Left-handed and Queer: Is there a connection?
by Jesse Monteagudo -
Special to the SGN
According to a 2003 study by Canadian scientists, Lesbians and Gay men are more likely than others to be left-handed. Putting together the results of 20 previous studies that involved more than 23,000 men and women, the scientists concluded that the odds of being left-handed are 39% higher in Lesbians and Gays than in straights. Broken down by gender, they found that Gay men are 34% more likely to be left-handed and Lesbians are 91% more likely to be left-handed.
'This is one more piece of evidence that sexual orientation is at least partly determined in the womb,' said Ray Blanchard, head of the Clinical Sexology Program at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, a co-author of the study, which appeared in the July 2003 issue of Psychology Bulletin. Blanchard et al. followed that with a 2006 study suggesting that left-handed men without older brothers are more likely to be Gay than non-right-handed men who do have older brothers. As Blanchard and company said in the report, 'The odds of homosexuality is higher for men who have a non-right-hand preference or who have older brothers relative to men with neither of these features, but the odds for men with both features are similar to the odds for men with neither.'
This was not the first time that scientists noted a connection between being Queer and being left-handed. In 1993, researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that 69% of Lesbians and 45% of Gay men interviewed were left-handed in 'at least one of 12 simple manual tasks.'
Sandra Witelson, a co-author of the McMaster study, speculated that the higher incidence of left-handedness could be due to differences in brain organization resulting from differing hormonal levels while in the womb. Coincidentally, that study appeared at the same time as one by the University of British Columbia (Canadians seem to be fascinated with the subject) that concluded lefties are more accident-prone and have 'noticeably, and significantly shorter' life expectancies.
MUCH IN COMMON
As a left-handed Gay man, I am interested in all possible links and similarities between my dexterity and my sexual orientation. Though it is tempting to presume a common, prenatal origin for both left-handedness and homosexuality, the fact remains that both conditions are not necessarily linked. There are, after all, many straight 'lefties' and many Gay 'righties.' Still, Gays and lefties have a lot in common - if not in origins, then in numbers, conditions, and consequences. For one thing, it is estimated that one in ten people is left-handed - the same percentage of the population many of us believe is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender.
This observation isn't new, either. In their 1988 book Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life, authors Warren J. Blumenfeld and Diane Raymond devoted a whole chapter, 'A Discussion About Differences: The Left-Handed Analogy,' to the topic. Blumenfeld and Raymond reminded us that lefties, like LGBT people, are discriminated against just for being who we are. 'Though you might not think your friend or mother or classmate is all weird because she or he is left-handed, such tolerance has not always been the case,' they wrote. 'In fact, for centuries, left-handed people have been viewed with scorn and even, at times, with fear. & [I]n the Middle Ages, left-handed people were sometimes accused of being witches or sorcerers,' just like Gay people. The devil himself was thought to be left-handed. Language reflects prejudice - the Latin-derived Old English words dexterous (right) and sinister (left) are today synonyms for good and evil, respectively. Until fairly recently, parents and teachers of left-handed children often would force them to write with their right hands, just as parents of Lesbian and Gay children often force them to behave heterosexually. Even today, according to Jack Fincher in Lefties, 'Left-handers are one of the last surviving minorities in our society with no organization, no collective power or goals, and no real sense of common identity.' Fifty years ago, this statement could have applied to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered people.
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
In practical terms, I have probably suffered more from being left-handed than I have for being Gay. Like other lefties, I have had to deal with the complexities of being left-handed in a right-handed world, and learn to manage tools and machinery that were built for righties. According to Fincher, 'the left-hander's lot must have taken a quantum leap for the worse with the Industrial Revolution. Machine-made tools meant that he had better learn to make his maladroit [not dexterous, hence not right, as opposed to adroit, or dexterous] best of a bad arrangement.' If lefties are accident-prone, as the British Columbia study suggests, it is because we are forced to live in a mirror-image world.
'In a lifetime of left-handedness, my poor body has experienced many broken bones, cuts, and other injuries resulting from that split-second's time necessary to adapt to a world oriented to right-handed people,' wrote Jay Quinn, Gay author and lefty, in The Mentor. In fact, according to James T. de Kay, author of The Left-Hander's Handbook, 'About the only thing that actually favors left-handers is the toll booth.'
Like Gays, lefties are thought to be more creative than others. 'A lot of hard evidence shows that most left-handers - because they are dominated by a different kind of brain - are a distinctly different kind of people,' wrote de Kay. 'They literally think differently, & tend to translate everything into visual imagery, [and] ... are more apt to think holistically, skipping over the details. ... Which explains why so many creative people have been left-handed & [a]nd why left-handers seem almost to dominate show business.' Both Queers and lefties try to bolster our causes by listing famous Gays and lefties, as though the knowledge that Leonardo and Michelangelo were both Queer and lefty would help Sinister Dick or Lavender Jane cope with their daily lives.
Yes, there is a danger in taking the left-Gay analogy too far. After all, it is not against the law for a lefty to marry another lefty. But in a world that values conformity, both Queers and lefties stand out by the very nature of our differences. Just as LGBT people have come out of our respective closets, left-handed people are finally asserting ourselves, if only by demanding tools and equipment that is 'left-friendly.' For myself, I am as happy and proud to be a lefty as I am to be an out Gay man, and I wouldn't change either my dexterity or my sexuality.
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