Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Not A Choice

I'm fed up with people who claim that sexual orientation is a "lifestyle" or a "choice." I'm going to tell you what I think about this, but first I need to ramble a bit about my own upbringing; I feel that I've got some unusual insight because of my background.

First of all, my mother didn't hold me as a baby, and my father was too busy as an undergraduate at a prestigious university to do much more than to mostly attend to my physical needs. I went to live with normal parents when I was about 30 months old, but in terms of emotional and cognitive development, child psychologists say this period is crucial.

I really do recall climbing on the kitchen counter, fetching a jar of baby food, and then carefully peering into the silverware drawer to find a spoon. I'm told that I would then carry the jar and spoon into another room and find an adult to feed me, because--of course--my hands had neither the strength nor the dexterity to deal with opening the jar or spooning the food out. (Ever since I've had my own place to live I've been obsessive about keeping knives in a separate drawer. I think it's because I was fearful when I was looking for that spoon.)

I'm not sharing this because I need your sympathy; I think I've turned out all right (mostly) in spite of this...setback. However, this early experience has made me different. In particular, social interaction has always been hard for me. I like to think of it as being on the outside looking in. As a child and an adolescent, I was unable to participate in the social niceties with my peers. As an adult, I can do a pretty good job of faking it, but it will never be natural for me.

Another quirk of my upbringing is that I do remember things from as early as two years of age. If you were to believe child psychologists, they'd say that such a thing is highly unlikely. I understand that, but please...these same psychologists say that we all develop different parts of our brain at different speeds and rates, so don't discount my experience. As for what I remember...well, let's say that a two year old's interests and concerns are pretty basic, so most of what happened at that age has been flushed from the wetware FIFO buffer.

So, anyway, here's my first point: I have been interested in girls ever since I knew there was a difference from boys (and possibly even earlier, but how would I be able to recognize that?), which was somewhere around the age of three or four. This was not a choice. This was not something I was taught. This is something that, for me, is completely innate.

Moving on to high school and college, a lot of people just assumed I was gay. I think this is a direct result of the "outside looking in", where I was not skilled enough to mimic the social interplay that my peers engaged in. (I think this is why drag queens are so much fun: as outsiders, they are sensitized to the social interplay and have learned to mimic and exaggerate it, much to our amusement.) I ended up with a lot of female friends, since I didn't emit the correct social signals when I was interested in them. I remember a class at Caltech of 25 students, including 5 women, who all chose to sit next to me in every class. I didn't understand why they did that at the time, but in hindsight I'm pretty sure it was because I was nice without emitting the horny-guy-hitting-on-you signal that most men give off literally without conscious effort. (The irony is exquisite; I thought being nice was the right way to win the girls. That works with adult women but is not a successful strategy with girls in their teens and twenties.)

It kinda follows with all of this that I got asked out by several gay men. (Following the "nice" theme, these men were a heck of a lot nicer to me than it seems that straight men were with the women they were trying to pick up. I still wonder if that's the reason so many normal straight men are put off by the idea of gay men hitting on them: they're afraid of being treated the way that most straight women are treated.)

My circle of gay friends and acquaintances has been fairly large over the years as well. Again, part of it is the social misfits hanging out together, but on the other hand, they didn't expect me to talk about football and smash beer cans on my forehead. Heck, one of my best friends in undergraduate school was an ex-Marine who outweighed me by about 20% and enjoyed going out to bars to pick fights with the rednecks. Dear Blanche--I'm sure that at the time she would have worn the moniker "diesel dyke" with pride.

The point I want to make is that except for a very small handful, these people are just plain folks like you and me. They didn't just decide that it would be A Cool Thing to choose something that is regarded with disgust, dismay, and outright disaprobation by most people. If they were a bit strange, well, I think their social adjustment problems were more likely a consequence of their sexual orientation, not a cause.

Let's think about that last part for a moment. This is the new idea that's been ringing around my head for the last few months. Now, I really don't have an appreciation for men, so for the purposes of a thought experiment, I've tried to consider how it would be if I had my current sexual orientation but I was born female....

I'm sure that as a young girl, I would have just gone with the flow. All of my girlfriends think the movie stars are dreamy hunks...oh, okay, I guess they're all right. (I think of Rita Mae Brown in Rubyfruit Jungle, who always liked the leading ladies. I'm inclined to believe that I wouldn't have been as certain.)

In high school and college, I'm sure I would have had one or more relationships with men. Nice men. Good looking men. However, at some point, my visceral enthusiasm for women would finally become undeniable.

Can you imagine the kind of personal courage it takes someone to admit to themselves that no, they're not like everyone else? The basic assumption we all have as kids is that we all are having, basically, the same experience. What a sinking feeling, to one day realize that no, I can't be like the other girls.

Then comes the anguish, soul searching, and, finally emotional fortitude to say, "this is not for me, regardless of what other people may think." To have to try to accept the dreadful undeniable fact that I am a "queer."

The next step seems almost unthinkable: to act on that undeniable preference, and to even acknowledge it to family and friends? No wonder so many gays and lesbians stay "in the closet", or only "come out" much later in life. That's a heavy burden to put on an adolescent or young adult.

So--back to this notion that it's a "choice." (Who the hell would choose such a thing, given the slightest opportunity to avoid it?) If you are one of the few people for whom this really is a choice, then you're saying you have a significant attraction to your own sex. I've got news for you: as far as the majority of the straight and gay population is concerned, you are gay. If you aren't sending your family to PFLAG, you'd better go to their web site and try to figure out how to tell your family what you are. Oh, you're opposed to gay rights? Then you're the worst kind of gay: the kind that bashes gays publicly when you are one, just in the closet.

So there you have it: the Bible Belt is full of hypocritical closet-homosexual clergymen and politicians. Really, there is no other rational explanation. I'm not going to try to explain why these homosexuals oppose fair treatment for others of their own kind; you'll have to take that up with them.

This brings me to my last issue, which has to do with religion. What kind of religion discriminates against people for something out of their control? Oh, you lost your hand in an accident? You're tainted and corrupt. You have the wrong color of skin? You're not going to heaven!

Who would set up a religion that works like that? I've got news for you: if your religion teaches that homosexuals are bad/behave badly/need to be saved, your religion is being run by the Horned One With the Pitchfork.

If you're one of those fundamentalists who believes that your scripture is the literal word of the Deity and it condemns a homosexual sexual orientation, well, then, I guess you're obeying The Wrong Guy. Go ahead and say The Lord's Prayer backwards for all I care, but don't come in my house.

On the other hand, if you follow Thomas Aquinas's reasoning, that scripture is necessarily imperfect and incomplete because it is a human expression (thus inherently limited and imperfect) of a perfect and infinite G-d, well, then, isn't it clear The Bad Guy has corrupted your religion? What does that make you, to sit quietly by and to let Mr. Pitchfork's evil rhetoric be repeated as moral truth?

Finally, don't give me any of that hair splitting about loving the sinner but not his sins. First of all, most lay people aren't going to remember the distinction when their son or daughter comes out of the closet. Second, you're going to tell people that it's a sin for people to seek love and companionship in the way that G-d made them? That they are destined for a life of unhappiness because of the way that G-d made them? What a bunch of tripe.

In summary, I hope I've made it clear that I'm not gay. It's not even clear that I have close relatives who lean that way. It just outrages me that we would seek to persecute people for something over which they have no control. If you want to do that, why don't you just throw eggs at the next cripple you see in a wheelchair, why dontcha?