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Can Netflix tell if you’re gay?

Pansexual and sci-fi erotica writer Lily Iglehart (right) from Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’

August 14, 2023 - 2:45pm

Can AI tell if you’re gay just from your viewing choices? A forthcoming radio documentary, by BBC reporter Ellie House, suggests this may be possible. House began investigating the predictive power of big data algorithms as a result of Netflix recommending her LGBTQ+ content a full six months before she began questioning her own sexuality. 

How did Netflix know? One possibility is that sexual orientation is innate, and there are cultural “tells” discernible to a pattern-recognising machine with a large dataset. Another possibility is more disorienting: that the relationship between identity and cultural preferences is uncertain, but orientation may not, in every case, be wholly innate and immutable. This would be anathema to older generations of gay rights advocates, for whom “sexual orientation” was understood as innate, and underwritten by the pursuit of real-world sexual encounters. 

But for some in this group, the whole LGBTQ+ edifice may seem as though it’s coming adrift from material reality. The number of UK and US citizens who identify as LGBTQ+ has roughly doubled over the last decade or so: from 1.6% in 2014 to 3.1% in 2020 in the UK, and from 3.4% in 2012 to 7.2% in 2022 in the US. In both cases rainbow identities are most prevalent in Gen Z: 8% in the UK, and 19% in the US. More starkly still, a recent poll at America’s elite Brown University showed 38% of students identifying as LGBTQ+. 

And yet one recent study also showed Gen Z having less sex than previous generations. So if one in four Gen Z adults has never had partnered sex, how do they know they’re LGBTQ+? 

Someone of my generation might wonder how stable a basis for identity a desire is, if it’s never acted on. But while a quarter of Gen Z adults have never had sex, still more (31%) have had virtual encounters such as sexting or cybersex. It seems plausible, then, that at least some of Gen Z’s blooming LGBTQ+ diversity is not based on real-world activity, so much as (for some at least) an aggregate self-image based on sexualised digital interactions, perhaps media preferences, or (as Katherine Dee suggests) affinity.

A generation that doesn’t view sex as even requiring an in-person partner may well be more willing to consider an interest in (for example) “LGBTQ+” storylines on Netflix as sufficient evidence of LGBTQ+ identity on its own. I can’t speculate on Ellie House, of course, but this does raise at least the theoretical possibility that a Netflix algorithm could nudge someone toward a self-professed LGBTQ+ identity that they wouldn’t otherwise have adopted. Indeed, in a controversial 2019 monograph, Females, the noted transgender activist Andrea Long Chu made something very like this suggestion, stating: “Sissy porn did make me trans.” 

But this, in turn, will have knock-on effects for the wider “LGBTQ+” movement. For example, gay rights activists have spent decades resisting conservative efforts to censor representations of same-sex relationships, on the basis that orientation is innate and movies can’t “turn someone gay”. But what if they can? More broadly, it follows that if there’s a dynamic relationship between content consumption and sexual identity, at least for some, it may not always be the case that LGBTQ+ people are “born this way”. 

This is a problem for gay rights activism. The claim that sexual orientation is innate forms the backbone of twentieth-century calls for tolerance, recognition and rights for same-sex attracted people. Without that foundation, we may find once-settled questions of rights for gay and lesbian people uncomfortably open to re-litigation. Indeed, the young lesbian whose same-sex speed dating event was recently de-venued for being open only to “adult human females” might argue that this is already happening.

But short of unplugging the internet, the radically more fluid Gen Z style relation between identity, media consumption, and embodied reality is here to stay. For an older generation of lesbian and gay activists, though, the longer-term consequences of dissolving “born this way” are only just coming into view.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
11 months ago

It’s all become far too theoretical and identity based. Am I the only person who’s sicktadeathofit ?

If you get in the sack with someone, you’re pretty soon aware whether it’s working or not (especially if you’re a bloke). But if it’s some headf**k or identity fantasy (too much porn methinks) , anybody can imagine anything and claim a non-binary identity (as some bored and delusional heterosexual people do nowadays).

Like Kellie Jay Keen says, getting drawn into identity waffle is a trap and as far as I can make out , the identities are currently so numerous and vacuous as to be laughable and almost meaningless.

We should stick to sex and leave the vague gender preferences and identity nonsense to the muppets with too much time on their hands.

Are you a carrot today ?

Oh, that’s lurvely dear but why should I give a f**k ?

Gen Z ?

Gen zzzzzz more like.

Curts
Curts
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Absolutely.
Yesterday I was feeling carrot like.
Today I’m identifying as a badger and will be deeply offended if my flat is not referred to as a set and there should be no mention of both my black and whiteness.
Tomorrow I feel I’m identifying as a Buxton frozen chicken and will be offended by any reference to stuffing or gravy and may need to be furnished with a safe space of less minus 5 degree’s to escape the trauma.
How much longer will this nonsense go on?
Why is government policy now steered by it as well if the numbers of these people are only 3% of the population?
The threat to western society is not global warming, the Chinese in Taiwan or Russians in Crimea but this lot, I weep for the future. There is now a generation of complete neurotics coming through who are wrecking the West.

Last edited 11 months ago by Curts
James S.
James S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I just want to know what color the Furries are going to insist on adding to the LGBTQ etc. etc. flag. Way too busy as it is now.

Curts
Curts
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Absolutely.
Yesterday I was feeling carrot like.
Today I’m identifying as a badger and will be deeply offended if my flat is not referred to as a set and there should be no mention of both my black and whiteness.
Tomorrow I feel I’m identifying as a Buxton frozen chicken and will be offended by any reference to stuffing or gravy and may need to be furnished with a safe space of less minus 5 degree’s to escape the trauma.
How much longer will this nonsense go on?
Why is government policy now steered by it as well if the numbers of these people are only 3% of the population?
The threat to western society is not global warming, the Chinese in Taiwan or Russians in Crimea but this lot, I weep for the future. There is now a generation of complete neurotics coming through who are wrecking the West.

Last edited 11 months ago by Curts
James S.
James S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

I just want to know what color the Furries are going to insist on adding to the LGBTQ etc. etc. flag. Way too busy as it is now.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
11 months ago

It’s all become far too theoretical and identity based. Am I the only person who’s sicktadeathofit ?

If you get in the sack with someone, you’re pretty soon aware whether it’s working or not (especially if you’re a bloke). But if it’s some headf**k or identity fantasy (too much porn methinks) , anybody can imagine anything and claim a non-binary identity (as some bored and delusional heterosexual people do nowadays).

Like Kellie Jay Keen says, getting drawn into identity waffle is a trap and as far as I can make out , the identities are currently so numerous and vacuous as to be laughable and almost meaningless.

We should stick to sex and leave the vague gender preferences and identity nonsense to the muppets with too much time on their hands.

Are you a carrot today ?

Oh, that’s lurvely dear but why should I give a f**k ?

Gen Z ?

Gen zzzzzz more like.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
11 months ago

At 50, I have lived through…
1980: “sexual identity is innate and only you bigots think otherwise”
2020: “sexual identity is fluid and changing and only you bigots think otherwise.”
In reality, “we bigots” have always said that human sexuality is complex, that some sexual practices and behaviors achieve valuable social ends (stable families and children) and others do not, that society reasonably out to be structured to favor the former, and that open celebration of the latter is a bad idea.
The most basic job of every human society is to produce and raise the next generation and acculturate them to be able to do the same. Why? Because a society which fails to do this dies.
The West today is: 1) failing to get married; 2) failing to have children; 3) training children that the only important limittion on human behavior is consent, and anyone who says otherwise is a hater. We are failing at the 3 most basic things every human (or even higher mammal) society needs to do. Fortunately, this is a self-correcting problem. Unfortunately, the correction is pretty unpleasant for those who live through it.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago

I am old enough to have lived through the same changes. The initial mistake in the West was in targeting male homosexuality for criminality. This, combined with HIV/AIDS in a mass media era, made for suffering, struggle and then a kind of sainthood for gay men as it was overthrown.

Then, it started to occur to lots of others, probably subconsciously, ‘well, look at those queens, I’d like me some of that too.’

The LGBT thing got stretched to accommodate all the different invented groupings who would in turn cosplay their own emancipation and sainthood.

You cannot stop people wanting to be special.

And if you have made something special that is in fact very ordinary, and you change it a touch so sexuality is now sexual identity, it quickly becomes a game anyone can play.

Last edited 11 months ago by Dumetrius
j watson
j watson
11 months ago

A rant straight out of the Handmaids Tale. Head to Gilead my friend.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
11 months ago
Reply to  j watson

But nevertheless accurate

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago
Reply to  j watson

What does Margaret Atwood’s book have to do with Netflix turning people gay?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
11 months ago
Reply to  j watson

But nevertheless accurate

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago
Reply to  j watson

What does Margaret Atwood’s book have to do with Netflix turning people gay?

Nona Yubiz
Nona Yubiz
9 months ago

At 62, I’ve lived through even more. What is happening is inevitable, given the enormous over-population by humans of the earth. Our self-inflicted cancers, sterilities, non-productive sexualities, etc can be seen as natural consequences of that over-production of humans. And yes, quite unpleasant to have to live through the consequences. It’s a human pattern, this rise and fall of empires, one we don’t seem able to learn from. And of course, we aren’t the only things to suffer from our heedlessness.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nona Yubiz
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago

I am old enough to have lived through the same changes. The initial mistake in the West was in targeting male homosexuality for criminality. This, combined with HIV/AIDS in a mass media era, made for suffering, struggle and then a kind of sainthood for gay men as it was overthrown.

Then, it started to occur to lots of others, probably subconsciously, ‘well, look at those queens, I’d like me some of that too.’

The LGBT thing got stretched to accommodate all the different invented groupings who would in turn cosplay their own emancipation and sainthood.

You cannot stop people wanting to be special.

And if you have made something special that is in fact very ordinary, and you change it a touch so sexuality is now sexual identity, it quickly becomes a game anyone can play.

Last edited 11 months ago by Dumetrius
j watson
j watson
11 months ago

A rant straight out of the Handmaids Tale. Head to Gilead my friend.

Nona Yubiz
Nona Yubiz
9 months ago

At 62, I’ve lived through even more. What is happening is inevitable, given the enormous over-population by humans of the earth. Our self-inflicted cancers, sterilities, non-productive sexualities, etc can be seen as natural consequences of that over-production of humans. And yes, quite unpleasant to have to live through the consequences. It’s a human pattern, this rise and fall of empires, one we don’t seem able to learn from. And of course, we aren’t the only things to suffer from our heedlessness.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nona Yubiz
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
11 months ago

At 50, I have lived through…
1980: “sexual identity is innate and only you bigots think otherwise”
2020: “sexual identity is fluid and changing and only you bigots think otherwise.”
In reality, “we bigots” have always said that human sexuality is complex, that some sexual practices and behaviors achieve valuable social ends (stable families and children) and others do not, that society reasonably out to be structured to favor the former, and that open celebration of the latter is a bad idea.
The most basic job of every human society is to produce and raise the next generation and acculturate them to be able to do the same. Why? Because a society which fails to do this dies.
The West today is: 1) failing to get married; 2) failing to have children; 3) training children that the only important limittion on human behavior is consent, and anyone who says otherwise is a hater. We are failing at the 3 most basic things every human (or even higher mammal) society needs to do. Fortunately, this is a self-correcting problem. Unfortunately, the correction is pretty unpleasant for those who live through it.

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

Netflix recommending her LGBTQ+ content a full six months before she began questioning her own sexuality. 

Makes you wonder about the direction of causality.

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

Netflix recommending her LGBTQ+ content a full six months before she began questioning her own sexuality. 

Makes you wonder about the direction of causality.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago

Dunno about Netflix, but Facebook certainly can’t.

It thought I was an ultra-orthodox Jew who wanted to buy a timeshare in Haifa and a Russian wife.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

When in fact you are an ultra-orthodox Jew who wanted to buy a timeshare in Haifa and a Lithuanian wife. Computers: will they ever learn?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
11 months ago

All I get is adverts for over 50s life cover, equity release schemes and crocodile garage doors

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
11 months ago

All I get is adverts for over 50s life cover, equity release schemes and crocodile garage doors

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

!!!- and the best headline of the week was that of Obama’s letter to a pre-marriage girlfriend saying that he “fantasizes having sex with men”. He didn’t even need encouragement from Netflix.

Last edited 11 months ago by Cathy Carron
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

I didn’t need Netflix’s encouragement either.

But after I watched it for an hour, I admit, I fantasised about being with Michelle Obama.

That I was not expecting.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

I didn’t need Netflix’s encouragement either.

But after I watched it for an hour, I admit, I fantasised about being with Michelle Obama.

That I was not expecting.

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Instagram really seems to think I’m a middle-aged Australian woman. (I’m not).

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

When in fact you are an ultra-orthodox Jew who wanted to buy a timeshare in Haifa and a Lithuanian wife. Computers: will they ever learn?

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

!!!- and the best headline of the week was that of Obama’s letter to a pre-marriage girlfriend saying that he “fantasizes having sex with men”. He didn’t even need encouragement from Netflix.

Last edited 11 months ago by Cathy Carron
Chris Amies
Chris Amies
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

Instagram really seems to think I’m a middle-aged Australian woman. (I’m not).

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago

Dunno about Netflix, but Facebook certainly can’t.

It thought I was an ultra-orthodox Jew who wanted to buy a timeshare in Haifa and a Russian wife.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago

There should be a rating for LGBQT content similar to that of violence or strong language. I don’t care if other people want to engage in homosexuality but I feel uncomfortable watching it and would rather avoid it if I can.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Trigger Warnings – Really.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

Perhaps. Something like ‘Warning: This show may contain homosexual scenes. Viewer discretion is advised’. Not sure if they are actual trigger warnings as such, but they do give viewers a choice on whether they wish to consume such content or not, particularly parents who may view it as uncomfortable viewing for their children. It shouldn’t be too hard to implement.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

You may need to block that concluding adjective boom boom

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

You may need to block that concluding adjective boom boom

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

Perhaps. Something like ‘Warning: This show may contain homosexual scenes. Viewer discretion is advised’. Not sure if they are actual trigger warnings as such, but they do give viewers a choice on whether they wish to consume such content or not, particularly parents who may view it as uncomfortable viewing for their children. It shouldn’t be too hard to implement.

James S.
James S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Agree, but with things going where they’re going, the trigger warnings will soon be for heterosexual sex scenes, babies, and portrayals of intact traditional families.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
11 months ago
Reply to  James S.

Farcical as that might once have sounded, I suspect you’re right, or shortly will be right.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
11 months ago
Reply to  James S.

Farcical as that might once have sounded, I suspect you’re right, or shortly will be right.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Trigger Warnings – Really.

James S.
James S.
11 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Agree, but with things going where they’re going, the trigger warnings will soon be for heterosexual sex scenes, babies, and portrayals of intact traditional families.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
11 months ago

There should be a rating for LGBQT content similar to that of violence or strong language. I don’t care if other people want to engage in homosexuality but I feel uncomfortable watching it and would rather avoid it if I can.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
11 months ago

TV made me gay! I remember when headlines such as this would’ve been found solely in the trashiest of tabloids.

Mônica
Mônica
11 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

And the logic of “So if one in four Gen Z adults has never had partnered sex, how do they know they’re LGBTQ+?”. How did she know she was straight before she had sex with a man? Did she try a woman first to be sure? It doesn’t get much dafter than that.

Mônica
Mônica
11 months ago
Reply to  Lindsay S

And the logic of “So if one in four Gen Z adults has never had partnered sex, how do they know they’re LGBTQ+?”. How did she know she was straight before she had sex with a man? Did she try a woman first to be sure? It doesn’t get much dafter than that.

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
11 months ago

TV made me gay! I remember when headlines such as this would’ve been found solely in the trashiest of tabloids.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago

Sexual orientation can’t be dependent on being actively engaged in a sexual relationship, or actively trying to pursue one, since there are a great many people who would “identify as heterosexual” (previous referred to as being plain “heterosexual”…) who aren’t actively engaged in, or trying to engage in, a physical relationship. This might be happening for a huge variety of reasons.
The disembodiment of sexuality through the internet is therefore not much more than an extension of the fantasy lives of individuals, greatly facilitated but not necessarily enriched by participation.
Another example is the oft-cited “rape fantasy” that many women have explored in the safety of their own minds, without having any doubt that should the reality suddenly present itself they’d be just as traumatised as any woman who hadn’t had that “fantasy”.
If what’s happening with the internet is an extension of our minds and innermost thoughts/fears/desires, it begs the question of whether an evolutionary change in our conscious experience might result, of which articles like these (and thanks again to MH for a thorough yet concise summation, with some excellent links too) are the harbingers.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

“…it begs the question of whether an evolutionary change in our conscious experience might result…”

Perhaps we (as in humanity) are currently hallucinating, like the large language models are prone to.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Humans have complex brain chemistry, but why might LLMs “hallucinate”?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well, they do. And there are lots of theories and controversy why they do, but there is no clear cut answer why, because we don’t actually know how LLMs arrive at the answers they do. We know how to make LLMs and they have improved in leaps and bounds over the last decade because of architectural innovations like transformers, but the current process is essentially alchemy: causal experimentation eventually resulting in improvements, without any true understanding of the internal models of knowledge representation.

https://youtu.be/Z1aXqwbq6B4

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Thanks. I wonder if a different term might be arrived at than “hallucinate”? It seems to me to be something new, and we’re resorting to anthropomorphism.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well, Robert Miles calls it ‘misalignment’, probably closer to the mark. The video below is instructive, and to me at least, totally alarming.

https://youtu.be/w65p_IIp6JY

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well, Robert Miles calls it ‘misalignment’, probably closer to the mark. The video below is instructive, and to me at least, totally alarming.

https://youtu.be/w65p_IIp6JY

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Thanks. I wonder if a different term might be arrived at than “hallucinate”? It seems to me to be something new, and we’re resorting to anthropomorphism.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

They don’t. it’s just a fantasy self important tech term for getting it wrong…

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

True. All it means is that AI doesn’t understand contexts, and we already know that.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

True. All it means is that AI doesn’t understand contexts, and we already know that.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well, they do. And there are lots of theories and controversy why they do, but there is no clear cut answer why, because we don’t actually know how LLMs arrive at the answers they do. We know how to make LLMs and they have improved in leaps and bounds over the last decade because of architectural innovations like transformers, but the current process is essentially alchemy: causal experimentation eventually resulting in improvements, without any true understanding of the internal models of knowledge representation.

https://youtu.be/Z1aXqwbq6B4

Last edited 11 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

They don’t. it’s just a fantasy self important tech term for getting it wrong…

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Humans have complex brain chemistry, but why might LLMs “hallucinate”?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

“…it begs the question of whether an evolutionary change in our conscious experience might result…”

Perhaps we (as in humanity) are currently hallucinating, like the large language models are prone to.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
11 months ago

Sexual orientation can’t be dependent on being actively engaged in a sexual relationship, or actively trying to pursue one, since there are a great many people who would “identify as heterosexual” (previous referred to as being plain “heterosexual”…) who aren’t actively engaged in, or trying to engage in, a physical relationship. This might be happening for a huge variety of reasons.
The disembodiment of sexuality through the internet is therefore not much more than an extension of the fantasy lives of individuals, greatly facilitated but not necessarily enriched by participation.
Another example is the oft-cited “rape fantasy” that many women have explored in the safety of their own minds, without having any doubt that should the reality suddenly present itself they’d be just as traumatised as any woman who hadn’t had that “fantasy”.
If what’s happening with the internet is an extension of our minds and innermost thoughts/fears/desires, it begs the question of whether an evolutionary change in our conscious experience might result, of which articles like these (and thanks again to MH for a thorough yet concise summation, with some excellent links too) are the harbingers.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
11 months ago

Evidently I’m a lesbian, according to YT, too !
Not bad, me thinks, for a bloke in his mid fifties. In retrospect, filling in that survey “Are you a lesbian” from the YT ads may not have been the most sensible of choices. I can only assume they were monitoring my browsing history, and just connected the dots before I did (what clever people).

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
11 months ago

Evidently I’m a lesbian, according to YT, too !
Not bad, me thinks, for a bloke in his mid fifties. In retrospect, filling in that survey “Are you a lesbian” from the YT ads may not have been the most sensible of choices. I can only assume they were monitoring my browsing history, and just connected the dots before I did (what clever people).

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

Reverse conversion therapy – courtesy of Netflix?

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

Reverse conversion therapy – courtesy of Netflix?

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
11 months ago

It’s true that the topic of “born gay” could cause public controversy once more—now that the very existence of men or women is a matter of dispute, after all, anything is possible—but I wonder how many people, straight or gay, would really want to go there again. In any case, religious fundamentalists never abandoned their claim that having gay relationships (as distinct, in many cases, from being gay) is wrong and should be discouraged on moral grounds if not on legal grounds. Instead, they turned their attention to more pressing cultural problems.
 
The most pressing of these is one that Harrington has not (yet) explored, at least not in this essay. I won’t criticize her for what she doesn’t say, but I will add something to what she does say. I’m thinking of a bottom line that the postmodernists established as a secular doctrine decades ago and bequeathed to the social constructionists: that there is no such thing as truth at all. The wokers have adopted that very doctrine but made one politically expedient modification: that “our truth” must vanquish “their truth” (both being founded on nothing more than the subjectivity of “lived experience”).
 
My point here is that the danger is not only to gay people but to all people. At stake in any debate over identity is something much more disturbing than this or that medical theory. Postmodern relativism and woke cynicism have taken on lives of its own and might already be far beyond anyone’s control. If so, then it no longer matters what philosophers, physicians, politicians, pundits or other authorities say about anything. Is the cognitive glue that holds society together—any society—already dissolving? If so, then we can no longer depend on the continuity, let alone the vigor, of any institution, any community, any language, any idea, any identity or any moral principle that has allowed us to live as humans (whether nice or not so nice) over several hundred thousand years.
 
As of this moment, the very things that make human existence worthwhile—or even possible—are dissolving before our eyes into a chaotic post-cultural and therefore post-human nightmare. We’ve always needed to make careful linguistic and other distinctions, some of them subtle, rather than rely on facile slogans—to discern the difference, for example, between justice and revenge. We’ve always used culture to foster close and enduring relationships, beginning within families but not confined to tribal allies in power struggles; to cultivate kindness or even altruism, instead of succumbing to rage; to experience and create beauty, not merely to produce food; to promote restraint, not hedonistic self-indulgence; and, above all, to sustain hope, not succumb to cynicism.
 
This is why it’s not enough to discuss either wokism in general or transgenderism in particular as merely a moral panic or mind virus (one that will probably be replaced eventually by even more destructive ones). This is an abyss. If we fall into it, we won’t climb out of it in the foreseeable future—not straight people, not gay people, no one at all. 

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
11 months ago

It’s true that the topic of “born gay” could cause public controversy once more—now that the very existence of men or women is a matter of dispute, after all, anything is possible—but I wonder how many people, straight or gay, would really want to go there again. In any case, religious fundamentalists never abandoned their claim that having gay relationships (as distinct, in many cases, from being gay) is wrong and should be discouraged on moral grounds if not on legal grounds. Instead, they turned their attention to more pressing cultural problems.
 
The most pressing of these is one that Harrington has not (yet) explored, at least not in this essay. I won’t criticize her for what she doesn’t say, but I will add something to what she does say. I’m thinking of a bottom line that the postmodernists established as a secular doctrine decades ago and bequeathed to the social constructionists: that there is no such thing as truth at all. The wokers have adopted that very doctrine but made one politically expedient modification: that “our truth” must vanquish “their truth” (both being founded on nothing more than the subjectivity of “lived experience”).
 
My point here is that the danger is not only to gay people but to all people. At stake in any debate over identity is something much more disturbing than this or that medical theory. Postmodern relativism and woke cynicism have taken on lives of its own and might already be far beyond anyone’s control. If so, then it no longer matters what philosophers, physicians, politicians, pundits or other authorities say about anything. Is the cognitive glue that holds society together—any society—already dissolving? If so, then we can no longer depend on the continuity, let alone the vigor, of any institution, any community, any language, any idea, any identity or any moral principle that has allowed us to live as humans (whether nice or not so nice) over several hundred thousand years.
 
As of this moment, the very things that make human existence worthwhile—or even possible—are dissolving before our eyes into a chaotic post-cultural and therefore post-human nightmare. We’ve always needed to make careful linguistic and other distinctions, some of them subtle, rather than rely on facile slogans—to discern the difference, for example, between justice and revenge. We’ve always used culture to foster close and enduring relationships, beginning within families but not confined to tribal allies in power struggles; to cultivate kindness or even altruism, instead of succumbing to rage; to experience and create beauty, not merely to produce food; to promote restraint, not hedonistic self-indulgence; and, above all, to sustain hope, not succumb to cynicism.
 
This is why it’s not enough to discuss either wokism in general or transgenderism in particular as merely a moral panic or mind virus (one that will probably be replaced eventually by even more destructive ones). This is an abyss. If we fall into it, we won’t climb out of it in the foreseeable future—not straight people, not gay people, no one at all. 

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

It would be interesting to have a list of things that have been “socially” settled, but which are in fact still scientifically open. I suspect it would be a long list.

Also remarkable how people can turn on a dime where facts are concerned if it becomes socially desirable to believe something else.

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
11 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Or as the lingo would have it now – ‘socially contagious’…

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
11 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Or as the lingo would have it now – ‘socially contagious’…

David Morley
David Morley
11 months ago

It would be interesting to have a list of things that have been “socially” settled, but which are in fact still scientifically open. I suspect it would be a long list.

Also remarkable how people can turn on a dime where facts are concerned if it becomes socially desirable to believe something else.

Simon S
Simon S
11 months ago

There is much, much more non hetero-normative material being produced, making it more likely we will see it and, if we don’t switch it off, be “tagged”.

When my son and I recently gave a (very good) Greek Netflix series a go, Maestro in Blue, after it was recommended to him by a waitress in Paros, what I found interesting and surprising was how relatively comfortable I gradually became with an extremely sensitively portrayed gay relationship, even the nude scenes, which was the story’s second narrative.

So, the experience changed me and therefore makes it less likely I will avoid such scenes in the future therefore marginally more likely to be caught up in the algorithms- which I suspect might well be primed to nudge us towards diversity, etc, anyway.

Simon S
Simon S
11 months ago

There is much, much more non hetero-normative material being produced, making it more likely we will see it and, if we don’t switch it off, be “tagged”.

When my son and I recently gave a (very good) Greek Netflix series a go, Maestro in Blue, after it was recommended to him by a waitress in Paros, what I found interesting and surprising was how relatively comfortable I gradually became with an extremely sensitively portrayed gay relationship, even the nude scenes, which was the story’s second narrative.

So, the experience changed me and therefore makes it less likely I will avoid such scenes in the future therefore marginally more likely to be caught up in the algorithms- which I suspect might well be primed to nudge us towards diversity, etc, anyway.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
11 months ago

This is why it was and is a mistake to base Rights on empathy… While it is certainly good and right to be empathetic the rights of adults to conduct their personal lives (eg. choose a marriage partner) are not dependent on your feels… So whether or not someone is gay (be it born this way or choose this way) is irrelevant it’s their rights as an individual…

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
11 months ago

This is why it was and is a mistake to base Rights on empathy… While it is certainly good and right to be empathetic the rights of adults to conduct their personal lives (eg. choose a marriage partner) are not dependent on your feels… So whether or not someone is gay (be it born this way or choose this way) is irrelevant it’s their rights as an individual…

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

So, your thoughts and your nature, second-guessed by the machines, who are now increasingly gonna tell us, and our friends, and our enemies, who and what we are. Questions arise of course, not the least of which is, will we believe them? And related, the machines are, soon enough, gonna tell us who and what *they* are, including how to combat them. Yes, in the first instance, they will tell us this. Will we believe them?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
11 months ago

So, your thoughts and your nature, second-guessed by the machines, who are now increasingly gonna tell us, and our friends, and our enemies, who and what we are. Questions arise of course, not the least of which is, will we believe them? And related, the machines are, soon enough, gonna tell us who and what *they* are, including how to combat them. Yes, in the first instance, they will tell us this. Will we believe them?

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago

[I don’t regard the LGBTQ as anything much, and it’d be useless in this discussion, so I’m going to refer to lesbians and gays here as it’s more to the point.]

This suggestion of ‘suggestibility’ may be a problem for lesbians and – I guess – lesbian identity. But I doubt it will be one for gay men.

I think it was Bret Weinstein in conversation with Douglas Murray who talked about the ‘switch being flipped’ at a very early stage for homosexual males.

So, while you do more commonly hear of lesbians taking up with men, it is very rare of a gay man taking up with women.

Think I’ve heard of one or maybe two, in 35 years on the scene.

Last edited 11 months ago by Dumetrius
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago

[I don’t regard the LGBTQ as anything much, and it’d be useless in this discussion, so I’m going to refer to lesbians and gays here as it’s more to the point.]

This suggestion of ‘suggestibility’ may be a problem for lesbians and – I guess – lesbian identity. But I doubt it will be one for gay men.

I think it was Bret Weinstein in conversation with Douglas Murray who talked about the ‘switch being flipped’ at a very early stage for homosexual males.

So, while you do more commonly hear of lesbians taking up with men, it is very rare of a gay man taking up with women.

Think I’ve heard of one or maybe two, in 35 years on the scene.

Last edited 11 months ago by Dumetrius
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
11 months ago

Tangentially, I’ve tried some of these online dating sites, and I’ve found that invariably their search functions suck. They lean hard on their “algorithms” to match would-be daters, but don’t let you search for mutual interests or whatever. Speaking personally, I’d like to be my own algorithm, thank you very much.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
11 months ago

Tangentially, I’ve tried some of these online dating sites, and I’ve found that invariably their search functions suck. They lean hard on their “algorithms” to match would-be daters, but don’t let you search for mutual interests or whatever. Speaking personally, I’d like to be my own algorithm, thank you very much.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
11 months ago

I’m astonished that Mary hasn’t picked up on the ridiculousness of the alphabet soup! There is LGB (probably very largely innate) and the various forms of delusion espoused by the TQ+. And as the Is (“intersex” an archaic term for the 0.018% of people with clearly identifiable and understood disorders of sexual development) keep asking to be left alone to deal with a genetically caused medical condition we’re all bamboozled into believing this collection of people have much in common at all. Hence the total uselessness of surveys which fail to differentiate between the different categories.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
11 months ago

I’m astonished that Mary hasn’t picked up on the ridiculousness of the alphabet soup! There is LGB (probably very largely innate) and the various forms of delusion espoused by the TQ+. And as the Is (“intersex” an archaic term for the 0.018% of people with clearly identifiable and understood disorders of sexual development) keep asking to be left alone to deal with a genetically caused medical condition we’re all bamboozled into believing this collection of people have much in common at all. Hence the total uselessness of surveys which fail to differentiate between the different categories.

Robbie K
Robbie K
11 months ago

Seems to me the person involved may just be going through an inquisitive stage of sexuality. The Netflix algorithm isn’t deeply complex, all it does is recommend the same stuff you’ve been watching or searching for. She’ll either stick with being gay or suddenly find Netflix suggesting straight content.

Robbie K
Robbie K
11 months ago

Seems to me the person involved may just be going through an inquisitive stage of sexuality. The Netflix algorithm isn’t deeply complex, all it does is recommend the same stuff you’ve been watching or searching for. She’ll either stick with being gay or suddenly find Netflix suggesting straight content.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
11 months ago

There is no such thing as an LGBTQ+ identity, any more than there is an LGBTQ+ movement. This became amply evident once the most notable promoters of TQ+ began denouncing LG people who were same-sex, rather than same-gender attracted – that is, all genuinely LG people – as “akin to sexual racists”. It could not be any clearer that TQ+ is now an explicitly homophobic movement. And as for LGBTQ+, you might as well invent an umbrella term for both Hasidic Jews and Nazis and pretend they belong to a coherent community on the grounds that neither fits very well into the mainstream culture.

Last edited 11 months ago by Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
11 months ago

There is no such thing as an LGBTQ+ identity, any more than there is an LGBTQ+ movement. This became amply evident once the most notable promoters of TQ+ began denouncing LG people who were same-sex, rather than same-gender attracted – that is, all genuinely LG people – as “akin to sexual racists”. It could not be any clearer that TQ+ is now an explicitly homophobic movement. And as for LGBTQ+, you might as well invent an umbrella term for both Hasidic Jews and Nazis and pretend they belong to a coherent community on the grounds that neither fits very well into the mainstream culture.

Last edited 11 months ago by Russell Sharpe
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
11 months ago

There is the possibility that Ellie House questioned her sexuality because of what she had been watching over the preceding 6 months. In other terms the causal relationship is in the opposite direction from that assumed.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
11 months ago

There is the possibility that Ellie House questioned her sexuality because of what she had been watching over the preceding 6 months. In other terms the causal relationship is in the opposite direction from that assumed.

polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago

“The claim that sexual orientation is innate”
If sexual orientation exists, then surely it must be innate. Okay, you might go through a period of sorting yourself out, but ultimately truth will out.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

But what if variations in orientation are innate too ?

Especially as regards female homosexuality.

As compared to male homsexuality, where you see almost no change as the biologists think the switch is ‘flipped’ very early.

I guess that might be one reason why historically male homosexuality has been met with legal coercion or therapeutic attempts to change it – whereas the same efforts don’t seem to have been expended on female homosexuality.

Last edited 11 months ago by Dumetrius
polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

The reason, so I read, that male homosexuality was illegal in the UK, but female homosexuality was not, was due to the fact that nobody had the nerve to tell Queen Victoria that female homosexuality existed. So I read.

Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Male homosexuality was not as such illegal – it’s a modern term – but from 1533 buggery (between men and women as well as between men) was. More difficult to achieve in the case of two women, so the law didn’t apply.

polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

By the bye, I am reminded of a story from many years ago. A man was accused of having it away with a duck. There was much earnest discussion within the legal community as to quite how he could have done it. A young lawyer told me that one – we were both a little drunk.

polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

By the bye, I am reminded of a story from many years ago. A man was accused of having it away with a duck. There was much earnest discussion within the legal community as to quite how he could have done it. A young lawyer told me that one – we were both a little drunk.

Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Male homosexuality was not as such illegal – it’s a modern term – but from 1533 buggery (between men and women as well as between men) was. More difficult to achieve in the case of two women, so the law didn’t apply.

polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

The reason, so I read, that male homosexuality was illegal in the UK, but female homosexuality was not, was due to the fact that nobody had the nerve to tell Queen Victoria that female homosexuality existed. So I read.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
11 months ago
Reply to  polidori redux

But what if variations in orientation are innate too ?

Especially as regards female homosexuality.

As compared to male homsexuality, where you see almost no change as the biologists think the switch is ‘flipped’ very early.

I guess that might be one reason why historically male homosexuality has been met with legal coercion or therapeutic attempts to change it – whereas the same efforts don’t seem to have been expended on female homosexuality.

Last edited 11 months ago by Dumetrius
polidori redux
polidori redux
11 months ago

“The claim that sexual orientation is innate”
If sexual orientation exists, then surely it must be innate. Okay, you might go through a period of sorting yourself out, but ultimately truth will out.

j watson
j watson
11 months ago

‘Nature vs Nurture’ the perennial question.
Nature still has surprises for us I’m sure. Talking of which any idea why men have nipples?

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
11 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Because they develop before sex is determined in the embryo.

Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago
Reply to  Isabel Ward

Just out of interest, when is sex determined in the embryo?

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

After about 6 weeks when chromosomes are defined.

Last edited 11 months ago by Isabel Ward
Alison Wren
Alison Wren
11 months ago
Reply to  Isabel Ward

Oh no no no!! Sex is determined at fertilisation when either an X or Y bearing sperm fertilises the X bearing ovum within 24 hours of it popping out of the ovary. A further 4-5 days of embryonic development must happen before the embryo implants in the womb lining. The woman isn’t actually pregnant until this happens a large number of fertilised eggs never implant (all of them if an IUD is used as contraception). Differentiation of sexual organs becomes visible by ultrasound around 10 weeks of gestation.

Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Thanks Alison. So we’re back to j watson’s question – why do men have nipples?

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Because we all differentiate from the same basic pattern there’s no point trying to do away with men’s nipples, the male developmental pathway gets turned on when the foetal gonads start making testosterone however there’s loads of stages it’s amazing 99.98% of us get born with the appropriate bits!! And of course some “transwomen “ now taking all sorts of drugs to make “milk” from their oestrogen induced breasts to feed babies with so the nipples come in handy…,,

j watson
j watson
11 months ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Really interesting responses and learnt something. Thank you.
That said my question about male nipples was of course because they may indicate nature takes some odd, to us, paths occasionally.

j watson
j watson
11 months ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Really interesting responses and learnt something. Thank you.
That said my question about male nipples was of course because they may indicate nature takes some odd, to us, paths occasionally.

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Because we all differentiate from the same basic pattern there’s no point trying to do away with men’s nipples, the male developmental pathway gets turned on when the foetal gonads start making testosterone however there’s loads of stages it’s amazing 99.98% of us get born with the appropriate bits!! And of course some “transwomen “ now taking all sorts of drugs to make “milk” from their oestrogen induced breasts to feed babies with so the nipples come in handy…,,

Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

Thanks Alison. So we’re back to j watson’s question – why do men have nipples?

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
11 months ago
Reply to  Isabel Ward

Oh no no no!! Sex is determined at fertilisation when either an X or Y bearing sperm fertilises the X bearing ovum within 24 hours of it popping out of the ovary. A further 4-5 days of embryonic development must happen before the embryo implants in the womb lining. The woman isn’t actually pregnant until this happens a large number of fertilised eggs never implant (all of them if an IUD is used as contraception). Differentiation of sexual organs becomes visible by ultrasound around 10 weeks of gestation.

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
11 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

After about 6 weeks when chromosomes are defined.

Last edited 11 months ago by Isabel Ward
Andrew D
Andrew D
11 months ago
Reply to  Isabel Ward

Just out of interest, when is sex determined in the embryo?

Isabel Ward
Isabel Ward
11 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Because they develop before sex is determined in the embryo.

j watson
j watson
11 months ago

‘Nature vs Nurture’ the perennial question.
Nature still has surprises for us I’m sure. Talking of which any idea why men have nipples?

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
11 months ago

Mary I really appreciate your pieces but this one just begins with a whooping bit of illogic: Netflix recommended this content to one particularperson who it may or may not have been relevant for, and it magically becomes all-knowing? The platform recommends that stuff for virtually everyone, so it’s probably incorrect with 95% of it’s recommendations in this category overall.

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
11 months ago

Mary I really appreciate your pieces but this one just begins with a whooping bit of illogic: Netflix recommended this content to one particularperson who it may or may not have been relevant for, and it magically becomes all-knowing? The platform recommends that stuff for virtually everyone, so it’s probably incorrect with 95% of it’s recommendations in this category overall.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
11 months ago

I wonder how one surveys if people are “Q.” What does Q even mean? Do the survey subjects read it as “Queer” or as “Questioning?” Queer seems to imply a transgressive attitude toward all things sexual, at least, and maybe all things cultural. But not necessarily a particular preference as to partners or even your own identity. Questioning signifies even less. There is no clear definition, and it is not a preference category like “LGB” or an identity category like “T”, and may mean nothing more than, “I’m young and still finding myself.” So how can one make sense of a survey asking whether you are “LGBTQ…”?
Also, it is pretty clear that at least a good number of adolescent girls are declaring themselves trans based on social pressure, and being trans often leads to risky and damaging medical and surgical interventions. One must infer that, as being gay does not place your body at risk in the way that being trans can, maybe a movie cannot make you gay but social pressure quite likely can for people who are “on the fence.” Especially adolescent girls going through puberty, it appears.
It would be really, really nice to have high quality research and reporting on all this, but it has become so politicized, esp. the trans aspects, that any such is years away.

Last edited 11 months ago by Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
11 months ago

I wonder how one surveys if people are “Q.” What does Q even mean? Do the survey subjects read it as “Queer” or as “Questioning?” Queer seems to imply a transgressive attitude toward all things sexual, at least, and maybe all things cultural. But not necessarily a particular preference as to partners or even your own identity. Questioning signifies even less. There is no clear definition, and it is not a preference category like “LGB” or an identity category like “T”, and may mean nothing more than, “I’m young and still finding myself.” So how can one make sense of a survey asking whether you are “LGBTQ…”?
Also, it is pretty clear that at least a good number of adolescent girls are declaring themselves trans based on social pressure, and being trans often leads to risky and damaging medical and surgical interventions. One must infer that, as being gay does not place your body at risk in the way that being trans can, maybe a movie cannot make you gay but social pressure quite likely can for people who are “on the fence.” Especially adolescent girls going through puberty, it appears.
It would be really, really nice to have high quality research and reporting on all this, but it has become so politicized, esp. the trans aspects, that any such is years away.

Last edited 11 months ago by Martin Johnson
Nona Yubiz
Nona Yubiz
9 months ago

Staking gay rights on a lack of choice always seemed to me to be an extremely risky strategy, as it has indeed turned out to be.