A Quick Refresher: The Truth About Water Making You Gay
Some politicians seem to be hung up on the idea that H2O can change your sexuality, so we double checked the facts.
When I read that Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Susan King had claimed chemicals in water are turning people gay, it wasn't all that surprising.
It was only a few years ago that a UKIP councillor blamed a bout of British flooding on the passing of same-sex marriage legislation. Just a few weeks ago, a long-serving Tory MP on the Isle of Wight was forced to drop out of the election race after telling a bunch of kids that homosexuality is wrong. Tim Farron – the Liberal Democrat leader – has repeatedly been asked to clarify whether he believes an invisible man in the sky will send two consenting adult men to an invisible scorching hellfire if they choose to do it up the bum (he eventually said he doesn't).
It might be 2017, but homophobia – both explicit and batshit – is still very much A Thing in British politics.
"There are a lot of feminising hormones getting into the environment and that has to be taken into consideration; it's affecting people's sexuality, basically," Susan King said in a web chat with the Shropshire Star last week. "I've done a lot of research connected with water quality, and that is where I gained my political and media experience."
So hold on: everything Susan King – who is standing for the Lib Dems in the West Midlands constituency of Telford – said during that online Q&A was based on science, and not a product of your bog standard religious guff? Maybe she's onto something? Got to give her the benefit of the doubt; people said Einstein was a moron in his day.
Think about it. Firstly, there's still no scientific explanation as to why some people are gay and some people aren't. It's a mystery. I'm gay, and I drink water. In fact, every gay man I can think of has drunk water in their lifetime, too.
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And Susan isn't alone in thinking that something in our H20 might be turning people h-O-mo. Alex Jones (the American far-right conspiracy-loving shock-jock, not that Welsh woman off The One Show) has long been making the exact same case.
"The reason there's so many gay people now is because it's a chemical warfare operation," he yelled from his studio back in 2013. According to Jones, some US government agency is filling up juice boxes with chemicals that "encourage homosexuality".
"After you're done drinking your little juices, well, I mean, you're ready to go out and have a baby," he added, which seemed somewhat contradictory. "You're ready to put make-up on. You're ready to wear a short skirt. You're ready to go, you know, put together a, you know, garden of roses or something. You're ready to put lipstick on." (I think he means it'll make you bent.)
The mayor of a small Peruvian town agrees with them, as do a bunch of weird bloggers.
However, the only research the "gay water" theorists regularly cite is a University of California Berkeley study from 2010.
"Atrazine, one of the most commonly used and controversial weedkillers, can turn male frogs into females," researchers claimed, according to Reuters. "Atrazine has caused a hormonal imbalance that has made them develop into the wrong sex, in terms of their genetic constitution."In the week that's passed following King's somewhat whacky outburst, I've been speaking to experts, scientists and others in the know myself, determined to find out if we've all been laughing at her unfairly.
"Regarding Ms King's comments, I'd start by suggesting she stays away from the 'expert scientific reporting' of the likes of the Daily Mail," Matt Young, a neuroscientist from the University of Nottingham tells me. "Environmental pollution has a whole host of negative effects on human health, but suggesting that water-borne pollutants are altering people's sexuality is taking it a step too far. Compounds that either mimic or disrupt the functions of hormones are known to be produced as waste products in the production of plastics and other industrial products. If they make their way into the environment, these and other waste chemicals can build up over time."
While he admits it's true that such compounds have been shown to alter the physical sex of fish and frogs, "frogs and many species of fish – notably Nemo [clownfish] – can spontaneously change their sex anyway".
"Fish are not humans, and humans don't spend their lives living in and breathing water. Due to their natural sex-swapping characteristics, it's likely some fish and frogs are very susceptible to the actions of these pollutants, but there's still no evidence they can influence the development of sexuality," he adds. "I'm not suggesting this type of water pollution is harmless, but I am saying it's not the holy grail of gay water it's being made out to be."
"It's a very long way from saying chemicals in the water are changing people's DNA and changing their sexuality," adds Stuart Haylock, a biochemist at Imperial College London. "There is absolutely no evidence that this is the case."
I spoke to eight scientists in total, and not one of them gave King's views a drop of credence.
The chemical examined in the UC Berkeley study has long been banned by the European Union, so there's no chance of finding it in British water. King's equating of gender to sexuality, femininity and homosexuality is downright offensive. Sex is a physical characteristic; gender is psychological; sexuality is who you want to fuck. Oh, and humans aren't frogs.
I tried to reach Susan King for a comment, but she has no social media accounts and no contact information is available. The Lib Dem press office wouldn't put me in contact, the local party refused to pass on my note. Either she's being kept away from talking to the media or the CIA have already dragged her, with the other knowing truthers, away to some subterranean bunker.
So there it is: the truth behind gay water. Either believe crackpot Alex Jones, Susan from Telford and a mayor in Peru, or what seems to be the entire scientific community. For the avoidance of doubt, though, if any homophobes reading this want to avoid catching gay by boycotting water, I'm all for it. The rest of us can keep swallowing in peace.