smart decisions

Is There Any Benefit to Arguing Homosexuality (And Acting On It) Is a Choice?

“Until homosexuality is cast and understood as a valid choice, rather than a biological affliction, we will never rise above our current status,” writes Stephanie Fairyington for Utne. “We will remain Mother Nature’s mistake, tolerable (to some) because our condition is her fault, not ours.” Well, this is going to go swimmingly.

Particularly if you don’t finish the rest of the piece from Fairyington, who’s written for The Advocate and Out when not holding down her fashion editor day job.

By choice, I don’t mean that one can choose one’s sexual propensities any more than one can choose one’s personality. What I mean is that it’s a choice to act on every desire we have, and that acting on our same-sex attractions is just as valid as pursuing a passion for the Christian faith or Judaism or any other spiritual, intellectual, emotional, or physical craving that does not infringe on the rights of others. And it should be respected as such.

As a firm Kinsey 6—with 6 being the gayest ranking on sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s 1-to-6 scale of sexual orientation—I understand the resistance to putting choice and homosexuality in the same sentence. My same-sex attractions were awakened in me at such a young age that they felt as much a part of me as my limbs. In the late 1990s, when I was coming out, had someone told me that I had chosen my deepest, most tender and passionate affections, it would have been like telling me that I had chosen the arms and legs I have.

But I have plenty of desires, like throwing my fists in the faces of conservative Republicans, which for one reason or another, I don’t act on; my desire for women is not one of them. Biology is not destiny, and I am the architect of my own life, as is everyone. My point is not to challenge or even enter the debate about whether or not some combination of nature and nurture contributes to the formation of an inclination toward one’s own sex. My point is that most inquiries into the origins of homosexuality are suspect, and their service to us is limited, if not perilous.

Her point is also to enter a very, very dangerous framework.

First, if sexuality is understood as predestined and therefore fixed, it poses less of a challenge to the hetero monolith than does a shifting spectrum of desire. It protects straight people, in other words, from the threat of homosexuality. Second, by presenting homosexuality as a biological fact as firm and absolute as race or sex, gay activists have formed an identity the law can recognize and can follow in the footsteps of civil rights legislation. Third, it’s conceptually easier to understand sexuality as a permanent trait rather than the complex, ever-morphing mess that it often is.

But for all the success this politics has had, in the end, it’s not only shortsighted but rife with limitations—and dangers. As lesbian activist Joan Nestle told me, it’s not good politics to cling to the “born gay” edict because “the use of biological ‘abnormalities’ was used by the Nazis when they measured the nostril thickness of imprisoned Jews to prove they were an inferior race; and when colonizers measured the brains of Africans to make a case for their enslavement; and when doctors at the turn of the century used the argument that the light weight of women’s brains proved their inferiority to men. I do not want to enter into this sad history of biological dehumanization as the basis for gay rights.”

If instead we frame the debate as, while biologically we may be gay, but we still have a choice to act on same-sex attraction, are we going to get homophobic people to start rallying around our community because they, too, recognize the value of a human being’s right to choose?

By affirming that homosexual practice and identity are a choice, we can attach an addendum—it’s a good choice—and open the possibility of a more nuanced argument, one that dismantles the logic of the very premise that whom we choose to love marks us as sinful and immoral and interrogates the assumption that heterosexuality is somehow better for the individual and society as a whole.