Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sexual Orientation Is Not a Choice

While everybody else has been discussing the recent Sarah Palin interview with Charles Gibson in terms of foreign policy and whether she can see Russia from where she lives, an interesting social issue question was raised again that I would like to revisit here.
GIBSON: Homosexuality, genetic or learned?

PALIN: Oh, I don't -- I don't know, but I'm not one to judge and, you know, I'm from a family and from a community with many, many members of many diverse backgrounds and I'm not going to judge someone on whether they believe that homosexuality is a choice or genetic. I'm not going to judge them.
This question was previously posed by CBS anchor Bob Schieffer during the Third Bush-Kerry Presidential Debate in 2004 which included the following:

SCHIEFFER: Both of you are opposed to gay marriage. But to understand how you have come to that conclusion, I want to ask you a more basic question. Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

BUSH: You know, Bob, I don't know. I just don't know. I do know that we have a choice to make in America and that is to treat people with tolerance and respect and dignity. It's important that we do that.

KERRY: We're all God's children, Bob. And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as. I think if you talk to anybody, it's not choice. I've met people who struggled with this for years, people who were in a marriage because they were living a sort of convention, and they struggled with it. And I've met wives who are supportive of their husbands or vice versa when they finally sort of broke out and allowed themselves to live who they were, who they felt God had made them. I think we have to respect that.
I find it interesting (but not surprising) that Palin’s answer so closely mimics Bush’s response. For all the talk about tolerance and not judging people, these two are sure in favor of laws to make sure that gays are put in their place and don’t bother the rest of us.

But why is the question about choice important? Other than being an interesting social question, the answer has much to do with whether gays can be a legally protected group against discrimination the way we have laws to protect people on the basis of race, sex, and age which are clearly not choices. For those who argue that being gay is a choice, instead of seeking protection from the law, gays can simply choose to become straight and the problem goes away.

The general consensus among experts in the field (mental health professionals and human sexuality researchers) is that sexual orientation is not a choice. Many religious groups like evangelical Christians who are strongly against gay rights legislation believe otherwise. And although research has indicated some possible genetic links to sexual orientation, there is no definitive explanation as to the cause of sexual orientation. But we can address this question from a logical standpoint.

It is generally agreed that the sex drive is instinctive. Even for those of us who wish to deny its existence, it is there. Without this powerful drive (which for most of us is toward the opposite sex), we humans would have been long extinct. The same can be said for the other members of the animal kingdom. But even there are examples of well-documented homosexual behavior. I freely admit that from a social standpoint, I would much rather be straight than gay. And if I had turned out to be gay, I don’t know how I would have ever been able to tell my dad who openly ridiculed ‘queers’. As a geeky teenager, I never got any dates and he openly wondered about me. But one day, a pretty blond hostess at a restaurant where I worked started to wink at me and do a little flirting and I was then overpowered with feelings and urges I had never before felt so intensely. I didn’t choose those feelings and urges…they chose me!

But what if your dad is a famous conservative politician whose party has been actively promoting the prohibition of same-sex marriage? If sexual orientation was really a choice, don’t you think
Mary Cheney would have chosen to be straight to spare her father, VP Dick Cheney the awkward explanation of her same-sex relationship to the world?

One of the saddest results of people wanting to be straight from a social standpoint, are the marriages that break up when one of the partners can’t live a lie anymore and have to admit to their spouse that they are gay or perhaps bisexual. The most recent public example is that of former New Jersey Governor
Jim McGreevy. McGreevy had it all — a wife and family along with his governor’s job. All he had to do to keep all of this was to choose to be straight. But he couldn’t and as a result, endured a tremendous amount of public disgrace while losing everything.

The most powerful example of sexual orientation not being a choice is when somebody chooses instead to end their own life rather than deal with the consequences of their own homosexuality. As I related above, I don’t know how I would have ever been able to tell my dad that I was ‘queer’ if that’s how I had turned out. I don’t know what I would have done but I can certainly understand how this could drive a teenager to thinking about suicide like the writer of this article
Gay Teen Suicide: Trying to understand some of the Real Causes which I very much hope you will take the time to read.

So what happens to the young male who has a same-sex attraction? He becomes alienated from his family and friends and begins to isolate. He must protect his secret identity from all who will possibly scorn, reject or harm him. When one cannot live with one's sexuality in the open, one must suppress the most instinctual functions of man -- sex. Suppression of any of our mental, emotional or physical aspects will lead to depression, denial, isolation, addiction, self-hatred and low self-esteem. All levels of the being -- cognitive, emotional and physical are affected. Each makes one a prime candidate for addiction and possible suicide. It is a tragic situation.
To help address what is indeed a tragic situation,
The Trevor Lifeline: 866-4-U-TREVOR (named after an award-winning HBO film about a gay teen who tried to take his own life) is a resource for those whose sexual orientation may be creating a life-threatening crisis.

Interestingly enough, there are views from some religious groups that are finally starting to acknowledge that sexual orientation is not a choice but stubbornly hang on to the belief that these people are still sinning by choosing to have a sex life. Some of these same people still believe that gay people can be
converted to becoming straight and then lead a normal straight married life. Ladies, who would like the chance to become another Mrs. Jim McGreevy? When you get down to it, the main opposition to gay rights is religiously based. Which leads us to the question — Why is what is primarily religious doctrine making its way into legislation if we are really serious about the separation of church and state?

The world would be a better place especially if those on the political right like Sarah Palin and President Bush would back up their rhetoric with action when it comes to being less judgmental and more tolerant of others.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness should be for everyone, not just straight people!


Gab said...

I'm so glad that I finally took the time today to read this blog. I loved it. This country needs more straight, white males like you who are not afraid to speak up for minorities. Keep up the great work!

Sue said...


Great post. Thanks for being your white heterosexual male self.