Friday, October 28, 2005

Choices

WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes came out this week. She also has said she believes that she wasn't born a lesbian, and that we choose our sexuality.

I certainly feel I was born this way; never in a million years would I have chosen this path for myself. That doesn't mean I dispute Ms. Swoope's assertion; I wouldn't dare. But I wonder for the gay rights movement, how much of our momentum comes from the belief or experience that orientation is biological? And, ultimately, why does it matter?

*****

Part of the broad legal strategy for achieving full civil equality for the gay community under the law in America is predicated on the idea that marriage is the constitutionally protected fundamental right to marry the partner of your choice; this is the response to the counter-argument that homosexuals are not banned from marrying in the United States, as long as they marry an opposite-sex partner.

I don't think there's any validity to the counter-argument, but I'm also not convinced that our legal strategy is necessarily accurate.

Love is not really about choosing; for me, that ties in with the whole issue of sexual orientation. It's not a question of my "choosing" a woman; the fact that I am emotionally and erotically attracted to men lies outside my power to choose.

But we also don't really choose the individuals we partner with. Not really. I mean, if I could choose who I wanted to marry, I'd have done it by now. But none of them were interested back.

So where does choice come in? Love is this bizarre, unexplainable phenomenon by which two people find themselves committed to one another in an emotional union. It's a force of nature, not something we reason out with ourselves and our partners. We don't say, "You seem nice, would you like to love me?" It doesn't work that way. How often have we met people who were perfectly nice, perfectly viable...but, we just didn't -- and couldn't -- love them in that way?

I have no answers, only questions.

Have a great weekend.

26 comments:

little-cicero said...

There exists a biological cause for homosexuality, but also, it seems, there is a psychological cause for it. Many homosexuals have been through disturbing childhoods, so this angle should not be ignored. Both may exist, but I wonder...is it wrong for a therapist to convert someone from homosexuality if it is psychologically induced, in your opinion? Is it wrong for Carmen Electra to do so? (lol)

Jeff said...

But many homosexuals have had perfectly happy childhoods, and many heterosexuals have had very disturbing childhoods.

"Is it wrong for a therapist to convert someone from homosexuality if it is psychologically induced?" Well, one, there's no proof that someone can actually be made to no longer be attracted to people of the same gender. Two, your question assumes that there are cases in which homosexuality is entirely psychologically induced.

The goal of a therapist is to help the patient move toward living a happier life. If conversion worked, then maybe a "conversion" attempt would be a valid choice. But, if conversion doesn't work, the person's homosexual desires will just wind up being repressed. Look at John Paulk, the "ex-gay" poster child who was later found to have visited gay bars after becoming "ex." Is he happy? Who knows?

Attempts at conversion sometimes do more harm than good, basically because it hasn't been shown to work. Sometimes it's best to get someone to accept who he/she is - to be happy with who you are.

Rose Fox said...

I get so mad with people who say "Queers should have the same rights as non-queers because they can't help being queer!". No, queers should have the same rights as non-queers because we are all human beings and entitled to a reasonable degree of dignity and self-determination. So politically I wish everyone would shut up about whether it's a choice because that really clouds the issue of human rights and civil rights, which by their nature should apply across the board.

When I was 13 I decided I was "bisexual until further notice": I'd try kissing boys and kissing girls, and see what I liked and didn't. It turned out I liked them both. At various times I've wandered along the Kinsey scale in both directions; I spent a couple of years absolutely convinced I was straight as an arrow, and recently I've been all the way on the other side and only attracted to women (well, and my fiancé, but as far as we can tell he's just grandfathered in). Based on that, it seems absurd to say that I was born A Certain Way, and equally absurd to say that it's a conscious choice. I regard these orientation shifts as akin to mood swings: Just as I can influence my mood swings with medicines or changes in diet or adjusting my sleeping patterns, I can influence my orientation by making a point of focusing on one attractive feature or another, but the swings themselves are biological in origin. I'm sure that some people's orientation is more nature than nurture, and others have much more conscious control. As with any other human trait, there's a broad and fascinating spectrum. That's the other reason I don't like the inborn vs. chosen debate: it oversimplifies something beautifully complex, and in passing, it defines people like me out of existence.

If I have any inherent orientation, it's towards other genderqueer pansexuals, as they're generally most understanding of my odd orientation shifts and most willing and able to go with the flow. *grin* I suppose that technically makes me homosexual, since I'm attracted to people like me, but it's certainly not true in the sense that it's usually meant.

Courtney said...

That doesn't mean I dispute Ms. Swoope's assertion; I wouldn't dare.

Good move, Andy, because she could kick your ass! Also of note: Mr. Sulu of Start Trek fame came out.

Andy said...

Rose, thank you so much for your wonderful testimony! You put it very well.

I hope I'm not going to have a Larry Summers moment here, but you're not the first woman to relate a story to me like that; I wonder if perhaps female sexuality in general is more fluid than male sexuality? Again, I have no idea, just asking questions.

LC, you keep mouthing off on subjects about which I don't think you have any real knowledge. "Many homosexuals have been through disturbing childhoods" -- ? Have you been conducting a study? I think you frequently mistake conservative mantra for established fact.

Jess said...

I have no doubt that we were born this way. I think it's important to the movement, because those who would hold us back paint our sexuality as something we chose like the clothes on our back.

It really shouldn't matter. Equal rights means equal rights for all. Even so, I think the fact (at least I think it's a fact) that we were made this way makes it harder for people to say we deserve less than anyone else.

little-cicero said...

Now that just hurts, Andy! That wasn't mouthing off, it was introducing an opinion in a very gentle and civil way, anticipating your recoil as I did. The conservative mantra may, at times abuse fact as does all political rhetoric, but there is some basis in fact
You cannot tell me that victims of sexual abuse, for example, do not tend to gravitate toward homosexuality more that non-victims. It could be, that just as depression has a biological basis, but is undetectable without the presence of psychological initiator, Homosexuality has a biological and psychological basis. There are many "compulsory heterosexuals" who are either happy or unhappy, and many "compulsory homosexuals" who, because of many psychological factors assume homosexuality (i.e choose) without actually being gay biologically. How can a bisexual such as rose, be aroused by both a man and a woman? Such cases surely prove that the "clicking one way or the other" postulate does not work. She may have had a happy childhood, but there must be factors besides biological that contribute to sexual preference if you can have sex with a man one day and a woman the next.

I do aggree that women are more open to physical and emotional contact than men by nature, which is probably why they are more fluid in the initiation of sexual behavior than men.

Mary Ann said...

"How often have we met people who were perfectly nice, perfectly viable...but, we just didn't -- and couldn't -- love them in that way?"

Love is a very complex thing, so much so that I marvel at everyone who finds it and can hang on to it. I'm one of them and it still amazes me. Certainly there are combinations and personalities that don't or can't work. I've experienced that, and it was hard, painful, confusing, discouraging.

On the other hand, I don't think love is a force of nature. In my limited experience, love has required effort and struggle. The commitment that you spoke of that results from "unexplainable phenomenon" must be reinforced and strengthened by each partner's conscious choice to do so. Otherwise, indifference overcomes the initial fire, and love dies.

little-cicero said...

Is it possible that love and lust are two completely different realms which are interdependant. For example, I can love a very good friend without being in a sexual relationship, but, if she and I developed such a relationship, the "love" would intensify along with the lust. It seems that, whereas lust dies as a result of the diminishment of external features, love never dies, it was either there in the beginning, or confused with lust which dissappears over time. When begginning a relationship, then, one must be sure to separate the two by holding a courtship over a period of time wherein the sexual relationship may not create the dillusion of love. This is partially why there is the hard and fast rule of chastity before marriage (or in Andy's case, civil unions, but let's not go there).

Mary Ann said...

Little Cicero, I categorically disagree.

Out of respect for Andy, however, I will say no more.

Andy said...

You cannot tell me that victims of sexual abuse, for example, do not tend to gravitate toward homosexuality more that non-victims.

Ummm, yes I can. Do you have any evidence for this whatsoever? This is what I mean when I say you "mouth off" when you have no idea what you're talking about. I'm sorry if you consider it hurtful when I point out that you're full of it; trust me, it's less hurtful than when you say I'm gay because there's something wrong with me.

Jeff said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeff said...

You cannot tell me that victims of sexual abuse, for example, do not tend to gravitate toward homosexuality more that non-victims.

Oh yes I can. LC, that's not true at all. What on earth are you talking about? What's your evidence?

That wasn't mouthing off, it was introducing an opinion in a very gentle and civil way

No, you weren't introducing an opinion. You were coming up with "facts" out of thin air. "Many homosexuals have been through disturbing childhoods" is not an opinion - it's an unfounded statement. There's a difference.

You're apparently more comfortable spouting off about things you know nothing about instead of listening and evaluating what you hear. That's a prerequisite for any intelligent discussion or enlightenment in this world. I hope that as you get older you learn this.

little-cicero said...

Now wait just a minute Jeff! You need to learn to aknowledge popularly stated generalities in order to see trends and patterns in life, or you will never be able to form a philosophical discussion. I am suscpicious that your analysis may be tainted by personal stake in the subject. When I make this generalization, it is not to say that all or many gays have been abused, it is to say that many people who are abused become gay. This is not a radical assertion, and I'm somewhat put off at your tendency to accuse me of "running off my mouth" and not listening just because I go outside of talking points and discuss openly various postulates at times vc. I do have backing on this, so don't be quick to condescend:

A recent review (Holmes and Slap, 1998) of the research on the molestation of boys, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association showed that adolescent boys who were abused by men were up to seven times more likely to identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual.

Now, you must aknowledge that there is a psychological factor here that may lead kids down the wrong path for them. If you have any studies showing that there can be no such psychological geneses for homosexuality, I would be glad to hear it, but, since I am willing to suffer the possibility of a biological cause, which is yet to be proven, the psychological cause is not to be withdrawn. Is it good for a straight kid to live much of his life in confusion as a result of abuse? No. Thus, compulsory homosexuality, as well as compulsory heterosexuality (as in the case of Oscar Wilde) very well may exist, and Jeff, I will say that to deny such a postulate in the face of such evidence that exists, that, sir, is "running off your mouth". Adios!

little-cicero said...

Oh, Andy, I missed your comment. My comment has no relation to saying "there's something wrong with you" You may very well be the product of a genetic, biological or physiological difference that you can do nothing about. These factors are in most cases thought no different from psychological factors. As for the abuse statement, as in any philosophical, rational discussion, I am using an extreme example to prove that a connection exists between homosexuality and psychological phenomena. When someone is abused, they do not go through genetic, biological, or physiological changes...they go through psychological changes. That doesn't mean it applies to you, but, as I point out in another extreme example, depression is caused by a combination or variation of physiological, psychological, and genetic factors.

If this particular discussion is offensive to you, as a gay person, I will end it right now. This is not my blog, so I don't want to offend others inadvertenly on a discussion that you didn't intend to start. This is a very important discussion that I'd like to continue civilly with Jeff and yourself. Just say the word and I'll shut up!

Jeff said...

Little Cicero: I, too, am all for a civil discussion.

I don't have access to JAMA, so I can't read for myself the article you mention. I did find this reference to it:

"There is no compelling evidence that sexual abuse fundamentally changes a boy's sexual orientation, but it may lead to confusion about sexual identity and is likely to affect how he relates in intimate situations. (Holmes,W., Slap, G. 1998 Sexual abuse of boys: Definition, prevalence, correlates, sequelae, and management. Journal of the American Medical Association, 280:1855-1862)."

That doesn't sound to me like "Many homosexuals have been through disturbing childhoods" - it sounds like "sexual abuse leads many people to become confused about who they are."

Let me backtrack here. This all started from your question: "is it wrong for a therapist to convert someone from homosexuality if it is psychologically induced?" As I said in a previous comment, the goal of a therapist is to help the patient move toward living a happier life. Confusion about something so fundamental to one's life as who you're attracted to and who you want to be with can lead to unhappiness. Therefore, if someone is confused about his/her sexual orientation, therapy can help that person figure out who he/she is. If someone is not confused but merely unhappy, that's different. There's no evidence that people can actually be converted from one orientation to another.

little-cicero said...

Aggreed, but you just admitted that there are psychological causes of homosexuality in your quote. This is all that I was trying to submit, that there are factors besides biological factors in the development of homosexuality in an individual. The sexual confusion in traumatized individuals simply acts as a catalyst for one's transformation, whether the biological factors exist or not, which can be called "compulsory homosexuality," and if a therapist can avoid this, he does the patient a great service.

Jeff said...

I didn't say there were psychological causes of homosexuality. The quote referred to "sexual confusion," not homosexuality.

little-cicero said...

Exactly, confusion is a catalyst of compulsory homosexuality. Without confusion, there is no development of homosexuality in an individual. Thus, if psychological factors play a role in confusion, they also play a role in homosexuality in some cases.

When I mention compulsory sexuality, I would allude to such figures as Oscar Wilde, homosexuals married to the opposite sex. One can be biologically homosexual, but not psychologically, then...agreed?

If so, then you must conclude that the same is true with compulsory homosexuality. If someone is so convinced by way of confusion and a range of added factors that they are gay, but biologically they are heterosexual, this is proof that there are psychological factors in existance. I don't think I can be any clearer than that!

Jeff said...

In these comments and in the comments on Andy's marriage thread, the same point keeps coming up: what makes people gay?

You seem to have this idea that there are some people who are actually gay, and some people who are somehow tricked into becoming gay. I don't know where you're coming up with that - I've never met anyone like that. Either a guy is attacted to guys or he's not. It's pretty simple, I would think.

I'm not sure if you're doing this simply as an intellectual exercise or if you're trying to make a broader point.

little-cicero said...

I'm making the point supported by many psychological experts that psychological factors exist. Not they they are dominant, but that they simply exist and contribute to homosexuality. I was using an extreme example of pedophilia victims to make this point, that since they are more likely than other kids to become gay at some point cannot be a result of biological factors, and is probably the result of psychological factors. The intellectual excersise is just a perk that goes with making this point. I'm not saying that all gays should go to a shrink, I'm just saying we ought to look into this to prevent the devastating occurance of mistaken homosexuality in people as a result of psychological factors.

Andy said...

The devastating occurrence of mistaken homosexuality? Where the hell did you come up with that? That's hilarious. Either you're into it or you're not, it's not all that difficult. And, I have to say, there's something suspect about "straight" people who take such an interest in homosexuality and its "causes."

Jeff said...

that since they are more likely than other kids to become gay at some point

Sigh. We've already been through this - the study you cited said nothing about being gay. It's unfortunate that we're going in circles here.

And "the devastating occurance of mistaken homosexuality" - I love it.

little-cicero said...

Andy, you know as well as I do that the question of what makes people gay is central to the "gay rights" debate. This is why activists always say "This is the way I am, I can't do anything about it. Of course this may be completely true, but I see holes in this conclusion.
Jeff, you seem to separate completely the instances of "confusion" and actual homosexuality. It seems that any line that exists is a thin one. Rose Fox commented earlier on this, and such cases as hers are interesting. She is confused yet she has had sexual experiences with both sexes. So, isn't confusion just something at the top of the slope of homosexuality?

Jeff said...

Oh, I see, confusion is at the top of the slope of homosexuality, and by the time you've hit rock bottom you're a full-fledged gay, right? You sure come off as prejudiced against gays. "The devastating consequences of mistaken homosexuality." Where do you get the idea that this would be "devastating?"

Listen, being gay is not inherently harmful to anyone, and that's what the real subtext of the underlying topic is here.

Andy, you know as well as I do that the question of what makes people gay is central to the "gay rights" debate. This is why activists always say "This is the way I am, I can't do anything about it.

Not every "activist" says that. Don't generalize. People have said in prior comments that whether or not it's chosen has nothing to do with the issue. You're allowed to choose your religion, but we don't discriminate based on religion in this country.

little-cicero said...

I am prejudice on this(As a Roman Catholic, I believe homosexuality is a sin religiously), but I have kept the prejudice out during this debate because this is a secular debate. Gay people are not at the bottom of society, that was not the meaning of the slope analogy. It was more of a "slippery slope" or "grey (gay) line" analogy: confusion is just a step toward homosexuality. Were you not confused before finding that you were gay? As for the "choice debate's importance, I only know that I have heard the choice argument more than others.