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 homosexuality 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.