Loving who we are – gay men’s history of relevance to the family and society

A few weeks ago I wrote about thvideo I had seen where a father talked of his experience of his son coming out to him and how this led to him looking at what his son brought to his family and by extension what the evolutionary purpose of homosexuality might be for the tribe. I then went to a talk that weekend which explored similar themes. From these two the summary of the benefits of having a gay son were:
  • it reduces the burden on the ecosystem. After her fourth boy a woman is much more likely to give birth to a gay son.
  • instead of having extra child rearing men, which would place a demand of finding resources and food, it means there are males in the family who can help raise their sibling’s children, making it more likely that the children will survive and go on to have children themselves.
  • a high proportion of gay males tend to have a higher than average IQ and so benefit the family or tribe by being able to solve problems without having their time used in child rearing responsibilities. 
  • gay males can also have a well developed emotional intelligence and empathy so fulfil roles in the tribe of the shaman, mystic, creative and healer.
  • the sisters of gay men are often more fertile, so for some reason having a man who is not going to have children corresponds to women who are more likely to conceive.
  • gay men may offer nurture to their siblings and families, being a source of support and care that holds the family together. This was illustrated by the example of how when a mother is suffering stress during pregnancy the boy is more likely to be gay. The speaker pointed to evidence that the mother’s body chose to influence the DNA in such a way that the child would be gay – as there was a need for a caring, supportive son who would be less likely to be aggressive. This was linked in the talk to epigenetic and the way a Queen ant would determine if ants were to be workers or soldiers by influencing the DNA of the egg.
As an example of the caring role a gay man might play in the family the speaker pointed to the fa’afine in Somoa. Doug VanderLaan has studied these people and gives the following description of their role in the tribe: “Fa’afafine do not identify as men or women, but as a third group,” VanderLaan says. “They are identified when they’re children, based on exhibiting marked ‘female’ behaviour such as playing with girls, avoiding rough-and-tumble play and preferring to do ‘female’ chores.”
VanderLaan interviewed hundreds of fa’afafine about their experiences and social roles, revealing that the fa’afafine play an important role in raising the next generation of Samoan children. “Androphilic males, like the fa’afafine, don’t have their own kids, but they do share genes with siblings. They can help the success and survival of related genes,” VanderLaan says. “It’s about allocating investment of resources to nieces and nephews who need it most.”

For the fa’afafine, that investment comes in the form of babysitting, helping with homework, teaching songs, providing advice and culturally relevant material, as well as monetary support for school or medical visits.

“My research shows that it’s important for male androphiles to be involved in family life,” he says. “This behaviour brings some benefit to oneself and is important to motivating or facilitating a valued role in the family. It suggests that there’s something developmentally important going on. To read more click here. 


What we see in the faf’afine is an echo of what was once common in many traditional societies before European colonial interventions and missionary work disrupted these societies. In America, the Native American people had traditions of the two spirit people, who held important positions in the tribe as the shamans and guides. Other cultures around the world also had men who fulfilled similar roles before European colonialism and religion imposed new codes of behaviour. If you are interested in learning more about this history there’s an informative slide show here.


The point was made at the talk that in the West we may not feel the benefit we bring to our family or society, due to not being fully free to give the gifts we have due to prejudice and exclusion. Two men prominent in the 20th century give evidence of this. 

Below is a photo of Alan Turing. A man who’s work on code breaking is said to have brought the second world war to an end years earlier than it would have otherwise. He went on to lay the foundations for modern computing. And may well have given much more to the world with his depth of intellect had he not been convicted of homosexuality and chemically castrated. The impact of this was too much for him and he killed himself. Rather than thanking him and celebrating the gift he was to society we see here how a narrow idea of morality imposed itself and destroyed him.


Another gay man who’s legacy was lost sight of is Bayard Rustin, who was the chief organiser of the 1963 march on Washington at which Rev Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech. Without Rustin and his dedication to bringing together different groups the march would not have happened and the speech not have taken place. He introduced Martin Luther King to the idea of non-violence and had visited India to meet with people who had known Gandhi. It was his dedication to non violent protest that meant the 4,000 troops posted nearby had no reason to be called into action and the march could progress, with the only four arrests being of white people. His skill at logistics brought 300,000 from around the country into a coordinated march. Yet he was openly gay and for this he was latter excluded and was written out of the history of the march. As a young boy at school I was taught of Martin Luther King as an inspiring figure, but never told there had been a gay man who had been as important and this is just another example of how we grew up with people like us written out of history. 


We are aware of the many other gay men who have shaped our society – writers, philosophers, artists, designers – all fulfilling the role of the shaman, the one who transforms the world or gives us a glimpse of another world. But until recently so many of these men had to live secret lives and deny who they were and so we were denied seeing how they played a part in giving their gift to society.

The impact is well documented: shame, low self-esteem, minority stress, increased evidence of mental health issues, addiction and self-harm. Interestingly I heard a report a few days ago about the mental health of black men in the UK, which is much worse than among white men. Whereas there are not such a high proportion of mental health issues in countries where black people are in the majority. Thus it is not that black people are more prone to mental health issues, but when living in a predominantly white society they are. The report pointed to the impact of growing up with racism and the feeling of exclusion and how it impacts on well-being. As a minority we also have this, and as with any minority it does not mean we are wrong, but that the social structures that create this sense of discrimination or exclusion are what is at fault. 

What we have responsibility over is how we then nurture ourselves and our community. Meditation, self-awareness and the cultivation of kindness is a key to this process of transformation. Now that we live in a society where we can marry, be openly gay and show our selves as we are the next step is to love ourselves as we are. One aspect of this for me is this process of looking back and seeing what gay men have given to their societies over time, to feel our worth woven into the fabric of society through the arts, the creative work, the philosophy and caring work. Of course, there will be gay men who have caused harm, been involved in causes we do not value or who we can not admire. It is not that being gay makes us better than others but that if we take an over view we may be able to have a sense of valuing our place in the evolutionary jigsaw rather than feeling we don’t belong and are a mistake. 

The feeling “I matter” and “I am enough” are core to this sense of self-worth. To feel self-love we need to feel there is someone worthy of love. Reflecting on what gifts we have that we bring to society and our family may help to give a sense of our own value, the feeling that when dogma and religious beliefs are set aside, throughout history gay men have in fact served a purpose in the tribe and once we are allowed to be free to be who we are we can once more fulfil that role without the shame and vilification that gay men in the past had to endure. 

This work starts here. With ourselves. Learning to love ourselves and from that sense of self-worth seeing the value and worth of others. 

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