For example, in a 2008 study psychologist Kelley Drummond and her colleagues interviewed 25 adult women who were referred by their parents for assessment at a mental health clinic when they were between three and 12 years old. At the time, all these girls had several diagnostic indicators of gender identity disorder. They might have strongly preferred male playmates, insisted on wearing boys' clothing, favored rough-and-tumble play, stated that they would eventually grow a penis or refused to urinate in a sitting position. Although only 12 percent of these women grew up to be gender dysphoric (the uncomfortable sense that your biological sex does not match your gender), the odds of these women reporting a bisexual or homosexual orientation were up to 23 times higher than would occur in a general sample of young women. Not all tomboys become lesbians, of course, but these data suggest that lesbians often have a history of cross-sex-typed behaviors.
And the same holds for gay men. Bailey and Zucker, who conducted a retrospective study in which adults answered questions about their past, revealed that 89 percent of randomly sampled gay men recalled cross-sex-typed childhood behaviors exceeding the heterosexual median.
Critics have argued that participants' memories may be distorted to fit with societal expectations and stereotypes. But in a clever study published in 2008 in Developmental Psychology, evidence from childhood home videos validated this retrospective method. People blindly coded child targets on the latter's sex-typical behaviors, as shown on the screen. The authors found that “those targets who, as adults, identified themselves as homosexual were judged to be gender nonconforming as children.”
Numerous studies have since replicated this general pattern, revealing a strong link between childhood deviations from gender role norms and adult sexual orientation. There is also evidence of a “dosage effect”: the more gender-nonconforming characteristics there are in childhood, the more likely it is that a homosexual or bisexual orientation will be present in adulthood.
Not all little boys who like to wear dresses grow up to be gay, nor do all little girls who despise dresses become lesbians. Many will be straight, and some, let's not forget, will be transsexuals. I was rather androgynous, showing a mosaic pattern of sex-typical and atypical behaviors. In spite of my parents' preferred theory that I was simply a young Casanova, Zucker and Bailey's findings may account for that old Polaroid snapshot in which 11 of the 13 other children at my seventh birthday party are little girls. But I wasn't an overly effeminate child, was never bullied as a “sissy” and, by the time I was 10, was indistinguishably as annoying, uncouth and wired as my close male peers.
On the Monkey Bars
In fact, by age 13, I was deeply socialized into masculine norms. I took to middle school wrestling as a rather scrawny 80-pound eighth grader, and in so doing, ironically became all too conscious of my homosexual orientation.
Cross-cultural data show that prehomosexual boys are more attracted to solitary sports such as swimming, cycling and tennis than they are to rougher contact sports such as football and soccer; they are also less likely to be childhood bullies. In any event, I distinctly recall being with the girls on the monkey bars during recess in second grade while the boys were in the field playing football and looking over at them, thinking to myself how that was rather strange. I wondered why anyone would want to act that way.
Researchers readily concede that there are quite likely multiple—and no doubt extremely complicated—developmental routes to adult homosexuality. Heritable, biological factors interact with environmental experiences to produce sexual orientation. Because the data often reveal very early emerging traits in prehomosexuals, children who show pronounced sex-atypical behaviors may have more of a genetic loading to their homosexuality, whereas gay adults who were sex-typical as children might trace their homosexuality more directly to particular childhood experiences.