Yeah, Our Jaw Dropped, Too

“Homosexuality Is A Choice” Says Homo-Journo

Most homo-journos – including ourselves – gasped when Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson’s queer choice of words at Logo and HRC’s gay forum earlier this month.

Gay philosopher, journalist and professor John Corvino, however, took a different, more convoluted and potentially politically disastrous route.

In a piece originally published at 365 Gay, but reprinted at Independent Gay Forum, Corvino, an ethics professor, writes:

The question “Is it a choice or biological?” involves gross oversimplification. Homosexuality is both, and neither, depending on what one means.

Although we don’t choose our romantic feelings, homosexuality (like heterosexuality) certainly involves choices—about whether and how and with whom to express those feelings. When Richardson said “it’s a choice,” he probably meant that we have the right to make such choices. Good for him.

At the same time, homosexuality (like heterosexuality) surely has biological underpinnings. We’re flesh-and-blood creatures. At some level, everything about us is biological, regardless of what causal story about sexual orientation one accepts.

But don’t we need to prove we’re “born this way” to show that homosexuality is “natural”? Not at all. I wasn’t born speaking English, or practicing religion, or writing columns—yet none of these is “unnatural” in any morally relevant sense.

We’re absolutely speechless. We trust you lot have something to say.

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  • EdWoody

    Sounds perfectly reasonable to me. The problem is that people don’t want reasonable – they want media hysteria and instant soundbite.

  • Dawster

    oh boy…

    should i start first? okay.

    i’ll start off by saying that speaking english, practicing religion, and writing columns are due to geographical and cultural location and influence whereas being gay, me using my right hand (to bitch-slap him), and John’s brown hair and brown eyes would be considered “natural”.

    although i’m thinking john could go bottle-blond with blue contacts and look FIERCE…

  • Hunter Hoop

    Speechless? Why?

    he makes some good points. it’s rational, not black or white. CHOICE or BIOLOGY, choose NOW.

    His argument is one that wouldn’t cause any controversy in a society where homosexuality is considered normal. It’s just with all of the media hysteria things like this get taken as proof that a gay man thinks homosexuality is a choice.

    he doesn’t say that, at all.

  • Austehn

    I agree with Hunter Hoop above. It often feels to me like any time anyone even remotely suggests that homosexuality is anything but biological, that person is deemed to be homophobic, or at least put on a high-alert watch list. I feel I can only speak from personal experience about this subject because I don’t have a right to assume this about anyone else, but I can categorically say that homosexuality was (and is) NOT a choice for me. That said, I often wonder if the real question shouldn’t be, “Why does it matter?” If I choose to love someone of the same sex and foster a healthy relationship with him, why should that bother some “preacher” in Kansas? And also, if by some medical marvel, we were able to pinpoint exactly how biology plays into homosexuality, would acceptance of it grow? Or would it just spark a new kind of panic, only this time, it gives scientists and geneticists a road map to possible fixing this gay “problem” once and for all?

  • Allen

    Let’s see … I didn’t choose to be gay. That was biology & nature doing that.

    And I didn’t choose to come out … someone else decided to that for me when I was in college in South Dakota.

    I really didn’t have any choice in me being gay … and that’s fine w/ me.

  • Dawster

    there will be the “gay” man who isn’t really gay but got wrapped up in the lifestyle or drugs, made his choices, and fulfills every claim that the Christian Right has ever made up about homosexuals in general. yes, they exist.

    then we also have the GAY man who popped out of his mom’s cooter with a tiara and belting out act one of My Fair Lady. this was NOT a choice, it was his inclination… like a remarkable ability to play the piano with no lessons, or paint a picture with no previous training. it’s the direction in which our body was pushed EVEN THOUGH (at the time of my being raised) it was considered “wrong” and “unacceptable”.

    and… we have EVERYONE ELSE IN BETWEEN.

    because of the wide spectrum of variations, Richardson’s comment… and John Corvino’s comments are way off base. they may apply to some people, in a small way, but it doesn’t apply to the whole.

  • somelikeitscott

    Isn’t everyone here sort of saying the same thing? Like the rest of the human race, we have similarities and differences from every other person on the planet. What gets me is why anyone has to continue the argument about “why” when I don’t think anyone will ever be able to settle that argument. I’m gay, I don’t know why and no scientist knows why and if that’s okay for me it should be for everyone else too. This constant justification for our existence and why we are the way we are is about as exciting as watching the NASCAR cars go around in a circle. (the straights can go ahead and have this “sport” in my book)

    I’d much rather spend our time putting pressure on the gay execs at magazines and television networks to do more to represent how many different kinds of gays there are out there instead of continually parading the swishiest of the gays around as the only way a gay can be, getting ratings and selling magazines but hurting the people they’re supposed to be representing.

    We don’t all have a dress and sling-back pumps in the closet.

    Read more of one Jewish Gay Man’s opinion about life, love and all things that make him crazy at

  • La Malinche

    So, people–gay people, mostly–keep talking about Bill Richardson’s gaffe at the logo/HRC gay debate. Whether or not he was confused by the question, I don’t know. He does have a point when he asks people to look instead at his record of legislation and hiring as governor. But here’s what he should have said:

    “I don’t know.”

    Because no one does know. And that’s not even the question. That question–“choice or biology”–is horribly slanted. There are really two questions: choice or innate, and biology or development. The answer to the first is easy for most people. You don’t choose who turns your head as you walk down the street, and you don’t choose whom you fall in love with. As for biology, we really don’t know. More gay men then straight have a counterclockwise whorl. About 60% of gay men have a specific marker on a specific chromosome (Xq28). Neither of those things are conclusive. We don’t know whether there is a genetic switch that turns on the gay, and the prospect is scary anyway. Would parents–well-meaning or otherwise–hope for a form of gene therapy to turn the switch off? Or is it developmental, it is something that is affected by environment and circumstance, and therefore possibly fluid? Does that mean we should try to change; is one sexuality better than the other?

    So Bill Richardson should have said “I don’t know”, and then he should have said exactly what he did. That it doesn’t matter. Whether sexuality is genetic or environmental has no bearing on a person’s capacity for love or goodness, and should have no bearing on how we as a society treat them.

  • allstarecho

    I can see his point to an extent.. there is a difference between homosexual the sex act, and homosexual the orientation. You can’t choose whether or not you are gay but you can choose whether or not you have gay sex. You either fuck or you don’t, that’s a choice.. but you don’t wake up one morning and say, “Hey! I’m going to be gay now!”

  • audiored

    I agree with John Corvino. I don’t know if he should be so generous with interrupting what Richardson meant. But, he is right over all. What is really sad is how the mainstream gay rights groups (because of stupidity, intellectual laziness, pandering to reactionaries) have utilized this inane two dimensional language to describe sexuality.

  • Eminent Victorian

    It was stupid of him to assume he knows what Richardson meant. Beyond that, I think he makes some interesting points.

  • Tallskin

    I have often thought it was a mistake for gay politics to get bogged down in the “born gay”, gay gene, argument, rather than tackling head on the reason why this culture does not like homo sex itself. I appreciate that it has been a useful weapon to fight back against the bible bashers, and I will say that I feel I was born gay etc etc.

    But, If we had stuck to the tackling the prejudice around homo sex, that would have meant taking on the biblical injunctions against us and arguing with them. Which, here in Europe, is easier, i will concede, that it would be in the USA, cos here in western Europe the religious influence on political life is minimal. But it would reveal the utter hypocrisy of the religious and their sex-fearing religion.

    The other problem with not countering the prejudice against homo-sex is that it eliminates from consideration bi-sexuals and straights who like to dabble with cock at certain points in their lives.

    So, best, to use both arguments, in tandem 1) We’re born gay, and 2) What’s wrong with cock up the arse, you religious filth?

  • WWH

    Nature/nurture is totally irrelevant to the fact that we should be treated equally under the law.

  • Rowen

    From reading this article, and the little snippit, it seems more like he’s making broad generalizations that have very little with what was said. I’m probably doing the same thing right now. John Corvino didn’t say that homosexuality was a choice, just that there are choices involved with Life. o_O Really?!! Being alive involves making choices?!!! Paging Captain Obvious!!!!

    When someone asks, “Do you think homosexuality is a choice?,” they usually aren’t asking if the people have a choice to come out, or to sing show tunes, or picking 400 thread count sheets or going out with the hot guy or the rich one. They’re asking do you think we’re born gay, or did our mothers make us that way. As much as I dislike Conservative generalizing and demonizing, I also have a problem when liberals go off on these huggy tangents that don’t address any problems.

  • Timothy

    I think Corvino’s point is that “choice v. born gay” is a false dichotomy. “Choice” assumes that one could “choose” back and become hetero. And “born gay” assumes that all factors leading to orientation must take place before birth.

    Corvino suggests that its possible to be innately and immutably gay without having it all happen before you pop out.

    Corvino is saying that the issue isn’t necessarily whether orientation is genetic, but rather that gay people simply are. They exists. And they aren’t going to change.

    Homosexuality is natural. Not because it is genetic (though I believe that gene play some part), but because it happens of its own in a normal setting and in a perfectly natural way. It is the end result of some natural process, whether genetic, environmental (inutero or post-natal), or some combination of both (which is what science currently seems to support).

    Corvino’s point is that something need not be genetic to be natural and unchangeable and deserving of respect. And orientation is all three. And therefore gay people are entitled to be included in the “all men” who are “created equal”.

    And he believes that it is more important that someone recognize the constitutional equality of gay citizens than that they buy off on the dogmatic mantra “born gay”.

    And I think I see his point.

  • Martini-boy

    He’s hot. I’d pick his brain – and prick his ass – anytime!

  • ScotinSC

    He made me think and think about Bill Richardson. Bill’s got my vote because whether he expressed himself well or not, he’s got an actual record of progressive decency to all. This acceptance business cannot be based solely on legalism and politically correct verbage. We must work to win the hearts and minds of those, probably like Gov. Richardson himself, for whom this is not a personal issue. That other 90% plus of the population simply hasn’t had to consider our issues. We must work with them, not against them, to win them the only way it will be done: one at a time.

  • petertimmerman

    His most important point is obviously that it doesn’t depend on the science whether we have the same rights as straights. And this is a very important point! Because we want these rights, even if scientists would find out that by very extensive therapy homosexuals could indeed be made gay (and, it must be stressed, heterosexuals could me made gay!). People who keep stressing that their sexuality is out of their control, give me the impression that they try to show they are not responsible for who they are. ‘I’m gay, but don’t hit me, because I didn’t choose for it!’. But this is obviously all wrong. Instead, we should stress them to explain to us what’s wrong with being gay in the first place. (And probably listen to their religious humbug…)

    With Corvino, I believe we should stop focussing on the causes of sexual orientation, and press that it should not matter. Besides this, our scientific beliefs should not be informed by our ideological hopes.

    By the way, from the perspective of developmental psychology it is rather obvious that sexuality -gay or straight- is something that develops in life, and that how one identifies oneself may be influenced by social and cultural beliefs about the existing varieties of sexuality. And from a philosophical point of view, it does not make sense to attribute ‘heterosexuality’ or ‘homosexuality’ to a just born baby. They can hardly see the difference between a man and a woman, save who they’d rather sleep with.

    By the way, Andrew, I do not see Corvino state anywhere that homosexuality is a choice. But it does make for a good header.

  • ben

    I think Corvino makes a nice point.

    Also, the way we express homosexuality is purely geographical as well. It’s convoluted to think that every society, tradition, and people developed to the same model for a gay lifestyle. The same-sex partnership model that we strive for today is relatively new.

  • nycstudman

    he’s right. I didn’t choose to be gay – my dick did.

  • Paul Raposo

    I think the person to answer this question should be a gay man, or lesbian, who marries a person of the opposite sex, yet claims to be neither bi, nor straight, but insists they are still gay/lesbian.

  • Mr. B

    Timothy, Peter, Ben, you make very good points. I think that many of us are very knee-jerky in our reactions to the nature or nurture question. It’s understandable because only we can know what we’ve gone through in our personal struggles (or not) to be who we are, and it’s really invalidating to have one’s entire identity minimized. But sometimes the “I had no choice!” reaction does the same thing, because it is so defeatist and, really, defensive. And so, yes, on a political platform I think the “Choice or genetics?” argument just does more harm than good.

    Same-sex attraction (or heterosexual attraction, or bisexual attraction) is complex. It’s more than just what makes your genitals react. Trying to essentialize it and assign it all to some gene somewhere is like trying to attribute one’s entire personality to DNA. The tough guy who met his true love while fighting in Vietnam but didn’t know it until after his wife died and his kids were grown is different from the cabaret singer who was painting his sister’s nails at age six is different from the blonde bombshell who gets dismissed as “trying to impress the guys” when she tells people she has a girlfriend. And that’s just here in twenty-first century America.

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