Do we choose to be gay? By Jordan Roth – the Advocate
Do we choose to be gay? Yes and no. We may not choose to be attracted to people of the same sex, but we can choose to hide that attraction or live openly as gay and lesbian people. There’s no reason to be proud of being gay. But living gay is something we should all celebrate. By Jordan Roth
An Advocate.com exclusive posted February 12, 2004
If you could choose not to be gay, would you?
Wait. Think about it for a second. The knee-jerk response is to assume battle positions and scream, “It’s not a choice!”. But that’s not the question –though it may well reveal the answer. Maybe our rush to defensiveness exposes the implied conclusion: “Because if it were, I wouldn’t choose it.”
Scientists have been working overtime lately to prove what our bodies tell us every day: Sexual preference is a biological fact. The research shows that an identical twin of a gay person is twice as likely to be gay as a fraternal twin, that the brain anatomy of a gay man is measurably different from that of a straight man, that lesbians have finger lengths and blink reflexes that are more similar to those of men than of women, and that a man is more likely to be gay the more older brothers he has because of readjusted hormonal balances in his mother’s womb. These studies all point to the conclusion that homosexuality is either completely, or at least in some significant part, biologically determined.
It’s all good news. It’s all what we feel is true. It’s all what we want to hear: Being gay is not a choice, so you can’t try to change me and you can’t discriminate against me.
But what do we lose by insisting that being gay is not a choice? What do we lose by placing our identities out of our own control? What does it do to us to remove ourselves from our identity, to render ourselves powerless in our own selves?
To say that we have no choice in being gay is to say that being gay is only the desire to love another man or another woman that it is only about sex. But being gay is not simply a desire for sex with the same sex. That’s homosexual. Gay is an identity, a culture, a community, a place. And while we are born homosexual, we choose to be gay. We must build the strength and develop the courage to forge our lives as gay people, to create a space in which we can define our lives as fundamentally and necessarily gay. And that is something we choose to do every day. It is a choice we may struggle with, a choice we make sacrifices for, and a choice we fight for. To deny our active involvement in that choice is to deny our active involvement in that struggle, in those sacrifices, in that fight. And to deny our active involvement is to deny our right to be proud.
Gay pride has always confused me a little, even from atop a float dancing down Fifth Avenue. Proud of what? What did I do to be proud of? If being gay is just a biological fact about me, no different from my height or natural hair colour, why does being gay warrant a parade?
Granted, if the whole world had been screaming for hundreds of years that my height was sick and wrong and immoral, and the whole world was constantly threatening to strap me to a medieval stretching machine to crank me to my rightful height, a counteractive Height Parade to scream back at them would be a relief. There are certainly a frightening number of people out there wielding medieval straightening machines just salivating over the chance to undo whatever trauma or confusion they believe to be the root of our gayness.
But that can’t be the whole point of our pride. We can’t live our entire lives defensively. We can’t forever think of ourselves in reaction to or opposed to what others think of us. At some point we need to realize that we are proud—truly proud—not just because someone else thinks we shouldn’t be, but because we are.
Why? Because we had a choice. We could have chosen to live in the shadows. We could have chosen a life of denial and deception. We could have hollowed out our insides and vigilantly stood guard against our natural desires every time they poked up from beneath the surface. That too is a choice. Not a comfortable choice, not a painless choice, but a choice nonetheless- a choice that many have made- a choice we could have made, but we did not.
The desire to love another man, to love another woman, we do not choose. It may not even be completely our choice when we act on these desires. But living our lives and creating our identities based on these desires, based on the nurturing and celebration of these desires is our choice. And it is a difficult choice to make. We could have accepted what we were told about ourselves, about who we should be and what we should not do or feel. Going in search of another answer is grueling and treacherous. To bushwhack through the dogma and the tauntings and the lessons carved into to our bodies by hundreds of years of tradition and emerge at a clearing of calm and beauty takes sweat and muscle and resilience. To make that effort is a hard choice, the choice less travelled. And the fact that we make that choice is something of which we can be truly proud.
Proud that we are creating a community of choice. Proud that we are where we are and that we’re going where we’re going. Proud that we are each continuing the daily battle against self-doubt and self-destruction as best we can. Proud of that 19-year-old boy who must have trudged through land mines and mud slides and bloody battlefields to get from Wherever, USA, to 22nd Street, but he’s here now, and he just looked up at the sky and smiled. Proud that we are part of a culture, a legacy, that includes the words of Tony Kushner, the fire of Larry Kramer, and the voice of Harvey Fierstein. Proud that we are standing on the shoulders of those who loved before us. And proud of them and the choices they made.
To be clear, this is not to say that there is only one way to live a gay life. The group of tanned, tank top clad guys brunching on Eighth Avenue are not more gay than the man who lives simply in the mountains of Colorado. Nor is it to suggest that living a gay life means living a life consumed by pursuing and having sex. A gay person who has sex very infrequently if at all is still gay and living a gay life. Rather, this is about a gay identity, which is fundamentally based on finding comfort, love, kinship, beauty, and yes, sex, in people of the same sex. This is about the choices we make and the way we choose to build our lives based on that comfort, love, kinship, beauty, and sex; that we choose to make those things intrinsic and essential to who we are and how we live, not simply incidental. This is about the way we choose to live our lives: as gay people.
But if being – or rather if living gay – is a choice, doesn’t that mean that the Right is right, that we can unchoose, unlearn, be ungayed? No. There are two answers to those who would change us and come at us wielding their straightening machines: We cannot be changed because we had no choice, and we cannot be changed because we have chosen. It’s not that we can’t; it’s that we won’t. We won’t go back into hiding. We won’t accept your idea that we are sick. We won’t turn our backs on each other and the lives we are creating together. We won’t deny ourselves our identity. Because we don’t want to, and we’re that strong.
And no, the fact that we can but won’t is not justification for our legalized discrimination. Our sexual desires are a biological reality just like our sex and our race. The fact that we can choose to hide or deny those desires — unlike sex or race— but that we refuse to do so provides no grounds for discriminating against us. Our religion, for instance, is not beyond our control, not an innate fact about ourselves; we can choose to change religions or abandon religion altogether. Nonetheless, freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination based on religion is an essential tenant of our nation’s foundation. The fact that we can choose what religious doctrine to place our faith in does not mean we can be discriminated against on the basis of that choice. Similarly, the fact that we can choose to live a life celebrating our true emotional and sexual desires does not mean that we can be discriminated against on the basis of that choice.
We have a choice. We have chosen: life, this life, more life. And we will defend that choice and our right to make it with all that is strong and true and brave within us. We are warriors of spirit. We will smash the straightening machines simply by living, by choosing our lives. By reaching out for our lover’s hand as we cross the street, by finding comfort, love, kinship, beauty, and sex with one another, and yes, by marching the parade route of pride every year—not as acts of necessity or defiance but as acts of choice. And we will not rob ourselves of the pride we feel—the pride we have earned—at having made this choice by claiming it was never our choice to begin with.