What if being gay is, in fact, a choice?
What I really wish people would get is that heterosexuality is as real and durable an orientation as homosexuality. I mean, it’s a peculiar condition of imagining one’s self “the norm” that it’s hard to understand you’re the way you are for exactly the same reasons others aren’t. You’re that way by accident of birth a.k.a. nature.
And by not getting that you’re also going to miss that you’re not “normal” temporarily, you’re not “normal” by whim, you’re not “normal” because you were exposed to the “right” or “wrong” social influence, and you’re definitely not “normal” by choice.
Any more than any given sexual “the other” is.
And that’s the thing. Being gay isn’t a choice! And one of the coolest things about getting that is that if you just thought about it you’d get that your heterosexuality wasn’t a choice either.
And if more people got that they’d get that they really don’t need the media, the government, the clergy, U.S. Marines and the Canadian Mounties, and, especially, various posses of gay-panic-stricken vigilantes to protect their heterosexuality. Or anyone else’s.
I appreciate figleaf’s post in the same way that I like the “Heterosexual Questionnaire,” which begins:
- What do you think caused your heterosexuality?
- When and how did you first decide you were a heterosexual?
- Is it possible your heterosexuality is just a phase you may grow out of?
- Is it possible your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?
- Isn’t it possible that all you need is a good Gay lover?
But what if heterosexuality and homosexuality are not cast in concrete at birth? Certainly most people report that their sexual orientation remains stable over a lifetime. Certainly most lesbians and gay men can name a time in childhood when they realized they were attracted to the same sex. Heteros probably can, too, it’s just that they’re so rarely asked to. I mean, I can tell you which boys I had crushes on in fourth through seventh grade, but the story would be all about their specific cuteness, not about the discovery or revelation of my heterosexuality!
Some people break the mold, though, by shifting their sexual orientations over their life course. One of my best friends identified fully as a lesbian in the 1980s and early 1990s. She and her partner shared a whole life, right down to dogs and a pickup truck. And yet, by the time I met her in the late 1990s, she was entirely interested in men. She’s now married to a guy and they have two kids. Where she once identified as lesbian, she now identifies as straight. You might be tempted to label her “bisexual,” but I’ve never heard her claim that identity.
Conversely, I know of more than one marriage of 20-plus years that broke up when the previously hetero-identified wife realized she wanted to be with another woman.
And since I’m not interested in reifying the idea that only women’s sexuality can be fluid, I’ll mention a male friend who was questioning and bi-identified when I first met him in the early 1990s. He now calls himself gay (last I heard). Somewhere along the way, he managed to help a mutual (lesbian) friend get pregnant with a much-wanted child – and not through sperm donation, unless you count the full-skin-contact transfer of sperm during good ole PIV intercourse as a “donation.” Now that child is nearly grown, and his mother has left her female partner of 20 years and paired off with a man.
Some of these folks would call themselves bi or queer. Some would eschew labels.
None of them is boxed into a single sexual orientation for life.
Queer theory argues for the fluidity of sexuality, but I’m not terribly interested in theory here. I’m interested in the political and personal consequences that accrue when a person is clearly consciously choosing their orientation.
And I am increasingly sure that a liberation movement based on “oh, ze can’t help it, ze was born that way!” can only take us so far. That argument is still politically expedient – and necessary – when talking with people whose consciousness of polymorphous sexualities predates Kinsey. (Um, like my dad, who is gradually growing more tolerant in his old age.)
But those of us straight folk who came of age after Stonewall should be able to embrace sexualities that aren’t necessarily “innate.” We should be able to appreciate that bisexuals make choices (if they enter a monogamous relationship), and that nothing in their biology dictates those choices, though the social pressure to pass may well play a role. We should be able to handle the ambiguity of an identity shift from lesbian to straight – and maybe back again. My young students appear far better equipped mental agility of this sort than do my fortysomething peers.
In the end, a defense of LGBT rights that relies mainly on “oh, they can’t help it!” is bound to fail. It leaves out the experiences of too many real people. It shares the weakness of pro-abortion-rights arguments based on the lethality of illegal abortion. In both cases, it’s not enough to argue for a lesser evil. It’s crucial to argue that abortion – and non-normative sexualities – can be defended on positive grounds, as forces for good in society.
Most importantly, if allies defend non-normative orientations on the basis that orientation is inborn, we get cornered into making arguments for mere tolerance. We’re conceding that there’s something potentially wrong with every orientation except heterosexuality. Why, maybe being gay is a sin, but you should love the sinner! Never mind that such tolerance dooms people to subsist on the margins of society. It leaves don’t ask, don’t tell intact. And it fails to challenge retrograde church doctrine at its root.
Shouldn’t we be able to do better? Shouldn’t we celebrate and enjoy sexual differences? Shouldn’t we – straight allies and LGBT alike – insist that the goodness of people has nothing – zilch! – to do with our sexualities? Figleaf’s admonitions are a fine place to start. But we can’t end there if we’re committed to true equality.