone. Strange to think that an inanimate device possesses the ability to make a person look like an idiot.

JLeslie's avatar

@prolificus Did they do your hormone test on day 3 of your cycle? If not, the test you had done wasn’t probably good enough. it would be testing estrigen, LH, FSH, and maybe another I have forgotten. It’s important the FSH and LH ration is within a certain limit, along with neither one being high. And, they should be checking your sugar also. Most GYN’s don’t fo accurate enough testing for PCOS, you would need a reproductive endocrinologist.

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