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Please begin with an informative title:

Why on EARTH am I doing something like this? Because I left what I thought was a reasonable comment in (yet) another diary that tried to make the case for the idea that choice in one's sexual identity shouldn't be a problem because, heck, RELIGIOUS choice is constitutionally protected (Sorry if this oversimplifies what you did in it, Rob). I wondered why the writer was invested in this, and I got a perfectly civil and logical (and tippable) reply, but not before somebody who has made a habit of posting contrary comments in many of my diaries left this reply to said comment.

 Why do you have such a problem (0+ / 0-)

with people discussing the matter?

Well, Mr. Contrarian, this is so you'll understand. I don't have a problem with people discussing the matter, I have a problem with people using the word "choice" when it comes to sexual identity in any context other than picking the word that people want to use to describe theirs.

You must enter an Intro for your Diary Entry between 300 and 1150 characters long (that's approximately 50-175 words without any html or formatting markup).

But since you asked, here's how I became comfortable with the fact I'm a gay man. I wasn't for the first eight years I had the inkling I might be. Every gay man my age will be able to tell you which ads in which magazines let us know we liked looking at men (and I hope the rest of you appreciate the fact I want to make this as comfortable as I can for you). I also dated women, and I was not especially averse to public displays of affection  with women (you know, deflect attention). This basically worked as a strategy for me through high school. I did have a male best friend who I spent a lot of time with, spent hours on the phone with, and lusted after in my heart the way Jimmy Carter described it. He's still one of my Facebook friends. I remember that we had gone to the Cape to see a Shakespeare-in-the-round presentation, and I remember thinking on the way back that if he asked me to do anything sexual with him I would have. Nothing happened, of course, but I knew, and I knew that this was probably something I didn't want to be if there was anything I could do about it. This is how I personally know that sexual orientation is not a choice.

It didn't help that I was a voracious reader. What did I have to read about being gay? John Rechy's book City of Night, NOW a classic of gay literature, about hustlers and johns in Hollywood (and I knew I didn't have the equipment to do that) and Yukio Mishima's Forbidden Colors, which I really don't remember much about except it said "this is not for you" just as loudly. Further, my father worked in a business in which he received all the important magazines of the era free. I've written about one of the things I read in these magazines in The Free Pass: Permissible Homophobia, a diary I wrote because I was taken to task for mentioning Mike Wallace's 1967 documentary on "The Homosexuals" in a diary about his passing. Meet Joseph Epstein:

Well, now he writes for outlets like the Atlantic and the Weekly Standard.  He writes essays, and has them collected in books like Snobbery and Envy and Gossip: The Untrivial pursuit, and has stuff like this said about him in the New York Times:
Epstein brings a journalist’s appetite for research and an essayist’s talent for reflection to themes that traditionally have been left to novelists. “Gossip” takes its place as the latest entry in his entertaining and idiosyncratic catalog of human nature.


There's one essay of his that won't be collected, though.  The cover story of the September 1970 issue of Harper’s Magazine was an essay by Epstein, "“Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity.”  In it, among other things, he wrote

I HAVE SAID I THINK HOMOSEXUALS CURSED, and I am afraid I mean this quite literally, in the medieval sense of having been struck by an unexplained injury, an extreme piece of evil luck, whose origin is so unclear as to be, finally, a mystery. Although hundreds have tried, no one has really been able to account for it.
It is not easy to find what, precisely, the psychiatric-psychoanalytic consensus on homosexuality is at the moment. From what I can gather, the vast majority of practitioners appear to believe homosexuality a sickness; and a somewhat smaller majority appear to side with Freud, as opposed to Bergler, on the extremely limited probability of its being cured.
At one point, Elliot asked me what I felt about homosexuality for myself. I told him that, sexually, it repelled me. Even had I a desire for a man. I said, I would try my damnedest to fight it off, for knowing something of the mechanisms of my own mind, I know I should probably be made to pay a large measure of guilt and other complicated feelings which I do not now pay in the shabby heterosexual skin I have become rather happily accustomed to. Besides, I said, as long as I didn't have any desire for a man, I didn't feel I was missing anything. I did not put that high a premium on experience for its own sake. I am sure, I told him, that a whole cluster of interesting emotions go along with murdering a man, but I was not ready to murder to experience them. Elliot said that if he thought he could get away with it, he would murder for the experience of murdering.
and, the punch line,
If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of this earth. I would do so because I think that it brings infinitely more pain than pleasure to those who are forced to live with it; because I think there is no resolution for this pain in our lifetime, only, for the overwhelming majority of homosexuals, more pain and various degrees of exacerbating adjustment; and because, wholly selfishly, I find myself completely incapable of coming to turns with it.
This article provided the nascent Gay Activists Alliance with the occasion for one of its first zaps, with a follow-up when Harper's refused to publish a rebuttal. Reading it, in the closet at the age of 19, I got the message "if you can't rid yourself of this SIN, kill yourself."  As mudcub at I am a Wild Blue Beast notes:
Though Harper's was flooded with letters to the editor in subsequent issues (even up to the 1980s), the author Joseph Epstein never disavowed the article. If anything, he doubled down in a 2002 follow-up, claiming that people who called him a homophobe weren't capable of "textured thought".

And yet, he still gets treated as if the article never existed.

That was published just as I was about to go back to Cornell for my senior year. At that point, I was actually LIVING with a woman, but every college campus, especially residential colleges that aren't connected with fundamentalist religious organizations, had places where men could go for furtive sex with other men. I did that, with the caveat that every time I had sex with a man it would be the last time I had sex with ANY man. What saved me was an early acceptance letter (I knew I wanted to be a historian then too) from Stanford. At this point in my life I had never been west of Chicago. My parents had friends in Berkeley, so they shipped me off to the West Coast to see Stanford. They showed me which AC bus to take to go into San Francisco. The Promised Land! Nobody knew me there. I could go to a gay bar and get myself picked up and after that, no more doubt about anything.

It's just I wasn't calling myself gay yet. By virtue of the fact that I had had more sexual activity with women than I had had with men, "bi". And that's how I labeled myself for two months. Of course, at the end of those two months I got myself an apartment in Boston, and three weeks after that I met Jim, and the rest you're very well acquainted with.

You'll notice I didn't mention Stonewall. That's because I didn't identify myself with the movement at that point. I didn't even begin to identify myself as a gay scholar (I've been out since 1971) until the passage of Proposition 8. But I did know two things: In this heteronormative country, identifying as gay was a radical act when I did so, and I did so because I realized that, try as I might, I couldn't be somebody I wasn't. Also, because of all the Kinsey 3s and Kinsey 4s there are in the world, I don't think that what you do in the way of bisexuality is any kind of choice either.

Extended (Optional)

Originally posted to Dave in Northridge on Sun Jan 05, 2014 at 04:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Angry Gays, Milk Men And Women, LGBT Kos Community, and Remembering LGBT History.

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