"Gay is okay, because everyone should be entitled to love who they choose!"
This represents one flavor of reactions I’ve gotten over the years. On the surface it appears to be very supportive and respectful, and don’t get me wrong, it’s preferable to many other reactions. However, I can’t help but feel that it is problematic.
Love who they choose. Love who they choose. Regardless of the undeniably well-meaning intent within this statement, I feel like support that continues to propagate the idea that sexuality is a “choice” makes it harder for true support to spread.
Reason #1) It’s wrong. It’s just plain wrong. Maybe it’s just the scientist in me, but ideas that are just wrong incense me.
Now, I cannot speak for everyone because sexuality is an incredibly complicated, personal, intricate thing, but for me and every gay person I have discussed this sort of topic with, our homosexuality was not a choice. It is innate. Not to be crude, but I don’t just look at someone and think “They’re attractive, I should pop a boner.” It’s a thing that happens. In anatomical terms, erectile tissue is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. It’s like the muscles in your intestines that move food, or your pupils dilating. You don’t control it, and if you can’t control being turned on by someone, why do we think that we choose who we’re attracted to?
Add to that the growing amount of scientific literature studying homosexuality determining that it is natural and innate. Hundreds of animal species have demonstrated homosexual behavior, some scientists have speculated they have found a ‘gay gene’, and neurological experiments have shown physiological differences in the brain between heterosexual and homosexual individuals.
(A brief aside: People debate the idea of nature vs nurture in homosexuality. The debate, in mainstream society, has translated this to innate vs choice. This is inaccurate. Nurture does not only refer to the way a person is raised. It is not just that a child raised by gays, or a child raised to think gay is okay, will become gay. Environmental factors that are as involuntary to an individual as their genetic makeup can actually influence your genes. They don’t give you new ones, but they can change how your genetic code is ‘folded’ inside your cells. This is natural, and the changes can allow different genes to have different levels of expression. Basically, things in your environment at certain points in development can change which of the genes you already have get expressed, and to what extent, which can cause changes in development. So when scientists say something is 50% nature and 50% nurture, they’re still saying it’s 100% involuntary.)
Reason #2) It’s disrespectful. If you are heterosexual, and a homosexual person tells you they didn’t choose to be homosexual, and you don’t believe them because other heterosexual people told you that homosexuality is a choice, you are wrong. You do not get to dictate aspects of another person’s personhood based on your own beliefs of how the world works.
Think of it this way. Lets say you have two friends who’ve never met (we’ll call them Ben and Gary). Ben tells you Gary’s favorite color is blue, but Gary tells you his favorite color is really green. What would possess you to tell Gary that he’s wrong and that his favorite color is really blue, just because Ben told you so? Ben has never lived Gary’s life. Ben will never know Gary’s mind the way Gary does, and for that matter neither will you. Gary’s opinion of his own preferences should be the end all be all because only he knows what is in his mind, heart, and soul.
Finally, Reason #3) Whether or not you are condemning or accepting homosexuality, claiming it is a choice places a certain and invalid amount of blame on a homosexual person for the homophobia they experience over the course of their lives.
If they chose to be gay, then they could choose to not be gay. If they choose not to be gay, they would not have to endure the hate, prejudice, and pain for being gay. Because then they wouldn’t be gay. So no one would bully them for it.
When someone tells me that I chose to be gay, all I hear is that I chose to have my father disown me. That my friend chose to have his parents kick him out of his house at age 16. That a friend of a friend chose to have her father try to shoot her in her sleep. Because none of those things would ever have happened if we had just chosen to be straight.
Think about it, I mean really think about it for a second. With all the stories of homophobia and hate around the world. People who have been killed for who they are and who they love. People who have had their souls so torn by people they love and people they don’t even know that they take their own lives. Think. If they could choose to make that all stop, don’t you think they would? If that was you, being tormented for something you chose, would you not at least be tempted to make a different choice?
So yes, being told that gay people should be able to love who they “choose” has good intent. And if it was a choice, it would be the perfect statement, because people make choices in love all the time. But sexuality is not one of those choices. Until people can learn that and accept that as true, actual acceptance will just be that much harder.
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