News & Politics

That Oh-So-Natural Fruity Feeling

Right-wingers are frothing over a new study showing that sexual preference among fruit flies (and maybe humans, too) has genetic roots.
Did you hear the one about the lesbian fruit fly? She walks into a bar and the bartender says, "What can I get you?" And she says ...

OK, I'm making this up. I don't know what a lesbian fruit fly would order (peach schnapps?), but this much is true: scientists announced recently that they've documented homosexual behavior in fruit flies -- girl on girl action, to be specific.

Seems after just a wee bit of gene splicing, and a Barry White soundtrack playing, the female creepy-crawlies of the species try to get it on with other females.

Before you say, "Eew, gross" or "Who cares?", hear me out, because believe it or not the antics of these dykey fruit flies are being linked to homo behavior in us homo sapiens. And like anything else remotely hinting that gay sex may be -- egad! -- natural, this has right-wingers absolutely frothing.

As announced in a recent issue of the scientific journal Cell, two neurobiologists at the Austrian Academy of Sciences made slight genetic "manipulations" in some female fruit flies, inserting the male version of one gene into the brains of these teensy creatures. They apparently hoped to create a super-strong, crime-fighting Six Million Dollar Fly, but instead ended up with k.d. lang-like female flies that act just like males during courtship: they gently tap virgin females on the legs, play songs on their wings for them, and, when that seems to go well, they lick the females in all the right places. And that, says a New York Times science writer, is "all part of standard fruit fly seduction."

Besides legions of lesbian fruit flies serenading willing virgins, what does this study reveal? "We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior," said lead investigator Barry Dickson.

Uh-oh. Careful, doc. Talking about genes and sexual orientation in the same sentence is dangerous in these right-wing, ultra-religious, gay-marriage-is-evil times we're living in.

Predictably, trouble started when another scientist linked the fruit fly study to fruity humans. "The whole field of the genetic roots of behavior is moved forward tremendously by this work," said Dr. Michael Weiss, chairman of the biochemistry department at Ohio's Case Western Reserve University. "Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science," Weiss told the Times.

Well, as us non-scientific types like to put it, FAT CHANCE, BUDDY!

But Weiss was undeterred. "I never chose to be heterosexual: it just happened. But humans are complicated. With the flies we can see in a simple and elegant way how a gene can influence and determine behavior."

Yep, he said it: sexual orientation is neither a choice nor a moral issue, and, with fruit flies at least, genes affect complex sexual behavior.

This is not rocket science, I realize, since most people recognize that genes affect a whole host of behaviors, human and otherwise. But to say that sexual orientation in humans has genetic roots is to remove the ace holding the conservative, anti-gay house of cards in place. Because if, like race, sexual orientation is an innate characteristic, then the widespread and mean-spirited prejudice directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is revealed to be just that. And Americans, as a whole, don't go in for prejudice of any stripe.

Now you ask, reasonably enough, who cares about a bunch of fruit flies? Conservatives aren't really going to jump all over this, are they? Ah, my naive grasshopper, let us look at the news release from that stalwart of the right wing, Focus on the Family. The fruit fly study has been "hijacked by pro-homosexual journalists," Focus declares. It "doesn't tell anything about humans," says psychologist Warren Throckmorton, of Pennsylvania's Grove City College, who offers this insightful gem: "Fruit flies don't date, go to bars, go to church -- there is no way you can make the leap."

Uh, thanks for that clarification. In case you're still tempted to rush out and buy a "Flies Are People, Too" bumpersticker, Focus further reminds us, "Fruit flies don't have fantasies, wishes, hopes, dreams or any of that."

All I can say is, when the far-right is sternly lecturing us about the emotional life of lesbian fruit flies, you know we're on to something.
Patrick Letellier is a journalist living in San Francisco, a city full of creatures great and small. Read more of his writings at PatrickLetellier.com.
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