First, one has to distinguish between sexual behavior and sexual attraction. Whether or not someone is born with an innate sexual attraction to one sex or another is still a matter of research and debate. So it's theoretically possible for someone to be "born gay", in that they are nautrally attracted to others of the same sex. However, actually translating that attraction into behavior -- "becoming gay" -- is where the rubber meets the road. Unless we start prosecuting thought crimes, it matters little to public policy or law if someone if a man is attracted to other men internally but never engages in homosexual activity or attempts to have a civil union or marriage with another man. For the purposes of this diary, being gay or lesbian means being overtly so by corresponding actions.
The "I was born this way" defense is an attempt to put being gay on an equivalent status of, for example, race or gender. Sometimes this idea is phrased, "God made me this way", which is fine if you genuinely believe that, but it's also a turn of phrase that sticks in the craw of less tolerant religious types who disagree. I suppose the idea is, if you can convince them God made them gay, then they must accept being gay is "okay" because God doesn't make mistakes. Frankly I have rarely heard of a religious type actually being swayed by this argument. And it seems to me to be something of an ad hoc and circular explanation, because the same people wouldn't want to think it wasn't okay if God didn't make them that way and instead it was a choice, because the bottom line is they would still think it is an okay choice. Even if you accept that sexual attraction is innate -- endowed either by God or genetics -- sexual behavior is still a choice, any way you slice it.
I love chocolate ice cream. A friend of mine, however, prefers vanilla. Can you believe that? Talk about whitebread! Still, from time to time I do eat vanilla ice cream as well. Sometimes I'll even eat rocky road, which I don't really like at all. The point is when I do eat ice cream, I have a choice as to which to eat, regardless of which I might naturally prefer. I know people who drink diet soda instead of regular, even though they think regular tastes better. I try to eat a salad every once in a while, even though I'd much rather be having a hamburger. When I was younger, I didn't like the taste of peas. But now that I'm older, I do. None of us can change (at least not easily) what our taste buds respond to, but we still choose what to eat. If a law were passed banning chocolate, it would be a tragedy, and it may be an unjust law. But few would say banning of chocolate was wrong because certain people were born liking the taste of chocolate.
If a man were born with a structural brain defect, which caused him to have muderous desires to kill others, we do not say, "Oh, but he was born that way, so let him kill people!" No, we tell this person not to do so, and if he does act on those desires, we lock him up. The fact that he was born with the desire to commit murder is irrelevant. What's relevant is whether or not murder is acceptable.
This really shouldn't be that difficult a proposition to for the GLBT community to accept. Pushing the defense of "I was born that way" may provide some personal security and satisfaction, but all it does is open the debate into areas of argument in religion, genetics, abortion, "gay cures", mental health, and so on. What we really should be saying is, "There's nothing terribly wrong with choosing to engage in homosexual behavior." Ultimately, it's that very behavior that the majority has to come to accept. Allwowing gays in the military is a minor victory if those gays are restricted from homosexual behavior while in the service.
Although many people don't like to think about it, religion in many families is a matter of tradition. If your parents are Catholic, chances are you'll be Catholic too; if you're parents are Jewish, you'll probably be Jewish too. (I'm speaking solely of belief, here, not techincal or cultural definitions.) Few Christians want to accept the notion that if they'd have been born in Saudi Arabia they'd probably be Muslim. To a large extent, one is born with their religion. And some people never change to another religion.
Nevertheless, few would deny that one's religion is a matter of choice. You choose to believe what you want to believe, and more importantly, you choose which religion you want to practice overtly. And few would say that because religion is a matter of choice, that it's okay to discriminate on the basis of religion, because theoretically one would be free to choose the "right" one. No, the fact is we put religion on equal status with race and gender, because for the most part there's nothing wrong with particular religious practices. Only when those religios practices conflict with other rights are they disallowed, and the same is true of sexual behavior as well (e.g. rape).
In the end, I would not deny that some people may have a genetic predisposition to a particular sexual orientation. Sometimes we just can't help what gives us pleasure. But a large part of what we find distasteful is socially constructed as well. There's no denying that many people who see themselves as undeniably heterosexual would nevertheless draw pleasure for homosexual behavior if they ever actually tried it and could get past the social stigma. Perhaps they might try it and decide to be gay from them on.
I think it's wrong to think that such people were "really gay" all along, and simply didn't know it. If they later change their minds and switch back, were they suddenly never "really" gay, even though we said they were before. I know some gay people who insist that "Once gay, always gay." Funny how they reject the idea of "Once straight, always straight" though. In fact, some homosexuals actually dislike bisexuals for this very reason -- by refusing to believe in choice, they insist on classifying people as "really" one or the other. Bisexuals, they say, are being untrue to themselves by trying to have it both ways.
Personally I like Freud's theory that there is, in fact, an innate bisexuality in everyone. Like I said, I wouldn't deny some people might be genetically predisposed to what they find attractive or what gives them pleasure, but so much of sexuality is hardwired that it doesn't matter if it's a girl, a boy, or an inanimate object stimulating those nerve endings. This may be too radical a concept for some people, who don't like the idea that they're heterosexual because of their social upbringing any more than they like the idea of their religion being similarly derived. But I can tell you this -- regardless of my innate desires, whatever they are, whether they were endorsed by God or by DNA, I chose to be bisexual, and chose to engage in both homosexual and heterosexual behavior.
And there's nothing wrong with that choice.
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