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Dean Hamer was born in 1951 in Montclair, New Jersey. He graduated from Trinity College in Connecticut and earned a Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School. Early on in his career, Dean figured out that medical research would be more compelling for him than treating individual patients, and that decision made a big difference to Dean and the LGBTQ community.

For 35 years, Dean was an independent researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the 1990s, he began to study the relationship between human behavior and genetics, and in 1993, he published the first-ever findings linking homosexuality to a particular region of the X chromosome. In later years, Dean also developed a potential form of HIV prevention which is currently entering preclinical testing. Over the course of his career, Dean’s work has been cited by fellow medical scholars nearly 20,000 times.   

Dean’s published his research into the so-called gay gene in The Science of Desire, a NY Times Notable Book of the Year. Dean’s second book, The God Gene, explored the relationship between faith and genetics. Over the years, Dean has appeared on a wide variety of TV programs including Nightline and Oprah.

In the early 2000s, Dean met filmmaker Joe Wilson. Together, they produced the documentary Out in the Silence (2009), which was prompted by the uproar that resulted when the newspaper in Joe’s hometown of Oil City, Pennsylvania published Dean and Joe’s marriage announcement. The film won an Emmy Award, and served as the launch pad for an ongoing campaign for LGBTQ visibility and acceptance. 

After Dean’s official retirement from the NIH in 2011, he and Joe moved to Hawaii, and produced the documentary called Kumu Hina, which focuses on gender diversity among Pacific Islander peoples. Dean and Joe’s most recent film Leitis in Waiting (2018) explores gender diversity in Tonga, the last remaining monarchy in the Pacific.

Dean and Joe’s house in Hale’iwa, on O’ahu’s north shore, stares out at the Pacific Ocean. Not surprisingly, they start just about every day by catching a few waves. But don’t think Hawai’i has mellowed Dean. He’s as fiercely intellectual today as ever, especially when it comes to searching for truth, and supporting every individual’s right to enjoy the ancient Hawaiian values of pono (‘doing the right thing’) and aloha (‘living life with love’).
Connie Florez: [00:00:00] Camera rolling.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] just record it right there, and the camera automatically.
Connie Florez: Automatically.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] awesome. All right. Please tell me your name, state it, spell it.
Dean Hamer: I'm Dean Hamer, D-E-A-N, H-A-M-E-R.
Mason Funk: Please tell me your date and place of birth.
Dean Hamer: I was born on May 29th, 1951 in Montclair, New Jersey.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] Paint a little portrait of your family, what the family culture is, what was valued, what was despised.
Dean Hamer: Sure. I grew up in a typical postwar suburban family in Montclair, New Jersey, suburb of New York. Dad was a stock broker. Mom was a housewife, but also something of an activist, head of the PTA, always campaigning for fluorides in the water was the big issue we had at that point. I had three sisters, two older and one younger. I was a terrible student and always in trouble at school,
Dean Hamer: [00:01:00] until I got busted for pot in 11th grade, and then I started studying really hard. What I didn't realize at that time was that not only was I gay, which I was fully cognizant of, but so was one of my sisters, and as it turned out later, so was my mom. In a sense, I grew up in a gay family, but of course, in suburban Montclair, New Jersey and in the 1950s and '60s,
Dean Hamer: [00:01:30] no one really talked about that very much. Later on, that came to play an important role in my life.
Mason Funk: As a kid, you smoked pot, eventually you got busted. Were you an outlier within your family? Or did your sisters have a rebellious streak?
Dean Hamer: We had the full gamut, from my older sister who was studious and a very good girl. My next older sister, who would turn into the lesbian, who was a rebel without a course, I would say. Myself, who was always getting in trouble and always getting caught.
Dean Hamer: [00:02:00] I was always the one who got busted for everything bad that happened in the family. Then my youngest sister who was a classic goody goody two shoes and completely spoiled by the rest of the family. Everyone fit into their own little niche of the typical suburban maelstrom of a family.
Mason Funk: What do you think you were sort of going for in being a rule breaker? What was motivating you?
Dean Hamer: I think in retrospect, I had attention deficit disorder, and all my subsequent adult behavior probably confirms that.
Dean Hamer: [00:02:30] Of course, that wasn't diagnosed at that point, no one had even heard of that. This is long before kids started being drugged for that everywhere. Like many kids, I grew out of it when I was 16 or 17, something like that. I guess my dopamine receptors calmed down a little bit. I actually started redirecting all my energy and all my fidgetiness to studying really hard and becoming an academic.
Dean Hamer: [00:03:00] I got interested in science around that time. I was just fascinated by these mysterious formulas and chemicals and all of that, and I was really curious about how that all worked. I began working, even in my last year of high school and certainly through college to become a scientist, which then occupied most of the rest of my life.
Mason Funk: [00:03:30] If your parents were to lecture all four of you seated, what would that lecture be about?
Dean Hamer: Make a lot of money would be the number one aim, I would say, at least for my father, that's for sure. From my mother, maybe get a good education and do smart things and contribute to the world. Yes, I would say those are the main lessons that were transmitted. Not necessarily the greatest lessons in the world, and like many kids,
Dean Hamer: [00:04:00] not just gay kids, but many kids, I sort of rebelled against my father's wishes and did everything I could to not make a lot of money for the rest of my life.
Mason Funk: Let's jump forward, even though I know chronologically we're not there. Tell me about your mom coming out. What happened?
Dean Hamer: Let's go back a little bit. I had known from the time that I can remember that I thought guys were sexy. I also learned very shortly after that, that you weren't supposed to tell anybody that. I pretty much ...
Mason Funk: [00:04:30] What are you talking about there?
Dean Hamer: When I first had any sexual thoughts, which would be pre-kindergarten or kindergarten time, I remember lying on my stomach and sort of rubbing myself and thinking about the Lone Ranger, he was very sexy with the mask and everything, he still is really. I learned shortly thereafter that you're not supposed to talk about that at all. I knew that that was there,
Dean Hamer: [00:05:00] and I can very distinctly remember being at home and watching that famous, now infamous, I think it was a CBS show about the homosexuals, and thinking, "Oh my God, that is scary, that's what my life is going to be like." Because the guys that they had speaking were hidden behind palms and potted trees, and it was really kind of scary. Then I can equally well remember in 1969 seeing on the cover of Time Magazine,
Dean Hamer: [00:05:30] which we got every week at our home, a picture of this gay liberation event in New York. It was actually the Gay Liberation Front, and this really hot looking guy in a striped shirt in the front holding a flag, and thinking, "Oh my God, that's where I'm going someday." Wasn't ready to go out there quite yet, but someday. I went through college and had a couple of little affairs, and went back in the closet and came out, and went back in the closet. Then when I got to graduate school at Harvard,
Dean Hamer: [00:06:00] I turned 21 and I was like, "Dean, it's time for you to do something about this." Went to my first gay dance. It was down at the Friends Center, the good old Quakers, and met somebody, and I was kind of out ever since then. I think it was the first time after coming out that I went home for Christmas. I was driving around with my older sister who had spent time in Boston, and she said, "So what have you been doing in Boston for fun?" I was like, "I go out to this fabulous discos
Dean Hamer: [00:06:30] and I dance a lot." She was like, "Oh, where do you go?" I was like, "Boyle Street." She said, "Oh, I know," cause she'd been there too. So we came out to each other that way. Then she said, "You know what mom's story is, right?" I was like, "What?" She said, "Well, you know that friend of hers, the art teacher?" I was like, "Oh my gosh." We all came out to one another at Christmas. We all went out to a gay bar together. What I can remember most distinctly is that by that time,
Dean Hamer: [00:07:00] it was three of us gays and then my two straight sisters. When we went out to the gay bar, my younger sister who was too young to go out in the bar burst into tears. She said, "It's not fair, all of you get to have all the fun, and I don't get anything," because they were outnumbered. That's how we all sort of came out to one another.
Mason Funk: Were your parents divorced at this point?
Dean Hamer: By that point, my parents were divorced or in the process of separating. I think my mom had always had very close women friends. I don't think she'd ever done anything about it.
Dean Hamer: [00:07:30] I think she also loved her husband, my father, Warren, when they met, and that she was heterosexual. But as time had gone on and their relationship had distanced, and as she began to make real friends in the art world, then she started forming emotional relationships with women, and that eventually blossomed into a full fledged relationship.
Mason Funk: How did that play out for your mom for the rest of her life?
Dean Hamer: She had a very nice ...
Mason Funk: Start with your mom.
Dean Hamer: [00:08:00] Okay. My mom eventually found a partner, another woman who was interested in the arts and they had a very good relationship, bought a house together out in East Hampton, and lived kind of a classic New York, lesbian artistic, East Hampton-y type of life, which I think was really wonderful for her. When we asked her later, "What about your sex life?" She was like, "No, it's not about that, it's really about my relationship with Thelma,
Dean Hamer: [00:08:30] who was her partner. Yeah, I think she had a good life in that regard.
Mason Funk: When she told you that, did you believe her?
Dean Hamer: I think so, to the extent anyone can believe. Everyone thinks they've had a great life, and I'm sure ... I don't know how it would have been different for her if she had been out younger. I'm not sure she wanted to be out younger. I think that she's really ... Let me tell you a little story, much later on when I became a sex researcher myself, and I was interviewing a lot of people about their sex lives.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] Just a minute, I'm going to have your restart. Your eyes are straying to Connie.
Dean Hamer: Okay Connie, okay, let me look at you.
Mason Funk: Yeah, so that's all right.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Connie Florez: How about I move over here.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Dean Hamer: Much later in my life when I became a sex researcher, I started interviewing a lot of people about their sex lives. One of the interviews I remember the best was a woman in her mid 80s.
Dean Hamer: [00:09:30] She was the mother of a gay son who was in my study. I gave her the standard interview about all the usual questions. When did you first have sex? Who did you have sex with? How many partners, etc. She was pure on heterosexual. She had three husbands I think, each of whom had died. She loved men, she liked having sex with men. She had never had any sexual relations with women. She'd never had any fantasies about women or any thoughts about women.
Dean Hamer: [00:10:00] She was just straight KINSEY ONE. When she left, I was getting ready to leave the interview room. She said, "But Dr. Hamer, there's one thing you didn't ask me." I was like, "Oh, what's that?" She said, "Well, you didn't ask me about my future life. I know I'm eighty, but I'm still alive, you know, and I don't know if you know this, but the men in my age bracket are really pathetic, and so I assume my next lover will be a woman." Then she left. I was like, "Oh my God, did she really just say that?" Guys don't say that at age eighty-five. They don't say, "Oh yeah, I've always loved women,
[00:10:30] but I'm suddenly going to be gay." Women are much more flexible in that way. I think my mom exhibited that. She'd had relations with men, and that was fine. She liked women, but it wasn't just for that sort of driven sexual reason that we often conceive of when we're male.
Mason Funk: It's a huge topic obviously.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Much ink has been spilled over this. Was that one of your primary takeaways as a sex researcher,
Mason Funk: [00:11:00] that in terms of our sexual trajectories or whatever you'd call it, that men and women are a fundamentally different?
Dean Hamer: Right.
Mason Funk: Could you?
Dean Hamer: I think when we were doing our genetic studies at the National Institutes on Health on sexual orientation, I thought it was very important to work both on males and in females. I also felt that I wasn't the best equipped to do the female part, because it wasn't that familiar.
Dean Hamer: [00:11:30] I had a really wonderful postdoc, Angela Pattatucci who was a lesbian and who was also a really good geneticist and researcher. I had her focusing on the woman side of the work. She did, just like me, hundreds of interviews, lots of sex histories. What she told me one day was, "I don't know if we can ever study the genetics of this, women are just too political." Meaning that they weren't fixed about their sexuality in the same way,
Dean Hamer: [00:12:00] and they weren't always focused on people's body parts and the feelings of sex, the physical feelings. That there was a much more emotional component to it. I certainly believed her because she had no reason to be saying that for political reasons herself. She was saying it as a researcher, as a lesbian and as a woman. Yeah, I think there's a real difference in the way that males and females experience their sexuality. There are a lot of theories for why. Some are purely biological, males have gillions of sperm
Dean Hamer: [00:12:30] and their biological purpose is just to get one of them implanted. Women only have a few eggs and they have to preserve things. That's a sort of strictly biological take. There's also a very social take about who has power and who doesn't power, who can be on the fence, who doesn't. There's always the fact that women may be just more honest than men are about what's going on. I think it's probably some combination of all of those. We often say, "Well, there's culture versus biology." Actually, our biology shapes who we are
Dean Hamer: [00:13:00] and that shapes our culture, and that builds up expectations, so all these things really work together. I think there's no doubt that men and women are somewhat different.
Mason Funk: When you were telling that story about your researcher and she said, "Women are just much more political." But then you subsequently were using emotional and political interchangeably.
Dean Hamer: I shouldn't say that. What I mean by that inappropriate mix of words is the opposite of men, who are just led around by their dicks as
Dean Hamer: [00:13:30] if they were being jerked around on a dog collar sometimes, where neither politics nor even emotions are all that important. There's just that sexual drive that plays a major role for many, if not most men.
Mason Funk: We certainly have one interviewee, Karla Jay, who was very involved with the Gay Liberation Front, right there in 1970, '71, and she said, "Yeah, I could have chosen to be straight, but it was a political choice."
Dean Hamer: Right.
Mason Funk: [00:14:00] Oh my God, that wave was so beautiful. Sorry. I guess my question is, for women fighting as they have been always in the past half century and longer century now to climb out of this hole where men put them, if they just had many more reasons to make their sexuality into a political choice, if they just needed more tool, and that was more of the ones that they could.
Dean Hamer: [00:14:30] I think that's also part of the story. Yeah, women have been oppressed at so many different levels that everything they do has some political end to it. I also think that for males that sexual drive is very high up in the hierarchy of your mental preoccupations, and that that's also very, very important.
Mason Funk: [00:15:00] Interesting, okay. We will obviously circle back to these topics in due time. You mentioned meeting that guy at twenty-one, roughly, at Harvard Medical School, I think.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: He became like your first big passion, your first big love?
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. Tell us about that.
Dean Hamer: I went to the Friends Meeting House.
Mason Funk: Back up and just give ...
Dean Hamer: Sorry.
Mason Funk: ... set the scene a little bit more.
Dean Hamer: Yeah, I was in my second year in graduate school. I was working in a lab every day from nine in the morning until at least 10 pm at night.
Mason Funk: [00:15:30] One more time, just tell us where you were, Boston Harvard, blah, blah, blah.
Dean Hamer: Yeah. I did my graduate training at Harvard Medical School. I decided after only a year of medical school that research was really what I wanted to do, I found it more interesting. I was working really hard in a laboratory. It was right at the beginning of DNA cloning, a very exciting period in molecular biology. One Saturday night at around 10 o'clock, as I finished up my lab work, I was like, "Oh my God,
Dean Hamer: [00:16:00] I don't want to just go home and jerk off again. I need to do something." I picked up the local paper and looked for gay stuff, and there was a dance at the Friends Meeting House. I took the T down there and walked in. All of a sudden, there are all these gay guys dancing together and it was pretty wonderful. I saw a tall, thin, handsome one, and asked him to dance, and ten minutes later we were walking out the door to his place. I had no idea what we were supposed to do but I was a quick learner.
Dean Hamer: [00:16:30] I stuck with that guy for a couple of months, I think it was still at a point where we didn't even talk on the phone, I would just randomly show up. I was out with him, but I was in the closet with everybody else. Then eventually, we went to a gay bar together and I was like, "Oh, there's a lot more people like this around." Slowly over the course of the next year or two, I started coming out to other gay people, and then to my family, and then to people at work, and sort of the classic trajectory.
Dean Hamer: [00:17:00] I was lucky the very first real boyfriend that I had, Steven Draft, was a wonderful guy. He lived in a house with the publishers of the first gay paper. I think it was called Gay Community News in Boston. I got involved with gay activism and politics at a very early time. Not because I was looking for it, but because it happened. I realized right away that it was important. I can remember the first gay pride parade that we went to.
Dean Hamer: [00:17:30] It meant something to say you were at a gay pride parade then, because there were people lining the streets jeering at us, and it felt literally dangerous to be out. It felt really revolutionary. When I today see people with Smirnoff banners, and huge big corporate stuff, I'm like, "Yeah, but this started some place really important and just being out in that atmosphere was something important.
Mason Funk: Tell us more about that, the jeering. Like where were you, what part of Boston, and what would people say and give us more nitty gritty details.
Dean Hamer: [00:18:00] There I was, a graduate student in Boston. I was fortunate to be at Harvard. As I slowly came out a little bit to people, I realized that I was in a pretty safe atmosphere, because people were intellectual, they were largely liberal. It wasn't a huge deal for them, although it was still very unusual for somebody to be gay, I would say. In Boston itself, it was still a very homophobic environment.
Dean Hamer: [00:18:30] I can remember the police jeering at me and a boyfriend as we came out of a bar late at night. Anything that you did, in a gay way, was kind of political. The paper was an important part of the community then. It was the way that people expressed themselves. It was covering the gay events. I know it's early in gay liberation, but things were moving in a direction and we were happy about that.
Dean Hamer: [00:19:00] We had one of the first gay political representatives, Elaine Noble, who was a lesbian who became part of the legislature, and we were so tremendously proud of that. There was so much backlash against her that I realized from an early point, that this was not going to be an easy struggle.
Mason Funk: Just one more, do you remember any of the specific things that cops would jeer at you or say or that people would say to you when you were marching?
Dean Hamer: [00:19:30] I can remember coming out of a bar with a boyfriend down by the public library and having two cops drive by in a car and one of them stick his head out and say, "Oh, faggots." I was like, "Wait, they're supposed to be protecting us." My friend was like, "No, don't fuck with them at all because they'll do something bad to you." That's about as close as it got to me, but clearly, it was not a supportive or a helpful type of environment.
Mason Funk: Tell us a bit more about why you decided to focus on research instead of becoming an MD?
Dean Hamer: [00:20:00] All my life, I've been curious about how things work. I'm always wondering why does A lead to B? Or what is causing C? Whether it's in people's personality or politics, or how a watch works or how nature makes the beautiful patterns that it does, I've always been curious. That's been sort of my driving force through my life, really it's curiosity about how stuff works. Research is a wonderful way to do that.
Dean Hamer: [00:20:30] When I graduated from undergraduate, I got through in three years at Trinity College, I'd already spent two summers in a laboratory. I knew that I loved research, but everyone told me you should go to medical school, much more secure, you'll make a much better living, you can do research on the side. I listened to that. I got accepted at Washington University to do an MD PhD program, but then I got accepted at Harvard Medical School, and everyone again told me,
Dean Hamer: [00:21:00] "You can't turn down Harvard Medical School, you got to go there." I was like, "Okay, I'll go to medical school." I went to medical school. The first thing I did was to start poking around labs, looking for a lab that I could work with. I found a partial part-time job with one of them. Meanwhile, I was going to medical school. I didn't love medical school. I found a lot of it was rote learning, which I think is very important to be a doctor, you have to know a lot of facts. I wasn't all that keen about dealing with patients. We had sort of a pre-clinic
Dean Hamer: [00:21:30] where we would go, and I was like, "Oh, my God, they're complaining about their illness again." I really loved being in a laboratory because in a laboratory, you can do something new. You can make up a problem, you can figure out what's interesting to you, and then you can figure out a way to figure out how it all works, and that's like oh my God, that's amazing. It's sort of creative, but very specific at the same time. I just loved the idea of being able to do that.
Dean Hamer: [00:22:00] For the first year, I was like, "Oh, no, I have to go to medical school, I have to go to medical school." Then at Harvard Medical school, I was looking around at the professors who were doing research, who were tenured professors, and half of them were just brilliant, and about half of them weren't really that great, actually. I thought, "I can make a living doing research, I'm pretty sure I can make a living doing research." I think after a year of medical school I just said, "I'm going to go on leave of absence and do research full time." I remained on leave of absence from Harvard Medical school for the next 25 years.
Dean Hamer: [00:22:30] Finally, they wrote me a letter and said, "We're still holding your space for you, but do you think you could give it up, 'cause we could admit another undergrad person?" I was like, "Yeah, I don't think I want to go back to medical school."
Mason Funk: Wow, wow. How soon did the research you were doing that you decided to devote yourself to, how soon did the idea of a so called gay gene come up?
Dean Hamer: [00:23:00] Yeah, right. For the whole first part of my research ...
Mason Funk: Sorry, just give me one second.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: I just want to do one thing. Just [crosstalk] here.
Connie Florez: Adjust it?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Connie Florez: Okay.
Mason Funk: Then I'm also just, sorry, I was just micromanaging this light here too.
Connie Florez: Did you want more water?
Mason Funk: Did I?
Connie Florez: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Yes, thank you very much. Did you see where we get it from?
Connie Florez: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. Just wanted to roll that down at you a bit more. You're good for liquids?
Dean Hamer: [00:23:30] Yeah, I'm good.
Mason Funk: Okay. Are you feeling hungry?
Dean Hamer: No, but I'm on my third cup of coffee, so I'm really going to have to take a pee pretty soon.
Connie Florez: [crosstalk].
Mason Funk: Okay, my husband [crosstalk].
Dean Hamer: I'll wait.
Mason Funk: After 12 years, I should have learned that if he drinks too much, which he does every single day, he drinks too much coffee before he eats.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Then he goes and then it's like, "Get out of the way, he's hungry."
Dean Hamer: No, I'm fine.
Mason Funk: I have to, you know, get out of the way and get him to food. It's like leading a starving animal.
Dean Hamer: [00:24:00] We went to this great Buddhist monastery in Japan a year or two ago, when we were sort of finishing with the Kumu Hina run. His theory was you only drink tea in the morning, and you don't eat until, you get up at six and do meditation.
Mason Funk: One second. Hey Connie, can I pause this?
Connie Florez: Yes.
Mason Funk: Should I hit the red button?
Connie Florez: Right on the utmost.
Mason Funk: Yeah, on the utmost the red button?
Connie Florez: Yeah. Good rolling.
Mason Funk: I was just thinking about the choice to be a researcher as opposed to a physician.
Dean Hamer: [00:24:30] Yeah.
Mason Funk: Can that also be characterized as a kind of a micro versus macro choice?
Dean Hamer: Yeah. For me, research was a way of getting at big questions, whereas being a physician is very much a small question. They're both equally important. If you're a physician, you're taking care of somebody's life and that's very important at the time. When you're a researcher, you're trying to answer big questions about the nature of life itself,
Dean Hamer: [00:25:00] or the nature of a particular disease, or the nature of a particular trait like sexuality. I think in terms of wanting to look at the big picture, research is really the way to go.
Mason Funk: Right. Do you ever look back and wonder what my life would have been like if I'd become a doctor, a physician?
Dean Hamer: I think the first time I began wondering what it would have been like to be a physician is when I started doing my human sexuality research, 'cause it was the first time really that I had been dealing with humans,
Dean Hamer: [00:25:30] and also I was wearing a little white coat, and I was walking around in the hospital, and people were calling me doctor and that whole thing. I think it was interesting, but I think I preferred being a researcher. I'm so curious that I want to know those thought questions. As a researcher of course, you're always thinking, don't look at the individual, those are just anecdotes. You want to look at a mass of data. That's what I've always loved doing.
Mason Funk: [00:26:00] Okay. We're going to get to the story of how the gay gene [inaudible].
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Connie Florez: Can we hold a sec, just the plane.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Connie Florez: Yeah, I can hear that pretty clearly.
Mason Funk: Yeah, there was one earlier that if it had gotten any worse, I was going to stop us [crosstalk].
Connie Florez: I know, I was the feeling the same way, but this one's a lot closer.
Dean Hamer: It's a helicopter.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Dean Hamer: If they start buzzing the water it means somebody went murkier.
Connie Florez: Oh boy, that good.
Dean Hamer: [00:26:30] It's lining up at backyards.
Connie Florez: Yeah, it is.
Dean Hamer: No, that sight seeing helicopter from the Turtle Bay comes over too. Then the coastguard guys and the military guys. You get a lot of helicopters.
Mason Funk: Yeah, that was definitely [inaudible] that guy.
Connie Florez: [00:27:00] Of course, I hear it even more louder than this.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Connie Florez: Almost chill.
Mason Funk: Okay. Oh my God, I thought I was going to start to break over there.
Connie Florez: I think we're clear.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Dean Hamer: I started my scientific career at a really auspicious point, because it was just at that time when we were progressing from a general idea of what genetics were,
Dean Hamer: [00:27:30] to a very specific ability to actually isolate genes and to look at them and to manipulate them. It was really an amazing time to begin a scientific career. I was very lucky to be at Harvard in a lab where I was the first person to actually be able to take genes, isolate genes and put them back into animal cells, put them into human cells and see what they did. I spent the whole first 20 years of my scientific career capitalizing on that ability
Dean Hamer: [00:28:00] and learning how genes worked in a very basic way, and also doing some bioengineering work to be able to make proteins and vaccines and medicines out of genes. There was so much going on there that it was really fascinating. But around the 1990s or so, we had progressed to the point where not only could we isolate genes, we could actually understand in detail. We had to work on a particular gene for a copper-binding protein,
Dean Hamer: [00:28:30] very specialized protein, in yeast cells, a very specialized type of cell. We had figured out exactly how it worked, that when the copper went in the cell, it bound to this little bit of protein, and that activated another piece of protein, and that attached onto the DNA, and that turned on the transcription machinery. Beautiful elegant story, that me and probably about six other people in the entire world had any interest in whatsoever. We had really gotten pretty specialized. As we were wrapping up that work,
Dean Hamer: [00:29:00] I began to think, well, what I can do that would really be interesting in a sort of bigger look? Something that would really tell us something new about humans. That was also at a point where the technology was just getting to the point where we could actually look at human genes and where people were beginning to talk about. We can sequence the whole genome. We can understand every gene in a human. I started thinking, wow, it would be really cool to tie
Dean Hamer: [00:29:30] that technology together with my interest in human behavior. I started thinking and thinking, and I was thinking about, I could study alcoholism or I could study depression. Finally, at some point, I think actually my partner at that time [inaudible] said, "Why don't you study sexual orientation? I was like, "Oh my god, that's really a good idea." I went rushing to the library and realized no one had studied anything about sexual orientation at a molecular level ever.
Dean Hamer: [00:30:00] It was a completely wide open field. Although some people might think, it's because you're gay, you're interested in why you are that way, or you have a gay mother and a gay sister, so you're addressing the family connection. To be totally frank, it's because it was a really big question in science that no one else was working on, and there's nothing better for a scientist than something that's really hot and interesting where you have the whole field to yourself. I thought, that's what I'm going to study. I started researching what approach I would use,
Dean Hamer: [00:30:30] and what techniques were necessary and so on. If I had been a research scientist at a typical university, I would have had to go and apply for a grant, and the research never would have gotten done, because I didn't know anything about sexuality. I wasn't a sexuality researcher. I wasn't really even a human geneticist. I was very fortunate to be at the National Institutes of Health, because at the NIH, our research was supported from internal funding, and we didn't have to compete for grants.
Dean Hamer: [00:31:00] We had just to show that our research was good, and it had to show something important after a while, but we didn't have to go through that initial stage of begging for support. I put together a strong proposal. I got some other people that were experts to join me and said, "Hey, this is what I want to do." Although my boss was a little bit surprised, she said okay, and then she kicked it upstairs to her boss and it eventually got kicked all the way up to the Bush White House,
Dean Hamer: [00:31:30] but Tony Fauci, who was head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease says, "I know Dean Hamer, he's a good scientist. This looks like a solid proposal." We set out to find out whether there is a genetic basis for sexual orientation, and if so, how it works. That's how I got involved in that research. It really was from very much a point of understanding the science that the research got started.
Mason Funk: [00:32:00] I'm thinking also that it's kind of a confluence of events, because genetics was taking this massive leap forward. But also, societally, as you've intimated, for years or decades, the medical establishment had been a foe to open homosexuality and the practice of homosexuality. Psychiatrists, or the doctors that all call it a disease.
Dean Hamer: Right.
Mason Funk: Was the playing field changing societally as well?
Dean Hamer: [00:32:30] By 1992, when I began my research, gay liberation was very much a big news item. This was just before Don't Ask, Don't Tell. It was at the very, very beginnings of gay marriage, etc. Meanwhile, the scientific and psychiatric establishment had moved quite a lot. The psychiatrists had finally decided that being gay was not a disease anymore, although some psychoanalysts still debated that point.
Dean Hamer: [00:33:00] The Psychological Association and the Pediatrics Association were all beginning to develop non-discrimination polices, or at least very beginning of those. Certainly amongst my colleagues, being gay was no longer a big issue, or at least it wasn't one that they would publicly talk about in any sort of negative way. It was a time when it was an issue that was on the table, and where there was still a very much, you could see it this way, or you could see it that way. If you look at reporting from that time,
Dean Hamer: [00:33:30] any article about gay anything, the reporters were always very careful to get both sides. In other words, somebody who believed in human rights, and then somebody who believed in something else. I think it was just about that time that some newspapers were beginning to talk about us as gay people. I think the New York Times still called us homosexuals, but it wasn't very long after that, that they also made that change. It was a time when things were really influx, I would say.
Mason Funk: [00:34:00] It's interesting. I have this little thought that when I created OUTWORDS, I was positive that somebody else had to have done this, 'cause it was such an obvious idea in some way.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: I'm wondering to myself, I'm surprised in a way that nobody by now, say twenty years into gay liberation, that no one had decided to conduct serious research as to whether there was a biological basis for sexual orientation.
Dean Hamer: Yes.
Mason Funk: Were you surprised that ... I guess that's not the question I want to ask. Why had nobody else, or what else made for this great opportunity for you to step into the picture?
Dean Hamer: [00:34:30] Right. As I began to research, and it didn't take too much research because the literature was very small. It was obvious that the first great researcher in this area, and the person who I really wanted to model myself after was Alfred Kinsey. He, like me, was a serious scientist. He was classifying insects and stuff, and had decided to take a very systematic scientific approach to human sexuality. In his case just quantifying
Dean Hamer: [00:35:00] what people were doing sexually. His work was amazing. It got a lot of attention, but he got a tremendous amount of backlash and discrimination at the end of his career. Many scientists turned against him and said, "You shouldn't be studying that, and your methods are wrong." The religious establishment, the Catholics in particular, were absolutely awful to him. He ended up losing all of his support. He ended up losing his big grant from the Rockefeller,
Dean Hamer: [00:35:30] I think, and it was very difficult. I think any scientist who looked at that career would say, "Hmm, that's not any area that you really want to go into." It was the same to some extent for Masters and Johnson, who were not really rigorous regular scientists the way we are, more sort of experiential type of stuff. Again, they had gotten a lot of publicity and then a lot of disquietude and a lot of ... I think it was an area that a straight scientist wouldn't want to go into, because first, people might think he was gay,
Dean Hamer: [00:36:00] and second of all, wasn't going to be curing a disease, and third of all, would just be controversial and they knew that. It was amazing how thin the research was. As I began going to conferences on human sexuality, there's an international society, there's an American society, I realized there were a lot of people who had interesting questions to ask, but the level of science was not very high.
Dean Hamer: [00:36:30] There were no members at the National Academy. There just had not been the same application of modern technology and cutting edge stuff to sexuality that there had been in other areas. I felt that was a drawback because the way science really advances quickly is when a lot of people are working on the same project, because then stuff happens. It was also an advantage in the sense that I didn't have to rush and there wasn't going to be a whole lot of competition for the type of work that I envisioned doing.
Mason Funk: [00:37:00] Now, did you worry at any point that you were then going to become pigeonholed as the guy who's obsessed with the gay gene, and that that would also may damage your own credibility or your own kind of stature in the field?
Dean Hamer: Yeah. As I was doing the research, it was never much of a concern to what the reaction would be, because I had spent my whole life with other scientists, going to scientific conferences,
Dean Hamer: [00:37:30] writing journal articles. There the criterion is good science or bad science, important science or not important science. I felt that if we were able to crack this at all, it would be of course good science, 'cause we're doing it the right way, and it would be important, because that's the fundamental question. Sexuality is the driving force of biology. Sexuality is how we pass on our genes. It's everything. Any window into the mechanisms, the molecular part of that would be really important.
Dean Hamer: [00:38:00] I wasn't too concerned about any sort of backlash, and people already saw me as eccentric and weird, so I wasn't worried about that. I just thought, "Hey, this is really interesting science." I underestimated the public reaction to the research. When we had finished the research and we were submitting it to Science and I realized, this is going to be a big paper. This is going to be a full research article in Science. That's a big deal for a scientist.
Dean Hamer: [00:38:30] I thought, "We should call together some people that can advise me on how to react to the press and stuff." I got people from the press office at the National Cancer Institute where I worked, and my boss and my boss's boss and we all got together to talk about this. People were pretty chill about it, but when they told me, "We called the White House." I was like, "Oh, there was going to be a reaction to this. I wonder what it will be." Once the paper was released to the press but still under embargo,
Dean Hamer: [00:39:00] my phone just started ringing off the hook from everybody. I was like, "Oh, this is going to be a big deal." Just from the questions, a lot of them are like, "Well, does this mean that it's not a choice or what does this mean from a religious point of view?" I was like, oh, this is going to go beyond what's your P value? or what polymorphic markers did you use?. People are interested in this for other reasons, and that's when I began to realize that this was going to have a wider public impact.
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] Stepped right into the culture wars basically?
Dean Hamer: Yeah, at the time, Don't Ask Don't Tell had just been a big news item. Gay stuff was really hot. It was a huge big fight, and I stepped right into the middle of all of that. The science itself was almost secondary to what the implications were of the research. The reaction was very split. There were some people,
Dean Hamer: [00:40:00] especially gay people who thought this is great, because if we can prove that being gay is not a choice, that it's something in our genes, then it will be equivalent to race or ethnicity, and that will take away a lot of the prejudice. There were a lot of the anti-gay people, especially the religious people who were infuriated by the research, because it is their firm belief that people choose to be gay, and it is a bad choice, and that's what makes it a sin. Therefore this research couldn't possibly be right.
Dean Hamer: [00:40:30] Then there were also people, gay people, who were very concerned that the research would be misused, and that gay fetuses would be aborted, and that the military would be doing secret testing. They were very concerned about that as well. It was a very, very split and controversial reaction at the time.
Mason Funk: I recently, just in the last couple of years, I was in a conversation with a straight colleague, and he's very progressive and he's like, "Who gives a fuck whether there's a gay gene or not.
Mason Funk: [00:41:00] If people want to be gay, they should be able to be gay." That was I remember my reaction, it was like, I don't want to have to rely on the gay gene, I want people to be able to choose whatever they want to do. Did you have thoughts similar to that or?
Dean Hamer: My view has always been that gay rights is a fundamental human right and that civil rights should never depend on biology. First of all, because that's not why we have rights, it's not because of our biology, it's because we as human beings have decided that we have certain fundamental inalienable rights,
Dean Hamer: [00:41:30] amongst which are freedom, liberty and the right to pursuit of happiness, and sexuality is a big part of that. On the other hand, I also think that it's important to know whether there is a gay gene, 'cause it's important to know the truth. What has always hurt gay people is lack of knowledge, mis-education, untruth. Untruths like you choose to be that way. Untruths like it's spreadable, you'll teach other people to be homosexual. Untruths like
Dean Hamer: [00:42:00] you can get AIDS if there are gay people around. It's always important to know the truth. I think it's especially important to know the truth about sexuality, not just for gay people, but for straight people too. Because this is first of all, what preoccupies our minds a lot of the time. Second of all, what drives our existence as human beings. I think it's really important to know. Let me speak about that. Of course, the question to me as a scientist is
Dean Hamer: [00:42:30] not what's your attitude about the gay gene, or what you think should happen, but what effect does the knowledge actually have. I believe in facts and figures, and so for me the question is, knowing about the gay gene a good thing or a bad thing? We can actually answer that question, because it turns out there's a huge body of survey information, because since 1977,
Dean Hamer: [00:43:00] the Gallup Poll of the entire United States has been asking the question, do you think that being gay is a choice?. No, excuse me, since 1977, the Gallop Poll has been asking, do you think that people are born gay, or do you think it's influenced by other factors like their environment? They've been asking that since '77, a long time. Then they ask the same people questions like do you think it's moral to be gay?
Dean Hamer: [00:43:30] Or do you think there should be gay marriage? or etc. We actually had this huge body of knowledge of what effect knowing about a gay gene has had on people. Very interesting. In 1977, the vast majority of people thought that being gay was a choice and that you weren't born gay. At that time also, the large majority of people thought it was immoral and wrong, and that people should be put in jail for sodomy basically. Switch to today,
Dean Hamer: [00:44:00] 2016, a slight majority of people think that being gay is not a choice and that you're born that way. A substantial majority think that it's okay to be gay. They might not like it, but it should be legal at a bare minimum. Then when you break down the data it's really fascinating. It turns out that your beliefs about the origins of sexual orientation are the number one determining factor of your thoughts about gay rights.
Dean Hamer: [00:44:30] It's more important than whether you identify as born again. It's more important than your religion. It's more important than your sex or your education or where you're from or anything else, most important factor. The biggest mark of that is that if you ask people, do you think being gay is natural or do you think that it's forced upon people? People that think it's natural believe in gay rights, they believe in same-sex marriage, etc, etc. People that think that it's a choice, 70% of them think that we should re-institute sodomy laws.
Dean Hamer: [00:45:00] It should be illegal to be gay, which would put me, my interviewer, everybody in this house and a whole lot of other people in jail right now. This knowledge about the origins of sexual orientation has very important correlates in the public discussion about sexuality. Ultimately that has big effects on the laws and on the regulations that govern our lives.
Dean Hamer: [00:45:30] In that indirect way it does have an effect. I'll emphasize again, biology should not determine anything about our rights. It will probably turn out that bestiality and pedophilia have some genetic roots in them, and that doesn't mean that it's okay to abuse children or to abuse animals. We make those decisions based on fundamental principles about human rights. That's the way it should be for LGBT rights as well.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] My mind is flooded with questions. First question, I thought, and I think a lot of people would say that the number one determinant in a shift public opinion has not been a conversation about the gay gene, but the fact that AIDS forced a gazillion people out of the closet and suddenly, everybody knew someone who was gay.
Dean Hamer: Yeah. I had no doubt that the driving force ...
Mason Funk: Could you just, before you give me back your response, frame that thought in the context of the overall discussion.
Dean Hamer: [00:46:30] Yeah. The knowledge about the origins of sexual orientation is very important in people's attitudes about gay rights in general. What has brought gay rights out of the closet, so to speak, has been people coming out. A lot of people were forced out because of AIDS. Other people have come out because everybody else is coming out, and so it's okay to do that now. Other people have come out because they were incredibly brave and bold and they were pioneers in this respect.
Dean Hamer: [00:47:00] That's what's allowed the conversation to bloom. That's what has allowed straight people to know gay people who were always in their lives but they might not have known who were gay. That is absolutely the driving force behind liberation. Within that context, I think that the fact that we now understand more about why people are gay is an important factor.
Mason Funk: Do you think, and this is pure speculation, but do you think maybe it's kind of a one, two punch or a combination where someone suddenly knows that their office worker or their cousin is gay?
Connie Florez: [00:47:30] Would you want some water?
Dean Hamer: I'm okay.
Connie Florez: Would you want?
Dean Hamer: The one thing I've learned from my scientific career is that almost nothing complicated has a single cause, and that is certainly true for the progress in LGBT rights. There are a lot of different factors that are going on, and they interact with each other. The fact that you see somebody on TV that's gay and they're okay is one thing,
Dean Hamer: [00:48:00] and then that makes you more remediable to realize, oh, that guy at work that's always talking about the opera, maybe he is gay and that's okay. Then you read in the New York Times that it's not a choice, 'cause some scientist had done something. I think all of those operate together very much. Ultimately, you don't have gay liberation until you have changed culture, and changing culture is definitely dependent on a lot of different factors. I think those have all worked together
Dean Hamer: [00:48:30] here in the United States at least. It's also possible for factors to work together in a bad direction.
Connie Florez: Plane.
Mason Funk: Plane, sorry.
Dean Hamer: A plane, yeah.
Mason Funk: I thought I was checking the camera, then I realized it was a plane.
Connie Florez: No, plane.
Mason Funk: Thank you for that.
Dean Hamer: Yeah, multifactorial stuff is always the most difficult.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Dean Hamer: Everybody wants to claim that their research is the most important. What I was saying about ...
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] in binary.
Dean Hamer: In binary terms, yeah. But in that research in the survey research that was ...
Mason Funk: [00:49:00] One second, 'cause we've probably one sec here so hold that thought.
Dean Hamer: Probably not.
Mason Funk: Probably not. It's a little technical.
Connie Florez: Still in there. I hear a second plane.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Connie Florez: Yeah, let me hold it now.
Mason Funk: Did you have it ... were you in the middle of a question or was I about to have an answer, was I about to ask a question?
Dean Hamer: I think I, yeah, you go.
Mason Funk: [00:49:30] Okay. My question was for the record, because this initial paper generated so much controversy, in layman terms, what did that paper actually say?
Dean Hamer: Our original research was actually pretty simple. We looked a bunch of families of gay men and asked about their gay relatives, and noticed there was a pattern that most of the gay relatives were on the mother's side of the family. For geneticists, that's very interesting because one possible explanation was that there was a gene on the X chromosome.
Dean Hamer: [00:50:00] Remember that women pass on one of their two X chromosomes to their son, and so if a gene is on the X chromosome, it always comes down the mother's side of the family. That was really interesting. The most important observation was we then followed up and looked for actual DNA sequences on the X chromosome that were associated with sexual orientation. To do that, we got a bunch of gay brothers, 44 pairs of gay brothers.
Dean Hamer: [00:50:30] We looked at their DNA up and down the X chromosome using these polymorphic markers and the new cutting edge technology that had just become available. We found that over most of the X chromosome, they were just randomly assorted, but there was one specific region called Xq28 that the gay brothers shared far more often than expected by chance. When we looked at their straight brothers, they usually didn't have that region. That told us there's some gene in that part of the chromosome that is somehow tipping the scales,
Dean Hamer: [00:51:00] and making these guys more likely to be gay. That became, somewhat misnomed, the gay gene, and that was the most exciting result of our work, because it showed for the first time at a molecular level that there was something specific in the genes that could be associated with being gay. When that research came out, it caused a huge sensation. It was on the front page of every paper, not just in the United States, but all around the world.
Dean Hamer: [00:51:30] I was on every news show. I got on the Oprah Show. I did Ted Koppel, all of that. At that time, it was still very controversial, and they almost always called in at least one religious leader to explain why this couldn't possibly be right. Or even if it was right, it didn't make being gay right, etc. It really caused quite a commotion. There was even a Broadway Musical, Twilight of the Golds, about the topic and about what would happen if people knew about a gay gene.
Dean Hamer: [00:52:00] I think that was when I realized that if I was going to do this type of research, I could not just sit back as a scientist and let the world digest it. That I really needed to take responsibility not just for getting the research right, but for getting the interpretation right as well. Because the reporters just weren't quite up to it. They hadn't dealt with this issue before. There was so much political pressure on both sides
Dean Hamer: [00:52:30] that the conversation really got away from the facts, and got into the realm of speculation. I thought I should set the record straight. I decided that I should do a book about this. I didn't want to just do articles and stuff, I wanted to do a book because I felt it's a big topic and that's what I wanted to take. Besides Kinsey, he always wrote books. That's what was important. I found a writer who was really good, a newsman, Peter Copeland, who was a great reporter,
Dean Hamer: [00:53:00] cause I wasn't really sure how to write for a general public. We found a publisher and I set out to write a book. That turned into The Science of Desire. I tried to use that book format to begin making our arguments for what the science meant, what the science didn't mean, and what the possible interpretations were. I realized that's an important form of activism in itself, is to really interpret what these complex scientific issues are and to get that out into public knowledge.
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] Sorry, just one side note. At a certain point, this card is going to fill up, I don't know, I don't know ...
Connie Florez: I'm watching it. It goes [crosstalk] 30 minutes.
Mason Funk: You can see, okay, cool.
Connie Florez: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Somehow we have to segue into the topic of the so-called god gene as well. I'm not quite sure what a great segue is if there is one.
Dean Hamer: Okay, right.
Mason Funk: I find that fascinating, 'cause religion has played a very important role in my life. I've always wondered, I just felt it's like an orientation.
Dean Hamer: [00:54:00] Yeah, yeah, right.
Mason Funk: As a side step, when did the conversation of the so-called god gene flow into your life and how?
Dean Hamer: As a result of the research I'd done on sexual orientation, I got interested more generally in behavioral genetics. If genes are partially determining or affecting our sexuality, what else could they affect? A lot of people were looking at specific diseases like schizophrenia,
Dean Hamer: [00:54:30] but I'm more interested in the wide general range of behaviors. We began studying a couple of behaviors, and I was lucky to work with some folks at NIH that were looking at anxiety. We found a gene that affected anxiety. It's actually the gene that makes the protein that's affected by Prozac, it's sort of a molecular Prozac. That was interesting. We found another gene that was associated with novelty seeking, whether you like to do new things. It's a gene that controls the proteins that are affected by the dopamine drugs,
Dean Hamer: [00:55:00] all the drugs you take for attention deficit disorder, so also about attention. At some point, I began to wonder what else do genes control? I was talking with a psychologist friend of mine, [inaudible], he said, You know, I'm working on a scale to measure spirituality. I was like, "Spirituality, that's not genetic." He said, "How do you know that?" I was like, "Well, I don't know that actually." He said, "You know, if you think about it,
Dean Hamer: [00:55:30] people pray a lot more often that they have sex, so I think it's more important." I was like, "Okay." He developed a scale to look at spirituality independent of specific religion to scale looking at how much you believe that things are ... how much do you believe that there are things out there that we don't know about? How much can you get outside of yourself? It's called self-transcendence. We figured, hey, if you can measure it and it's heritable, let's look for a gene for it. We started looking for a gene that was associated with that.
Dean Hamer: [00:56:00] Once again it got misnamed as the god gene, which it's not really. We even found genes that maybe associated with people's sense of spirituality. The fact that sexuality is affected by genes shouldn't surprise anybody. In fact, many of our behavioral traits and our beliefs and our psychology are influenced by genes. After all, it's genes that build up the blueprints for our brains. It's genes that make our brains interpret information the way they do. It's not too surprising that genes affect a lot of
Dean Hamer: [00:56:30] the traits that we might think of as purely psychological. They're really products of our brain.
Mason Funk: But, I mean, I don't know it works, but you ended up writing a book about that as well. Why do you laugh?
Dean Hamer: I would say my book on the god gene had a lot of interesting information, but it was pressing the science to the outer limits, I would say. In the sense that spirituality is such an amorphous trait, that you have to be very careful
Dean Hamer: [00:57:00] because it's so easy to confuse with religion or other specifics that probably have no genetic control whatsoever. Sex is easy. Sex drive, that's kind of straight forward. Belief in a higher power, that's a lot more amorphous and you can't even think about it without language and constraints.
Mason Funk: Sorry, we have to hold.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Connie Florez: Yeah.
Mason Funk: That's a jet. [crosstalk].
Connie Florez: I want to stop. Rolling.
Mason Funk: [00:57:30] I guess my question is carry on about the book but, yeah.
Dean Hamer: There's a spectrum amongst behavioral traits. Sexual orientation, at least in men, is relatively simple. Most people are either they're gay or they're not gay. They know it from an early age, and it's easy to quantitate that difference. At the other end of the spectrum is something like spirituality,
Dean Hamer: [00:58:00] where it's very much of a spectrum. You can't say you either are spiritual or not, everybody has some spirituality. It's hugely influenced by your environment, very clearly. The religion that you are has nothing to do with your genes and everything to do with your upraising. That's very much at the complex end of the spectrum. For geneticists, it's much easier to study the simple stuff, because we have simple measuring tools, yes or nos. We can do the stats really easily. Something like spirituality is,
Dean Hamer: [00:58:30] I would say, at the very edge of scientific study ability, without doing actual brain scans of people as they meditate or are religious, I think it's pretty complicated.
Mason Funk: Why did you decide to write that book? I think you even gave it a title that includes the god gene, as opposed to be more subtle like The Science of Desire.
Dean Hamer: Let's just say, I almost dedicated that book to Visa, because that was the year I had an inappropriately young and expensive boyfriend,
Dean Hamer: [00:59:00] and I was about $20000 in debt. I actually proposed two books to my publisher at that time. One was about the sequencing of the human genome and the race that had gone on and the other was the god gene. They thought the god gene was more interesting. I thought for me, it was an opportunity to explore what I think is still a great frontier in biology, which is how the brain works. This is the big question for future generations.
Dean Hamer: [00:59:30] This was an opportunity for you to start studying one of the oldest, the strongest attributes of men. I think it was interesting that people really don't always understand the difference between spirituality and religion, and that was really a fascinating topic. Even if we are very far from a molecular understanding, I think it was a topic that's worth studying from a scientific perspective. Indeed, about a year or two after that, there's a whole flurry of books about the biological basis of spirituality. It became kind of a popular topic, really.
Mason Funk: [01:00:00] Okay, excellent. Let me check into my list of questions. Did you feel like you talked ... Regarding your books, you wanted to specifically talk about the book you wrote, The Science of Desire.
Dean Hamer: Yeah, what's been interesting about being an author is that I think that if we have knowledge, but it's not communicated in a way that's accessible to the public,
Dean Hamer: [01:00:30] then we've really done a disservice to the knowledge. We've done a disservice to science, we've done a disservice to the people. I think scientific knowledge is really important, and even though there's a popular trend to discount the entire scientific methodology, I think that that's just a trend and will disappear. That the power of knowledge is to inform people and to educate people. I think that we as scientists have, if not an obligation, at least a great opportunity to participate in that,
Dean Hamer: [01:01:00] and that's why I've always felt that it's important to figure out how do you communicate science? How do you communicate facts? How do you communicate reality in a way that's accessible to ordinary people? I don't know if I've done the best job. My books are probably mostly accessible to people that are going to college and that watch PBS and the like, but at least that's a big swath in the population, that makes a difference.
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] Now, we can't move on just because you've lived through it, you've lived through it obviously, the AIDS epidemic. How did that affect you both on a purely personal level and also professionally?
Dean Hamer: The AIDS epidemic was a real wake up call. I think it awakened us all up to the real perils of homophobia. That it wasn't just about whether we could be out at work or whether we could get married, it was about people's lives. It was homophobia that caused the AIDS epidemic in the United States, and I believe that firmly now as a resident of the state of Hawaii.
Dean Hamer: [01:02:00] In the United States where I lived in Washington, D.C., the AIDS epidemic came. It struck all gay men. All my friends were afraid. I was afraid, everybody and so on. The government was so afraid that they refused to allow needle exchange. They refused to allow any education in the schools. They refused to allow the most basic public health measures that any logical person would support. They refused that in the Washington, D.C. area,
Dean Hamer: [01:02:30] even when our own government officials and even when our own health people and the people at the clinic were willing to do that. The result was a massive, massive epidemic of AIDS in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C. had and still has the same HIV rates as in Africa. It's terrible. In the state of Hawaii, when AIDS came here, somebody said, "You know, we should have clean needle exchange, because otherwise people are going to get it through needles," and they did that.
Dean Hamer: [01:03:00] The public health officials said, "We should have needle exchange." The legislature approved it. There was needle exchange and AIDS never spread out of the gay community in Hawaii. We had the lowest rate in the United States now. There was no massive AIDS epidemic in Hawaii. If you think that homophobia doesn't have public health effects or doesn't affect the rest of the country, you are just wrong. I got up a little bit on a high horse about that
Dean Hamer: [01:03:30] because it's really important. I'm sorry, it makes me emotional, because it just makes me really happy to be in Hawaii, where things are done the right way to the best of their ability, yeah.
Mason Funk: I appreciate your passion. It's very moving and powerful and it makes me wonder among other things, what it is about Hawaii. A little shout out to this particular state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Dean Hamer: [01:04:00] Hawaii has an indigenous tradition of native Hawaiians being accepting of variations in gender and sexuality. People called M_h_, who are people we might call male to female transgender have always been part of the culture. They carry on the religion. They carry on the traditions. They are teachers, they are caretakers. They were revered because they were fortunate enough to have both male and female characteristics instead of being limited to one or the other.
Dean Hamer: [01:04:30] That has always permeated Hawaiian society. Even though people might make fun of M_h_, meaning faggot, there's a certain level of acceptance that's built into the society that's really important. The other thing that happened in Hawaii was there was a huge influx of plantation workers from Asia, from China and Japan, and with them, they brought Buddhism. Buddhism is good about gay stuff compared to religious Christian fundamentalism.
Dean Hamer: [01:05:00] That also influenced attitudes in Hawaii and made it one of the more accepting places. Early on, you had drag shows in Hawaii that people from the mainland would come to see, 'cause they couldn't see them in the mainland, the U.S.A. It's continued that condition, that attitude up to the present day. Hawaii is where the marriage equality battle started. In typical Hawaiian fashion, it got kind of slowed down by the legislature,
Dean Hamer: [01:05:30] became the first battleground state but there is a certain level of acceptance of difference in Hawaii that has really, really made a difference.
Mason Funk: Because it sounds important, talk about the M_h_ tradition. Given that so much of native Hawaiian culture has been diluted or lost, is that actually one of the stronger unique components of Hawaiian culture that has persisted?
Dean Hamer: [01:06:00] I think that the m_h_ tradition has always lived, but it has been pushed underground for a long time. By modern times, '70, '80s, '90s, the word m_h_ was like faggot. It was a bad word to use. It was really one person, Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, also known as Kumu Hina who decided that was wrong and that she would try and resuscitate the original meaning of the word, and develop the term mahu wahine for transgender women (wahine is the word for woman).
Dean Hamer: [01:06:30] That really began to bring the concept back that this was an ancient Hawaiian tradition, and something that Hawaiians should be proud of. It has not been as widely or quickly accepted as have the ideas of Hawaiian chant or Hawaiian navigation being important skills. It is beginning to be widely accepted, and I think that's reflected in Kumu Hina's own reputation, and the fact that she's the one who now opens the legislature with a chant, for example.
Dean Hamer: [01:07:00] She's the one who's won the Teacher of the Year award for Hawaii last year. I think it's becoming a part of the tradition that Hawaiians are now very proud to call their own.
Mason Funk: Okay. I feel like there's more to say about that, lots more probably.
Dean Hamer: [crosstalk].
Mason Funk: What about just ...
Dean Hamer: Let me just say a little bit more about that AIDS thing.
Mason Funk: Yeah, okay, yeah.
Dean Hamer: [01:07:30] Yeah. When AIDS came around and I was working at the NIH, it was a really important time. I, myself, wasn't ready to move into that field because it was an area that I wasn't expert in, and there were a lot of really, really smart, good people going into that. I was tied up with doing the sexual orientation research, which I also thought was very important. I did make sure that two of my very best postdocs, very first postdocs that came through and studied in my lab, when they were ready to graduate and move on,
Dean Hamer: [01:08:00] and they were talking to me about what lab to go to, I said, "Work on AIDS. It's really important." They did and that's George Pavlokas and Barbara Felber, and both of them moved on to make very important discoveries about the basic molecular biology of HIV. That's the time when there were protests against the NIH, and there was a lot of controversy about the best way to develop the medicines. I have to say that from a scientific point of view, the research was unbelievably good
Dean Hamer: [01:08:30] and solid and quick. Everybody wanted to work on AIDS because it was the big thing and they were right. The work went incredibly quickly. We went from knowing nothing about what the disease was to identifying the virus, sequencing the entire virus, hauling out a bunch of medicines that had already been developed that were that first AZT and so on, that were partially effective. Then looking at the structure of the virus and saying, "Wow, something looks like a protease in there,
Dean Hamer: [01:09:00] which nobody knew about. Somebody else saying, "Oh, let's see if that's important," and showing it was important. Then somebody else saying, "Let's invent a completely new type of drug that will inhibit that, protease inhibitors." Bang, now you have a cocktail of drugs that completely stops the virus dead. That is remarkable progress in 10 years. While there were hangups, they were all public health hangups, it was the delivery of the drugs that was bad. It was the insurance that was bad. It was withholding the drugs from Africa and other places for patent purposes that was bad.
Dean Hamer: [01:09:30] It was the complete lack of condom promotion and needle exchange and so on that was really bad. All public health measures that were horrible. From a scientific research point of view, it was a fantastic success. You know, really lucky, everyone I know now would have been dead if it hadn't been for the development of those cocktails. That's a good thing.
Mason Funk: From your point of view, in that year, say in the middle late '80s into early '90s
Mason Funk: [01:10:00] when ACT UP was going crazy. You were part of the medical establishment that was their bete noire. What was that like, to be on the inside and to see these protests and people getting arrested, people chaining themselves to various governmental buildings, what was it like for you personally?
Dean Hamer: It was frustrating that some of the attention was turned towards a scientific establishment, 'cause I know that was wrong, but it was great that ACT UP was doing what they were doing because there needed to be more public attention. Without them,
Dean Hamer: [01:10:30] there might have been nothing going on at all, or the government might have said, "No funding for AIDS." I thought they were incredibly important and also incredibly creative. It was a really important period. My own research on AIDS didn't start until quite a lot later. As I realized, now we had cocktails. We were able to take care of people.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk] same sentence but give me a time marker.
Dean Hamer: [01:11:00] Yeah. I didn't start my own research on AIDS until much later, not until 2010 or so. The cocktail had already been developed. We were controlling AIDS in the United States, but not in the rest of the world, and a lot of the problem was that there just weren't good biomedical preventatives. Condoms have problems. There was nothing that could be controlled by a woman. I wanted to turn some of our new molecular biological tricks into trying to do that. We actually worked on developing a female microbicide where, this might sound crazy,
Dean Hamer: [01:11:30] but you take the bacteria out of a woman's vagina, you genetically engineer them to be anti-HIV agents, and then you put them back in the vagina, and it's a sort of living bioshield. It's a great idea. Still testing it out of monkeys. I hope it's going to come to fruition, and people are still working on doing that right now.
Mason Funk: So if you were doing that as recently as 2010, what made you decide to effectively hang up your scientist coat and move to Hawaii? How did that all happen? I mean, I know it's probably not as black and white.
Dean Hamer: [01:12:00] Yeah, it's not that black and white. Well, they're really two related questions, why did you move to Hawaii, and then also why did you become a filmmaker? The way the filmmaker part started and my life as an activist filmmaker was purely personal. It's because I decided I'd met a wonderful man, Joe Wilson, love of my life. He asked me to marry him and I said yes.
Dean Hamer: [01:12:30] We thought, let's get married. You couldn't do it in any place in the United States then, so we went to Canada.
Mason Funk: What year is this, I'm sorry?
Dean Hamer: This is 19 ... Hey Joe, Joe Wilson.
Joe Wilson: Yeah.
Dean Hamer: When did we get married?
Mason Funk: 2004
Dean Hamer: 2004
Joe Wilson: Yeah, 2004.
Dean Hamer: Thanks honey.
Mason Funk: Okay, let's [inaudible].
Dean Hamer: [01:13:00] Yeah. I was lucky to meet a wonderful man, Joe Wilson, who is the great love of my life and an activist as well, which is a big part of his appeal to me, and he asked me to marry him and I said, "Yes, absolutely." I felt pretty lucky, but you couldn't get married in any place in the United States right then. We went to ...
Mason Funk: Still don't know what year this was.
Dean Hamer: Sorry.
Mason Funk: I'm sorry, you were going to get there.
Dean Hamer: I was going to get there.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Dean Hamer: Okay.
Mason Funk: Just give me a date sooner so that we can kind of know what time frame we're talking about. When you say, "We couldn't get married ... "
Dean Hamer: [01:13:30] In early 2000, as my research on the gay gene ... Sorry, actually, start again.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Dean Hamer: Probably the most important result from a personal view point of my gay gene research is a few years later in 2000, I was at an event at the Gay Lesbian ... sorry. Probably the most important personal result on my research on the gay gene happened a few years later, early 2000 I think,
Dean Hamer: [01:14:00] when I was at the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce at a party for the South African people who'd put sexual orientation in their constitution. I met a young man called Joe Wilson. He had seen me on TV talking to Ted Koppel and had seemed to like me. That led to a friendship, which eventually led to us getting together in a partnership. In 2004, he asked me to marry him, and I was very happy and pleased and delighted to say yes,
Dean Hamer: [01:14:30] but you couldn't get married in the US right there. In 2004, we went to Canada and got married in Vancouver. Small private ceremony with just two friends. When we got back, we were like we have to let people know. I was like, "Let's put something in the newspaper." I sent in an announcement to the New York Times and they published it, and that was great and all my New York friends were like, "Oh, that's so amazing and everything." Joe, being an activist said, "Well, I'm going to put the announcement in my hometown newspaper in Oil City, Pennsylvania,"
Dean Hamer: [01:15:00] which is a small extremely conservative rural area in Western Pennsylvania, which unbeknownst to us had become the headquarters of the Pennsylvania American Family Association, diehard anti-LGBT folks. When that newspaper published that ad, there was a huge big stink that was raised. They were saying, "You should never have been born and you're polluting our children," and all types of attacks. We're looking at this going, "What the heck? We should document this. This is amazing."
Dean Hamer: [01:15:30] We thought, how can we document this? We started asking filmmakers, "Hey, this is a really good story." Of course they were like, "I'm not going to Oil City to do that." About six months later, we got a letter from the mother of a gay kid who'd been outed at school and who had been tormented at school, just tortured by her schoolmates and by the authorities at the school. She said, "We have to tell this story, can you help us?" Even though we were 600 miles away, she said, "You are the only gay people that I know of.
Dean Hamer: [01:16:00] I don't know anybody gay in Oil City." We thought, "Well, we really need to do something about this." We decided, why don't we document this? I went to the local camera store and said, "What type of cameras do you use for this type of work?" They said, "Hey, get this one." I did and we got some microphones.
Mason Funk: Hold that thought. Just hold that thought.
Connie Florez: [crosstalk].
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Connie Florez: Yeah. Roll.
Mason Funk: Okay, so you went to a camera store?
Dean Hamer: Went to a camera, got a camera, drove out to Oil City, seven hour drive and began filming.
Dean Hamer: [01:16:30] We filmed life in that little rural community for a couple of years. Talked with a lot of religious people, talked to a lot of gay people. Of course, there were gay people all over the place, and that really became the ... That movie was called Out in the Silence, and it became the focus for one of the first big movements about school bullying and about rural life for gay people, and really got me involved in activism. I realized that what Joe had been saying all along was that if you really want to make a difference,
Dean Hamer: [01:17:00] you got to tell the story, and you got to tell it in a way that's accessible to people. That sort of started my life as a filmmaker. Meanwhile, we had been going to Hawaii for vacations and like everyone, I love Hawaii. Not only is it beautiful, but I love the ocean, I surf almost every day. I love all things Asian. I studies Chinese and Japanese for a long time. All of these sort of came to a head when we were introduced to Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu,
Dean Hamer: [01:17:30] through a good friend, Connie Florez, who is a fellow filmmaker and I had met at the Hawaii International Film Festival. She said, "Someone you should meet." I said, "What's her story?" She said, "Oh, she's m_h_." I think, "What's that?" She's like, "Oh, that's this Hawaiian tradition, of people who are both male and female." We call them transgender, but it's called m_h_ in Hawaiian. We went and had dinner together, and she told me about her work, and it was really fascinating.
Dean Hamer: [01:18:00] I thought, "Some day we'll make a film about you." She told me at the end of dinner, "Oh, and by the way, next month I'm going to pick up my husband from Tonga, whos now in Fiji and I married him, and I want to bring him back to Hawaii." I was like, "We should start filming that right away." Within the year, we had actually moved out to Hawaii to pursue that film, and quickly realized that this was just an incredible place at so many different levels.
Mason Funk: [01:18:30] What did this cultural phenomenon or tradition mean to you in terms of your work on the so called gay gene?
Dean Hamer: I think one thing that is ... The whole question of gender identity is one that scientists haven't really studied that carefully yet. We don't really understand why most people who are born male identify as male, and most people who are born female identify as female. We figure that's just natural, but there must be something in the brain that instructs
Dean Hamer: [01:19:00] that or canalizes that, that we don't really understand. Why some people who are born with male genetic makeup identify as female and feel female and the vice versa, that's even more poorly understood. What's clear from the tradition of m_h_ is that whatever the biology is beneath that, the environment is equally important in terms of people's actual lives and social acceptance, because here in Hawaii, it's been accepted and even admired to be m_h_.
Dean Hamer: [01:19:30] Whereas in many other cultures, including all western cultures that I know of, it's been something that's unnatural and terrible and horrific. It's really something that underlies both the naturalness of it, and at the same time, how important culture is in acceptance. You can see how important culture is now because suddenly, when I was growing up, nobody was transgender. It was a very rare phenomenon. It was like Renee Richards, and that was it.
Dean Hamer: [01:20:00] I think that scientists of that time said it was like 0.1%. Now it seems like it's like 20% of the population at least in colleges. Obviously, different societal attitudes have made it clear that gender is much more of a spectrum than we ever realized previously. I still think that that's a largely biological spectrum, but its recognition and the way it affects people's lives is very much a matter of our culture and our society.
Dean Hamer: [01:20:30] Let me just say, we see that now we made a film about Kumu Hina, that really brought this idea of m_h_ to mainstream attention. I think it was the first time that a lot of people on the mainland had even heard about this idea. I think it's really been powerful. Not that bigots are going to change their mind because of this m_h_, but because it opens a door to realize you can not just tolerate transgender people,
Dean Hamer: [01:21:00] but actually embrace them and the special abilities and traits that they bring into the world. Even if it's seen as sort of a National Geographic, that's what other people do thing, I think it's important to realize that that's part of our human diversity. It's also been a great tool because one of the chief characters in the film was actually a little girl, nine year old girl who just wants to be part of the boys' Hula troop, and who's really good at doing that. That humanizes things and takes away
Dean Hamer: [01:21:30] the sexuality part in a way that I think has been very powerful for letting parents know that it's okay to have a kid that's not the same gender as everyone else.
Mason Funk: Okay, good.
Dean Hamer: Now you switch top parts, yeah.
Mason Funk: [crosstalk]. Yeah. The question I have about the m_h_ tradition is, is there a component in traditional Hawaiian culture whereby offspring, children are designated or are directed?
Dean Hamer: [01:22:00] For some reason, there has been this belief that in Polynesia, the last child or the last boy in a family is sometimes directed to become m_h_, 'cause they will help the family, help the mom do the dishes or keep up the family and so on. That certainly is not true in modern families. As far as I can tell, that was kind of a semi-myth that was made up by anthropologists, and perhaps by the families themselves to try to explain that.
Dean Hamer: [01:22:30] A last son doesn't become transgender just because their parents want help with doing the dishes. It is true from a scientific point of view that the last born child has a slightly increased probability of being m_h_ or being gay. It's a fairly significant increase, like a 10, 15% increase something like that. There may be that if you look at families, that the last child is more likely to be m_h_, but it's not something that any parent can groom a child to be.
Mason Funk: [01:23:00] Okay, good, 'cause we went to Bora Bora and we heard that whole story down there.
Dean Hamer: That story has now been largely debunked. Again, I think there's probably a certain element of the truth in that a last child is slightly more likely to be m_h_, and I think it's also quite possible that parents would be much more accepting of that if it's a last child, 'cause then they already have other sons who will carry on the family name, which is very important. Plus, generally speaking, parents that have a lot of kids
Dean Hamer: [01:23:30] are much more permissive in the kids' behavior than are others, because they're not so worried about it anymore. It might be a tendency for that to be the case. Then, of course, people may want to make up a story for why the little kid is m_h_ and this is the story that comes up. The idea that m_h_ are made because the family grooms them to be helpers just I think is not really accurate.
Mason Funk: Okay, great. You had said that you wanted to talk about ...
Dean Hamer: [01:24:00] What?
Mason Funk: You talked about Kinsey. You've talked about Joe. You can certainly talk more about Joe.
Dean Hamer: Okay, good.
Mason Funk: You also mentioned the social biologist E.O. Wilson.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Which I think, I know his research and I was like, "Wow, this guy is interesting." Tell me who that is and just give us a thumbnail sketch.
Dean Hamer: I think my two heroes in science have been first Kinsey, because he was bold enough to go out and study human sexuality, discovered a lot of interesting stuff and even when times got rough and he was criticized for it,
Dean Hamer: [01:24:30] stuck by his guns. The other is E.O. Wilson, who is a social biologist. He started his career studying the life of ants, another insect guy just like Kinsey, but then moved on to studying the role of biology in human behavior. He was tremendously criticized for this at Harvard when he started that work in the '70s and '80s. When I did my research in the '90s,
Dean Hamer: [01:25:00] many of the critics were the exact same that criticized E.O. Wilson. They had the same arguments. It wasn't politically favorable for them, it didn't agree with their view of the world, but the science wasn't really what was wrong, it was my view or what they perceived was my view of the world. E.O. Wilson really became a hero to me because he stuck it out through all of that, and now so many of his ideas have been proven to be absolutely correct. I think he made a really lasting contribution just by saying,
Dean Hamer: [01:25:30] "Look, we shouldn't look at what you think it means that behavior had genetic determinants. And just because some people in the past, like the Nazis, used that for bad reasons, doesn't mean that we can't use it for good reasons. It's the knowledge itself that's important. I've always believed that that's the case. I know it's an old adage, that the truth will set you free. What I know for sure is that the untruth and wrong thought will never allow you to be free. I believe in that.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] What do you see as some of his lasting contributions, just to the conversation, E.O. Wilson?
Dean Hamer: E.O. Wilson's important contribution refers that indeed human behavior, all types of human behavior can be influenced by biology. It might not seem radical now, but in the 1970s, at a time where people thought that schizophrenia was caused by bad mothering, it was kind of radical and really important. E.O. Wilson's other lasting contribution is that if you're going to understand behavior,
Dean Hamer: [01:26:30] you have to understand evolution, and that we did not arrive here made by God, we arrived here from billions of years of life evolving and natural selection, and that everything is dictated by that. That is the greater force that guides us.
Mason Funk: That reminds me of an interesting conversation that goes into the gay gene conversation, which is the idea of homosexuality arising from a sort of an altruistic evolutionary impulse. I wonder if you could touch on that.
Dean Hamer: [01:27:00] Yeah. One of the big mysteries about homosexuality is how can there be a gay gene when gays don't have children? Would be the simplified version of it. This has been an argument that's even entered in the political arena. The first time that I testified in court was over Colorado Amendment 2, which took away the ability of cities to have gay rights ordinances. One of the arguments that the opposition wanted to make was that there couldn't be a gay gene 'cause it couldn't evolve.
Dean Hamer: [01:27:30] But there was a problem because, of course, the opposition was all fundamentalist religion people, and they don't believe in evolution. So they couldn't really make that. I can remember sitting in court and being asked by a lawyer, "Well, from your understanding of barnyard behavior of animals, how could this ... " I was like, "What?" I slowly realized he meant evolution, but they couldn't actually call it that. It is a mystery. Even though gay people, including myself, have children, I have a wonderful daughter with two wonderful lesbian mothers,
Dean Hamer: [01:28:00] certainly gay people on average have fewer children. One explanation was that that's because gay people are altruistic, and they help their relatives have more children. This is like the gay uncle that paints the caves so that the what, you know. It's an interesting theory. It only really works in insects, where there's much greater sharing of genetic material. When you only share 50% with your closest relatives, you have to be really altruistic for that to work,
Dean Hamer: [01:28:30] very unlikely. For a gay gene in males, there's a much simpler explanation, which actually has support now. That is that the same gene that decreases reproduction in men increases it in females. Specifically, imagine a gene that made your brain be sexually attracted to males. If you're a guy and you get that gene, you're going to think, "Hey, guys are sexy." You're going to be gay, maybe not so many children. If you're a woman who gets that gene, your brain is going to think,
Dean Hamer: [01:29:00] "Wow, men are really sexy." You're going to have more sex with guys, therefore more children. If the gene is on the X chromosome, women get two doses of it, two probabilities and men only get one, so they're either more likely. It doesn't take much of a balancing act to allow such a gene to be perpetuated in the population. You might think, well, that's just storytelling, that's just fantasy. There's actually good hard experimental evidence now that this is true. A really wonderful scientist in Italy did a whole bunch of studies on the pedigrees of gay families
Dean Hamer: [01:29:30] and found that the maternal aunts and maternally related relatives of gay men have greater fecundity than those on the other side of the family. I think that there's a good evolutionary explanation. It's not really for a gay gene, but for a likes to have sex with men gene, or for a promiscuous female gene you could call it.
Mason Funk: That's great stuff. I love that. Thank you. I guess my mind is going crazy, but we're going to wrap up now. Do you see all your work as unified in some way?
Dean Hamer: [01:30:00] I think that all my work is unified by the principle of knowing the truth and understanding what's really going on, and whether that's at the molecular level of what atoms affects your sexual orientation, or whether it's at the population level of why are m_h_ or transgendered people accepted in one place and not in another, that's all really the unifying trend, that I like to think. Of course, everyone thinks that they have the truth.
Dean Hamer: [01:30:30] When I say the truth, I mean things that can be proven and analyzed and measured and quantitated. To me, that is what leads to the truth and that's what I firmly believe in.
Mason Funk: Great. Final four questions. Short snappy [crosstalk].
Dean Hamer: Okay.
Mason Funk: If someone comes to you tomorrow and says, "Dean, I'm thinking about coming out." What would be your short pearl of wisdom for that person.
Dean Hamer: [01:31:00] I think that you can come out and you don't have to be afraid. It's possible to do, and you'll be surprised how many people will support you. All that being said, if it puts the person in personal danger where they're being kicked out of the family or whatever, then you have to temper it with all of that. I think coming out is not nearly as scary as you think it's going to be.
Mason Funk: What is your hope for the future?
Dean Hamer: [01:31:30] My hope for the future at this point is that we get back to a rational world. We've suddenly gone into this weird other world where the truth doesn't matter anymore. At this point, I'm always a believer in scientific truth and the real truth. At this point, I'd settle for just the truth truth, like A is A and B is B, which we've gone beyond. This question has probably become a lot more complicated, in this particular year, because really, I mean, Jesus, I'm hoping
Dean Hamer: [01:32:00] the fucking North Koreans don't bomb the shit out of us, is what I'm hoping at this point. I guess my broader hope for the future is that ultimately, rationality and compassion will win out. I think the broad sweep of history is things are always getting better. We're much less violent than we used to be. There are fewer people in poverty. The world is getting to be a better place. What's important is to direct that betterment at all of the people right now,
Dean Hamer: [01:32:30] because everybody's life is affected by all the craziness that's going on now.
Mason Funk: Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Dean Hamer: It's incredibly important to tell our stories because ...
Mason Funk: Your story, just you personally. Like why did you say yes?
Dean Hamer: I said yes because I think that as a scientist, I have a different perspective on things than most people do,
Dean Hamer: [01:33:00] because it's not political, although everything you do is political, and it's not social, although everything you do is social. It is grounded in what we call scientific truth. I think that's an important perspective. I realize it's just a perspective, but I think it's a really important one. Anything in the world that goes against scientific truth is wrong, and we have to recognize that.
Mason Funk: Do we have to hold for this plane?
Connie Florez: No.
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] No, okay. The last question so then, I think the one you got to answer. OUTWORDS, which is the first attempt to kind of paint what I think was a composite portrait of our people through these in depth interviews. Why do you see OUTWORDS, and please mention OUTWORDS in your answer, as being important?
Dean Hamer: I think that the one thing that we've learned is that if you don't write your history, it will not be read. An archive like OUTWORDS is incredibly important because there has been so much that's happened in the gay world,
Dean Hamer: [01:34:00] and change has occurred so quickly, and all of that change was driven by people, and we need to know those stories. There will be a time at some point in the future where all of this will seem kind of silly, but there will be another time when things start to go backward, where it will be important to have those stories, and have them consolidated in a way that they can be referenced.
Mason Funk: Great. Connie, I didn't let you know ahead of time, but I always like to make space for you to ask any questions you might have that you think are important for Dean in the minute or two we have left. I'm sorry, we need more time.
Connie Florez: [01:34:30] I would say like ...
Dean Hamer: The reason I'm so handsome is that ...
Connie Florez: Big beautiful blue eyes that I know Joe stares at.
Mason Funk: Your answer [inaudible].
Dean Hamer: Okay, I'll answer you, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Connie Florez: I would say science because I know you're always going back and forth to D.C. What other projects do you have that are coming up, that you are still working on 'cause you're still [crosstalk].
Dean Hamer: [01:35:00] Okay, great, great. Let me explain, yeah, yeah.
Connie Florez: Yeah.
Dean Hamer: Even though I'm now officially a scientist emeritus, which is just a very fancy name for retired, I keep my hand in the scientific ring and my lab at the National Institutes of Health still has two people who are working. They're working on a really interesting project, which is a way to protect women against HIV infection, without having to take drugs and without having to use physical barriers. It's a sort of bacteria that protects the vagina against HIV.
Dean Hamer: [01:35:30] We're hoping that that will get into humans sometime in the next or three years, and that it will provide a layer of protection, especially for people in countries where women don't have as much control over their health as they do here, in all of Africa, that will be sort of a living bio-shield that will help protect women. I'm really excited about developing that.
Mason Funk: Great. We have to stop.
Dean Hamer: Okay.
Mason Funk: Let's just do room tone.
Connie Florez: [01:36:00] Okay.
Dean Hamer: Yeah.
Mason Funk: You want to call out room tone.
Dean Hamer: Room tone.
Connie Florez: [01:36:30] Room tone. 30 seconds.
Mason Funk: Great. Awesome.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Connie Florez
Date: January 09, 2018
Location: Hawai`i LGBT Legacy Foundation, Honolulu, HI