Are You a Genuine Queer?

Palmistry and Other Highly Scientific Modern Research

So, you think you're queer? That's probably what your mother said when she opened your closet door and accidentally stumbled onto your feather boa. "Think??" you demanded haughtily. "I know I'm queer." And now, some 10, 25, or 50 years later, biologists trying to prove the existence of a "gay gene" have developed a test so you can prove it. Well, at least according to this ABC News article claiming that "the index fingers of lesbians tend to be much shorter than their ring fingers," you might think they have.

And maybe you're the kind of person who's spent the last 10, 25, or 50 years telling everyone that the reason they should respect your right to be queer is that you "can't help it"—maybe you can't think of any better reason than that? So the day your television or morning newspaper blares out the discovery of a quick and easy test to prove your queer birthright to everyone, you dive for the phone, dial up your aging withered mother who has far better things to do, and in 30 seconds flat you're on your way to her house to drag her to the advertised test site.

Now suppose that the test site turns out to be a booth at that cheap traveling carnival that just came to town. This probably disturbs you a little at first, but in your determination to silence (once and for all) all those gossipy relatives who you just know still suspect that if you'd just tried a little harder you could have chosen to become hetero, you forge on ahead, assuring your increasingly wary mother that once she meets these world-renowned scientists, all will become clear. Your mother rolls her eyes and stops a passing clown to ask for directions. "Follow me!" the clown nods, and leads you under an ornately decorated tent flap into a dark room with a table labeled "The Forefront of Sexual Orientation Research." The old woman behind the table lifts her gnarled, jewelry-laden hand and puts aside her crystal ball, then asks you to extend your upturned palms so she can do a palm reading.

Wait a minute—what's going on here? Do you trust this woman's scientific credentials?

Well, there's really no need to question them—she's got her framed Ph.D. diploma from the University of California at Berkeley Psychology Department hanging on the wall behind her. In fact, according to the ABC News article, the scientific credentials of palm readers everywhere are fully endorsed by a whole group of scientists in the U.C. Berkeley Psychology Department—at least as regards the palm readers' ability to verify a person's sexual orientation.

Fig. 1.: Heterosexual HandsAs the article states, Dr. Mark Breedlove and a group of his undergraduate psychology students at U.C. Berkeley questioned 720 people about their sexual orientation and then asked them all to stick their hands in a Xerox machine so their handprints could be photocopied. When the students measured the handprints, the article explains, they found that "the index fingers of lesbians tend to be much shorter than their ring fingers, whereas on straight women, the fingers are usually the same length." Gay men were also found to have longer ring fingers than index fingers, except that since all men tend on average to have slightly longer ring fingers than index fingers, men have to have a really big difference in finger lengths in order to get themselves declared certified queers. Well, and also the researchers couldn't get the finger lengths to correlate with sexual orientation in the case of firstborn sons. So if you're a firstborn son you've just plain got weird fingers and your sexual orientation is anybody's guess. But if you're a male with at least one older brother then the palm reader's definitely got your number.

Fig. 2.: Queer HandsSo go ahead now—check your fingers. Which is longer? Have you wasted the last 10, 25, or 50 years getting queer-bashed, disinherited and discriminated against just to find out you're really a heterosexual? Whoops! That's the problem with reality—as long as the "gay gene" remains imaginary, we're all free to assert that we have it, but as soon as somebody points to a specific gene and says "That's the one!" then somebody's bound not to have it. Check your fingers! Or maybe your fingers confirm you as the queer you always knew you were—now check your partner's fingers (or all your partners' fingers, if you're polyamorously involved at the moment). Uh-oh, time to get very worried.

At least, if you're the kind of person who believes everything you hear on the news, it's time to get very worried. Either that, or it's time to stop believing everything you hear on the news. Here are some of the interesting facts about the Breedlove finger study which the ABC News article either failed to mention or lied about outright:

This is pretty laughable pseudoscience, right? Even an elementary school kid would be able to figure out that Xerox machines don't measure finger lengths accurately to within the thickness of a credit card. So why did this study ever get any attention? Who funded it? How could a professor at a respected educational institution dare to publish it under his own name? Why did a supposedly respectable scientific journal like Nature pay him money to print it? And why did TV networks, radio networks and newspapers all over the world report on it and treat it as though it were worthy of at least some kind of serious consideration? Better yet, why did they get so many facts wrong ("the index fingers of lesbians tend to be much shorter . . .") and omit so many completely devastating criticisms (like the extreme unlikelihood of a Xerox machine being able to produce consistent finger lengths to within the thickness of a credit card)? What is the news media's agenda here?

Unfortunately, the Breedlove finger study described here is not in any way atypical of the quality of biological research done on sexual orientation so far—nor is it in any way atypical of how the news media have misreported and distorted all biological studies on sexual orientation to make them appear worthy of serious academic attention when in fact they are laughable pseudoscience.

Various News Reports on the Breedlove Finger Study

ABC News article
Associated Press article article
U.C. Berkeley press release
National Public Radio report (RealAudio)
MSN Chatterbox article
Chatterbox Follow-Up, One Year Later: "Does Being a Jock Make a Man Gay?"—A more recent study found that longer index fingers correlate with greater athletic ability. Perhaps hanging out in locker rooms with a lot of mostly-naked members of the same sex tends to turn members of both genders queer?

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© 2000-2009 by Gayle Madwin. All rights reserved.