Home » James O’Keefe: Homosexuality: It’s About Survival – Not Sex at TEDxTallaght (Transcript)

James O’Keefe: Homosexuality: It’s About Survival – Not Sex at TEDxTallaght (Transcript)

James O’Keefe

Here is the full transcript of American activist James O’Keefe’s TEDx Talk titled Homosexuality: It’s About Survival – Not Sex at TEDxTallaght conference. 

 James O’Keefe – American activist

One summer evening, my eighteen-year-old son Jimmy said he wanted to talk. So, after my wife Joan and I got his three much younger siblings tucked in and read their bedtime stories, Joan and I sat down in our bedroom.

Jimmy came in and closed the door behind him. And he sat down on a chair across from the bed where we were sitting, and says, “Mom and Dad, I have something important to tell you, and it’s not a problem, it’s not a bad thing, it’s just different.”

We said, “Okay”.

And he looked at us in earnest, and he said, “I’m gay.”

So, after a few seconds of deafening silence, Joan takes a deep breath and says, “Jimmy, we will love whoever you love.”

That was about 12 years ago when he came out to us, and I’ll have to admit that, at the time, Joan and I did think this could be a problem, for his safety, even. And as his father, I had this feeling that, somehow, I had failed him, and maybe, because of that, he wouldn’t have a chance to have kids of his own.

So, I’m a cardiologist, and I like to imagine the world through the eyes of a hunter-gatherer ancestor for clues about how to thrive in the modern world, but, viewed in the light of evolution, homosexuality seems to be a real self-defeating non-productive strategy.

I mean, gays have 80% fewer kids than heterosexuals. This is a trait that ought to go extinct in a few generations, but down through recorded history, in every culture, and many animal species as well, homosexuality’s been a small, but distinct subgroup.

If this were a genetic error, natural selection should have long ago called this from the gene pool. So, while I was pondering this, this paradox about the natural origins of homosexuality, our babies grew up. Jimmy has three younger siblings who adore him. He has this magnetism and this charming wit that helps them feel happy and relaxed.

And one day, while contemplating this “Jimmy effect,” it suddenly dawned on me: homosexuality is not so much about sex; it’s really more about survival, the family’s survival.

So us, Homo sapiens, we are among the most social species on Earth. For us, it’s not just a kill-or-be-killed struggle for existence. It’s a snuggle for existence, you know. An ability to love our family and bond with our group determines, in many cases, whether we survive or perish. So it’s the survival of the fittest family, not the fittest individual.

So, you share 50% of your DNA with your siblings. Your nieces and nephews share 25% of your DNA. Frоm evolution’s perspective, you have the same genetic success if you raise one child on your own or you enable a sibling to raise two children. Frоm evolution’s perspective, this is all about cooperation and altruism. Homosexuality is genetically-programmed altruism.

Gays are designed by nature to help us be kind to one another, like Ellen DeGeneres says. So, E O Wilson, probably the greatest evolutionary biologist since Darwin himself, says homosexuality gives advantages to the group by specialized talents and unusual qualities of personality. So, a society that condemns homosexuality harms itself.

So, what does professor Wilson mean by “unusual qualities of personality”? Well, let me tell you about our dear family friend Jenny. She is 35, single, straight. She was telling us she is looking for a man who’s smart and funny, who’s sensitive, who’s a good listener. And she says she occasionally meets a guy like that, but she complains, “You know, he usually has a boyfriend already!”

So, although people tend to obsess over what gays do or don’t do in a bedroom, it’s really this distinctive personality and a strong intellect that are more critical, from evolution’s perspective. So, scientific studies do indeed show that people in the sexual minority tend to be intelligent, particularly when it comes to emotional intelligence.

So, this study showed that boys and girls who scored in a very bright IQ range were twice as likely to be homosexual as adults as those children who scored in the low to average range. And, among gay males, on psychological testing, gay males tend to score higher in metrics of compassion and cooperation, and lower in metrics of hostility.

So, if Michelangelo had been straight, he might have just wallpapered the Sistine Chapel. Songwriter Sam Austin says, “Homosexuality is God’s way of ensuring the truly gifted aren’t burdened with children.” But today, in the US, about 2 out of every 25 people are in the sexual minority.

Diversity is nature’s secret weapon. If all males were gay, that would be a problem, but if all males were warriors, we’d always be at war. The recipe for a successful human culture is a synergy of many different ingredients. Homosexuality is like a catalyst to help emotionally connect groups of people together. For heterosexuals, to disapprove of gays is kind of like the white flour in bread disapproving of the yeast.

So, if your genome is your hardware, epigenetics is your software. You have many different DNA programs downloaded on your DNA, and epigenetics chooses from among these to determine which version of you actually is the best fit for the environment.

So, ants, you probably didn’t know it, but are another highly social species that have epigenetic mechanisms very similar to humans. These two are identical twin sisters, huh? Even though their DNA sequences are exactly the same, this one, the worker, is a brainy little scurrier who goes out looking for food, whereas the one on the right, the soldier, is obviously a brawny one to fight off enemies. So, the queen ant epigenetically orchestrates this by placing different epigenetic tags on the developing ants.

So she places tags when the colony is under attack to uncoil the DNA and light up the genes to make the soldier, but when the colony is hungry, she puts different tags to uncoil the DNA and epigenetically create the conditions for the worker. So, in this way, the epigenetics – the dynamic power of epigenetics changes our genetic expression, so that we’re born with traits that allow us and our families the best chance to succeed in the current conditions.

So, you probably have gay genes in your DNA, but, unless they were turned on in your mother’s womb, they remain coiled up and silent. A recent groundbreaking study from UCLA found that, by looking at a group of men, some gay, some straight, and looking at epigenetic tags in nine different sites, they could predict with 70% accuracy their sexual orientation.

So, what conditions in the uterus turn on those gay genes? So, for a male, your chances of homosexuality increase in proportion to the number of previous baby boys who inhabited your mother’s uterus. So, for every older biological brother you have, your chances of being born gay go up 33%.

Long before we invented the pill, nature devised homosexuality as a prescription for birth control. After four straight, heterosexual males, nature says, “Enough already!,” and the mom’s immune system switches on the epigenetic switch so a gay male is born into the family. This one will not be overburdening the clan with yet more mouths to feed in the next generation – sometimes more isn’t better – and he’s not going to be killing his brother in a fight over who gets the girl. Thankfully, the sexual minority these days have many options for having kids of their own, and I have a hunch my gay son may bless us with grandchildren before our three straight children do.

So, another gene, this one on the X chromosome, is called a “male-loving gene,” because, when it shows up in a female, she tends to mate early and have a lot of kids, but, when the male-loving gene shows up in a male, it predisposes to homosexuality.

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