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‘Born That Way’? Really?

Now this is interesting:

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Wait, so you mean not everybody is “born this way”? You mean that it’s not simply nature, but also nurture? I’m so confused.

Actually I’m not confused at all. The “truth” in this matter has always been “what works to advance the cause.”

But for those who want to grapple honestly with this issue, these data from Patrick Egan show pretty clearly that the nurturing that culture provides does make a big difference.  Therefore, for communities who wish for their children to remain heterosexual, to form heterosexual marital unions, traditional families, etc., neutrality on the matter of sexuality will result in five to eight times as many people claiming homosexuality or bisexuality as would have otherwise been the case. (There have also been skyrocketing numbers of people [7]claiming to be transgender.)

Sexuality is a lot more fluid than we think. For post-pubescent adolescents, teenagers, and young adults in their twenties, re-setting the boundaries of what is permissible resets the boundaries of what is thinkable, and for a meaningful number of them will change the way they behave.

Here’s what I mean. It must be that there are young people who experience homosexual desires as teenagers, but who do not act on them for reasons of religious belief or social custom. Later in life — in their twenties, say — their sexual desire solidifies as heterosexual, allowing them to form a stable marital bond with someone of the opposite sex, and start a family. Had they had the opportunity to experiment with homosexuality as a teenager, they might have remained confused and unstable well into adulthood.

Now, to be fair, it is also certainly true that in the past, people who did not experience sexual desire for those of the opposite sex felt compelled by custom or religious belief to marry, and who therefore formed an inherently unstable bond.

The argument (or at least a main argument) for normalizing homosexuality in general and legalizing gay marriage in particular is that it is unjust to compel people who are born with same-sex desire to live by traditional norms  — norms that entail withholding from them the possibility to live as they desire. Therefore, the change is necessary as a matter of justice to the small minority.

The friend and reader of this blog who brought the Egan data to my attention writes:

I came around to supporting gay marriage in large part because of Andrew Sullivan’s argument that homosexuality is innate (in about 2 percent of the population) and it’s cruel to force people who can’t help their attractions to deny them, or to try to educate them away from those inclinations. Social conservatives said in reply, “Sexuality is more polymorphous than this; if you stop upholding a normative standard in favor of heterosexual marriage and child-rearing, kids will grow up to be far more confused. You’ll end up with far more ‘innately’ gay and bisexual kids, in other words.”
If nothing else, this seems to be another huge checkmark in the “SoCons” make pretty good predictions” column.

Exactly right. What we have now says there is virtually no sexual norm outside whatever one feels is right for them, right now. If one thinks that one would like to try out being gay, or bi, or the opposite gender, well, why not? One big problem with this, though, is: what about the kids? Social science has abundantly demonstrated that kids need stable homes in which to thrive. If issues of sexuality and gender identity remain fluid, it will be very difficult to create the kind of environment in which these young people can be formed in a healthy way.

Leave LGBT out of it for a moment. For heterosexuals, the Sexual Revolution, and the way it loosened sexual and marital norms, has left subsequent generations less stable. A professor at an Evangelical university told me a few years ago that he feared that most of his students will never be able to form stable, enduring families.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because they’ve never seen it modeled for them,” he responded.

He explained that a shocking number of the students at this Christian college come from broken family backgrounds. It’s not that they don’t want to be married and have children. It’s that they have not been given the social and psychological strengths that all of us need to hold our marriages and our families together against the scattering forces of modernity.

This should not be hard to understand. Marriage is not simply an agreement between two people who wish to formalize (and sacralize) their love for each other, but it is also a covenant between that couple and the entire community, which is expected to support them in the pilgrimage of marriage and family life. What we have been doing in the West for many decades now has been stripping individuals, couples, and their children of the social support they need to thrive. These Egan data, to me, further demonstrate how the project of emancipating sexual desire from traditional norms sets up younger people for lives of great instability.

These data also have implications for the widely held belief that sexual desire is like race: an unchosen aspect of one’s identity, for which one should not be penalized. If this were true, then ending segregation in the 1960s should have resulted in a massive increase in the number of black Americans. It did not, because Rachel Dolezal notwithstanding, there is no way to change one’s race. But the new data show that for a lot of people, it is possible to shift their identity on the basis of sexual desire.

I’m sure that most people who support full LGBT rights see no problem with this at all. If people want to experiment with same-sex relationships, gender fluidity, and so forth — hey, no problem. Individual liberty on this point is sacrosanct. OK, I get the reasoning. If you think there should be no ideal form of family or sexual expression, and that whatever one chooses is justified by the choice itself, this makes sense.

But look: traditionalists and their communities have solid data to bolster an argument against the normalization of LGBT. Greater tolerance — even celebration — in the broader society prompts latency to go active in a substantial number of people. Perhaps this confusion will resolve itself in time with these individuals, but even if so, you can’t get those years back, and you cannot undo the choices you will have made when you thought your true self was something else.

UPDATE: To be clear, I do not support forcing people who identify as gay into reparative therapy, or anything like it. And I also reaffirm my happiness that the closet is no longer a thing. What I object to is the idea that all sexual desire is equally moral. That last line is the orthodox Christian position.

UPDATE.2: Y’all who keep insisting in the comments that I believe you can “pray the gay away,” or otherwise have full control over one’s sexual desires, need to stop lying. I don’t believe that at all. Nor do I believe that one has no control at all over one’s sexual desires. I believe the articulation and direction of sexual desire emerges from some combination of nature and nurture.

229 Comments (Open | Close)

229 Comments To "‘Born That Way’? Really?"

#1 Comment By Pepi On June 15, 2017 @ 11:29 pm

russ says: June 15, 2017 at 4:15 pm
“Neither is the constant demonizing of the “good old days” as a repressive feminist dark ages when the heteropatriarchy roamed unchallenged, devouring all the women and LGBT people it met. Women were happier then, after all. The reasons are, of course, probably complicated and nuanced, so unlike you I won’t simply try to fit it to my narrative. But the fact that women were happier then makes your point ring a bit hollow.”

Wow. Complicated and nuanced but your conclusion sure isn’t. Women gained control over themselves, civil rights of various kinds and a lot more options. They also were stuck trying to move forward while social conventions held them back thus they were working at careers while still doing 80% or more of childcare and house-keeping. “Happiness” is not the be-all and end-all of life.

I wasn’t saying that all women were abused but many were and they did not have much in the way of options. And it is true that we have had a significant drop in domestic and sexual assault as women have gained in civil rights. That, I’m sure, contributes to a sort of “happiness” improvement among women.

#2 Comment By Anna Duarte On June 16, 2017 @ 2:28 am

Okay, on that last line of Orthodox Christianity. Say we agree that not all forms of expressed sexuality are equally moral. Then what?

Unless your version of Christianity becomes the legal framework for the country, the reality is still that gay people exist and that society has seen fit to recognize their unions in the civil secular world, and some Churchs bestow the sacrament of marriage willingly.

I don’t understand why traditional Christians don’t go the Catholic route on this. We believe people who remarry after a divorce are committing adultery because there is no such thing as a divorce in a sacramental marriage. There might be disagreement about accepting remarried Catholics at the communion pew, but no Catholic disagrees on the fact that it’s a sin and divorce a moral failing. We just don’t go around demanding that society refuse to grant divorces or treat people in second marriages as if their new marriage doesn’t exist.

So unless the point is to have Christians walking around and demeaning gay people and their families as less than…oh wait, that’s exactly what you want to have the religious freedom to do. Nevermind….

#3 Comment By JonF On June 16, 2017 @ 6:12 am

Re: Research shows that a vanishingly small number of men are actually sexually attracted to the same sex

If 1.5-2% is “vanishingly small” as that is what consistent stats show for exclusive (as opposed to preferential or occasional) male homosexuality.
The rest of what you post makes it very problematic, to say the least, to explain gay male porn or gay male promiscuity, both of which are fairly significant things. It does seem that more than a handful of gay guys really are out for sex, not an emotional bond. Which of course is true of their straight brethren too. You might have a somewhat better case if you were making this point about women, gay or straight. Whether by nature or nurture, women do seem to be more about relationships, though female promiscuity is not unknown either.

#4 Comment By JonF On June 16, 2017 @ 6:19 am

Re: JonF, my grandfather died, intestate, in Texas in 1962. My two uncles had to sign my grandparents’ house back over to my grandmother.

The key word there is “intestate”. Dying without a will always means that other close kin can either make claims or sign off on the inheritance. My step-mother went through something similar in 1971 when her first husband was killed in a traffic accident and had no will. And when Ma died with no will a few years ago, her surviving siblings and even myself as step-son had an opportunity (which we passed on) to make claims on her estate before it would be divvied up among her three real children.(I am skeptical though that your uncles would have “automatically” gotten anything– the estate definitely had to go through probate.)

#5 Comment By The Professor On June 16, 2017 @ 6:31 am

This entire article is ridiculous, Rod. Any time I see a heterosexual person attempt in any way to explain what it is like to be gay or how an innate part of any person can or should be suppressed they immediately negate themselves. When exactly did any of the heterosexual people here “choose” to be so? The only “choice” here is a person who would willingly remove a large component of life (their sexuality, companionship and happiness and fulfillment in a romantic relationship) for their religious beliefs. The rise in people coming out I believe is largely because there is less and less fear and stigma, resulting in happier lives for those people who are gay and now do not have to feel they are lesser human beings or unequal tax paying citizens. As for the poster who stated that public opinion changed because people started accepting the gay people they worked with, and were part of their families: right on. That is exactly correct. We’re here, we always have been, and we are not going anywhere.

#6 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 16, 2017 @ 8:11 am

Wow. Complicated and nuanced but your conclusion sure isn’t. Women gained control over themselves, civil rights of various kinds and a lot more options. They also were stuck trying to move forward while social conventions held them back thus they were working at careers while still doing 80% or more of childcare and house-keeping. “Happiness” is not the be-all and end-all of life.

I wasn’t saying that all women were abused but many were and they did not have much in the way of options. And it is true that we have had a significant drop in domestic and sexual assault as women have gained in civil rights. That, I’m sure, contributes to a sort of “happiness” improvement among women.


You do realize that this is not a counterargument to what Russ was saying, right? and no I thought his conclusion was quite nuanced. You make a good point which is that happiness isn’t the only important thing. Nevertheless it’s true that self reported happiness was highest among women then (just as self-reported happiness among women is highest in Islamic countries today), and that at some level, in many situations, people don’t really want or deal well with freedom. That in itself doesn’t tell us whether freedom is a good thing or a bad thing, of course. I think personally that most of the core of the feminist revolution was a good thing in the main, but that it went too far, and some of its advocates are trying to push it even farther now. When it comes to trying to push the feminist revolution farther than it should go, some pushback is warranted, and a good ground for that pushback is these ‘advances’ are unlikely to make women any happier. (There’s very little reason to believe, for example, that abortion rights, or marriages/relationships where both people have approximately equal income and status make women any happier, or that a just society would have women and men making the same average income and having the same number of political and economic leaders, or anything like that).

I often think about this when people reminisce about the good old days. Yeah, the good old days, when only white males were treated as full human beings under the law. Hard pass.

This is only the case if you have a very distorted and ahistorical understanding of what a ‘human being’ is. The right to vote, for example, isn’t essential to being a human being. If it was, there were no ‘fully human’ societies before the last couple hundred years.

This doesn’t really cut against the idea that sexual orientation is mostly innate at all. Traits like height and IQ are highly heritable, and yet not have shown large, rapid increases over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries for what must be environmental reasons.

That’s true, but height in America has actually been dropping since the late 1960s, due to increased immigration from societies where people are (largely for genetic reasons) quite a bit smaller. There’s some expectation that IQ in developed societies is starting to drop too, as a result of differential birth rates and (especially in Europe) mass migration.

#7 Comment By KD On June 16, 2017 @ 8:13 am

No one is denying that same sex attraction is not heritable. Anyone scientifically literate is denying there is a “gay gene”.

Anyone who thinks that Hollywood and the MSM’s promotion of gay lifestyles, combined with the ubiquity of extreme pornography, has not lead to greater public experimentation with sodomy and other forms of sexuality traditionally viewed as “unnatural” AND in more people identifying as gay or bisexual is a fool or an ideologue. . . and there is a real cost to the public health, just like when Hollywood was promoting smoking as a lifestyle choice.

#8 Comment By KD On June 16, 2017 @ 8:17 am

BTW, smoking is partially heritable too. So why all the anti-smoking campaigns and smoking restrictions? Some people are obviously powerless to quit, and doomed to start, and why should they be the subject to social stigmatization, discriminatory taxation schemes, and discrimination in public accommodations?

I am sure that tobacco users probably have higher suicide rates than non-smokers, so why don’t they deserve the same compassion we seem to have for LGBT?

#9 Comment By KD On June 16, 2017 @ 8:19 am

Here is the cost of discrimination and stigmatization against smokers:


#10 Comment By KD On June 16, 2017 @ 8:23 am

To clarify, I’m not arguing for smoker’s rights, I am pointing out every BS argument advanced by the LGBT lobby can be advanced for smoker’s, except that the liberal alliance has historically been hostile to tobacco money, but not LGBT money.

And the reason is that if you have a “lifestyle” that kills people, then it ought to be subject to regulations and restrictions within reasonable parameters.

#11 Comment By KD On June 16, 2017 @ 8:25 am

Now that I think about it, it is probably child abuse if Evangelical Christians punish their children for smoking cigarettes, and discriminate against smoking in their colleges and schools.

#12 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 16, 2017 @ 10:25 am

there are some historical examples of noted men who had wives or mistresses, and even children, but about whom quite convincing tales were told of their philanderings on the other side of the gender line: Alexander the Great, Michael the Drunkard (of Byzantium), William Rufus of England, Edward II of England, Henri III of France…

Of course. That’s well documented. My point was that this is more complex than someone who “is” homosexual being “forced” by social convention to “marry” a woman even though women held no attraction at all, and somehow having children. That there are men who could go either way, or occasionally felt a tug that was different than most times, is easy to accept. Protein chemistry is imprecise, hormones are reactive, and as I think Fran Macadam pointed out, in the dark you can’t “feel” what is the sex of the hand that strokes you.

Gee, who has ever heard of a dynamic system with multiple equilibria? Let’s say all the equilibria are “natural states” of the system, but one state might be more desirable from a utilitarian point-of-view or a political one?

Precisely… although I think it is wise that our constitutional republic leaves a lot of the sorting out to individual choice, not prescribed dicta.

FWIW, when I applied for my first driver’s license at age 16, the state patrol officer handling the paperwork insisted that if my mother was still married to my father, and he was living, then my father, not my mother, had to sign the paperwork. Such things did happen.

#13 Comment By Brian in Brooklyn On June 16, 2017 @ 1:42 pm

Siarlys writes: “Suppose we stipulate that the Kinsey scale is an accurate measure of the range of human sexuality. Then suppose we stipulate that your inference about a Kinsey 4 or 5 is accurate. What we would be left with is, there are some people who actually could be happy either way.”

Yes, let’s suppose. The supposed Kinsey 4 or 5 could function sexually with particular women, but that does not mean he would be happy in a relationship with them: able to function does not always translate into happy to function in such a manner. In many cases men gave into social pressure and censure since opp-sex was a possibility for them, if not a priority. But if their overall sexual desire pointed in a different direction and toward a different relationship, divorce (with all its attendant harms) was a likely outcome.

> Whereas, I presume, a Kinsey 6 like yourself would never ever ever enter into a heterosexual marriage, no matter what the social pressure?

No, I do not think it would have happened had I been born earlier than I was, but I cannot know for sure since the material circumstances of my life would have been changed. There were certainly Kinsey 6’s who did marry under societal pressure.

[NFR: It’s called “original sin.” — RD]

When I looked up the definition of original sin in I saw there were varying understandings of it (no surprise since I have learned from this blog there are disagreements about Christian dogma). I found this on Wikipedia:

“Paul believed that Adam’s transgression in a mysterious way affected the nature of the human race. The primeval sin, a Pauline creation with no biblical or post-biblical Jewish precedent, was irreparable by ordinary human effort.”

I realize that this is just one scholar’s take, but for me it crystallizes my confusion: I just do not understand how original sin was passed down from generation to generation.

I understand my wiring as a Kinsey 6, and I presume that this wiring was part of the creation. But then man fell, original sin occurred and this wiring then became something to be resisted. Or did the fall of man and original sin generate the wiring?

I know you are travelling and enjoying Europe, so I understand that what I am asking for is larger than an NFR. But I am truly interested in the issue since I think it is one of the biggest areas of difference between traditionalists and non-traditionalists, especially on where same-sex desire originated and why it exists.

#14 Comment By JonF On June 16, 2017 @ 3:44 pm

Re: BTW, smoking is partially heritable too.

Please expand upon this. Sure, kids with parents who smoke are probably more likely to do so themselves due to the parental example (and maybe habituation to nicotine at a young age). But genetic inheritance?

#15 Comment By Jim Woodhill On June 16, 2017 @ 6:47 pm

I only learned when I announced my impending marriage at age 42 that most of the people who knew me just *assumed* that I was gay. I was surprised, but never thought there might *literally* be something “pathological” about male homosexuality. However:


Now, this only applies to males. functional nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (fNMRI) studies of female brains show that they are all bisexual at the “hardware” level. On the other hand, male brains are gay or straight.

But not “born that way” in the sense of their being a “gay gene”. There is more selection pressure against a gene for type-I diabetes, but there is more than enough to have forced gay genes not enabled by an infectious agent out of the population.

Or so I have been reading.

#16 Comment By EG On June 16, 2017 @ 7:07 pm

Dear Rod:

Andrew Sullivan responds and is disappointed in your take:


#17 Comment By Scott On June 16, 2017 @ 7:45 pm

“What I object to is the idea that all sexual desire is equally moral. That last line is the orthodox Christian position.”

You can apply that to yourself, but you cannot apply it to others. It is your personal, religious belief. It has no application to me whatsoever.

#18 Comment By JonF On June 17, 2017 @ 9:05 am

Re: I just do not understand how original sin was passed down from generation to generation.

Hi Brian.
Original Sin is not “passed down”. It’s a corruption of human nature which we all share by virtue of being human. Rather as if someone has poisoned a well from which we all necessarily must drink.

#19 Comment By KD On June 17, 2017 @ 8:40 pm

Heritability of smoking:


Heritability of sexual orientation:


Smoking is estimated at 35%, sex orientation estimated at 50%.

Practically every behavioral characteristic of human beings has genetic component.


#20 Comment By Brian in Brooklyn On June 18, 2017 @ 1:42 am

Thanks JonF; I appreciate the help. I guess then that when when human nature was corrupted, same-sex sexual desire appeared.

#21 Comment By Hound of Ulster On June 18, 2017 @ 11:03 am

The problem is the doctrine of ‘original sin’ in and of itself. Remember Rod, the Orthodox Church condemns this doctrine, instead favoring the doctrine of ‘ancestral sin’, which posits that man is cursed by death and sin because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, but we are not directly responsible for that disobedience ourselves.

Western culture would not be so sex-crazed if Western theology hadn’t spilled so much ink on sex.

Also, you had serious discussion among Western theologians right to the current era as to the question of whether or not women had souls. Feminism as an ideology/framework would not exist if not for the Western callousness towards women. Not that the East is completely innocent on this score, but the West bears much more of the blame for Christianity’s troubled relationship with half of humanity.

Emperor Theophilus to St. Kassani the Hymnographer: ‘Truly it is through woman that man fell’

St. Kassani: ‘But truly, my lord, it is through a woman that man was saved’

The West lost sight of this basic truth of Christian theology, mostly because of the doctrine of original sin.

#22 Comment By Hue White On June 18, 2017 @ 12:27 pm

It’s unnecessary to indulge in ad hominem. Simply a little thought works to disassemble this analysis.


#23 Comment By pepi On June 18, 2017 @ 8:19 pm

Hector_St_Clare says: June 16, 2017 at 8:11 am
(There’s very little reason to believe, for example, that abortion rights, or marriages/relationships where both people have approximately equal income and status make women any happier, or that a just society would have women and men making the same average income and having the same number of political and economic leaders, or anything like that).

Well, you see, we have different perspectives. I am far more concerned about stuff like sexual abuse and domestic violence than I am about average incomes. I appreciate you taking the time to educate me about women and their happiness, though!

#24 Comment By Vern Hughes On June 18, 2017 @ 9:52 pm

This is the best statement from Rod Dreher I have read on this issue. It is appropriately nuanced and balanced, and in accord with our best understanding of the orthodox Christian position. What a pity, then, that there are so few of us upholding this position.

#25 Comment By Robert West On June 19, 2017 @ 12:14 pm

You may not believe that it’s possible to pray the gay away.

But you are implicitly saying that the only sexual desire I have ever felt is less moral than the sexual desire my brother feels. That I am, definitionally and inherently less moral, and that the only way I can ever *not* be less moral is to change a fundamental and foundational aspect of my being. The love I bear for others, the care I give them, the good I bring to their lives, that’s all well and good, but my sexual desire is less moral, and that makes *me* less moral.

I get that you believe that, and you have every right to believe that, but it also means that you are not a friend to me and mine, and can never be.

[NFR: I’m not *implicitly* saying that your sexual desire is less moral. I am explicitly saying that it is morally disordered, and is intrinsically so (meaning that it cannot ever be moral). This is basic orthodox Christianity. But you don’t “get that [I] believe” what you claim I believe. Human identity is not defined by our desires. Every human being — including me — has disordered desires. It’s called “original sin” — and again, this is basic Christian teaching. The good you bring to the lives of others is good. Your sinful desires — sexual and otherwise — do not obviate the good you do. Nor does the good you do make your disordered sexual desires okay, any more than a heroic medical aid worker’s good deeds make it okay for him to desire another man’s wife. My point is this: you don’t even know what the disagreement is about. — RD]

#26 Comment By Madeleine On June 19, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

Interesting article but fails to account for the fact that studies like this ask about self-identification, which is influenced by social mores. As culture becomes more accepting, more people may admit that they are LGBT, but that doesn’t mean that there are more LGBT people. The closet is still real, in public and private life.

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On June 19, 2017 @ 6:52 pm

A feeling can be “natural” and also morally disordered. Most medical opinion currently seems to be that serial child molesters simply can’t help themselves. This is one of the rationales for giving them life prison terms, or, following release from prison, confining them for medical observation indefinitely.

Now that has nothing to do with being gay, per se. There is no inherent connection between homosexuality and pedophilia. Some gays are pedophiles, most are not. Some heterosexuals are pedophiles, most are not.

But, a powerful feeling, even a euphoric one that feels like it must be good, can, hypothetically, be disordered.

Between consenting adults, the same harm and exploitation factors are not present. This is why Lawrence v. Texas makes sense. It may or may not be morally disordered, but, the harm is your own, so the police need not intervene.

As to whether the only sexual desire Robert West has ever known IS morally disordered, we have no proof. Both West and Dreher are, in a sense, walking by faith, not by sight. No earthly power may, under our constitution, force West to accept Dreher’s faith, nor force Dreher to accept West’s faith.

The argument has the same standing as debating whether women should wear pants in church, whether it is right to eat barbecued pork, raw oysters, crabs, lobster, (Jews and Muslims say no, most Christians say yes) whether it is right to drink alcohol (Muslims and evangelical Protestants say no, Jews, Catholics, Orthodox, and more mainline Protestants say yes) etc.

#28 Comment By JonF On June 20, 2017 @ 4:35 pm

Re: Also, you had serious discussion among Western theologians right to the current era as to the question of whether or not women had souls.

Sorry, but this is nonsense– no remotely mainstream Christian group ever had any such conversation. The closest thing you can find to that lay in Thomas Aquinas, quite a few centuries back, making the effort to refute Aristotle’s insistence (note: Aristotle lived 2350 years ago and was not a Christian) that women’s rational souls were inactive– precisely because that assertion by the “master of him that know” was not in accord with Christian doctrine of long standing.

#29 Comment By Joe Simington On June 28, 2017 @ 4:44 pm

If one is concerned about healthy families, as everyone should be, I would be more concerned about divorce (Newt Gingrich, throes married) and Trump who has screwed everything that moves. Don’t blame this on gays. Being conservative means taking personal responsibility. I haven’t a gay urge in my body and can’t choose to be, but live and let live. I also love my gay nephew; one of the most well adjusted people I know. He is also a republican; every family has one, sigh. But Rod
Has proven that religion is a choice, and I am not certain he has chosen the perfect flavour of Christianity. He will only find out in the after life where he might be roasting on a spit for getting it wrong.