Controversial App Claims to Diagnose: 'How Gay Are You?'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 5, 2019

A controversial app called "How Gay Are You" suggests that it can use a person's genetic data — as analyzed by a commercial outfit like 23andMe — to place them on a graph of sexual desire from heterosexual to homosexual — for a fee, of course.

Geneticists have called bullshit, while ethicists warn that apps of this sort could confuse consumers, obscure actual science, and lead to ostracism by social or political forces that do not understand that true science is not, in fact, being represented.

The app itself cautions that even though it purports to locate users on a gay-striaght continuum using information about their DNA, it "does NOT predict same sex attraction," notes Neoscope.

The Neoscope article attempts to parse the app's nonsensical claims, telling readers that:

The app itself exists in a miasma of circular logic. On its website, a blurb notes that the Science study found that there's no obvious link between genetics and sexual orientation, but then claims that "instead, same-sex sexual behavior appears is influenced by hundreds or thousands of genes, each with tiny effects."

A genetics expert put it more bluntly: "My thoughts on this app is that it is garbage," said Deanna Church, with the biotech company Inscripta.

Added Church, "You cannot tell 'how gay' someone is from looking at their DNA and I don't think you will ever be able to do this."

Indeed, the long-standing quest for a single, determinative "gay gene" has proven fruitless, with scientific attempts finding only that the question is much more complex than finding one master switch for sexuality hidden in a person's DNA strands.

Science has, however, roundly debunked the idea that non-heterosexuals "choose" to be gay or lesbian. Scientists have noted crucial differences in brain architecture of LGBTQ people as compared to heterosexuals. Moreover, there is evidence that in utero hormone balances have a direct bearing on whether a person is gay or straight.

One expert suggested that apps like "How Gay Are You?" are a byproduct of the current information age — a time in which mass communication can be accessed with a palm-sized device and those not educated in science can easily be hoodwinked by pseudoscience.

Such apps could dovetail with demagoguery and fake news to service the agendas of oppressive governments, critics warned. Esteemed science journal Nature quoted evolutionary ecologist Jeremy Yoder as warning that:

"A purported test for sexual orientation, particularly one with the scientific halo of genetics, poses a very real danger to queer people living under anti-queer governments or in places where anti-queer violence is widespread."

The interconnected nature of electronic communications also factors in, given that the peddler of the app in question lives in Uganda, a highly anti-LGBTQ nation that has, more than once, attempted to place death penalties on the books for non-heterosexual people.

Noted Nature:

Scientists and genetic counsellors say that these unregulated tools can harm individuals and society, by causing anxiety, unnecessary medical expenses, stigmatization and worse. "It's the Wild West of genetics," says Erin Demo, a genetic counsellor at Sibley Heart Center Cardiology in Atlanta, Georgia. "This is just going to get harder and harder as we go along."

Wild West indeed; back in pioneer days, those seeking medical advice or treatment might be sold fake cures and liniments popularly referred to as snake oil. In the 21st century, however, users must be wary of fake news and apps that seem to promise one thing while simultaneously admitting that they do not, in fact, deliver.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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