Small, dark and fiercely intelligent, Dr Qazi Rahman speaks quickly and excitedly about his specialist subject — what makes us gay?
Rahman is the assistant professor in cognitive biology at London’s Queen Mary University — I started our conversation by asking what cognitive biology means.
“We’re really looking at what is the function of various human behaviours — for example, why do babies cry?” Rahman explains. “We look to understand the behaviour by asking a series of questions: How does that behaviour increase reproduction? Is it learned behaviour or genetically hard-wired? How does the behaviour develop during your life-span? Is there a similar behaviour in comparable species? I’m using that same framework to try and understand homosexual behaviour — what makes us gay?”
I suggested that watching a lot of Will & Grace might have had something to do with my sexual orientation, but Rahman quickly rubbishes this suggestion.
“Fifty years of psychological research has not been able to document any psycho-social basis or learning of homosexual orientation. Any suggestion that you could decide or learn to be gay is based on the traditional understanding of psychology that believed that everything was learned behaviour. Heterosexuality was seen as the norm, and therefore any variation from that was deviant — generally it was some form of ‘failure’ in the parenting of the child that was seen to have led to homosexual behaviour.”
“Around the mid-80s and up to the early-90s more detailed research was completed — particularly in relation to to kids who showed early indicators of being ‘different’. This research has shown that differences in parental rearing style, or what parents did to their kids, didn’t predict whether kids would grow up gay.”
What about the notion of the absent or distant father, or the dominant mother?
“In the research, some kids do report fathers being distant but there is a general acceptance that this is likely to be the parent reacting to differences in the child as opposed to the other way around. In relation to the influence of a dominant mother, or Oedipal complex, suggesting that boys were unable to get over their attraction to their mother and therefore become gay — this just doesn’t make any sense and requires leaps in logic that don’t bear any scrutiny.”
So how does Rahman and his fellow scientists define sexual orientation?
“At its most basic level, the question is: Which gender attracts your attention? When you walk into a room does your gaze travel to guys or girls? Sexual orientation is like a rudder — generally an either/or kind of trait. About 95–98% of people are oriented to the opposite sex and can be classified as heterosexual.”
If somewhere above 95% of people can be classified as heterosexual, that means that the percentage of guys who are gay is a lot lower than I’d imagined. I quizzed Rahman on my understanding that we were generally working on a one-in-10 rule.
“That’s a bit of an urban myth based on an interpretation of Kinsey’s ground-breaking research. Based on today’s research it’s more like 2% to 5%.”
I take our conversation back to the starting point of what makes us gay. Rahman’s research is exploring a number of theories:
“We know that there is no such thing as a ‘gay gene’, but there could be a combination of genes that leads to a guy being attracted to males. Research has shown us that one in seven gay men owe their sexual orientation to having an older brother. Each older brother increases your chance of being gay by 33%, and so the more older brothers you have the more likely you are to be gay.”
“What we don’t know is why that is the case — we think it might be that the mother’s immune system forms antibodies against male proteins in the developing foetus, potentially making the brain more feminine. It’s just a theory but there is some interesting research that suggests that it’s part of the picture.”
“We also know that gay men generally come from larger families, not just immediate but extended, primarily on the mother’s side. One of the theories being explored is that the evolution of homosexuality provides some sort of reproductive advantage to the relatives of gay people. For example the female relatives of gay men appear to be more reproductive than those females without gay men in their family.”
Cognitive biology looks at what comparable species can tell us about human behaviour, so what does this tell us about homosexuality?
“Loads of animals exhibit same-sex behaviour, but we don’t have any other comparable species that show life-long same-sex orientation as we know it in humans…” Rahman explains. “While there are no comparable species, we do see it in some. For example 5%–10% of male sheep will consistently only go for other male sheep — even if other options are presented. Zebra Finches also consistently demonstrate life-long same-sex orientation. But amongst primates, humans are quite unique in this sense.”
“For me, the big question is evolutionary. Why does a trait like homosexuality, which is non-reproductive, persist in evolution when natural selection should have got rid of it? Genes for homosexuality exist but gay men — who rarely have biological children — are not passing these genes on, so why does it exist?”
This is one line of research definitely worth keeping an eye on.
We want to hear your opinion
“I was walking straight into a trap…”
Finally my Imaging software session had come around, and dear old Louisa greeted me like a long lost friend. I had hoped to make the most of my three hour session, unsure when I would next get another opportunity, but alas t’was not the case. Once she had set her five students up on their computers, she motioned for me to sit down at her desk. “I wanted to ask you, as a businessman, what your thoughts were on the way I’ve been treated?” she started. I assumed she had not been successful in her interview for the position as deputy head of education. “If I was so shit at my job…” she continued, “why the hell did they leave me on my own to cover the job of two people, and promise me that it would only be a rubber stamp to make it permanent? I’ve been used!” “So who got the job then?” I asked “There was another guy who applied for it at the same time as me, but they couldn’t give it to him because he’s got formal complaints against him, but he’s fucking Pam, the Head of education, so she’s recommended him, and they put me in the job over the summer, and have now re-interviewed both of us, and given it to him.” Oh dear, now she was getting nasty, and I was pretty sure that the prison would have had something to say about this line of conversation between a member of staff and an inmate.
Evidently, Pam, the acting Head of education was already employed full time at another prison, so in effect both positions had been available, so now they had promised her that within six months if both of them worked out OK, the new guy would be promoted to head of Education, and she would finally get her deputies position. At this stage though she was extremely bitter over the entire process, and I had to admit, they had treated her rather shoddily, however even I’d had a pretty good idea from the onset that she wouldn’t be successful. She had completely neglected her teaching commitments throughout the entire probation period, and even in absentia, the hierarchy must have been able to see that, from the student numbers registered for a start. Then it dawned on me,and I felt quite sorry for the poor dear. She had absolutely no idea why she was in this situation, and I realised at the moment that the majority of the staff in these establishments were in the same predicament. A wise old man had once coined a phrase which I had remembered for some thirty years - Sooner or later we all rise to our own level of incompetence! And it was never truer than in this situation.
Suddenly it all made sense. I had been giving these people far more credit than they deserved. I had mistakenly imagined that they were all deliberately out to get me, to grind me down and stop me from succeeding in any activity I attempted, but when I really thought about it, I kicked myself for not recognising the facts sooner. In order to plot to deliberately sabotage something, one has to have the intellect to plan it. The real issue here was that these people were just too stupid to realise that they had risen as far as they were ever going to go, and were not capable of anything more. I suddenly realised that throughout my entire life I had never ever been exposed to a demographic of people with such little mental capacity, and aspiration, much less had to deal with them on a daily basis! I had never even stopped to consider that this calibre of person even existed.
Up until now I had almost prided myself in the fact that I could communicate on almost any level, and of course I had come across people in my life who worked in different fields or had different goals, and different expectations from life, but that was just it, even those people had actually had goals and expectations. These people had none! The majority of them had become completely institutionalised, and their whole life goal was to work their way up to be senior prison workers on a maximum of £44,000 per annum, after which they would retire on their government pension of £142.00 per fortnight and live out their days in abject poverty.
It was as if we had been travelling in different lanes on the highway of life. The majority of friends and associates I mixed with were entrepreneurs, and most were extremely wealthy by comparison but that was not the point. Absolutely each and every one of them was incredibly goal driven, and I could pretty much guarantee that none of them had relied on government hand-outs at any stage of their lives, and certainly wouldn’t be in retirement! I realised that I had been altogether too harsh on the staff in these establishments. I had credited them all with far too much intelligence, and in actual fact they deserved my pity rather than my regard, much less fear.
Sure, I had made a mistake and I was paying the price, but in less than twelve months now, I would be out of here and would resume my life, where I had left off, in fact, better off than when I had come in here, thanks to self-reflection and with the benefit of at least two book manuscripts ready to publish, but quite aside from that even, pretty much everything I had had prior to my incarceration was all ready and waiting for me on my release, and I would be free to resume my somewhat jet-set lifestyle by comparison. Even in my current situation, I had a lot to be thankful for, not least, that I had been blessed with half a brain, and parents who had given me the best education and grounding possible. Poor old Louisa, and those like her had shackled themselves to a life sentence, with no hope of improvement, simply because they were completely ignorant of their options and opportunities, and lacked the motivation to act on them even if they had stumbled upon them. It made me even more determined not waste a minute more than I had to, to make every minute in here count, and more importantly, to make the most of every card I had been dealt.
God Knows my family and I have not always seen eye to eye, and both my Mother and Father have behaved badly at times in the past, but this light bulb moment had made me eternally grateful, for all the tools with which they had provided me in life. I had been thinking for quite some time about a way I could make a difference. In the past I had never really stopped to think about the circumstances of others. I had seen some terrible suffering and desperation abroad, had written about natural disasters, and the devastation of war torn countries for years and had donated to various charities to support these causes in the past, but prior to coming to prison I had never stopped to think about the needs of those less fortunate than me closer to home. This was mainly because I had never mixed with people in housing estates, and I suspect, like most other people I know, had never even considered the problems and difficulties prison would bring, let alone been aware of the total destruction of peoples lives as a result of this form of punishment.
To a large degree the Government was at fault for this because to the general public, they were constantly feeding propaganda through mainstream media. When we switch on the television, we see news reports of people being gaoled for 16 years for murder, or rape, and we feel smug and comfortable, and content that justice has been served. What we don’t realise is that people are held for sometimes over twelve months on remand, waiting for their trial to even be heard. During this time they will lose everything, On the outside, not being aware of the system, we assume that these people are guilty because they are locked up, but it goes far deeper than that. For many they are arrested and have no time to put their affairs in order beforehand, so everything they own is left in the hands of others. More often than than not, they are not even able to contact someone to make arrangements on their behalf, and by the time they do, everything has either been cleared out and left on the street by landlords, or looted and pilfered by those they know.
I had decided that I wanted to do something to assist in the rehabilitation of some of these people. Having completed my first book, and by now half way through my second, and having read numerous books of a similar genre I was confident that mine would be successful. I had also started to consume every last piece of information I could lay my hands on about PR, social media and book promotion, and was determined to be an expert in these fields also by my release, so if the books weren’t successful to begin with, they bloody well would be by the time I had finished with them! I would make sure of it!
I also realised that I wasn’t really dependant on the income that would be generated from them, and that those funds could be better used for the benefit of others, so over the past month or so, I had conceived a plan to set up a charity, supporting victims of the drug industry into legitimate self employment. There were a number of reasons for this rather tight term of reference. 1. I realised that I would not be able to save everyone! 2. I rationalised that if someone could run a drug dealing business, they could also use the same skills to run a legitimate enterprise. 3. My entire adult working life had been consumed with small businesses of one description or another and I felt I had the necessary skills and experience, but also colleagues and peers which I was sure would help with this, 4. I only wanted to help those who were passionate about helping themselves. Therefore if they had the drive and determination to want to start their own business, I had the means to make them succeed! 5. Throughout my own holdings, I had a myriad of useful resources in a number of different countries that could be utilised, improving the efficiency and speed of the start ups.
There were also a number of obstacles to overcome, particularly since I had now decided to leave the UK. 1. I would be banned from the UK until the end of my entire sentence before I would be able to apply to have my deportation order lifted, so would be unable to personally monitor and assist UK based businesses 2. I would also find it difficult to recruit interns or candidates for the trust from the UK because I would not be able to meet them, and if they were released on licence they would not be able to initially travel abroad, until their licence was expired.
Of course these were not insurmountable, and I knew that I could get around them by either appointing an agent in the UK, or by the use of social media and a good website, together with media promotion through my television and magazine contacts, but still they were issues which needed to be addressed. After my chat with Louisa over her problems I finally got to start work on my book covers, but before long she wheeled herself over on her office chair and continued the conversation, this time about me, and she wanted to know what I was going to do when I got out. By this stage I had pretty much decided that I was going to live in either Aachen, Germany, where I had a property, or Monaco, as my boat was moored in neighbouring Menton, France. She had looked at me as if I was mad!
We then started discussing the books and she wanted to know what they were all about. I was happy to discuss them and also pleased with my concept of the charity that I also shared with her, inadvertently letting my guard down and never for one minute realising that I was walking straight into a trap, and the next question took me completely by surprise. “Can I come and work for you then?” Hmmm, how was I to answer that one. It was one thing to feel sorry for her, but I wasn’t that sorry! Jesus, what on earth could I get her to do? Caught completely unawares, I backtracked, conscious that I was obviously giving her the brush off but not really knowing how to extract myself delicately. “Well it’s going to be a while before there is anything to do.” I answered. “Well I could vet your candidates for you, I could work with the prison service and promote the charity through the education departments. You said you needed a UK agent!” Interesting how she was obviously clever enough to identify an opportunity for self-promotion! Perhaps she was not worthy of my pity after all, perhaps she was merely lazy, as I had already suspected. I agreed to talk about it closer to the time, and turned my attention back to the computer screen, but I was conscious that she was aware she had been given the brush-off.
Double Bubble is the third book in The Chemsex Trilogy - a series of books written by Cameron Yorke about his experience with Chemsex, addiction, and imprisonment in the UK.
We are serialising Double Bubble on Mainly Male. This is the 27th instalment in the serialisation. Go back to read earlier instalments.
“I was walking straight into a trap…”
“I was now earning £12 per day…”
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