Is It A Choice?
This question always pops into your head, in one form or another, when you first realize that you’re gay. Certainly, it did for me, a born-again evangelical Christian teen. For me, it was quickly answered: No! I wanted nothing more than to be a good Christian. I prayed constantly for Jesus to heal me of this “sickness.” I analyzed my homoerotic dreams, desperately searching for a sign that I could defeat this thing, and I tried to force myself to be attracted to women. Why would I ever have chosen to live in that torment? It’s very easy for people who aren’t gay to claim it’s a choice, when they’ve never experienced it. But many gay men and women recall having a strong attraction for the same gender from early childhood, long before puberty. I myself had a powerful crush on a male friend when I was ten or eleven, before I hit puberty. I did have some crushes on girls, but they were mild by comparison. Being gay was something that was a fundamental part of my being, since the very beginning.
My experience is reflected in the experience of young people everywhere, including those who aren’t steeped in the toxic religious environment I was dwelling in. (This is not to say that religious environments cannot be supportive. But mine was not.) A few people out there might feel that they have a choice; that they are attracted to both genders and can simply ignore the one that conflicts with their religious beliefs. I don’t think denying bisexuality is particularly healthy, but one could argue that bisexuals do have a choice. (That’s a bit demeaning towards bisexuals, and I don’t mean it to me, but I’m just saying that’s one way it could be looked at. Being bisexual is not, in my opinion, a choice, any more than being gay is.)
But being gay is different from being bisexual. When you simply cannot dredge up any sexual or romantic interest in the opposite sex, and you feel overhwelmingly drawn to members of your own gender, your only real “choice” — and I say that very loosely — is whether to give in to your feelings, or deny them. You cannot change them. No reputable psychologist claims that this is possible, in the 21st century. Some religious groups still do, though many are beginning to claim, instead, that they cannot “cure” you — they can merely help you be happy with celibacy! (Now doesn’t that sound like a bargain? No sex — ever!) In 2009, the American Psychological Association passed a resolution condemning so-called “reparative therapy” — therapy aimed at curing homosexuality, which can include a wide range of techniques, including religious practices. This is for the following reasons:
- Homosexuality is not a mental illness. It was once considered to be, but not any more. It was delisted from the DSM-II in 1973 and replaced by a modified “ego-dystonic homosexuality” condition which basically meant homosexuality which distressed the person who was homosexual. This was problematic, since it’s difficult to tell if the cause of the distress is the homosexuality or society’s refusal to accept homosexuality. It was removed entirely from the DSM in 1986.
- After studying 83 studies done on the effects of reparative therapy, they concluded that there was no verifiable evidence that sexual orientation can be changed by any of these therapies. A large number of people who claim to have been “cured” later admit that they have not been. Many admit that they were bisexual to begin with and they are simply ignoring their attraction to people of the same gender, whereas others admit that they still battle homosexual desires, but try to lead a celibate life.
- Reparative therapy often leads to depression or suicidal tendencies.
I never chose to be gay, and you will be hard pressed to find any gay men and women who think they ever had a choice. Everybody’s sexuality is different, so it’s possible that some people might “decide” to be gay, though how that could happen, unless they’re bisexual, I have no idea. For the overwhelming majority of us, being gay is what we are and have always been, even before we were very conscious of sex.
What’s really lurking behind the question, “Did you choose to be gay?” is of course the implication that, if we can choose to be gay, then society shouldn’t support those who do make that choice. And this is why we need to stop asking that question. There is nothing wrong with being gay. And therefore it should not matter whether people are gay by choice, any more than choosing to be a doctor or a mechanic should matter.
Nature Or Nurture? Are We Born Gay, Or Do We Learn To Be Gay?
Until about twenty years ago, most people were convinced that animals were never “gay,” and therefore this had to be some freaky part of human existence. That seemed to back up the argument that it wasn’t “natural.” However, this has been disproven. We’ve now observed homosexual behavior in mammals and birds all throughout the animal kingdom. Sometimes it’s just a matter of sex between two animals of the same gender, because there aren’t enough partners of the opposite gender to go around (what I like to call the “prison sex” theory). But occasionally we’ve observed a same-sex pairing for child-rearing or simply companionship. And some specific animals seem inclined to always seek out same-sex partners.
Occasionally, you might hear about some biologist or genetic scientist who believes he or she has linked physical structures in the brain or chemical imbalances in neonatal fluids to homosexuality. These keep popping up, but I’ve yet to hear anything conclusive. I’ve heard that studies conducted with twins show that an identical twin is highly likely to share sexual orientation with his or her sibling, pointing to a genetic component to homosexuality. But then the other day I heard that newer studies have failed to show a correspondence. If you’ve noticed that I’m not bothering to verify sources or footnote any of this, it’s because I think it’s all largely irrelevant.
Those who are determined to prove that being gay is a result of something in your childhood environment — sexual abuse, an absent father, a domineering mother, watching Bert & Ernie on Sesame Street — have never succeeded in finding any common denominators that can be applied to even a majority of gay men and women, never mind all of them.
This quest for the cause of homosexuality is far more disturbing to me than any data people have managed to dredge up. If we were talking about left-handedness or the ability to read backwards, it wouldn’t really matter if the cause was genetic or something you were taught as a kid, because we no longer consider these to be important. You’re left-handed? Cool. You can read backwards? Neat! Few of us would think it was something we needed to change. (Not anymore.) But regardless of whether homosexuality is proven to be genetic or the result of chemicals in the mother’s system during pregnancy or something our parents did in our early childhood, the end result of all of these things will be that people will want to fix us. They’ll want to train parents how not to raise gay children. Or they’ll want to adjust the mother’s body chemistry or do gene splicing on the fetus or some other horrible thing to guarantee that gay babies are not born. As long as our culture is biased against gays, any study can be turned around and used to support bigoted arguments. The only answer is to fight the root of the problem: prejudice.
Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter whether gays are bred, or raised, or even if somebody “decides” to be gay. Being gay is personal. It’s between you and your partner. Other people may think it’s their concern, but it’s not. (I’ll go into all of the bogus arguments about how gays are destroying the world in another post.) We shouldn’t tolerate this demand that some scientific study justify our right to exist, because no study ever will. We do exist and we have just as much right to be happy and proud of ourselves as anyone else.