The Truth, Mainly - 06/20/2005

Fruit flies, genes, sexual orientation
by Leon Satterfield

"It's a dirty, rotten shame," I say. "Why do they let these guys run loose? They oughta be locked up so they can't corrupt our innocence."

"You must be reading the sports page again," my wife says, not even looking up from her crossword puzzle. "Who's taking what illegal drug now?"

"Not the sports page," I say. "Nothing this depraved gets on the sports page."

"You're going to hurt your brain reading beyond the sports page," she says. "What is it then?"

"The on-line version of the June 3 New York Times," I say. "Just the most hoity-toity paper in the country and it's on the internet where impressionable children know all about how to call it up."

"So," she says, "you're still miffed because our grandkids know more about computers than you do?"

"The internet," I say, "is a cesspool of dirty stories our grandkids shouldn't be dipping into."

"Uh huh," she says, yawning. "What is it this time?"

"Scientists," I say. "Scientists who titillate innocent children with their so-called objectivity, especially when it has to do with private parts."

"What," she sighs, "are they saying this time?"

I close the front door so the kids walking down the sidewalk wonít be corrupted.

"It's awful," I say.

"Are they talking again about where babies come from?" she asks.

"Worse than that," I say. "They're talking about an experiment with innocent fruit flies. Get this: they transplanted a single gene from a girl fruit fly into a boy fruit fly. Then they transplanted a single gene from a boy fruit fly into a girl fruit fly. Is that sick or what?"

"Let me guess," she says. "The boy fruit fly with the girl fruit fly gene suddenly feels guilty if the dishes aren't washed and put away. The girl fruit fly with the boy fruit fly gene suddenly gets flatulent and asks little kid fruit flies to pull her finger."

"Worse than that," I say. "The girl fruit fly with the boy gene—and I'm quoting from the Times so Iím not talking dirty on my own—'pursued a waiting virgin female. It gently tapped the girl with its leg, played her a song (using wings as instruments) and, only then, dared to lick her—all part of standard fruit fly seduction.' Except they're both girls."

"Well," she says, "that's interesting."

"That's all?" I say. "Itís just 'interesting' that evil scientists tinker with sex as it's supposed to be? And even worse, get this: 'Males that were artificially given the female version of the gene became more passive and turned their sexual attention to other males.' Arghh!"

"Your face is getting purple and your eyes are bugging out," she says. "Let me take a picture to send to the kids."

"And listen to this," I say. "These scientists aren't just playing evil little jokes on the fruit flies. One of them bragged that 'We have shown that a single gene in the fruit fly is sufficient to determine all aspects of the flies' sexual orientation and behavior."

"And that makes you angry?" she says.

"You bet your boots," I say. "Everyone knows that when girls act like boys, they're evil. And boys acting like girls are even worse. It's abomination. Says so right there in Leviticus."

"Yes it does," she says, "just a page or two before it says it's evil to wear clothes mingled of wool and linen, or to plant two kinds of crops in the same field."

"Hah?" I say.

"Did it occur to you that these scientists might be onto something bigger than fruit flies?" she says, picking up my printout of the Times story. "One of them is quoted as saying 'This really makes you think about how much of our behavior, perhaps especially sexual behaviors, has a strong genetic component.'"

"I'm talking morality," I say, "not genetics."

"And here's another one," she says, "saying 'Hopefully this will take the discussion about sexual preferences out of the realm of morality and put it in the realm of science. I never chose to be heterosexual; it just happened.'"

"I see where this road leads," I say, "and I'm not going there."

"You," she says, "wouldn't want to be discriminated against because you answered the call of your genes, would you?"

"Hah?" I say.

"And if you wouldn't want that," she says, "what do you think others feel when they get discriminated against for answering the call of their genes?"

For a moment I can't think of anything to say. Then I remember.

"Abomination," I say, the word rolling deliciously across my tongue. I like the sound so much I say it again: "Abomination."

My wife rolls her eyes.

"What's another word," she says, looking up from her crossword puzzle, "for 'self-righteous'?"


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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