Evolutionary Origins of Homosexuality

Essays by Mishka --- see the end of this text

ABSTRACT: We are trying to develop an argument, that the presense of a small percentage of population members with sharply defined homosexual behavior is related to the informational component of procreation, and that it is vital for the survival of the population.

It is often asked nowadays, what are biological mechanisms of homosexuality. There is quite a number of studies of this subject, and even the polemics on the appropriateness of such studies. A somewhat less addressed question is about evolutionary mechanisms which are responsible for homosexuality.

First, we start with what we believe are non-explanations. The first conjecture, which we argue should be dismissed, is that homosexuality is an "evolutionary error", or an evolutionary neutral factor. Indeed, from the evolutionary viewpoint there is an obvious penalty, associated with homosexuality --- the homosexual individuals tend to produce less offspring. Thus it seems highly unlikely, that a significant percentage of population is homosexual, unless there is an important factor outweighting this penalty.

In fact, this consideration is what makes this topic interesting. There is a mystery here --- producing less offspring should be bad for natural selection --- what is so good in homosexuals, that a certain percentage of them is maintained despite this natural penalty?

Other conjectures, which I think should be rejected, are related to the necessity to "channel" sexuality in certain difficult conditions, to limit procreation in certain difficult conditions, and to have more "uncles". I believe, that these considerations might explain the ability of many, probably majority of people, to exhibit homosexual behavior in certain extremal situations. However, I do not see, how they can account for the phenomenon of having a relatively small percentage of people (not enough to produce meaningful quantity of "uncles") to exhibit sharply defined homosexual orientation, almost immutable by external circumstances.

It is time to remind, that the evolution, passing genes on, survival, etc., are, first of all, characteristic behaviors of populations, and ly then, of individuals. Populations often need to maintain a minority of individuals with non-standard behavior, in order to perform some specific vital functions. Genes, responsible for such non-standard, and from the viewpoint of producing individual offspring, usually non-optimal behavior are getting passed by the relatives of such "non-standard" individuals, and to certain extent, by those non-standard individuals themselves. For example, certain species of monkeys, which are mainly active during the day, maintain a small percentage of population, which is active during the night. While such "deviation" makes the feeding of "non-standard" monkeys less efficient, this is compensated by their ability to raise alarm and enhance the survival of the group.

So what is the non-standard function, which can be significantly enhanced by homosexual orientation, and which is vital for the success of the population? I cannot think of any alternative except the one I am about to suggest.

The division of labor and functions occur early in the evolution of humans. The first, and deepest division, was along gender lines --- occupations of male and female individuals were drastically different. Even now this division is quite visible, despite the efforts to achieve equality of opportunity between genders. In any case, from the evolutionary viewpoint, the period of several dozen years just does not count.

To pass information along is vital for survival and progress of human populations. We can, without exaggeration, to speak about informational procreation, or informational component in procreation. We can even think about information carriers (like texts, in modern times), as special informational members of human populations. Unfortunately, to develop this viewpoint right here, would move us too far from the subject of this essay.

The argument, we are trying to advance, is that homosexuality is linked to the necessity to pass information, and to the fact that information is gender-specific. The strong attraction between same-sex individuals should be conductive for passing such information, especially when the information is highly non-trivial, and difficult and time-consuming to master. This argument should work for both genders, but should manifest itself more in males, due to the fact that females more often raise their offspring and can pass some female-specific information in the process, but the transmission of male-specific information is especially difficult.

Certain evidence supporting the idea that this is the mechanism responsible for maintaining a sizable minority of homosexual can be found in "primitive" and modern cultures. For example, Greek philosophers used to directly link homosexuality and the process of passing the knowledge from the teacher to the student --- the rigid behavioral role they used to impose in the process, now seem quite patriarchal and ridiculous, but the link itself should not be dismissed. Another is the example of berdaches or shamans or witches in some, so called "primitive", but often quite contemporary and remarkable cultures. In all cases, we are dealing with transmission and cultivation of highly specialized and often "elite" or "secret" knowledge, and high incidence of homosexual catalysis of such knowledge transmission and cultivation. In modern culture, this might account for the phenomena of "gay sensibility", and of higher than average incidence of homosexual orientation among certain professions in arts and sciences.

Now the homosexual orientation is becoming beneficial in connection with the issues of population control as well --- this was not an evolutionary factor in the past, but it might well become one in the future.

I formulated this at some point during the 80-s and wrote it down in December 1997.

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