Revisiting the Fag Hag Hypothesis

A few years ago, I speculated on how
some variety of male homosexuality may have evolved through the symbiotic interplay of kin-selective
"female surrogacy" and socially facilitated cuckoldry. Of course I assumed that
my armchair hypothesis was probably wrong, but every now and then
I come across anecdotal points that make me wonder. First, there was the cross-dressing cuttlefish. And more recently, the quant blogger cum Roissyphile known as "Agnostic" posted some thoughts on "why straight men rationally dislike gay men" that prompted the following comment:

Another reason to beware of your wife's gay boyfriend: In the ritzy
suburb of Palo Alto, California there was a few years ago a guy who
murdered his wife who had long ago cuckolded her. The couple were real
estate salespeople during the real estate boom, and the murder came
about long before the bust. The murder came about because the
cuckolding became public when the wife revealed to their son who his
real father was, after she had promised to never tell. This shamed the
husband and brought back bad memories, and he just couldn't stand it
any more.

The cuckolding occurred because his wife insisted on
inviting her gay boyfriend camping with them. Sweetheart, if you want
to be my husband, prove to me you're not a homophobe by bringing my
friend along. The husband obliged in this harmless proof of his
political correctness and ended up spending all the rest of his life
(a) raising another man's child and then (b) in prison for taking
revenge for (a).

Most gay men are bisexuals who normally find it
easier to score with other gay men than with women. Lesson learned the
hard way.

While I don't agree that preferential homosexuality is typically a strategy of convenience, there's no question that the scenario identified by the commenter … happens. I've seen it come up on daytime talkfests, and I've personally known "fag hags" whose close friendships with gay confidants have intermittently lapsed into sexual misadventure. The question is: how common are such occasions? Are they more common in polygamous social environments where effeminate males  might enjoy greater access to the harem over the long haul? Are they common enough to open the side door for the penetrance or sustenance of elusive gay genes?

My understanding is that the data on cuckoldry is all over the map and I assume that most furtive fathers are cads rather than lads, but if anyone knows of relevant research, I'd be interested.

Memento mori.    

31 thoughts on “Revisiting the Fag Hag Hypothesis

  1. I’m a member of a minority. My minority group appears to be biological in cause but nobody’s found the ‘gene’ for it yet. It shows up as a steady percentile in the population but doesn’t seem to follow family lines. There’s a higher percentage of mental illness and crime in my minority group, but also artistic and scientific talent. There are words that people toss around about us that are hurtful. A generation ago my people were put in ‘therapy’ and a few generations before that we were killed, just for who we are. I’m talking, of course, about being left handed. ‘Sinister,’ they say, and they talk about ‘left handed compliments.’ ‘Southpaw.’ Oh, it hurts inside.
    All behavior is biological, because this is a natural universe. ‘Nurture’ is one biological entity taking care of another biological entity. My money is on homosexuality as a side-effect of some other biological condition, in the way that sickle cell appears to have resistance to malaria as a side effect. Did I just say homosexuality is a disease? Oh no! I hurt someone’s feelings! No, I’m saying that resistance to a disease came at a cost. I’m saying that biological conditions have side effects. Whatever it was that made me ‘artistic’ probably also made me left handed. Nature isn’t really invested in making each one of her miracle snowflakes perfect or equal. I got dealt many good cards and a couple crummy ones (kidney stones – thanks, dad!).
    And as in my example, it’s a danger to identify a minority group too finely. Gay men and lesbian women don’t have all that much to do with each other. Not all all homosexual men are gay. Teh gay probably has several (all biological) causes. Homosexuality may not be a life-long state of being for all involved. There is no evolutionary reason there are exactly N hairs on my right index finger knuckle, it just happen that way, and it happened that there is less cultural value on my knuckle than ‘gay.’ Thank goodness.

  2. Wyndham Lewis wrote that ‘the “homo” is the legitimate child of the suffragette.’
    Actually he wrote quite a lot about women enabling gheys, from the 1920s, post-WWI perspective, when it became obvious that the ‘he-man’ was no longer necessary to Western civilization, and was in fact, undesirable, except as a commercial entity.
    Just as we consider the many factors which may or may not contribute to homosexualism, we must consider the various homosexual types and understand that their causes may be biological or otherwise, but they are diverse.

  3. I’ve seen evidence-deficient evo-psych theories about left-dexterity where it’s speculated that the “element of surprise” in combat may once have conferred a frequency-dependent advantage giving the first lefties enough of a battlefield edge to tip their odds of survival, thus enabling more reproductive opportunities. I doubt there’s anything to this, but on the surface the idea is probably more plausible than first-round gay-gene models, since the latter would presumably work themselves out of a population pretty quickly (unless there are countermanding factors working to sustain the balance, which is what my sex-surrogate-fag-hag notion proposes).
    I agree that the smart money is on some kind of a biological side effect (or pathogen), though I think this may be tough to reconcile with the seeming universality of male homosexuality. I also think there might be something to the idea that some male homosexuality might arise as an offshoot of sex-linked genes promoting female fecundity, as Camperio-Ciani argues.
    If you read my original post, you’ll see that I am mindful that the question is seriously complicated by typology, which is why I qualify my noodlings with the phrase “some variety.”
    Again, I’m pretty sure my idea goes nowhere. But I think there’s a small chance that it explains a lot. Maybe we’ll know one day.
    Thanks to all for the links.

  4. On a (slightly) related topic, I was just wondering: does bisexuality actually exist? I mean, I know it exists in behavior, but I’ve always suspected (with no real evidence to back myself up, only a hunch) that nobody’s truly bisexual. I think most bi’s are either 1)straights who, for various reasons, choose to do something “adventurous” like sleep with someone of their own sex,or 2)homos who don’t wanna be homo.
    What do y’all think? Anyone?

  5. Andy,
    I don’t know that there are empirical grounds to write off bisexual orientation completely, but in his book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, beleaguered sexologist J. Michael Bailey reports on plethysmograph-based research that is supportive of your hunch – at least with reference to men. In short, most men who self-identify as bisexual are binary in their response to visual stimuli; they’re turned on either by erotic images of men or women, homosex or heterosex, but seldom both. Rare is the male subject whose erectile tissue responds equally to gay and straight erotica. The flip side of this is that studies of female arousal find a “bisexual” response to visual stimuli to be quite common, if not normal. In other words, heterosexually-identified women are likely to find erotic images of men and women equally stimulating. One way to interpret this is to say that sexual orientation is very different for women than for men, which is probably true. But I don’t see why the case should rest there, since it is easy to imagine that for many self-identified male bisexuals the question of sexual identity may be different as well and may not be fully captured by crude measures of hard-on data. Human sexuality is complex, and critics who argue that Bailey’s approach is reductive may have a point.

  6. Cochran claims that it isn’t so universal, bushmen find it hard to believe the stories their agriculturalist neighbors tell them. Because agriculture gives rise to many more diseases (and the only other animal with human-like homosexuality is sheep, a domesticated animal) he things that’s more evidence for his theory.
    The NYT article on Bailey’s study, “Straight, Gay or Lying” is here:

  7. TGGP is correct to point out that the claim of universality is less established than textbook pronouncements imply. At the same time, I think skepticism is wise when confronted with outside ethnographic accounts, as Margaret Mead’s revisionist critics should remind us. When a behavior is burdened with taboo (as is likely wrt homosexuality), a tribal ambassador may be prone to fib. Ahmadinejad claims there are no homos in Iran.
    Homosexuality is documented in numerous preliterate, pre-agricultural societies — notably among Amerindian hunter-gatherers where we find the ‘berdaches,’ whose social role might bear some resemblance to that of the “female sex-surrogates” inhabiting my febrile imagination. And though post-contact Papa New Guineans may be on the DL these days, their pederastic rites remain notorious in the annals of anthropological pornography.

  8. To touch on a couple of intriguing points in your last post; viewing homosexualism, past and present, through the lenses of contemperary society, makes it impossible to see the whole picture, because those lenses will force the student to abide by the dictates of its contours.
    Due to our sexual society, we unconsciously reduce homosexuality, to ‘acts’ of sexuality, as old uncle Gore, used to say.
    Of course, there wasn’t much of anything more than that, left, by the time his generation of homosexualists came along.
    But homosexualism must be understood to be as an entirely different, the pure homosexualist is an entirely different person than the norman human being, historically, primitives have always understood that the homosexualists differed from normals in ways that didn’t involve sexuality.
    Jack Donovan and the late Alisdair Clarke, have, in their studies, barely touched beneath the surface of the extra-sexual ghey personality.
    Also, my favorite world leader’s words of wisdom tend to be lost in translation, but it’s worth noting that Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in favor of transexualism, an alternative which is almost forced upon many Iranian homosexualists.

  9. “The husband obliged in this harmless proof of his political correctness and ended up spending all the rest of his life (a) raising another man’s child and then (b) in prison for taking revenge for (a).”
    I get that the guy was screwed in that his wife was the jerk and society would lump the shame on him and who knows how their assets would get divided up and what each came in with prior to getting hitched and he might be getting a raw financial deal in a divorce… but for fuck’s sake the above ain’t so Point A to Point B.
    The comment says the guy knew the kid wasn’t his and stuck around for starters and he didn’t wind up in jail for obliging some harmless proof of his political correctness, he wound up in jail for m u r d e r.

  10. Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in favor of transexualism, an alternative which is almost forced upon many Iranian homosexualists.
    It’s not that uncommon in certain societies for “fem” gay men to be channeled into transgendered roles — see Brazil, Thailand. It’s not like Brazilians and Thais are disproportionately transgendered — it’s that these societies channel fem acting gay men into roles where they present as women — that serves to preserve, rather than subvert, the differences between masculine and feminine, in general — whereas fem acting gays and butch lesbians subvert the expected presentations and behavior of men and women, respectively. The berdache was the same, really.
    As for the orientation issue, my guess is that more women are “flexible” in theory than men are. Many more straight women seem to have f/f fantasies, for example — even though they never have and likely never will act out on them — than straight men have m/m fantasies. Men and women are different in this way.

  11. “I think most bi’s are either 1)straights who, for various reasons, choose to do something “adventurous” like sleep with someone of their own sex,or 2)homos who don’t wanna be homo.”
    I suppose you’d have to figure out what you would consider convincing evidence that bisexuality exists – since you’re suspicious of every single self-report. I don’t doubt that some self-identified bis identify that way for one of your given reasons, but I’m not sure how you get from that to doubting whether bisexuality exists. I’d probably put less stock in plethysmography than in self-reports in this case. Anyway, we have better behavioral correlates if you’re trying to measure sexual attraction: who people fuck. I’m not sure how you’d justify telling somebody who actively has sex with both men and women that he’s not “really” bisexual.
    I have a substantial amount of, uh, anecdotal evidence in favor of bisexuality “existing,” but I know this is a family website.

  12. Chip: studies with photographs only don’t take into account another major determinant of human sexual behavior: the sense of smell. Males are supposed to be predominantly visual creatures, but it’s possible that self-identified bisexual males may be more orientated toward choosing mates in the feminine, nasal manner. (Pardon me if this statement launches any silly mental images.) I’d like to see a study on that…
    My own ‘research,’ as a 5th-grader whose classroom teacher kept a lot of guinea pigs around, led me to the conclusion that bisexuality clearly exists, at least in the world of lagomorphs, who will enthusiastically hump anything that’s furry (without apparently trying to make any personal statement of adventuresome-ness whatsoever). Of course, since humans (unless drugged) only produce 1-2 pups per litter as opposed to the lagomorph’s 4-6, we might have benefited from more careful husbandry of sexual energy; as long as a guinea pig eventually stumbles upon a fertilizable hole, he will have great success. (Of course this would do little to explain why human homosexuality exists at all. Population control?)
    But whether the perp is self-identified queer or straight, cuckoldry in evolution is always interesting. I was reading me some John Wilmot and wondering why the cuckold is such a predominant figure in literature, particularly comic… maybe cos all those foppish heterosexuals flailing their plumes around with their fourth hands wanted their victims to think they were kidding?

  13. PS My pet evolutionary hypothesis about the “gay gene” — that it may be a strategy of group survival via overpopulation prevention, set to go off when the organism bearing it senses a surplus of fellow primates in its vicinity — besides being untested, is convoluted enough to sound (like so many hypotheses about evolution which are based on speculation) suspiciously like intelligent design. “Who is this God Evolution, and why did He design Woman such that she would invent the phallic prosthesis?” Trevor Blake’s “knuckle hair” hypothesis seems more reasonable.

  14. From the Yudkowsky post:
    “…if a hypothesis is improperly promoted to your attention – your sense of aesthetics suggests a beautiful way for Nature to be, and yet natural selection doesn’t involve an Evolution Fairy who shares your appreciation – then this alone may seal your doom, unless you can manage to clear your mind entirely and start over.”
    I agree with this, and the temptation to romantic teleology — manifest in crude “group selection” models — is highlighted in my original “Fag Hag” post, right at the outset. Evolution is a sieve. Individual selection at the genetic level explains everything sufficiently. But it’s important to distinguish between fairy-tale “group selection” and more sophisticated models of kin selection that favor behaviors and traits that select for genes through circuitous routes that don’t center on the organism. Classic examples focus on altruism in insect populations, but it is certainly possible to imagine a scenario where some sort of ecological imbalance is ultimately offset by genes favoring breeding restraint (or something else), which from the outside would appear as a population control toggle from on high. Under the right conditions culture can probably facilitate and amplify kin-selective effects until the distinction between group selection and individual selection seems increasingly semantic. Ethno-nationalism and near/far problem of empathic response may thus be explainable as forms of telescoped kin-selective adaptations that initially evolved to favor specific genes. Group x adopts custom y and consequently replicates more genes than group z. If it works, it will look like group adaptation, and folk psychology guarantees that observers will infer motives and ethical imperatives where none exist.

  15. Hmmmmm… after my brain slowly ground through the above arguments, it occurred to me that the closest thing we have to potential Evolution Fairies are dictatorships. What if some curious philosopher-king decided to spay/neuter all the self-identified heterosexuals (or the children of parents with multiple offspring, for a milder version of the experiment) just to see what happened? Not quite laboratory conditions, but with proper border patrols…

  16. Sister Y,
    I have an easier time with the notion that women can be bisexual. But that might just be my “typical (heterosexual) male” lurid and perverse fantasies on display.
    It may also be the inherently, let’s say, “invasive” and unhygenic nature of the guy-on-guy act that makes me doubt the exisentence of bisexuality in men. If you’re actually willing to take part in THAT, an act which sickens and repels most guys (heck, even the thought of getting a prostate check makes us extremely uncomfortable), and if beyond tolerating it you even ENJOY it, then it seems to me you MUST be homosexual. Girl-on-girl acts, whatever they may be, don’t involve a committment to something so extreme as anal penetration; therefore I could more easily understand an openness to “experimentation” among women.

  17. Lots of guys enjoy the invasive, allegedly unhygienic act you are talking about, but with the invasive party being a woman. Most of those dudes are definitely, definitely not homosexual in orientation.
    I don’t understand the association between anal action and gayness that hetero men seem to have. Plenty of heteros and bi/lesbian girls do it, too. So do animals, for that matter. (Male bighorn sheep live in gay communes until breeding season.)
    From Psychology Today:
    Groups of male bighorn sheep engage in genital licking and anal intercourse to the point of ejaculation. Interestingly, individuals uninterested in such same-sex contact are kicked out of the group. Field workers describe the all-male orgies of giraffes, dolphins, gray whales, killer whales, and West Indian manatees among others.

  18. FWIW, I’m gay and I’ve been with guys who were bisexual – i.e. married, had girlfriends, etc… and one commonality that I noticed among the guys I really believe were into women, and not just closeted, was that they couldn’t get it up or keep it up when with a man. They loved orally servicing another guy, but they didn’t get an erection doing it or when having it done to them. One guy in particular was actually extremely embarrassed by this. On the other hand, every “bisexual” guy I’ve been with who could get it up, when pressed, always admitted to liking guys more. To be frank, I think that most bisexual men are closeted homosexuals, and a significant minority are straight men with some weird fetish for sucking cock. I doubt very much that truly bisexual men exist.

  19. I have at least two friends who fit with the pattern Mark mentions – mostly into women, occasionally want to be with a guy, but only as a “bottom” (orally or otherwise) and don’t necessarily have an erection during this process. This is a very interesting (and hot) phenomenon!
    But it is also my experience that bi guys – even by the above definition – are rare unicorns indeed. I don’t believe in non-bi girls, though (except butch lesbians who are probably closer to FTM trans).

  20. It seems to be the intuitive/experiential consensus that bisexuality is roughly 100 percent more likely to occur in females than in males… but only among humans. Or great apes, anyway. No wonder we got the idea that we aren’t quite like the other fauna.
    (Ann dressed in male-sheep drag, booming voice treatment): What’s wrong with you frigid goddamn monkeys?! It’s not like your she-apes are any good in bed. No wonder you spend so much time playing video games! You see me pretending to drive a car around in a circle? I got better holes to deal with!(Runs off to dryly research sex life of non-human apes.)

  21. However I agree with you if one is ready to accept to wear a scarf when visiting a church, the least we can do is to wear head-covering in our own shul if it is required! I’ve always believed that these laws have more to do with men in general than with Judaism in particular.

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