Homosexuality—Natural or unnatural: Who cares?


Received an e-mail from Michael James Keane, a reader of this blog, who asked me to check out an essay he wrote about the argument that 17240_218252961709_519001709_3587244_1935627_nhomosexuality is natural/unnatural. I thought his point was a fantastic one … asked if I could run the piece here. Michael agreed, and I’m thrilled …


Apparently, there was some kind of Gay Pride parade yesterday. I read about it while perusing a blog, and one of the comments of this particular blogger (sports reporter/author Jeff Pearlman) was, “Being gay isn’t a choice—it’s who you are.”

This is not an uncommon refrain, and it seems to be a sticking point in the argument between those who are in favor of homosexual rights and those who view homosexuality as a problem, an evil, a deviance from the norm. The general reasoning for those who are defending homosexuals is that since people who are attracted to the same sex do not “choose” their attraction, that it is something within them, then they should not be persecuted against. In other words, since homosexuality is not a choice, but rather a by-product of natural human development, it is not “evil.”

I find this argument to be pretty useless and stupid.

There are three main problems with this kind reasoning:

The first problem with the “homosexuality is not a choice” (HINAC) argument is that it is actually counter-productive. Keep in mind the kind of people who claim homosexuality is a choice. Their issue is not with whether or not homosexuality is indeed a choice; the people who argue against homosexuality find homosexuality itself to be wrong and/or evil. By insisting upon the natural quality of homosexuality—that because homosexuality is a natural part of the human condition it is thus not evil—a person who is arguing this way is allowing the anti-homosexual claims of evil and immorality to go completely unchallenged.

Debating choice can matter in some cases. Take homicide for example. If someone kills someone else, but it wasn’t their choice—it was an accident; they had a gun to their head; whatever—then we still recognize it as an unfortunate thing that we should try incredibly hard to avoid. It’s not nearly as bad as if the homicide were committed intentionally, but it’s still wrong. However, when it comes to homosexuality, and when you make the argument about whether or not homosexuality can be avoided, it’s basically saying that homosexuality is wrong. You’re basically saying homosexuality should be avoided, but since it can’t be—since it’s not about choice—we have to accept it. By defending whether or not being homosexual is a choice, and not defending homosexuality itself, a person allows the underlying contention that there is something inherently problematic with homosexuality to basically be ignored. I would argue that it actually encourages the belief that homosexuality is wrong.

People don’t defend other people for choosing to eat healthy food. No one says, “Well, it isn’t a choice to eat healthy food. It’s a necessity to stay in good shape.” Why don’t people defend this? Because there’s nothing evil or wrong about eating healthily, and no one is claiming that there is. But, if someone did say, “You know, eating healthy food is immoral and wrong.” If you respond by saying, “But, it’s not his choice to eat healthy food,” aren’t you totally missing the fucking point?

The second problem with the whole HINAC argument is that it’s a waste of time. As of right now, there’s not a way to scientifically verify the cause of homosexuality. No one has yet discovered some kind of gene in the human body that can trigger homosexual desires, so the two opposing sides in this argument can just throw baseless assertions back and forth. This is inevitably what happens. One side says that homosexuality is not a choice and tries to throw some circumstantial or societal evidence out there, and the other side just swipes it away and argues the opposing point. Rinse and repeat. Nothing gets done. And this leads to the third, and most important problem.

The HINAC argument obfuscates the real issue here:

Is homosexuality wrong? Are homosexual acts wrong?

Whether or not homosexuality is a choice, this is the argument we need to be having. Let’s flip it around for a second. Let’s grant that homosexuality IS a choice. Let’s say that the bigoted people who rant about the horrors of homosexuality are right. Only now can we make some headway in the argument.

As a heterosexual male, I don’t have much of a desire to put a penis in my mouth and suck on it. I don’t think about doing it; I never have a craving for it. Now that I am thinking about it, it’s not doing anything for me sexually. I’m not bothered by the idea, but I’m also not interested in it in any way. Same thing goes for simply kissing a man with my tongue. I haven’t done it, and I don’t have a desire to do it. It’s kind of like getting a pedicure. I never think about them and don’t want one, but I have no fear or inherent mistrust of it either. I quite simply don’t think of men in that way.

But what if I did?

What if I decided right now to go try and pick up a gay man (or any man, really—I’m not picky) and kiss him with my tongue? What if I decided to put his penis in my mouth? What if I press the head of it up against the inside of my cheek so that I kind of look like a chipmunk? What if I decided to then take off my pants and put this penis into my rectum, bouncing up and down a bit? What if I then decided to get up, get dressed, and leave?

What harm is done to anyone (except, perhaps, myself)? Am I now a terrible person? Should I not be allowed to get married? Should I not be allowed to give blood? Should I be ostracized from my community, labeled as deviant, and live in shame?

This is the argument we should be having when it comes to homosexuality. If you think my rights should be taken away because I make a choice to suck on a penis, then we can argue about that. If you think I should be considered a worse person for sticking a body part that belongs to someone else in my butt, then we can argue about that. If you actually think there’s a difference between a woman sticking her finger in my butt for sexual pleasure and a man sticking some part of his body in my butt for the same purpose, then we can have a conversation about that. The HINAC argument has nothing to do with this.

So what if homosexuality is a choice? Who cares? It is a waste of time arguing with someone about volition. There really aren’t any answers in that argument. It’s a smoke screen that blurs the real question.

The people who say that homosexuality is a choice do not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle or sexual preference. They don’t have a problem with homosexuality because they believe it is a choice. They dislike, fear, or hate homosexuality and homosexuals for a variety of reasons, some of which I admit I don’t readily understand. Regardless of this, though, those are the kind of things which we need to start having a conversation about. Why do these people hate homosexuality and homosexuals?

Convincing a persecutor of homosexuals that homosexuality is a choice is not confronting their bigotry—it’s enabling it.

12 thoughts on “Homosexuality—Natural or unnatural: Who cares?”

  1. I think part of the argument that you’re missing here, Keane, is that homosexuality is a huge facet of some people’s identities. You’re separating the act from the person committing it. You can commit just one act of murder and still be called a murderer, but if you stick just one dick in your mouth, that doesn’t necessarily make you gay.

  2. It is an excellent argument, and it seems strange not to have heard anybody make it until now. Also, though I know it’s not remotely the same kind of thing at all, I have to thank Michael James Keane for reminding me of this: http://www.theonion.com/articles/why-do-all-these-homosexuals-keep-sucking-my-cock,11150/

    Unfortunately, many of those unfathomable reasons for ‘opposing homosexuality’ come straight from religious teaching. In the Jewish and Christian traditions, it’s never been quite clear to me whether the Levitican proscriptions came first or were grafted onto the Law to codify existing societal norms. What is clear is that many of the laws regarding sexual practice—handed down from Yahweh to Moses when Israel was wandering around the wilderness for 40 years—are explicitly about keeping the tiny tribe alive and procreating and viable. Basically, doing anything with your sperm other than trying your damnedest to impregnate a woman was grounds for stoning.

    You have to wonder if the folks who originally codified the Law had any inkling people would consider it the universal law of God for all peoples in all times. Certainly the same folk who nowadays spew the nastiest anti-gay stuff don’t pay attention to the vast majority of Leviticus—but that’s where they consistently turn when asked to justify their objections to homosexuality: right there in the Bible, God hates fags.

    And, honestly, when you’re facing arguments that boil down to blind faith in the authority of ancient documents of uncertain authorship, there’s just not a lot of room for reasoning of any sort. I might as well be trying to convince Michael to… well, I’ll just finish that thought over here, by myself.

  3. Bridgid,

    You’re right, but if we label someone as a murderer, it’s probably for a good reason. Murder is kind of a problem, so identifying a perpetrator of that problem–even if it’s only once–is necessary to prevent further human suffering.

    No matter how many dicks I suck, though, I’m not going to be adding to human suffering (unless I never learn how to avoid using my teeth). The problem is labeling people based upon their sexual preference, which CREATES that identity they have. There’s no reason to label people in this way, but we do. So, the act and the identity of the person committing it are unduly correlated; the categorization affects the person being categorized, the stigma affects the stigmatized, and for what reason? Why do we even care?

    Labels and stigmas and categorizations which are placed upon human beings are tools which drive humans further away from each other, not bring them closer together. So, we should care about stigmatizing murderers. Murderers are problematic for peaceful societies, and we should keep an eye on them.

    Stigmatizing sex acts though, regardless of their frequency, seems ridiculous to me. The homosexuality that is part of the identities of these people is indeed a large part of their lives, but on the whole, it’s a rather unnecessary by-product of bigotry. I’m not trying to minimize or take away from their identities; I’m trying to remove the stigma that created those identities in the first place.

    Casting humans as the Other (yes, capital O) isn’t helpful, even if the groups considered as Other have adopted the sub-categorization placed upon them into their conceptual self-image.

    And Gordon,

    I agree with you entirely on the religious aspect. Which is why if people use religion as a reason for their bigotry, we shouldn’t just walk away and say, “Oh, well that’s their religion.” We need to have an open debate about good and bad ideas for societies, and religious beliefs shouldn’t be exempt–even if, as I believe you rightly point out, we won’t get anywhere with the argument.

  4. While I agree with the thrust of this argument, there is a reason that gay advocates use the “not a choice” (“NAC”) argument (instead of nothing or HINAC). The best way to protect gay men and women is via the civil rights era anti-discrimination laws. Those laws were designed to protect people from discrimination based upon immutable characteristics — e.g., race, national origin, ethnicity, gender. These are all characteristics based upon your birth and the reason they are “protected classes” is precisely because you can’t control them and so it would be unfair to treat you differently based upon them. Treating people differently based on other characteristics that you can change — your politics, your opinions, your obesity, etc. — may be immoral, but it is not illegal (as a general rule; some exceptions but not relevant here).

    While it may be unfortunate that our legal regime relies on such distinctions to determine which differences from the majority are legally protected and which are not, that is none the less the reality. Thus advocates for gay rights use the NAC argument as a stepping stone to arguing for legal protection from discrimiation. While practically, I agree that choice or no choice, no one is harmed, it makes a big difference as to how much legal protection you can get.

  5. FANTASTIC piece on HBO’s Real Sports this past week about the first openly gay athlete in the WORLD in any major sport (Rugby). Surely worth a viewing.

  6. What harm is done to anyone (except, perhaps, myself)?
    Answer – The entire community is harmed. According to the scientific data, homosexual life expectancy is 8-20 years shorter than heterosexuals. Smoking shortens the life expectancy by 7 years. The health risk and health cost associated with smoking/homosexuality have a great affect on everyone in the community.

    Am I now a terrible person?
    Answer- No

    Should I not be allowed to get married?
    Answer- This depends on whose or what morality (standard) is being legislated in your particular jurisdiction. Laws are laws and are issued according to standards meant to protect the citizens within a society. If the health risk and associated cost of smoking has required our society to issues laws that protect her citizens, why would homosexuals be offended by protective laws any more than smokers?

    Should I not be allowed to give blood?
    Answer- See previous answers. I would believe that all of us could agree, given the health risk associated with homosexuality that giving blood should be understood by the homosexual community to be not in the best interest for them or their community.

    Should I be ostracized from my community, labeled as deviant, and live in shame?
    Answer- This may have been an argument that was plausible 20 years ago, but open gay parades and establishments within the world today have received legitimate recognition and I personally feel this argument is self propagated.

  7. Thanks for making this point- I have been trying to for a while, myself. I am gay, but get irritated when I hear people having the nature/nurture debate. I don’t blame my homosexual preference on genetics; instead, I am more than happy to claim it as a positive part of my identity. I like men, and I think the world is richer in having both heterosexual and homosexual sex! The implication of gays saying it is not a choice is that they would not choose it if it were. Whether or not I chose it, I choose to be with men today because I find them beautiful.

  8. Ok, I just sort of accidentally revisited this discussion by way of auto-Googling (infrequent! honest!) and, Jeff & Co., I find it impossible to believe nobody here mentioned the hazards of secondhand sperm.

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