Friday, January 20, 2012

On the Claim of Gay-as-Choice

Lately I've been hanging out a lot on progressive Christian blogger John Shore's blog at as well as on several Facebook pages by progressive Christian groups such as Thru-Way Christians and The Christian Left. I also have a lot of LGBTQIA friends on Facebook who post various things of interest to LGBTQIA rights and issues.

In all these places, you will encounter people who are opposed to GLBTQIA equality based on various arguments about its sinfulness, always accompanied by the claim that GLB orientation is a choice and the assumption that GLB orientation is accompanied by non-heterosexual sexual activity. If anyone takes the time to address these folks instead of simply calling them names, they usually point to either scientific studies or their own personal experience that this orientation was not a choice. I don't think I've ever seen anyone convinced by these arguments.

I think the problem is, these people are also arguing from personal experience, and their personal experience doesn't align with the scientific studies or the experiences of GLB persons. I also think it comes from a confusion of terms.

Let me unfold this a bit.

Somewhere I ran across the statistic that one study had polled a bunch of men who identified as heterosexual and found that 50% of them admitted to homosexual behaviors. Now, I'm not saying a straight man couldn't go and have gay sex with another man, but a truly heterosexual man generally wouldn't unless placed in a longterm situation where that was his only choice (like, say, prison). That 50% of these straight men admitted to homosexual sexual behaviors tells me that they're using a definition of "heterosexual" that isn't the scientific one.

For most people, your sexuality means what you do sexually most of the time. To the scientific community, sexuality has to do with your attractions, not your behaviors. Someone who has practiced lifelong celibacy, for instance, still has a sexuality. Someone like ex-ex-gay leader John Smid, who is in a heterosexual marriage with children, is still gay, despite his sexual behavior.

And that's where the disconnect comes in.

Many people are some level of bisexual in orientation, even if it's extremely slight. For those who define their sexuality by what they've done with it, rather than by their attractions, and who believe that same-sex sexual activity is morally wrong, their heterosexuality is a choice. No, they didn't wake up one day and say, "I think I'll be straight," but they have avoided by choice same-sex behaviors with people they are attracted to, quite possibly on a regular basis.

For those who define sexuality as what-you-do and not what-you-are and are further hampered by the narcissistic worldview that everyone's experiences are similar to their own, a homosexual is one who engages in same-sex sex by choice because from these people's points of view, everyone is attracted to both sexes and, therefore, chooses their sexual behavior. The thought that there are people who are mono-sexual-- only attracted to one sex or the other and not both, and therefore incapable of choosing sexual attraction to or behavior with the non-preferred sex-- is completely, profoundly incomprehensible.

I am a straight mono-sexual woman. The thought of having sex with a woman isn't so much repugnant as simply unimaginable. It isn't a choice. I don't actively avoid attractions to the same sex. I simply don't have any. For me, the thought that there are people in the world who have the same mono-sexual attractions, but to the same sex, isn't that much of a reach.

But for the vast majority of people sitting somewhere in the middle who misunderstand the nature and definition of sexuality, it seems like a choice-- a choice they've rejected.

I understand the anger GLBTQIA people have and why they don't want to engage people who have systematically oppressed them. They shouldn't have to deal with these folks if they don't want to. Their energies are better spent focusing on surviving and thriving in a world that is so often hostile to them.

So maybe it's time for us allies to step up and have a discussion with the misguided. I'm open to thoughts on how to open this dialogue, given what I think is often at the heart of the misunderstanding.