Being left-handed, being gay

The Wimbledon match between Federer and Zverev yesterday got me thinking. Federer is right-handed and Zverev is left-handed, and that’s all there is to it. Nobody wonders what made Zverev left-handed, or if he could be talked out of it. The tabloids do not print rumors that Federer has left-handed tendencies he keeps darkly to himself.

The analogy of left-handedness with gayness goes pretty deep. So far as I can tell, both are understood to have complex causes mixing genes, development in utero, and other factors hard to disentangle. Like so many analogies, this one draws you in with a complex skein of similarities and differences. A similarity is that not everybody is perfectly left-handed or right-handed, just as not everybody is perfectly gay or straight. A difference is that gayness comes with an obvious evolutionary cost, whereas left-handedness seems on the face of it to be evolutionarily neutral. And what about our cultural responses to these syndromes? My opening paragraph may suggest that left-handedness is accepted without a ripple, but it is not so simple in Saudi Arabia, India, or China.

[9 July 2017]