Julie Ryan Evans of The Stir sent me a previously uncited link last night to a blog post on The Guardian‘s website featuring a photo (left) of the print-only Irish version of The Sun confirming the veracity of 28-year-old Penny Lawrence’s romantic relationship with her biological father, Garry Ryan. (Thank you, Julie.) The couple suffer from Genetic Sexual Attraction, a psychological condition that causes adults who are genetically related but who were not exposed to each other during childhood to feel romantic love for one another. Theirs is not the first instance of GSA nor will it likely be that last; GSA seems to be a fairly common side-effect felt by individuals who meet their blood relatives for the first time as adults.
Many people, including Evans, have no sympathy for the couple, despite their claim of GSA. In her blog post on the topic, Evans writes, “it’s illegal … and disgusting,” adding, “I’m sure it’s tough to grow up without a father, but it still doesn’t excuse or explain such a relationship.” I agree that GSA might not excuse such a relationship, but I do think it explains it, and the presence of so many biologically related couples suffering from GSA should encourage society at large to treat it as a real psychological issue, not a sexual taboo. The Guardian‘s 2003 expose on the subject says, “The emergence of GSA both in the US and the UK coincided with the relaxation of adoption laws in the mid-1970s, which gave adopted children easier access to their records and led to an increase in the number of reunions between adoptees and their blood relatives.” Experts believe “the frequency of these cases is almost impossible to quantify, although some agencies estimate that elements of GSA occur in 50% of reunions.”
The Guardian notes that instances of GSA are only going to increase as a generation of babies conceived using IVF and sperm donation seeks out their biological parents. They quote Sue Cowling, deputy director of the Post-Adoption Centre, as saying, “Genetic sexual attraction associated with IVF births is a time bomb waiting to go off.” Cowling “suspects that the subject has remained a no-go area, even for psychologists, because even in a society wide awake to the spectre of paedophilia and sexual abuse in families, GSA – which falls into neither category – threatens to explode too many cosy assumptions about “normal” and aberrant sexual instincts.”
Exactly. It’s the old, “If we allow gays to marry, what’s next? Who’s to stop someone from wanting to marry a sheep – or their mother?” argument. (In that example, marrying your mother is way worse than marrying a sheep, by the way.) I don’t disagree that victims of GSA should be encouraged NOT to act on their feelings for one another, but I think it will be much harder for those experiencing sexual attraction to birth relatives to deal with their feelings if this condition isn’t openly acknowledged and talked about. These people need help, not scorn.
Furthermore, stigmatizing GSA is only going to cause incest advocates to adopt it as a pet cause, like the individual behind the website Full Marriage Equality, which both supports gay marriage AND incest – a conflation any gay marriage advocate would be smacking themselves in the head over. A blog post on the Full Marriage Equality site goes so far as to congratulate Lawrence and her father on their happy relationship, saying, “They are consenting adults who should be allowed to marry…. We wish them the best as a consanguinarmorous couple and family.”
In 2008, when California first sanctioned gay marriage, many people argued that “the California Supreme Courts legal reasoning could be applied to polygamous and incestuous marriages.” Glen Lavy of the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund wrote in the LA Times, “Although some proponents of same-sex “marriage” have been trying to distance themselves from polygamy, it is, and long has been, defended by powerful voices like the American Civil Liberties Union.” (Thanks to shows like Big Love and Sister Wives, polygamy hardly seems taboo anymore.) Jon W. Davidson of Lambda Legal countered, “Polygamy and incest have not become legal in Massachusetts, Canada or any of the other countries where same-sex couples can marry, and they’re quite unlikely to be recognized in California.”
That’s the thing: victims of GSA do understand that they’re breaking the law when they indulge in their physical desire for one another, but they can’t seem to help themselves. The few experts in GSA insist that it really is not an incestuous urge, so it’s sad to see Lawrence’s story co-opted by a site like Full Marriage Equality which stands for nothing by standing for everything. No one wants to see incest supported by society, but victims of GSA need some level of sympathy. After all, if your child was conceived using a donor embryo and he or she wishes to meet her biological parents someday, there’s a 50% chance they’ll experience some level of obsession or Genetic Sexual Attraction, too.
Source: The Guardian