Let’s assume this situation: I was born with no sexual inclinations whatsoever. At some point in my life, when I have the ability to make informed choices, I start to consider what kind of people I will be sexually attracted to. But remember, I have absolutely no preconceptions on the matter, so I have to start completely from scratch. I’ll choose to be into humans, for obvious reasons, and it seems rational to only include people in a fertile age range. Then I begin to realize that—with a few exceptions—gender/sex seems to be a real defining boundary (for simplicity, I’m ignoring all of gender theory and assuming a traditional understanding of gender and sex and equating the two: male men and female women only). I could keep it simple and show no preference for either gender. However, I may enjoy the company of one sex over the other and chose that one. Furthermore, once I chose one or both sexes, I’m faced with the issue of the variation within sexes: the various shapes and sizes we all come in. I’d probably be inclined to narrow my range to the most aesthetically pleasing people (I’ve yet to see evidence that sexual and aesthetic taste are different), but I’d probably be left with a range of diversity more broad than our real-life sexual tastes.
But let’s ignore these complications now, and assume this: for whatever reason, I choose to be sexually attracted to people of my own sex—men—men held to the same mainstream standards of attractiveness for men. In other words, I choose to be gay. Now let’s say a homophobe confronts me on this issue, and charges me for choosing to be gay. This time he is absolutely right; it was my choice.
How does this impact our discussion? In this hypothetical, he charges me for my choice to be gay, and I respond with, “so what?” He answers that because it was my choice, I’m responsible and thus guilty for my immoral behavior. Now the veil of confusion is gone and the real dispute is laid bare: homosexuality to them is immoral.
Opponents of homosexuals assume the following conditional: if homosexuality is not a choice, then we can’t blame homosexuals for their behavior. I don’t necessarily agree with this premise, as it muddles the difference between sexual orientation and sexual behavior; homosexuals can, for whatever reason, choose not to have homosexual relations. But, for the sake of argument, I’ll accept this premise. After assuming this premise, opponents of homosexuals figure that if homosexuality is a choice, then they are responsible for their behavior. I wholeheartedly agree with this premise. However, when homophobes say “homosexuals are responsible for their behavior,” they mean “homosexuals are guilty for their behavior.” Homophobes assume that homosexuality is immoral.
We can’t follow any line of reasoning stemming from a false premise, as we sane people know that homosexuality isn’t immoral. We know it isn’t, but one wouldn’t think it from hearing how we talk about it. We’ve been distracted by this talk of choice so much that it sounds more like we’re excusing homosexuals from their behavior more than we are defending them.
When we buy into this idea that choice is somehow relevant to this issue of homosexuality, we end up sounding like we’re defending homosexuality like a mental disorder that needs to be excused—like how people say addicts aren’t responsible for their behavior because addiction is a mental disorder. The difference is that the outcomes of mental disorders are either undesirable, or involve behavior that would be immoral for normal people, like violence. Someone experiencing a seizure who injures someone else unintentionally isn’t responsible for her actions, while someone who intentionally injures somebody is, as the former had no choice and the latter did. But the only reason choice is relevant to this discussion is because violence to others has moral implications. When comparing two hypothetical people, one who was “born” gay and one who “chose” to be gay, we can say the former wasn’t responsible for her actions while the latter was, but we can’t say the former is “innocent” and the latter “guilty,” because that assumes that homosexuality is immoral.
Homosexuality isn’t a mental disorder that induces immoral behavior, but it also isn’t a disability that requires acceptance. People with social disorders like autism require acceptance and attention in order to help them function in our society. It’s also important that we establish that autism isn’t a matter of choice, because while it isn’t necessarily immoral, it is a debilitating condition. It wouldn’t be very considerate to chose to be autistic when you would be forcing people to work to help you function in society.
The only obstacle for homosexuals in society is the purely artificial one created by fear and hatred. Homosexuals are different from straight people, but being attracted to people of the same sex isn’t a significant difference; save for that trivial difference, homosexuals’ experience of romance and sexuality is the same as straight people’s. Homosexuality isn’t an unfortunate condition some people have that we need to accept, it’s one more valid option to romantic life—another take on sexuality that we should embrace. So if homosexuality were a choice, it would be a choice that we should respect, so long as there’s nothing immoral about homosexuality in itself.
So is homosexuality a choice? I think we can all say confidently that my previous hypothetical in which we decide whom we’re going to be sexually attracted to, is obviously not true. Then again, I don’t think the common understanding—that homosexuality is an inherited trait like hair or eye color—is a complete one. In light of the fact that this discussion of choice doesn’t really matter in the end, I urge my audience to be more open-minded on this issue. I don’t think homosexuals (or straight people for that matter) are really “born that way.” It may be comforting for homosexuals to believe that they are, but I should remind them again that it doesn’t really matter in the end, and if they weren’t born that way, it shouldn’t make them any less confident in who they are. Also, being born gay isn’t the only way to be gay without choosing to; environment and experience are other possible factors. The discussion of choice and sexuality in general is a truly fascinating one—one that is more complex than people typically make it out to be—but it’s a discussion that we should be having. The homophobes don’t want to understand; they want to justify their hate, and we shouldn’t indulge them by accepting their false premise that choice even matters. We’ll have this discussion ourselves while the barbarians continue to bark at us, because it’s a discussion that should be had by the scientifically-minded and the compassionate.