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Choosing to be gay?

February 2, 2012

Currently in the news are statements made by American “Sex in the City” actress, Cynthia Nixon, 45.

“For 15 years, until 2003, she was in a relationship with a man. They had two children together. She then formed a new family with a woman, to whom she’s engaged. And she told The Times’s Alex Witchel that homosexuality for her “is a choice.”
“For many people it’s not,” she conceded, but added that they “don’t get to define my gayness for me.”

(Cited in the New York times, “Genetic or Not, Gay Won’t Go Away”, 28 January 2012, by Frank Bruni)

There are two questions here: did she choose to be straight to start with? Or is she bisexual and so made a choice?

In society it is tough being gay, so if you are unsure you wouldn’t choose to be gay, or the pressure is so tough is might take an individual 15 years to discover that they really are gay. As anyone who has been in love knows, once you do fall in love and make a commitment based on that love, whatever warm feelings you felt before towards another and thought might have been what could be called love, are nothing like this feeling.

But let me move onto the real issue, she states it was a choice to be gay. A bisexual has the freedom to love either sex but a gay person does not. Many gays have married the opposite sex for all sorts of reasons except for being in love, because who would willingly join one of the most ‘hated and despised minorities’ there is. And perhaps they were not sure until they tried being straight and perhaps by then there were children and they as responsible beings couldn’t just get up and leave. But I am getting side tracked.

If someone states that they are choosing to be gay, then clearly they are bisexual. For someone who is is gay there is no real choice, just as for an individual who can only fall in love with the opposite sex. Note the word ‘real’, I insert this because as I mentioned above, as social beings we do try to please others and so there will be individuals who will settle for a less fulfilling partnership, and if they are a consenting adult that is a form of choice.

So Nixon, a bisexual, it seems to me, has stated it is her right to claim “to choose to be gay” perhaps she has chosen something she was in denial of earlier or perhaps she doesn’t see the difference between being bisexual and being gay.

Why this is in the news is that it brings up the topic of whether one is born gay or whether it is culturally conditioned and if the later, we need to assume that being straight is culturally conditioned. If you belong to any minority group of any social environment, you know very well that you didn’t choose to be there.

You might be proud to be different. I am glad that I am left-handed for example and wouldn’t want to change to being right handed. But that is because I know there’s nothing wrong with being left-handed and I know that being different in this way has taught me a lot about the world. However I would never choose to be left-handed any more than a gay person would choose to be gay. Life would be much easier if I didn’t have to constantly make adjustments for the right-handed world I live in. Life is much easier if you never have to worry about someone giving you a look of disgust because you are holding your partner’s hand. Life is nicer if your Bahai friends naturally ask you how your partner is doing.

Julia Galef in her blog, “Pushing the right beliefs, for the wrong reasons” makes the argument that “…while I agree that the evidence is overwhelming that homosexuality is innate, I’m loath to make that argument, because in my opinion that’s not the real reason we shouldn’t discriminate against homosexuals. The real reason, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s none of our business if consenting adults want to sleep with each other, as long as they’re not hurting anyone else. By making the “homosexuality is innate” argument, I’d be staking my anti-discrimination case on an empirical question which, if it unexpectedly turned out to be false, would seriously undermine what is actually a very worthwhile case.”(http://www.3quarksdaily.com)

Frank Bruni in his article, “Genetic or Not, Gay Won’t Go Away” cites evidence for ‘being born this way’:
“One landmark study looked at gay men’s brothers and found that 52 percent of identical twin brothers were also gay, in contrast with only 22 percent of nonidentical twin brothers and 11 percent of adoptive, genetically unrelated brothers. Heredity more than environment seemed to be calling the shots.”

And that other “research has posited or identified common anatomical and chromosomal traits among gay men or lesbians, and there’s discussion of a gay gene or, rather, set of genes in the mix. The push to isolate it is entwined with the belief that establishing that sexual orientation is like skin color — an immutable matter of biology — will make homophobia as inexcusable as racism and winnow the ranks of haters.”

However he, like Galef, sees the problem with arguing on the basis of scientific evidence: “…bigotry isn’t rational. Finding a determinative biological quirk, deviation or marker could prompt religious extremists who now want gays in reparative psychotherapy to focus on medical interventions instead. And a person’s absence of agency over his or her concentration of melanin has hardly ended all discrimination against blacks.”

and says that: “the born-this-way approach carries an unintended implication that the behavior of gays and lesbians needs biological grounding to evade condemnation. Why should it?

Our laws safeguard religious freedom, and that’s not because there’s a Presbyterian, Buddhist or Mormon gene. There’s only a tradition and theology that you elect or decline to follow. But this country has deemed worshiping in a way that feels consonant with who you are to be essential to a person’s humanity. So it’s protected.”

“Among adults, the right to love whom you’re moved to love — and to express it through sex and maybe, yes, marriage — is surely as vital to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a Glock. And it’s a lot less likely to cause injury, if that’s a deciding factor: how a person’s actions affect the community around him or her.

I USE the words “moved to love” in an effort to define the significant, important territory between “born this way” and choice. That solid ground covers “built this way,” “oriented this way,” and “evolved this way”; it incorporates the possibility of a potent biological predisposition mingling with other factors beyond anyone’s ready control.”

I agree, society shouldn’t need hard scientific proof in order to grant equal rights and responsibilities. The argument can be made on principle. Principles such as justice and equality. However science is useful for when those arguments fall on deaf ears.

This blog began with a statement about choosing to be gay – choosing who you fall in love with and I can’t say it any better than how Frank Bruni writes below:
“I honestly have no idea if I was born this way. My memory doesn’t stretch to the crib.

But I know that from the moment I felt romantic stirrings, it was Timmy, not Tammy, who could have me walking on air or wallowing in torch songs and tubs of ice cream. These feelings gelled early, and my considerable fear of society’s censure was no match for them.
I know that being in a same-sex relationship feels as central and natural to me as my loyalty to my father, my pride in my siblings’ accomplishments and my protectiveness of their children — all emotions that I didn’t exit the womb with but will not soon shake.
And I know that I’m a saner, kinder person this way than trapped in a contrivance or a lie. Surely that’s not just to my advantage but to society’s, too.”

10 comments

  1. Yes, the Nixon story is much ado about nothing. Sexuality exists on a spectrum. Some people are fixed while others are mobile. The reasons and the science are irrelevant. Nobody cares anymore about sexual preference except for religious extremists, bigots, or politically correct LGB fanatics. Human beings are entitled to make their own decisions about their personal lives.


  2. The parameters set here are too narrow in that it buys into the myth of there only being two sexes, thereby eliminating all the variations that exist intersexual-wise, as well as not giving enough room for attitude and/or hormonal changes within individuals as they grow and develop throughout life. It’s time to think of all these variations in terms of Wholeness so that the fullness of human nature can be embraced.


  3. XX wrote: “Yes, I think that the point is that your personal choices should be respected and accepted. The defense of the gay community that “we were born this way,” may or may not be true. But it has the disadvantage of 1) suggesting that this is some kind of defect that should be fixed, and inviting science to fix it–like “gay cures” and aborting gay babies and other ugliness, and 2) devaluing and leaving vulnerable bisexuals and those who “choose” to be gay.

    Baha’is should be especially sensitive to this, since we choose to be Baha’is. That should not open us to persecution in Iran, for example, just because being a Baha’i is a choice, and not something you were born with. Choices of religion should be protected by law, and so should choices of intimate partners.”


  4. “Acceptance” of the complete intersex variations was once a natural state. Foucault’s work sheds light on how various sociological constructs were designed to control society by controlling sexual acts, even in marriage. The constructs of the last few centuries has
    affected thought more that we may realize imo.

    Greenberg suggests that the idea of a stable, lifelong homosexual identity is an invention of modern Western societies. He agrees with the French theorist Michael Foucault that “it was the production and dissemination of a medical discourse in the recent past that gave birth not just to the concept of a homosexual person, but also to homosexuals themselves, and at the same time, to their antitwins, heterosexual persons. In the beginning was the word!”
    http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=246


  5. I am a retired Professor and psycho therapist in private practice in the U.S. I am a Baha’i who specializes in treatment of sex addictions. Homosexuality is a form of sex addiction and many gay in recovery go to 12 Step programs with Sexaholics Annoymous. I have treated many gays who want treatment through either inpatient and/or outpatient treatment plans.

    Research not speculation nor finger pointing:
    See the NARTH website for current research which dispels the “born that way” theory argument, shows pro-heterosexual and etiology of gay lifestyle choice studies, lists inpatient treatment centres for gays who want to change and who move out of their living situations, and offers support for them every step of the way through recovery. At the end of the day, loving them to an abstinent or pro-heterosexual life, a path which the Manifestation outlines for them is NOT easy. Recovery from any addiction–especially sex addiction is difficult at best but it is achievable. Again, for those who sincelely want to change and move out of their living situation can and do change, howbeit a small percentage of about 30 percent since its a powerful addiction which often takes a long time to overcome. Yes, many overcome the craving for the same sex as well, especially after intensive inpatient treatment which we have at hospital and mental health facilities in the U.S. Dr. Mark Swartz has been a pioneer in reparative therapy as you can read about on the NARTH site. Hence, you have on this blog the Baha’i who wants to the UHJ to conform to their sexual beliefs which they believe to real and biologically based. This is not new, there is a small cadre of Baha’is and some sympathizers who have been beating their drum for years for the laws and teachings to conform to their wishes in the name of the elimination of “prejudice”. They aren’t going to change their arguments which are: I can’t help it, I was “born that way”; I am a victim of discrimination or prejudice by Baha’is, Baha’u’llah or the UHJ, while lining up with blacks and women rights movements trying to say that blacks or women have gone through (paralleling themselves with resistance in the US toward black-white marriages) the same thing–when we are not comparing apples to apples etc.; and their last but not least argument “Who would want this lifestyle but I am stuck with it and you are prejudice toward what biology or nature gave me.” The only difference is that they now see bi sexuals are choosing their lifestyles while gays are victims of biology.


  6. Thank you for this Sonja, very important point that get overlooked most of the time.


  7. Thank you for your comments Dr. Chris Johnson.
    What is your basis for claiming that “homosexuality is a form of sex addiction?” I ask because I like to see sources and so can refer or look at these myself. I assume that you are making this statement in the context of your profession and this is why I am surprised by your statement because there is a lot of scientific evidence that clearly shows that being homosexual occurs naturally. People are born gay just as I was born left-handed. Here is a video to illustrate what I mean:

    I have seen the NARTH website and as I see it at best there is no science there, just superstitution and at worst they promote damaging young children (conversion therapy to a five-year-old “prehomosexual”) and doing great damage to teenagers. Here’s a reference to what I mean > https://justabahai.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/getting-better/#narth

    Please give me some quotations of what you consider research on their website so I can respond to this. In my reference above I source two articles which point out the unscientific methodologies of NARTH and their activities. I think it will make our conversation more fruitful if we can source specific examples. So that if we disagree it is clear what it is that we are discussing.

    You mention you own successful treatment of gays. How many (an approximent number would be fine) have you treated over how many years? I ask to get an idea because of the few cases I know of where Bahais have undergone some form of treatment to be cured they have either left the faith with great bitterness and pain and self-hatred for remaining or ‘returning’ (if one represses one’s nature is this a cure or is it a distortion?) to being gay or have died under mysterious circumstances. If you don’t know the answer to your success, meaning that after a year or so you no longer have contact with a ‘cured’ gay, then we just have assume the answer to the success rate would be unknown.

    And finally, I find it distasteful to refer to my gay brothers and sisters as ‘they’ and ‘them’ even though I understand you probably intend no ill here, but it shows me that you put all gay individuals into some ‘other’ category which the Universal House of Justice has asked Bahais not to do. We are all leaves of the same tree of humanity.

    “To regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.” (Universal House of Justice, Oct, 2010)
    https://justabahai.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/we/#uhj


    • The Narth site is all about science. It sites studies on a variety of gay and bisexual findings on a variety of subjects. So your comment is unwarranted and baseless. Moreover, I already stated that the success rate of the inpatient treatment program is about the same roughly 30 percent success rate that alcohol treatment or AA has with addicts. In Sexaholics Annoymous sex addiction is given three levels of addictive behaviors, with homosexuality being one non criminal level. I have had several gays had four, one of which was bi sexual. The bi sexual was cured through my therapy. He had an early homosexual experience, an over protective mother (where he resented women) and an emotionally absent dad. The homosexual cured went through treatment with Mark Swartz at his inpatient program at River Oaks Hospital in New Orleans. This was about 15 years ago. I have been in Scotland the past year and a half. The other two left therapy because they did not want to go through the tough work of changing, similar to other addicts who do not want to take the “road less traveled.” I believe in the Baha’i Writings and Faith stance on homosexuality and love my patients, you can grasp for straws all you want with my language suggesting I am prejudice but God is my only judge not you. God created the laws and beliefs on homosexuality. I was raised Catholic–the largest Christian denomination outnumber all other Christian denominations combined and they don’t believe in gay behavior considering it sinful. This is the position of most Hindu and Moslem leaders and the general populations, most religionists in fact.


    • Thank you for your response Dr. Johnson. Am I correct? From your response it seems that you are basing your experience of having “treated many gays who want treatment through either inpatient and/or outpatient treatment plans.” to one client who was a bi-sexual? And then to two others who in your own words, “did not want to go through the tough work of changing”? The one case you refer to being cured was not even a client of yours, correct?

      Re: Narth
      One day I will write a blog on how unscientific Narth is and you can read that. If I’ve gotten something wrong you can point it out. Your saying it is scientific, but not giving me one example of scientific research in support is not an argument. I realise other Baha’is think well of Narth, an organization geared at treating homosexuality as an illness and the promotion of reparative therapy and so it is worth the time spent to show how harmful and unscientific such an organization is. I already pointed you to one of the papers I found on the website which recommends brain-washing young children (calling them “prehomosexual”). This link gives some examples of the questionable ethics of some of the authors of material on the NARTH website.
      Incidently there is some new research (read my summary here) showing a link between anti-gay attitudes and oppressive parenting. And currently there is a bill being considered in California to protect those under the age of 18 from such therapy.

      About half-way down this blog I wrote is a response to a Bahai who made a similar argument – that because other religions have scripture that is anti-gay, then it must be a law of God. I assume this is your same argument because there is nothing in the Bahai Scripture that is anti-gay. Although religions such as Christianity have anti-gay statements in their scripture, there are Christian run support groups for gays and better still congregations which welcome gays on equal terms. I know that Baha’is as individuals welcome gays, but do Baha’i communities? Or would a gay who becomes a Bahai be told that he or she is diseased? If a gay Baha’i is told this by a Bahai would another Bahai stand up to defend that person’s worth and well-being?

      When it comes to human rights, I would have thought it should be the Baha’is as the religious group who most likely to work for equality for people of all orientations. From the 1920s onwards when making a stand for racial equality was seen as a scandal by society at large in the U.S., ‘Abdu’l-Baha and later Shoghi Effendi, urged Baha’is to be seen as taking a stand. Where are the Baha’is when it comes to treating gays with equal rights today?
      It seems as if you are taking the current Bahai policy which expects a gay to be celibate a step further than a difference when it comes to partnership or marriage. In claiming that being gay is an addiction, form of illness, you are showing no tolerance toward peoples of difference.


  8. Someone sent me a link to
    this article:

    Are Straight People Born That Way?

    by Alice Dreger
    – Alice Dreger is a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

    The Atlantic Home
    March 22, 2012

    Below are a few quotations from this…

    “Time for a thought experiment: Are straight people born that way?
    …I put the question to a number of sexology colleagues…
    …What do we mean when we say someone is “straight”?

    “If we are literal about ‘born this way,’ we have to say that humans do not appear to be born with particular arousal patterns — babies aren’t gay or straight,” Vilain told me. He suggested we think about the question a different way: Do we see evidence that, from a very early age, children exhibit behavior patterns that appear highly predictive of future sexual orientation?

    In other words, do children give us clues about whether they’re going to ultimately be sexually attracted to males, females, or both? To a certain extent, yes. That’s why plenty of gay and lesbian adults can point to childhood clues that they were “born this way.” Most straight people could do the same, although typically no one asks straights when they knew they were straight. Behavioral patterns in childhood do show some correlation with adult sexual orientation.

    Vilain points, for example, to the evidence from girls born with a disorder called congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), …

    CAH results in naturally increased levels of androgens (a “masculinizing” type of hormone), … relatively high rates of bisexuality and lesbianism as adults.

    Gendered behaviors are linked closely enough to sexual orientation cross-culturally that various cultures have developed third-gender categories that “normalize” a homosexually-oriented person. For instance, in Samoa, boys who are very feminine as young children are understood to be destined for attraction to males. They are relabeled “fa’afafine” — meaning they will live “in the manner of a woman.” Without changing their bodies, the fa’afafine are raised like girls and then live as women, and take straight men as their sex partners.

    Sexologists call this kind of phenomenon “homosexual transgenderism” and suggest it is fairly common around the world. Sometimes “homosexual transgenderism” is enacted via a humane cultural system, as in Samoa, and sometimes via a phenomenally oppressive one, as in Iran, where feminine homosexual men have been given the choice of transsexualism or death.

    Regardless of the cultural system, social pressure to appear straight seems to be fairly intense cross-culturally. Indeed, one is inclined to wonder, if being straight is just natural, why does it require quite so much policing?

    …the “fraternal birth order effect” (FBOE): The more older brothers a male has from the same biological mother, the more likely he is to be a gay adult. The theory is that the mother builds up an accumulating immune response to male fetuses, progressively dampening down masculinity of later-born male fetuses. That’s just a theoretical explanation, although the FBOE itself is unequivocally real; it holds up in study after study across cultures. Blanchard has estimated that the 15 to 29 percent of gay men are gay by virtue of the FBOE. (The effect doesn’t exist with women.)

    While the FBOE is usually used to talk about the origins of male homosexuality, it could just as well be seen as suggesting that a particular womb environment is likely to produce babies who will grow up to be heterosexual men. In other words, the FBOE suggests that it is likely that many straight men were born inclined to be straight. Note this wouldn’t be because of these straight men having been born with a “straight gene.” They would be born inclined-straight following complex interactions of maternal and fetal genes.

    Is there any evidence for “straight genes,” other than the rather indirect evidence of the large number of people who identify as straight? Researchers have looked at sexual orientation among monozygotic twins … Bailey concludes that the data are “consistent with some genetic influence” for sexual orientation but that the data are “not overwhelming.” He goes so far as to say “the evidence from twin studies for innateness of sexual orientation is pretty weak.

    That said, Bailey does see some other evidence for an innate component to sexual orientation, at least in males. He points to cases where genetic males have been surgically and hormonally turned into girls in infancy, …

    As adults, these folks are typically attracted to females. Says Bailey, “if you can’t make a genetic male be attracted to other males by rearing him as a girl from early in life, how likely is any socialization theory of homosexuality or heterosexuality? I think not likely,” at least for males.”

    Raymond Hames, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Nebraska,… …early same-sex experiences don’t seem to “turn” the boys gay.

    While it has been asserted by some that abuse at the hands of men might incline girls to be more likely to ultimately become lesbians, the evidence for this claim is weak. Boston Children’s Hospital public health researcher Bryn Austin and her colleagues have documented that lesbian and bisexual women report having suffered higher rates of physical and sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence, a finding borne out by other teams’ investigations. But we can’t show any kind of clear causal link between the experience of childhood abuse (sexual or physical) and adult sexual orientation.

    In short, we don’t really know where human sexual orientations come from yet. What we do know is that the evidence we have that sexual orientation includes an innate component doesn’t seem to point to the existence of simple “gay genes” and “straight genes.”

    …”

    Read the full article here, where there are more example as well as sources for the scientific data.



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