Monday, 1 July 2013

Ology of the Month - Genetics and Evolutionary Biology

This month’s Ology is one to which I have a family connection. My grandmother’s family, the Alvys, originate in central Nottinghamshire. One family member, Elizabeth Alvey, married John Hill of Sleaford in Lincolnshire. Their daughter, another Elizabeth, married Robert Darwin of Elston Hall, Nottinghamshire. Their grandson was Dr. Erasmus Darwin, a famous scientist and thinker in his day. His grandson was Charles Darwin, the famous naturalist and evolutionary thinker. The Alvey name continued in the family, and several of Charles’s brothers and uncles had it as their middle name. My branch of the family dropped the “e” from the name just before the 20th century began.

So when it comes to evolution I have a family link to Darwin. Bearing that in mind I have chosen to deal with things evolutionary and genetic for July. That covers everything from gene therapy to genealogy. In fact, if DNA is involved it’s included in this month’s Ology.

Most sciences, as has been demonstrated in previous months, have cross-over disciplines. Genetics and evolution is no exception. I’ve already dealt with various aspects of human evolution with an article on Francis Turville-Petre, and with dinosaurs in that on Count Franz Nopcsa.

Perhaps the most significant discussion in the area of human evolution for a gay man like myself is of the “origin” of homosexuality – the Nature or Nurture debate. That will be my next Ology post.

One of the great curiosities of this debate and of genetic inheritance will be looked at in an article about one of the most unusual twins – one is black and gay, the other is white and straight. No, they weren’t adopted from different families, they are genuine birth-twins.

As medical science recognises the wider spectrum of genders and sexualities the question of defining each of them becomes more complicated. The problem of trying to put people into specific gender categories  has been controversial in recent years, most notably with gender testing in sport. There’s still no consensus among the world’s sporting governing bodies regarding, for instance, where transgender athletes compete. This was highlighted earlier this month in my article on the Copenhagen Outgames, where an athlete found herself winning a silver medal in the women’s event and then being awarded a gold medal in the same race for being the transgender winner.

I gave a brief explanation on gender testing at the Olympics in one of my posts last year.

Regular readers will know of my knowledge and experience in genealogy from my “Out Of Their Trees” series. When my interest in this subject began way back in the mid-1970s most research was done by travelling around the country, visiting record offices, elderly relatives of graveyards. These days I hardly have to leave my flat with the internet, emails and digitised records making research much quicker (alas, it doesn’t make it easier because the evidence still has to be put together).

I won’t flood you with dozens of genealogy articles on famous lgbt ancestries. Only one. A couple of weeks ago, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, Clare Balding was awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire – surely it’s time to change the name!). For those who aren’t sure, the Order of the British Empire is, perhaps, the UK’s most well-known and most granted honour – the “people’s honour”. Hundreds of people receive the honour each year, of which the OBE is the 3rd level up. In a few day’s time I’ll feature Clare Balding in an “Out Of Their Trees” article to celebrate her OBE.

As you will know if you’ve been following the Rainbow Summits posts I’ve had 9 consecutive days of posting. I’m having several days off while I have a few days away, but don’t worry – I’ve got a Star-Gayzing and  Outgames post lined up before I return properly on the 11th.

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