Why would people “choose” to be gay?


Why would people ‘choose’ to be gay?


Those opposed to homosexuality regularly describe being gay as a choice, despite all evidence to the contrary. But what is never explained is why people would make this choice in the first place


What does being gay offer that so many would supposedly “choose” it? Photograph: Maskot / Alamy/Alamy

Dean Burnett


Thursday 8 January 2015 07.15 GMT Last modified on Thursday 8 January 201508.49 GMT


I work in the field of psychiatry. I don’t bring this up when meeting people unless specifically asked, because very often people get a bit nervous if I do. There are doubtless many reasons for this, but one recurring paranoia among many I’ve met (all of whom were men, out of interest) is that I’m going to tell them that they’re gay. Because being gay is bad, apparently.

I’m not sure how these guys think homosexuality works or how you end up being gay, but one thing I can confirm is that it’s not my decision. I can’t go around dictating people’s sexual orientations because I’ve got some knowledge of mental and neurological processes. That would be classed as a very sinister superpower.

Besides, even if I did think they were gay, it’s certainly not something I’m going to bring up when first meeting someone, given how it’s a) irrelevant, and b) none of my damn business.

Others don’t feel the same though. Homosexual members of society can unfortunately expect to regularly be challenged, scrutinised and condemned by belligerent type who are seemingly convinced that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice”.

This issue has come up again (for what is possibly the 12,456,987,332nd time) for several reasons. There was a recent study that suggests homosexuality is linked to the X chromosome, so is therefore genetic, ie inherent, not a choice. Also, UK prime minister David Cameron recently made comments that suggest he considers homosexuality the aforementioned “lifestyle choice” (although this could easily have been poorly chosen wording). On top of this, Stephen Fry has recently revealed his engagement to partner Elliot Spencer. A high-profile homosexual person doing this (or pretty much anything) is certain to get objections from those who “don’t approve”.

Debate around these things is inevitable, and so is the whole “being gay is a choice” accusation. But why is this so persistent? Those saying it seemingly believe it with all sincerity, but what’s the rationale? Basically, why would someone “choose” homosexuality, like you’d choose a new car or tattoo? As an aside, many point out that sexuality is actually a spectrum with many possible manifestations (eg bisexuality), but that doesn’t seem to be something considered in the “choice” argument.

Firstly, what makes people think homosexuality is a choice in the first place? Most cite religious beliefs, although the notion that religion is flat-out opposed to homosexuality is far from accurate, and getting moreuncertain as time progresses. Old style prejudice and paranoia seem to be more involved here.

You could also blame the media, and there may be some validity in this. The mainstream media has always been somewhat blunt or ham-fisted in its portrayal of even heterosexual relationships (for evidence of this, see pretty much any married couple in an advert), so it was a long shot that they’d show homosexuals accurately. There’s far too much of this to go into here, but one blatant example is the media’s use of lesbianism (which straight men find arousing) to drum up attention. Normally heterosexual characters suddenly displaying homosexual leanings when a boost in viewing figures are needed is a common trope these days, so you can sort of see how this might make some people think it’s a “choice”, if they lack more realistic examples.

While saying that sexuality is set in stone from birth is also not quite right, the main emphasis of those using the choice argument is that homosexuals have weighed up their options and consciously decided “I am going to be gay from now on”. Assuming this is true (which it clearly isn’t), WHY would they do this?

If we’re being generous, we could say the choice claim assumes that people have no sexual orientation up to the point where they choose one. And some people choose homosexuality. Presumably this is some time during adolescence when sexual maturity really kicks in, and you know what teenagers are like. Is choosing homosexuality just another example of a desire to not conform, like shaving your head or wearing outlandish clothes?

The trouble with this claim is that teenage rebellion is largely temporary; hair grows back, outfits can be changed. But those who “choose” homosexuality really seem to stick with it. So maybe it’s a “lifestyle” thing, as many claim? This suggests that those who are about to choose their sexual orientation look at the consequences of homosexuality and think it’s a better option. They see the oppression, the suicide rates, the discrimination and harassment, the inequality, the increased risk of mental health issues, or abandonment from your family; they see all this and think “I gotta get me some of that”? This seems, to put it mildly, unlikely.

Also, as many have pointed out, if sexual orientation is a choice, then you should feasibly be able to choose to be straight again if being gay isn’t “working out”. And logically, a straight person could become gay too. Yet this doesn’t seem to happen nearly as often as you’d expect. Comedian Todd Glass makes a brilliant point in his book (which is great, I got it for Christmas), which is that if you genuinely believe sexuality is a choice, then you’re not actually straight, you just haven’t met anyone persuasive enough yet.

But those who argue that homosexuality is a choice invariably assert that it is awrong choice. This suggests they believe that everyone is actually, at a fundamental level, heterosexual. So people who opt for homosexuality are consciously pursuing anything from intimate relationships to random sexual encounters with people they are not physically attracted to. Sex is a very powerful motivator, and it’s no doubt possible to have a sexual encounter with someone you’re not necessarily attracted to, but to such an extent as this? Constantly going against your most basic urges to stick to a choice you made at an unspecified point? The lifestyle would have to be very appealing to warrant this, and, as previously discussed, it doesn’t seem to be.

There’s undoubtedly a lot more to be considered that could be covered in a single post, so you could argue that this piece is a massive oversimplification of a very complex issue. And you’d be right, it is. But that’s true for the whole “choice” argument, so it’s oddly appropriate.

Overall, if homosexuality is chosen, the most logical reason people would make such a choice is that they’re attracted to people of the same gender. Hopefully you can see how this undermines the argument somewhat.


Dean Burnett is on Twitter, you can follow him if you want to. Or not. THAT’S how choice works. @garwboy












Source: The Guardian

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