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 per cent 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 in Toledo, one of the authors of the study that appeared in the July 2003 issue of Psychology Bulletin. Blanchard et al. followed that with a 2006 study that suggested that left-handed men without older brothers are more likely to be gay than non-right-handed men who have older brothers. As Blanchard & Co. said in that 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 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 to be fascinated with the subject – that concluded that lefties are more accident prone and have “noticeably, and significantly shorter” life expectancies.
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 out of ten people is left-handed; precisely the same percentage of the population that many of us believe is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Making comparisons between being gay and being left-handed are nothing new. 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 in a world where most people are different from us. “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: while righties are “dextrous” (right), lefties are “sinister” (left); and those words have become part of our vocabulary as synonyms for good and evil, respectively. Until recently parents of left-handed children would force them to write with their right hands, just as parents of lesbian and gay children would 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 or transgendered people.
In practical terms, I 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 dextrous; hence not right, as opposed to adroit, or dextrous) 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. . . And 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 if the knowledge that Leonardo and Michelangelo were both queer and lefty would help Sinister Dick or Lavender Jane cope with their daily lives.
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.
by Jesse Monteagudo