In my psychology class, we’ve been reading recently published journal reviews on the evidence for and against sexuality being inherent — everything from GWAS to hormone studies to the younger brother effect. As both a liberal and a gay person, I was disappointed to see that the genetic and hormonal evidence was not at all conclusive. But that did get me thinking: why do I care so much?
Maybe it’s because I’m taking a philosophy class, or maybe it’s because I’ve been realizing a lot of my own hypocrisy over the past month or so, but I started questioning what the “born this way” vs “you chose to be gay” argument is really all about (and why no one was mentioning the fact that there are more than those two options). And I realized something interesting: if you aren’t homophobic, then you logically shouldn’t care about what the right answer is. The only reason this debate actually exists is to mitigate internal and external homophobia.
Let me explain.
The Third Option:
Let’s get this out of the way: sexuality is not a choice. There is no reason why so many people throughout history would choose to be estranged from their families, arrested, drugged, or murdered, if they could help it. No one chooses to be gay because, even now, life is significantly harder for sexual minorities than for straight people.
But that also doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s inborn — meaning “at birth.” There are ways that something can be involuntary, even if it isn’t genetic. And this is what the real scientists are debating: not whether or not sexuality is a choice, but whether or not experience plays a role in the way someone’s sexuality develops.
Unfortunately, the idea that experiences influence sexuality still don’t stem the tide of conversion therapy. Genetics, as of now, cannot be changed. Neither can hormone levels in the womb (at least, they can’t ethically be changed). But experiences can be changed, so conservatives and other various homophobes will still adamantly insist that sexuality is not inborn.
“They can’t help it” — Blame and Punishment:
Humans are constantly attempting to assign blame. Of course, this mostly happens in criminal trials and social disputes. One big part of blame is determining punishment, specifically for the purpose of changing the future outcome.
If someone steals a car, they are assigned blame and punished so that they or others won’t do the same in the future. But this only works because stealing the car was a conscious choice: punishing someone for an accident (ex. stepping on your foot) or for something that can’t be helped (ex. a baby crying) is completely worthless, because no amount of punishment will change the outcome.
This is what’s truly at the heart of the experience vs genetics debate: blame and punishment. If sexuality is inborn, then no amount of conversion therapy, estrangement, exorcisms, jail sentences, or drugs will ever succeed in changing things. It becomes something that “can’t be helped.”
People get worked up about this debate because it has the potential to get rid of blame and internalized guilt. And realizing that is exactly what made me realize that this debate is only for homophobic people, be it internalized homophobia or outright hatred. But this debate is not for tolerant people. Tolerant people shouldn’t care what the right answer is. And some of you may already be guessing why.
Not Giving a Damn About What the Answer Is:
If a parent is homophobic, then they will care about whether or not their child is gay by nature or choice. If they concede that being gay is embedded in someone’s core, then they may begrudgingly tolerate their children because “they couldn’t help” committing what they perceive to be a sin. If they maintain that being gay is part of experience, then they will try to change their child’s behavior or punish them.
But if a parent is not homophobic…then their response is always the same, no matter what the debate’s answer is. Why would they get offended by someone saying that being gay is a choice, or that being gay is due to how they raised them, if there’s nothing wrong with being gay in the first place? That would be the equivalent of me getting worked up about whether I like chocolate by nature, by choice, or by how I was raised: it doesn’t matter. What matters if that I do like chocolate, and there is nothing I would change about that because it isn’t a bad thing.
If you don’t view being gay as a bad thing, then you shouldn’t care about what the outcome of the science is. This debate is purely for the purposes of pacifying homophobes. But the most that the science can do is to convince homophobic people to begrudgingly tolerate gay people: if and when we find the factors feeding into sexuality, it won’t change the mindset that being gay is somehow bad. The LGBT community, at best, would be treated like unfortunate lunatics who can’t help but be crazy or diseased, and the homophobes would start thinking that sterilization, hormone manipulation, or genetic engineering might not be so bad. Solving the question of nature vs nurture will not quash homophobia. The only thing that will do that is realizing that being gay is not a bad thing in the first place, whether it can be helped or not.
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