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Gay by nature: Part one

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  1. Very interesting Pnews! This is an amazing piece of commentary and I do hope that more articles of this importance continue! Work like this really does help the gay community and I’m glad that Pnews is playing a part in spreading this information. With religious bigotry and conversion therapy there’s a real agenda of misinformation and things like this can only help vulnerable gays who are being swayed. Good work!

  2. Very interesting – Some observations on the hereditary aspects –
    There seems to be a stereotypical assumption here that totally gay individuals don’t reproduce. We know this is nonsense. So gay genes (if such exist) can win out in natural selection anyway, if not in great numbers.
    ‘Nurturing’ traits are generally advantageous to human beings as social animals, not just to females looking for fathers for their young. If the theoretical gay genes are associated with these traits (another stereotype?), they would confer advantages through heightening sociability and cooperation. Romantic and sexual attraction between individuals of the same sex must in any case reinforce such traits among the population, whether or not the associated ‘genes’ tend more in this direction than the ‘straight’ ones. Sophisticated interaction and cooperation between individuals made h. saps the most successful mammal on the planet after the brown rat. But unlike the brown rat, h. saps is very reproductively inefficient – we have few young and they are dependent for many years. Working together is the secret! We should be proud of our contribution!

  3. Interesting article, lets hope it gets out there for the rest of the world to read and isn’t just here for Pinknews readers. I’m amazed how many people i’ve come across who think it must be me that has “made” my son gay, i’ve been told i must be an “overbearing,domineering mother” and that he has “chosen this lifestyle”, someone even mooted that i must have wanted a daoghter?! Absolutely MAD. More articles like this may help to dispel these ridiculous myths.

  4. I agree with the others. This is an interesting article! Thanks for posting it!

  5. Confirms what is common sense to most gay people! And gay animals!! This needs to be published far and wide.

    I believe one of the issues that gets in the way of clearing this up is that our environment (i.e. upbringing and culture) generall ysteers people down a ‘straight’ path, thus confusing people about their sexuality until they are old enough or lucky enough to realise their true identity.

    Good work Pink News!!

  6. There is nothing new here but very succinctly put in Q&A format. This Qazi Rahman did much of the cognitive differentiation work in his own research. I recommend his book ‘Born Gay’ for more details (although don’t expect an exciting read – quite academic). This is balance polymorphism theory of genetic transmission but I would argue that even normative range of neurological embryonic development might lead to a range of sexualities – i.e. same set of genes that deliver heterosexuality also are capable of producing homosexuality – epigenesis (DNA methylation referred to) might itself be selected for to deliver diversity (being the key to evolution generally) in off-spring thus favouring that genetic line. i.e. there is no biological separation of straight and gay except where we might account for also for differences between man and women. In the end we are all just the result of successful human evolution.

  7. Jean-Paul Bentham 1 Dec 2009, 10:29pm

    Thank you, Adrian Tippetts, for bringing us Dr. Qazi Rahman. More!

  8. To be able to define the terms “gay” and “straight”, one needs to be able to define the terms “man” and “woman”.

    That is not as obvious as some would like to make us think. Take a look at this report: http://www.iaaf.org/aboutiaaf/news/newsid=54923.html
    and this one too: https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1476809&Site=DC

    How many of us have met men with vaginas or women with penises, without knowing it?

    If our genitals defined sex-identity, there would be no such thing as transgender people or intersex men and women.

    Applying the terms “man” and “woman” to all of humanity based on the concept that gender is a binary of genital obligatorily leads to gender discrimination, the need for operations, hormone treatments, and many other discriminations, including homophobia.

    Gender (as with all personality traits) is self defined.

    Saying gender is primarily defined by others is a fundamental rights abuse, and, above all, it is also what leads to many of us being labelled “gay”.

  9. Excellent points, Emma. I completely agree with what you said.

    Thank you, Adrian Tippetts, for an interesting and well-written article. Like many people I know I was born gay but, after all the hate and ill-informed crap from some religious fundamentalists, it’s nice to read some scientific facts.

  10. Thank-you for the comments. This is a complex topic; there is a lot of knowledge hidden away in labs, lengthy scientific papers, and of course in expert minds. It really needs unlocking and putting into ‘cat sat on the mat’ language.

    Interesting remarks from Emma and Riondo – for sure, humans have achieved their ‘apex’ status by collaboration and spreading ideas. I think Emma highlights the fact that in some areas a lot more research needs to be done – though I don’t want to give too much away…..

  11. It would be interesting to exchange the terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual”, “gay” and “straight” in this article.

    Per the comment “People do not end up sexually attracted to bananas or animals for example”:
    Some people do and they (just as homosexuals were and transgender people still are) are classified as being mentally ill. (see ICD 10 F65 http://apps.who.int/classifications/apps/icd/icd10online/ )

    The environmental influences upon personality development need research focus.

  12. Lizzie –
    It must be infuriating to hear this persistent guilt-engendering crap. I think a lot of people still cling to this unscientific Freudian bilge because it rationalizes both homophobia and misogyny. Cookie ideas don’t live on unless they serve to underpin underlying prejudices.

  13. Phelim McIntyre 2 Dec 2009, 2:28pm

    Oh dear, for a so called scientist how unscientific. Rather than a scientific report it is nothing but poor propaganda, as seen by the quoting of The Bailey and Pritchard. The twin study quoted (who’s participnats were recruited from the gay scene) has only a 52% level where both identical twins are gay. If homosexuality was due to genetics and hormones we would need higher than that – at least 80%. Michael Bailey did another piece of research using the twin registary in Australia, which I notice is not mentioned. Could this because he found a level of where one twin is gay the other identical twin also being gay of only 7%. Michale King, of Univeristy College London, also did a twin study in the 1990s and found a level of where one identical twin being gay the other one also being gay was only 10%. The article also fails to mention the various research carried out by Hamer and others that have found no evidence of any genetic component to homosexuality or that the person who developed the statistical test that Hamer claimed to use dismissing Hamer’s original research as non-scientific.

    Dr Rahman wrote a book called “Born Gay” which even Peter Tatchell on his blog has dismissed as unscientific. If people bother to read Raham’s book and check his and his co-authors claims against the scientifc papers they will dismiss it, as Tatchell and even leading members of the American Psychiatric Association have as unscientific.

  14. Aside from the question of Raham’s biased use of sources, and the highly vexed question of why we persist with the concept of a gender binary, I’m interested to know whether the brain differences mentioned hold cross-culturally. After all, the brain is a massively plastic organ, so that habit of thought actually changes its architecture. Dismissing environment when we know that “neurons that fire together wire together”, and that we can literally train the brain to change, seems somewhat short sighted.

  15. The above comment from Mr McIntyre requires us to refer to Carl Sagan’s ‘baloney detection kit’, (fully explained in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUB4j0n2UDU ). Even if there are a couple of reports, which don’t fit the data, it doesn’t explain the overwhelming data which indeed does support that being gay is natural.

    Identical genes do not have to behave identically – which is why we talk about the significance of methylation.

    Stick around for part 2, in which Dr Rahman slams reparative therapy as gibberish, based on debunked Freudian pseudoscience, which has never been supported by any peer reviewed scientific paper, in any credible journal apart from religious websites (just like Intelligent Design creationism, in fact).

  16. Oh, dear, here comes that word ‘natural'(vaguely meaning ‘hardwired’, ‘not acquired’, not attributable to human intervention; but why the hell these things should not be ‘natural’ is not usually explained) again. The issue is surely not where getting it on with your own sex comes from but why you should change it even if you could. Pervasive homophobia underlies obsessions about ‘why we are that way.’ Government, medical intervention, heated houses and wearing clothes and art are not natural, but nobody holds this against them.

  17. Well Riondo, art, buildings, clothes and other memes, such as religion, are indeed the result of naturally selected human brain. Just because we are the only species on the planet to invent purpose, does not separate the objects we design from the natural world.

    Pervasive homophobia may well be the urge for some, but it is also a natural urge to ask why we are the way we are. We are drawn to discover, for discovery’s sake.

  18. Oh dear. I thought these debates were put to bed a long time ago. Why not ask ‘What causes HETEROsexuality?’ Just for a change? Michel Foucault did (see his ‘History of Sexuality, Vol.1′. So did Jonathan Ned Katz (‘The Invention of Heterosexuality’). Read em and weep and then forget all this pseudo-scientific propaganda. It’s not about causality, it’s about seeing people as equal citizens, and if you predicate equality on what is ‘natural’ then goddess help us all. Especially those of us who are bisexual, polysexual, polyamorous, genderQueer, gender variant, intersex, etc., etc., etc.

  19. @Lilith, unlike many who quote Foucault, I’ve read The Will to Knowledge and found it deeply unconvincing, lacking in data, and I do not buy the lack of authentic autonomy on which social constructivist arguments are based. As for “pseudo-scientific propaganda” yes, sciences gets it wrong and we can delude ourselves that any of this is actually ‘proof’ Some of the scientists involved may not have altogether beneficient motives in mind even. But it’s the thrust of eveince across so many aspects of our phsyiology and humanity that is compelling I believe.

    @Anon – the brain rapidly loses plasticity after around 2-3 years – that is why cannot learn languages easily after about 6-8 years.
    In any case the strucutures in the limbic system invovled in emotion and sex are liekly to be even less subject to life/environment otherwise, early hominids could ‘learn’ to lose fear. They don’t and we don’t. There is certainly no way that brains alter their ‘architecture’ after our early years.

    Having said all that – Rahman and other scientists investigate gay and lesbian specifically. Those are the ‘samples’ most easy to study. There is nothing to say that there are multiple sexualities and self-identities resulting from neurological differentiation in embryo and who’s to say they are nay bettern or worse. They just ‘are’. Same with man vs woman. What we become as persons is only the result of our environment (pre-natal, early years) but that is not to say that male or female or gay or straight or queer can somehow ‘disappear’ with the right environment.

  20. Adrian, all ideas (espcially including the boy/girl ideology directly linking sex personality to a binary genital concept) are the result of repetitive environmental exposure.

    We are born without any ideas…

    As Paul mc rightly points out, the brain loses plasticity over time…which means that our ideas become more fixed…including those concerning our gender identity and our sexual preferences (and all other likes and dislikes).

    (Think of why people “come out” or “transition” at differnet ages…because balance between brain plasticity and environmental factors mean it makes no more sense to the person to hide).

    Paint a baby’s bedroom blue, surround it with stereotypical “boy” objects and tell it it is a boy and you may not create a “boy” (recall David Reimer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer ) but you will certainly influence the child’s gender development and personality.

    All ideas, and personality traits are not a free choice just as nobody actively “chooses” to be “gay” or “straight”… to like whisky, to hate evening suits or whatever.

    Our environment is not a totally free choice either…

  21. @Paulmc: I didn’t ‘quote Foucault’ I suggested that people read an alternative to the heterosexist pseudoscience that masquerades as psychiatry and pathologised lesbians, gay men and trans people for a century and a half – and continues to pathologise gender variant people in the 21st century. The human sciences are not unbiased and are absolutely saturated in the normalising ideas about gender and sexual binaries that continue to plague us. What I find ‘unconvincing’ is the idea that billions of human beings can be split into two categories, and that anyone who doesn’t fit those categories is subjected to the most dangerous, violent and invasive surgery that one can imagine – no matter what age they happen to be.

  22. @ Lilith – Yes, I’ve read Eve Sedgewick too. Unconvincing again. No explanation of why some people feel certain things and other not. Dismissing science as incapable of truth whilst failing to see the mote in her own re: truth. To believe that being gay or lesbian or pan-sexual or asexual or queer or intersex are things that are present at birth – is not pathologising, it is just to say that it is no more a pathology than being straight or being male or being a female. I agree that gender is not something that can be put down to simply the presence of either an XX or an XY in each cell of the body – environment must ‘make’ someone male or female to the extent we currently define them. I agree also that decision to operate on person (baby or child) to ‘make’ them male or female is wrong just because society would prefer them that way.

    I agree re: heterosexist, normative assumption in science- but you are not free to tell me that how I feel is wrong without some evidence (which of course you can’t provide). Rahman’s evidence doesn’t preclude you from being ‘you’ whatever brought you to that – neither does it preclude a purely biological etiology for being gay. Why do want to take that away from me? I am not talking about gender or sexual binary. I am just talking about me – a gay man – a unique individual with a unique set of genes, embryonic environment and upbringing. I don’t care whatever other categories are out there – there could be as many as there are unique persons and likely so if you drill down enough – I am not arguing for anything binary or dichotomous – I am just talking about me.

    Let me put it this way. At least some people are gay and are born that way. Others aren’t. Simples.

  23. Has anyone tried to look for the cause of heterosexuality? I don’t think is necessary to make that much emphasis on something that not wrong.. Looking for causes seem like an apologetic discourse on why we are gay. Does it change something if it’s completely biological? Homosexual and heterosexual are cultural concepts and constructions. This two and everything in between are just a part of normal sexuality. Like all the different shades of skin color there are all sorts of sexualities (not just 2), and they are subject to be changed by nature and nurture. I think, personally, that is wrong to fix something is not broken… that is, religious or other groups trying to make of heterosexuality the desired sexual identity. And also trying to force people into repentece for sins that don’t exist. But there is evidence that sexual orientation can flow and change trough out life, which means that it´s not only biological.
    For more info you can read: XY by Elisabeth Badinter, Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, some of the studies of John Money, etc.

  24. “At least some people are gay and are born that way. Others aren’t. Simples.”

    Regardless of what you believe, and what the religious zealots insist we believe, there is not one shred of proof that people “become” gay. In fact, all evidence is that we are born this way, not including the staggering amount of testimonials verifying this from gay people themselves!!! That’s the one always ignored by the so called religious. It should be easy to prove when you think of it, if it were true, a lot of us would apparently remember being straight….

    Anyway, why gay people are is a matter of scientific curiosity. Its is not a prerequisite for validation or equality. The insistence of some malignant sections of society that we need to be ‘scientifically proven’ before we can have acceptance, is nothing than the fallacy of Loki’s Wager.

    As a scientist, I am eager to see why gay people exists. But as a gay man, I don’t need someone to somehow validate me what I already know about myself:- I was born this way, and I certainly didn’t wake up one morning and decided to kiss boys for kicks. The very notion that this applies to every gay man on the planet is absurd.

  25. Being a gay boy child does not mean you play with dolls and dress up as a girl(!) Ok I had an action man, but so did all my peer group in the 1960s! I also had a train and a toy castle and cars; boys toys. You can’t influence someone to be gay by their environment or their upbringing; mot people are raised in a hetrosexual environment after all

  26. Will – “I am eager to see why gay people exists. But as a gay man, I don’t need someone to somehow validate me what I already know about myself”

    @ will – well said! And this is the core of the problem, isnt it? We dont have to, as you said ‘validate’, out existence to these people or anyone. Its madness to think that all the gay people in the world, millions of them over the centuries, all decided to ‘chose’ to be gay. Only an idiot would assume that to be the case, it just doesnt make any sense!!! The most logical conclusion? It has to be a combination/single biological cause, genetic and pre-natal. Just becuase we dont know something now, doesnt mean we never will.

  27. @Will “why gay people are is a matter of scientific curiosity. Its is not a prerequisite for validation or equality.”

    Very well said.

  28. @Damian – the trouble with Money/Weeks/Halperin et al. is that the idea of fluidity in sexuality (not identity which is social construct) is EXACTLY what anti-gay religious people and the likes of NARTH/Nicolosi et al say about it. There may well be all sorts of sexualities in reality, I agree strongly, but at least one of those is to be born gay, immutable, innate, ever-present, compelling and that is true for a great many gay men and lesbians. I don’t see anything wrong in finding that to be a biological certainty. If others find their sexuality fluid then that is fine too.

    Note: skin colour does not change over life with nuture, nor does sex (not gender identity) except by surgery . Why should being gay not be an unchanging characteristic? That is what the scientific evidence shows and what an authentic hermeneutic approach to the ontology and phenomenology of being gay tells us in many cases (though not all persons experience it that way).

    I distrust anyone using the word discourse. It reminds me of the very power relations and discursive centres Foucault actually warned us about.

    I suggest a reading of “True Nature” Michael Kauth for a balanced approach.

  29. Phelim McIntyre 3 Dec 2009, 4:13pm

    Followed the link to youtube and the people who need to apply it are those who believe Dr Rahman. So idnetical twins genes don’t need to be identical! So identical twins are not actually identical. Even when both are exposed to the same levels of methalyn but one is gay and the other isn’t. Neither Rahman or Pink News can actually explain that – why? Is it because despite what Rahman says and people on this site want there is no evidence for homosexuality being inborn? Often the gay animal, gay gene and other gay nature reports are published with no proper peer reviewing and those who question it are attacked. Yet reparative therapy has had research presented to major bodies and journals, peer reviewed and seen as proper – something that can not be said for Dr Rahmans work or any of the anti-reparative therapy nonsense Pink Therapy like to publish. If I can read and pull apart Dr Rahman’s book and I only have science a levels and went to the research he claims to quote why can’t Pink Therapy?

  30. Phelim McIntyre 3 Dec 2009, 4:17pm

    Oh yes. Are we to take Dr Rahman;s openning comment about sexual orientation due to penis and vagina seriously? Why then are their gay men who do not get any satisfaction from penetrating only from being penetrated? Why do they have a penis? This is before his anti-bisexuality comments where he dismisses bisexual behaviour (there is only heterosexual and homosexual). Hopefully bisexuals, transexauals and transgenders won’t read this article as they will probably be horrified at the pro-homosexual bigotry that rules out anything other than Kinsey’s extremes.

  31. @Phelim – “Neither Rahman or Pink News can actually explain that “ – I can – do YOU know the variability in levels of embryonic DNA methylation? Actually epigenesis happens all through foetal development and into old age. How do you think the embryo knows which copy of the gene to use? (One comes from mother, one from the father). Even 2 minutes spent researching monzygosis and epigenesis and you will find a mountain of research on what make MZ twins non-identical.

    “ If I can read and pull apart Dr Rahman’s book and I only have science a levels “ You can’t , you lose.

    Also, I mentioned lying to you which you ignored. Now you are lying again. Please show me the peer-reviewed papers in MAINSTREAM Journals. Do you mean the time one of NARTH’s researchers passed off a poster presented at a conference as a peer-reviewed paper? And gave a different title to get it past conference organizers? Are that so-called longitudinal study published by Jones and Yarhouse from the religious university? Ahh yes…. real science my ass.

    Please don’t lie again and state that there is “no evidence” for homosexuality being inborn – you perjure yourself.

  32. @Phelim – sorry to get personal but having read elsewhere that you actually might be contact with those questioning their sexuality, I have to say my feeling is that you are a danger to them. You can’t tell the difference between paid-for journals and proper peer-reviewed mainstream research then I also suspect you not even of a standard to pass typical counselling qualifications. Please clarify.

  33. Hi Paul mc… I do understand your vision, overall i think you are right and we are not so far apart in our ideas… Being the main goal the acceptance of different sexualities (like homosexuality).
    Most certainly Money is not my favorite gender theorist, but we have to recognize his achievement of separating gender from sex, I think that between his contemporaries, Milton Diamond, in any case was more balanced in his ideas. Money was dangerous in lot of ways, including endorsing pedophilia.
    My only problem with the concept of gay is that it doesn´t necessarily cover all the different identities of homosexual people, because to my understanding, gay is not only a sexual preference but also a cultural identity.
    Also, I think there is a very big problem in the lack of consensus of what each word means (sex, gender, gender identity). For me, I take my cue from Butler and Badinter, but for example Colette Chiland has a different perspective on their definitions, specially when trying to create equivalent words in French. I think its hard to have a debate if the core concepts change.
    When I make a reference to the color of the skin changing trough life, means that different conditions in your life will change complexion. V.B. Someone that works all day in the crops and its exposed to the sun all day probably will darken; while someone that works from 8 to 6 as a subway driver probably will have a lighter version of his skin color.
    I don’t have any problems with finding a biological origin of sexual preference. But I would be careful to search for the origin of homosexuality, rather than sexual orientation in general. If being homosexual has an biological origin it should be subject to the same principles than the origins of heterosexuality. The biological theory has not been a 100% proved, therefore is not a law. My concern about this theory is that a lot of people use it as an apology for being gay, when there is nothing to apologize about. If eventually scientist discover that “nurturers”, were all wrong I wont have any problems accepting it.
    Lastly, of course there can be a gay or homosexual identity, pure.. and any one in this case (like me) should feel comfortable with it. I guess we could take as a reference Kinsley’s degrees between hetero and homo.
    I’m going to look for the book… I’m sure I will find it very interesting… I think that is incredible that one can have this type of discussion on the Internet or else, as free of bigotry as posible.
    In any case if you have other pertinent bibliography I would definitely like to have it. This is one of the core subjects of my work as an artist. In my website you will find my contact.
    http://www.damiansiqueiros.com

    Thanks… Damian

  34. @Damien – I think we generally think the same things with a few differences on what meaning to associate with them. Just like real life then.

    My own ‘gayness’ is fundamental and unchanging. But one can only ‘become’ – we are created as a bunch of molecules and meaning and existence only come through being-in-the-world. I feel strongly that biological origins for same sex attraction will be found 0 and they will turn out to be the same things that make us male, female, intersex, transgender, bisexual – i.e. there is no separate etiology – only one evolutionary history that has brought us to this point in all the shapes and varieties we come in. Only when we are born and experience life, others, environment – do we become something with meaning. The words male, female, intersex, transgender, bisexuaI I used for illustration only. They are indeed very loaded descriptors. I hate it when scientists describe the process of change in an embryo due to presence of Y chromosome as the masculinisation of the default feminine embryo. Totally inadequate dichotomous view of our humanity and barely adequate in terms of the diversity of biology we see in people (size, sex, cognition etc etc). But I feel strongly that to prove you can be born ‘gay’ is also to make the discovery that the meanings we attach to biology are culturally influenced. I am happy that in my case, being gay is fully congruent with my biology, mind-identity, sex and gender – oh happy synchronicity…

  35. Adrian Tippetts 4 Dec 2009, 2:04pm

    Thanks to Paul Mc for the comments above. The Jones & Tarhouse study was touted by Christian fundamentalists as the strongest evidence that people can change sexuality. As Jim Burroway of BoxTurtleBulletin.com explains, it shows nothing of the kind. See it here: http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/tag/jones-yarhouse-study

  36. Will – I’d like to see that relaxed attitude to validation of orientations right across the board. It’s sane and healthy, and the world would be much better if we all acted from that place of security.

    Pal mc – “the brain rapidly loses plasticity after around 2-3 years – that is why cannot learn languages easily after about 6-8 years.
    In any case the strucutures in the limbic system invovled in emotion and sex are liekly to be even less subject to life/environment otherwise, early hominids could ‘learn’ to lose fear. They don’t and we don’t. There is certainly no way that brains alter their ‘architecture’ after our early years.”

    I’m no scientist (clearly), but my understanding of the brain is that the limbic system is pretty much fixed, but others not so much. My understanding is that it becomes harder to make changes as we become habituated to particular ways of doing things, but that changes can be made. I’m currently reading The Brain That Changes Itself [http://www.normandoidge.com/normandoidge/MAIN.html], along with everything I can find on brain plasticity in journals like Scientific American, Nature, etc. – but I’m not sufficiently familiar with science to be able to read most of the original research papers. What I’m getting is that there’s growing evidence of actual change occurring as a result of changing habits of thought (as in CBT, or the fMRI imaging of Buddhist monks’ brain activity, etc.), and that the white matter is as engaged in learning as the grey matter. Seriously, if you could point me in the direction of more sources on neurology that would help me keep up with this stuff and put it in context, I’d be delighted. I’m really trying hard to educate myself here.

    I’m interested in what makes us queer and trans, but I don’t need an answer (or overlapping Venn diagrams of answers) really, anymore than I need to know exactly why my pre-op MtF lesbian friend is a woman or my north African friend is a different colour than me in order to treat them with respect and dignity; that it’s other peoples’ responsibility to determine their own identities and mine to respect them should be clear to me with or without a clear understanding of why their identities may or may not match my expectations – and vice versa.

  37. Pal mc – This is one of the articles describing physical changes in brain structure http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=watching-the-brain-learn&page=1

    2 groups of neuroscientists doing 2 different studies on learning, using brain scans to monitor changes in brain structure as participants learn new skills. So, yes, brain architecture is being changed by changing habits of thought. I have so much reading to do….!

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