So we only really have two ways of understanding human traits and behaviours:
1) Biology, genes, being ‘born that way’.
2) Free choice.
A common tendency in popular opinion and discussion is to choose one of these two, and use it to explain something (crime or financial success or sporting success or morality, etc) in a reductive and simplistic way. So we end up thinking people are either ‘genetically predisposed’ to be a certain way, or they choose it (and work hard) and it happens; the rest of society offers no encouragement or resistance, and certainly bears no responsibility.
So it’s not surprising that since Louisa Wall’s gay marriage bill was drawn from the ballot recently, the public debate about homosexuality has separated along these lines too.
The bill’s most prominent opponent, Colin Craig, declared that homosexuality is a choice, and everyone from Wall to Michael Laws to Bomber Bradbury to Labour backbencher Damien O’Connor’s daughter responded, often rather defensively, that “People are born the way they are born” (Wall) and “They cannot change this” (O’Connor).
(The other possible individualist response is that of John Key, who’s exercising his liberal right not to concern himself with the whys and wherefores of homosexuality, and to let people do what they want so long as his relationships with Bronagh and Moonbeam aren’t affected).
The reality, of course, is that sexual and gender identity and practice are far more complicated than either being a slave to some mysterious ‘gay gene’ or waking up one day and ‘deciding to be gay’ (or straight for that matter).
While there may be some biological aspects and some choice aspects to sexuality, I’m inclined to put the most emphasis on what is most neglected; social factors. Like all human traits or behaviours, our sexuality is to a large extent socially constructed … how we live our gender/sexuality develops in complex and ambiguous ways as we interact with people/structures/definitions/values/practices in the time and place where we live. The extent of this is obviously up for debate, and there’s plenty of research and theory debating it, but I don’t see why the gender(s) we’re attracted to wouldn’t be part of this process too. (sorry about the google links, they’re meant to communicate that I should provide proper research for this stuff, but this is a blog and I’m lazy so you can do your own research)
Funnily enough, Colin Craig has come the closest to an understanding of the social construction of sexuality with some of his other suggestions, but he chooses the worst and crudest possible example of social influence, by suggesting that “child abuse can turn a person gay”.
Anyway. What interests me most about this public debate is not what the two sides disagree on, but what they implicitly agree on. Both ‘choice’ and ‘birth’ explanations imply that homosexuality is not a good thing.
One side says you choose to be gay, so you should choose otherwise; the other side says you don’t choose to be gay, so you can’t choose otherwise. One side says there’s no genetic excuse for homosexuality, so we don’t have to tolerate it. The other side says there is a genetic excuse, so we have to tolerate it.
What I want to ask is: why is homosexuality something that needs an excuse; something that is either tolerated or not tolerated?
Why can’t it just be something that is?
Why does being the same gender as your romantic/sexual partner such a bad thing that we should either encourage people to ‘choose not to be that way’ or insist that they ‘can’t help it’?
Ethnicity and race are also mostly social constructs, but we don’t make people try to prove that their ethnicity is biological and ‘something they can’t change’ before we allow them to live their ethnic identity, or assume that if they can assimilate themselves into the dominant ethnicity, they should.
The supposedly pro-homosexual side of the debate should abandon the implicit homophobia of the way they are arguing, because their stance of jumping down the throats of anyone who suggests you aren’t ‘born gay’ is communicating that unless sexuality is primordial and pre-determined from birth, the Colin Craigs of the world are right.
I don’t really care if there’s a “gay gene” or not, I don’t even care if people do “choose” to be gay. Either way or (neither way), it would take a separate argument to establish what this public debate implicitly presumes… that homosexuality is bad. And I’ve never heard any good arguments explaining why homosexual relationships are inherently or necessarily bad relationships.
I support loving, equal, strong, healthy, nurturing, free, committed, honest, supportive, outward-focussed relationships; married or unmarried, with children or without. And I support all controversial (at the time) legal changes that will make those healthy relationships more available to everyone… whether it’s banning polygamy or child marriage, banning sati (burning the wife on the husband’s funeral pire) in India in 1829, allowing inter-racial marriage in the US in 1967, or allowing gay marriage in New Zealand in 2012.