White Coat Underground

Right is right, right?

I’m getting really tired of this nature vs. nurture debate when discussing homosexual rights. It’s always interesting to investigate the origins of human behavior, and occasionally something is found to be purely genetic, but I suspect that sexuality, like many human attributes, has a complex mix of biological and non-biological causes. That doesn’t piss me off. What pisses me off is the insistence by right wing religious cults on “proving” that homosexuality is a choice.

Sexuality phenotype is a tough concept if you really think about it. The harder you try to nail down the difference between “gay” and “straight” phenotypes, the slipperier the concept becomes.

When we try to judge people by whom they love, or by whom they choose to have sex with, there are some problems other than the obvious one of “IT’S NONE OF YOUR GOD DAMNED BUSINESS.” Sure, there are some people who appear to be really, really gay, or really, really straight, but what does that really, really mean?

If someone identifies themselves as “gay”, and only has sexual relationships with people of the same gender, they may still love people of the other gender. What makes each type of love different? There are plenty of intimate partner relationships that are sexless—does that make the relationship more or less gay or straight? On which relationships do we judge someone’s sexuality phenotype?

This is where religious cultists such as evangelical Christians (the most prominent and influential cult in the U.S.) are poisoned by their own ideology. Cultists are “splitters”—you’re one of us, or you’re one of them, but you must pick sides. Subtlety is scornful, perhaps even sinful. So everyone must be a particular religion, have a particular belief about abortion, and have a specific type of sexuality. You can’t be “kinda sometimes gay” or “anti-abortion, but sort of pro-choice too”. You also can’t be a proper cult member and accept the scientific view of biology.

This is where the science becomes less important. The origins of human sexuality are interesting, but completely irrelevant when discussing civil rights. It doesn’t matter whether someone is born gay or straight—each of us is equally deserving of civil and human rights, independent of the specifics of our race, gender, sexuality. People who are focused on the “choice” of homosexuality are about to “choose” to deprive others of their rights. If science were to identify the “gay” gene on the short arm of chromosome 4, they would simply start to oppress homosexuals before they are born. (Imagine the debate behind the closed doors of the churches regarding abortion and a “gay” gene that can be identified in utero.)

The “biology of gay” debate is, and has always been a steaming bucket of crap designed to allow people to be bigots. No matter the ultimate answer (and I don’t think there is one), the people asking the question have only one conscious desire—to control others and deprive them of basic human rights.

Comments

  1. #1 Rose Colored Glasses
    February 17, 2009

    For me it’s a case of here-we-go-again.

    My father was born in 1916, and was left-handed. In that era, left-handedness was considered deviant rebellious behavior and was punished. My dad got switched, smacked on the hand with a yardstick, and had his right hand tied behind his back to his belt. He was shamed repeatedly, humiliated and cowed, but he did learn printing and scripting with his off-hand (and his left as well, on the sly).

    Today, nobody in their right mind, and few in their wrong mind, would assert that left-handedness was a lifestyle choice. Why? I think too many people know that handedness is something that happens to someone. Lefties are valued in baseball, but nobody would seriously try to become a lefty if he was born a righty. We all know better.

    In time, when enough people know that gender identity, sexual style, gender preference, and mannerisms are not things people can select, all this nonsense will end up forgotten.

    Meanwhile, if it’s any help, consider that these gay-haters are not arguing in good faith. They’re lying and they know they’re lying. They want to get their way and don’t mind cheating. Actually, they like cheating.

  2. #2 skyotter
    February 17, 2009

    i always turn it back on ‘em by reminding them “religion is a lifestyle choice. it is empirically NOT genetic”

    … and then wonder i aloud if they’d want the same same rule to apply to them and their lifestyle choice. unsurprisingly, they never do

  3. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    February 17, 2009

    The origins of human sexuality are interesting, but completely irrelevant when discussing civil rights.

    DING! Give this man a plushie toy!

  4. #4 Chad
    February 17, 2009

    Amen brutha! Amen! Tell it like it is! I couldn’t agree more.

  5. #5 G Felis
    February 17, 2009

    Actually, I get just as annoyed – well, not “just as” annoyed, but very annoyed – with gay rights activists who put too much time and energy into “proving” that being gay is not a choice. It does not matter if you were born with a big fat helping of “gay genes” or choose the gender of your romantic partners (or your own gender – shout out to my transgender peeps!) on a thrice-monthly random rotation, you are just as deserving of every human right and freedom that anyone else is – which from any sensible ethical perspective includes the freedom to choose to do most anything you want that is compatible with similar freedom for others.

    Look at it this way: I am a life-long heterosexual male – “hopelessly heterosexual,” one of my friends says with a shake of his head and roll of his eyes. But if I suddenly decided to give up on women and chase men from this day forward, how does my choosing it rather than being stuck with it from adolescence affect anything? Does it become okay for the bigots to express their hate of me because I “chose” to be gay? Does the power of the state to control my personal sexual choices and activities become less unjust, or more unjust? Does it make my love any less love, or any more?

    On the one hand, I get it: The fact is that people do not experience their own sexual identity as a choice, so it’s natural to want to argue with people who insist it is a choice. That would be fine if that were all there is to it – but it isn’t.

    Remember, anti-gay bigots (especially the religious ones) are only saying that homosexuality is a choice because they insist that it is an immoral choice. They are backhandedly acknowledging a basic principle of moral reasoning, “ought implies can.” If you have no choice about being gay, you cannot logically be said to have any obligation to change being gay – and they want you to feel obligated to not be gay or “live the gay lifestyle” that causes them such shudders, so they insist that it’s your choice. So whenever you fight them over whether or not your sexual preference is a choice, you are essentially conceding the assumption that motivates their insistence that it’s a choice – the assumption that your sexual preferences are somehow inherently immoral, that it’s not just a choice, but that it’s the *wrong* choice. I don’t think you actually want to concede that, SO STOP IT ALREADY!

    The next time some homophobe says something about how people choose to be gay, pipe up and say, “Yes! I choose to be gay! What can I say? I just love the dick/pussy! And what’s your fucking point? Why is my choice so wrong? Do you have any actual reasons to offer, or are you just gonna look stupid and wave a Bible at me? Buy a clue, asshole: Your personal distaste for my decisions about who to fuck does not give you the right to control my life in any way whatsoever. Your personal sexual hang-ups are not a legitimate basis for modifying our most basic moral, political, and legal principles, such as the equality of all citizens before the law.”

    Here endeth my rant.

  6. #6 Chronos
    February 18, 2009

    Actually, I get just as annoyed – well, not “just as” annoyed, but very annoyed – with gay rights activists who put too much time and energy into “proving” that being gay is not a choice.

    I think that, when it really comes down to it at an emotional level, gay activists aren’t actually trying to get this across to the “it’s a sin and therefore a choice” crowd. (Well, except to the extent that they/we have family members who are members of that crowd….)

    Rather, the point is more about sharing the experience of being GLBTWTFBBQ to people who aren’t whackjobs but just feel uneasy because it’s outside their familiar/comfortable zone. There are a fair number of people that have a vague intuition that sexual orientation is a choice, not for reasons of indoctrination but just because they’ve never given the matter serious thought. The idea that someone would actually choose something so foreign to their experience is a serious culture shock, which immediately leads to the formation of an ingroup-outgroup dynamic that shuts down rational discussion. I myself have had a few friends that didn’t really grok it until the tenth or fifteenth time I explained how I’d been attracted to other boys at age 12 and figured out I was gay by the end of 7th grade.

    On the other hand, I seriously don’t envy bisexuals on this front, because not only do they have a harder time using this rhetorical device than gay mens and lesbians, but the ground’s already been sown with misleading half-ideas planted by clumsy use. Oh, and FSM help you if you’re going to try and explain transsexuality to such folks — immediate blank stare and mental BSOD, in the absence of a lot of carefully scripted tour-guiding past Intersex Falls and Lake David Reimer.

  7. #7 DLC
    February 18, 2009

    Right.Well, I may be odd, but I think if it’s kept between consenting adult humans, it’s none of my business.

  8. #8 SLC
    February 18, 2009

    Re Rose Colored Glasses

    It is interesting to note that the majority of our modern presidents were left handed.

    Herbert Hoover
    Harry Truman
    Gerald Ford
    Ronald Reagan
    George H. W. Bush
    William Jefferson Clinton
    Barack Obama

  9. #9 Erin
    February 18, 2009

    Well said.

  10. #10 moneduloides
    February 18, 2009

    Tangentially related: If you guys can get a copy of “Tearoom Trade” by Laud Humphreys you might be pleasantly surprised to see many happily married men, with children, white picket fence, etc… are also happily gay (on the side).

    Really, I think this is unrefutable proof that the cultural and biological confound each other particularly well on this issue. You can’t tease these things apart. Or, if you can, we certainly don’t have the methods in our social studies at this moment in time.

  11. #11 bob
    February 18, 2009

    @skyotter: Wow, what an amazing comeback! I’m totally stealing that.

  12. #12 G Felis
    February 18, 2009

    @Chronos: Yeah, I understand that motivation, too. But it’s one of those things that is so fraught with “You’re conceding too much!” that I often feel ranty about it. People should always at least point out that the unargued and unsupportable assumption that “teh gay is eeee-vul” is just that – assumed, unargued, and unsupportable. Once you get across the idea that it’s not okay for anyone to legislate the behavior of others based on no more than their personal emotional discomfort, THEN it’s certainly okay to do what you can to help people past that emotional discomfort. I guess I just want better priorities on this front than I often see.

    And yeah, all my bisexual friends get the worst of both worlds. Close-minded heterosexuals revile them, but often they are also reviled by close-minded or resentful homosexuals because some of their relationships can “pass” in a heteronormative world: I’ve actually heard a gay man say to a bisexual “Pick a damned side!” Real understanding and supportive, dude.

    Sometimes I think of a poor, battered tetherball (did you have that game on your playgrounds as a kid?) when I hear the phrase “swings both ways…”

  13. #13 Blake Stacey
    February 18, 2009

    I’ve actually heard a gay man say to a bisexual “Pick a damned side!” Real understanding and supportive, dude.

    I’ve yet to be told to “pick a side”, but if I were, I’d probably respond with, “And why don’t you pick a hair colour?”

    Or maybe I’d steal a line from Björk: “That’s like asking someone to choose between cake and ice cream!”

  14. #14 khan
    February 19, 2009

    What if your ‘side’ varies with your ovulation cycle?