Queer and Lefty | Opinion

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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 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 homosexuals than in heterosexuals. 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 and one of the authors of the study published in the July 2003 issue of Psychology Bulletin. Blanchard and his associates followed that with a 2006 study that suggested that left-handed men without older brothers (like myself) are more likely to be gay than non-right-handed men who have older brothers: “the odds of homosexuality [are] higher for men who have a non-right hand preference.”

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 that study, speculated that the higher incidence of left-handedness may be because “brain organization may be different than in others” resulting from differing hormonal levels while in the mother’s womb. Coincidentally, that study appeared at the same time as another study, this one by the University of British Columbia — Canadians seem fascinated by the topic — that concluded that lefties are more accident-prone and have “noticeably, and significantly shorter” life expectancies. Ouch!

Later studies seem to confirm these assessments. In 2019 psychologist Chris McManus and a team of researchers weighed on the matter and concluded that while “many studies in the 1980s and 1990s had asked whether there was any relationship with handedness, and we, like others, had concluded that there was not … a meta-analysis of 20 studies, including our own, with a grand total of 6182 homosexual men altered that situation, male homosexuals having a significantly higher likelihood of being left-handed. The earlier studies had mostly failed through being too small, a typical study having about three hundred homosexual men, and hence being under-powered. That was later confirmed in the large BBC Internet study of sex and sexuality, where 4,616 male homosexuals showed a significant excess of left-handedness, with a similar effect found in the 2008 female homosexuals.

As a left-handed gay man, I am interested in all possible links and similarities between my left-handedness and my sexual orientation. Though it is tempting to presume a common, prenatal origin for both southpaws and gays, the fact remains that both conditions are not necessarily linked. There are, after all, many straight “lefties” and many queer “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 out of ten people are left-handed; precisely the same percentage of the population that many of us believe is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Like LGBT people, southpaws are discriminated against just for being who we are in a world where most people are different from us. In the words of Jack Fincher, author of “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.”

In practical terms, I probably suffered more from being left-handed than I have for being a gay man. Like other southpaws, I had to deal with manage tools and machinery built for right-handed people. If lefties are accident-prone, as the British Columbia study suggests, it is because we are forced to live in a mirror image world. Like LGBT people, lefties are thought to be more creative than others. Both queers and lefties try to bolster our causes by listing famous gays and lefties, as if the knowledge that both Leonardo and Michelangelo were left-handed queers help us any. There is a danger in carrying the lefty-gay analogy too far. But in a world that values conformity, both queers and lefties stand out due to 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 are “left-friendly.” For myself, I am as happy and proud to be an out lefty as I am to be an out gay man, and I wouldn’t change my dexterity or my sexuality.


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