Paul Thomas: Genetic attraction - a love that dare not speak its name

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GSA is the phenomenon of close relatives who meet for the first time as adults and can't keep their hands off each other. Photo / Getty Images
GSA is the phenomenon of close relatives who meet for the first time as adults and can't keep their hands off each other. Photo / Getty Images

Names are a big deal. Would Marion Mitchell Morrison have become an American icon if he hadn't changed his name to John Wayne? Would Elton John have become a pop superstar and byword for flamboyance if he'd stuck with Reg Dwight?

Would the irrefutable evidence that Barack Hussein Obama was born in the USA and is a practising Christian have been as wilfully and widely ignored if he was named Barry Harold O'Brien? For that matter, would Sonny Bill Williams command such attention if his name didn't fold into a distinctive abbreviation?

Then there's the technique of using neologisms or euphemisms to give unusual behaviour a gloss of respectability or obscure the true nature of awful acts. "Polyamorism," for instance, is having multiple sexual partners of both genders who in turn have multiple partners. You have to admit it sounds a bit better than "rampant promiscuity" and way better than "shagging anything that moves".

(Polyamorics categorise disapproval of their activities as "polyphobia", which is presumably resentment of people who are getting more sex than you are.)

"Extraordinary rendition" could mean just about anything. In fact, it's agents of country A kidnapping a resident of country B and transferring him to a secret facility in country C, usually for the purposes of torture. And of course genocide is now known as "ethnic cleansing," a term that suits war criminals down to the ground because you can skim over it without entirely registering that a whole bunch of people were slaughtered.

Which brings us to incest or, as we now have to call it in certain cases, Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA).

GSA is the phenomenon of close relatives who meet for the first time as adults and can't keep their hands off each other. As in Kim West (51) and her son Ben Ford (32) who have just unapologetically outed themselves as a couple.

Briton West got pregnant at 19 while studying in California. She put her son up for adoption; 30 years passed. A couple of years ago Ford tracked her down and it was lust at first sight.

Three days after they had sex for the first time, Ford told his wife he was leaving her for his mother.

According to Charlotte Gill, the writer of a Daily Telegraph article that also appeared in the Herald, GSA is real, more widespread than we think and we'd better get used to it.

Call me sceptical. That's partly personal experience: my family emigrated from the UK when I was two and the best part of three decades elapsed before I met any aunts, uncles or cousins. When I did so, GSA was conspicuous by its absence. Without ever having discussed it with my sisters - for some reason the subject just never came up - I'm pretty sure the same goes for them.

The evidence that there's such a thing as GSA is pretty thin. The term was coined in the 1980s by American Barbara Gonyo who went weak at the knees when she was reunited with the son she'd given up for adoption.

This is both self-diagnosis, hardly the most reliable scientific methodology, and self-serving. (Ford told a magazine, "This is not incest, it's GSA." Understandably: in Michigan, where he and his mother are shacked up, plain old incest is a crime punishable by life imprisonment.)

Gill refers to a single study but glibly skates over the lack of scientific evidence: "There's not a great deal of research into the area because who wants a PhD in incest?" How about anyone wanting to persuade us that incest has genetic origins?

Besides, since when did the scientific community let public opinion influence its areas of research? Each year at Harvard University a committee including Nobel laureates hands out the "Ig Nobels" to scientists engaged in spectacularly frivolous or dubious research. Past winners include a team that explored the viability of a "gay bomb" that would cause enemy troops to become sexually attracted to each other.

Gill insists that "those who succumb to GSA are not sickos or freaks but victims who desperately need help and understanding. Their feelings are not controllable." This characterisation sits uneasily alongside the presentation of West and Ford's story and their crowing about "incredible and mind-blowing sex".

And given the sordid, coercive and traumatising nature of most incest, it seems a little reckless to push a "my DNA made me do it" line, even in unusual cases.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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