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Monday, September 19, 2011

Choose to be gay?

This is a piece I have been slowly working on in response to something that happened several weeks ago. 

(note: I have tried to thoroughly link throughout this piece.  In come cases, these are links that portray contradictory points of view.  Unless I state otherwise, these do not reflect what I, personally, do or don't agree with, but rather are used to illustrate the controversy.)

I recently made a comment about how the only person I know well that is gay is someone who chose to be gay.  I was promptly told that NO ONE CHOOSES to be gay.

Now, aside from that fact that this statement essentially declares this person, a family member, to be a liar, it is completely false.  The concept that homosexuality is anything other than a choice is completely modern, as is even the word "homosexual."   The idea of homosexual behaviour as separate from any other sexual behaviour was a foreign concept throughout much of human history. 

There is no question that some people, from an early age or later in their lives, realize that they are sexually attracted to their own gender.  They account for approximately 3% of the human population; 10% if you include the entire LGBT-etc. community.  Note that these are only approximations, as it is extremely difficult to get accurate numbers on such a thing.

We don't know why some people are only sexually attracted to their own gender.  There is no "gay gene."  Whatever the possible reasons, this is not the group I am talking about. 

However until we reached a point, medically and technologically, to recognise this, the idea that people didn't choose who they preferred to have sex with was a completely alien concept.  Historically, humans have had sex with whoever and whatever they felt like.  Male, female, adults, children, animals, inanimate objects, it didn't matter.  Through various times in our history, we've gone through veritable sexual smorgasbords of choices over who and what to have sex with. Even concepts of pederasty and pedophilia are modern.  I think the only real overarching taboo was incest, and even that had exceptions.
Perhaps the most famous example of cultural homosexuality is the Spartans.  This was a culture where homosexuality was mandated by law.  Males and females were generally kept apart.  Men were expected to have sex with each other, as this was supposed to encourage bonding between warriors.  There was also the practise of pederasty.  An adult male could enter into a contract with the father of a boy  who attracted his attention.  The mentor would be responsible for the boy's upbringing and education, and the boy would be available for sex in return. This was sometimes viewed as an unfair contract - for the adult.  As the boy reached puberty, he would likely turn his sexual attention to his age-mates over his mentor.

Women of Sparta, meanwhile, were expected to keep themselves physically fit and agile, so that they could be good breeders, though they had more freedom than other women of the time period.  The beauty ideal for woman's body was a man.  Or perhaps a boy.   Concepts of fidelity or adultery did not exist, and wife swapping was common.  People, and their children, belonged to the state.  While homosexuality was mandated by the state, so was marriage.  On her wedding night, the bride had her hair cut short, was dressed as a man, and taken to a mattress in the dark to await her husband.  He would later enter, have sex with her, then leave to join his fellows in the barracks.  Heterosexual sex came to be viewed as distasteful, shameful, and required only to produce more strong Spartan soldiers.

The Roman and Greek empires  were both known for their homosexual conquests.  By the time Nero was emperor, early Roman ideals of chastity before  marriage, fidelity during marriage and marriage as the holiest of Roman rites were made a complete mockery of.  Nero was seemingly a sex addict, with several "wives."  One was a boy he tried to have surgically turned into girl through castration.  He then married the youth, in a mockery of the ceremony, dressed him in women's clothing and cosmetics, and engaged in public displays of passionate affection with him.  Nero's ... celebrations, shall we say, were renowned for their debauchery.  He was hardly alone, eagerly joined by the nobility (whom he eventually killed off). 

During the time of Julius Caesar, what we now call homosexuality was culturally acceptable, along with numerous other sexual practises.  Snakes were a favourite of Roman women indulging in bestiality (I have no idea HOW...). It may not have, technically, been legal, but it was common. In Greek culture, it was also culturally acceptable, even preferable.  The use of sex toys (content warning) was also common (content warning). I recall reading a Greek comedy about two women meeting on the street.  One asked the other where she got her excellent leather dildo.  The other was surprised she knew about it, as she had lent her new dildo to a friend before she'd even had a chance to use it herself.  Part of the joke was how the dildo had been passed on from one woman to another, including a woman the owner of the dildo didn't even like.  The play ended with the women parting ways, with one of them eagerly running off to the leatherworker to get her own dildo.  Greek art shows public homosexual group sex, masturbation with sex toys, and various other sexual activities that were considered completely normal.

These cultural sexual practises were not always considered acceptable by parallel cultures.  For example, there is the Biblical admonition for Jews "that Jews were forbidden to sell slaves or sheep to non-Jews, lest the non-Jews engage in homosexuality and bestiality" (slavery being something else that has changed significantly over the millennia).  In fact, Judaism was an anomaly in its adherence to fidelity and heterosexuality - and they weren't particularly good at keeping those laws, either.

These are just a few examples throughout history, and doesn't even touch many other cultures. The thing is, we all choose who we do or don't have sex with.  That includes what gender we have sex with.  That we may or may not be sexually attracted to another gender is a different issue altogether. 

As for my family member who chose to be gay, I won't go into her personal story of how this came about.  Suffice to say that, knowing what I do about her situation, I can actually understand how and why she would make this choice.  It makes perfect sense to me.  She is currently in a wonderful same sex relationship.  She is a fantastic person, and I am happy that she is in a relationship that makes her happy.  That's all that matters to me. 

She is, however, not the only heterosexual who has chosen to be gay.  Just to give other examples, another family member used to be a mortgage broker.  She had several clients that were lesbian couples.  In chatting with them over time (and no, she is NOT the sort to ask such personal questions), every one of these couples revealed that one or both of them had been married to men, some with children, but had left those marriages.  They then swore off men entirely and found themselves female partners.  Such tales are also shared by a number of gay blog writers.
Aside from those examples, homosexuality has actually become the newest "thing."  It's trendy and cool.  Weirdly, the cyberworld is filled with 14 yr old girls writing gay porn about young men, written for other 14 yr old girls, because gay boys are just so CUUUUTTTEEEE!!!! [insert anime eyes with floating heart bubbles]  Oops.  Sorry.  That should be "so kawaii!!" It's especially expected of teen girls to experiment with lesbian sex, even if (or especially if) they are attracted to men, because lesbian sex is just sooo hooottt!!!  You have things like "emo culture"  (yes, I know, there really isn't such a thing) where boys are just supposed to have sex with other boys, otherwise, they're not emo. 

I think it's particularly hard on girls, since our sexualized culture frequently uses lesbian sexuality in advertisements.  We've got Lady Gaga and her lesbian porn music videos.  Or Katie Perry with her "I Kissed a Girl" - a song about a heterosexual woman using a lesbian woman for experimentation.  The lyrics of that one are distasteful not only for its glorifying of meaningless sexual experimentation, but also the selfish treatment of the woman the speaker experiments with, as well as cheating on her boyfriend.

Not only are kids encouraged to be sexually active at ever younger ages, but they are *supposed* to engage in homosexual sex as well as heterosexual sex.  They are also being encouraged to explore all their sexual urges, whatever they may be.  It's all good and normalExcept abstaining or heterosexuality without homosexual experimentation.  On the one hand, we deplore the hyper-sexualization of children, yet we are also expected to see them as being sexual beings, and that they must explore their sexuality if they want to know what gender they really are - the concept of binary genders now being the new taboo. 

Even before this became the new trend, there were other cultural aspects that I suspect play a bigger role in homosexuality than is recognised.  This was illustrated by a friend who was studying for a psychology exam.  She was quite frustrated with it, as she had to give the "right" answers to pass the exam, but she frequently encountered things in her textbooks she felt was wrong.  One of them was being told how important it is to make sure children only played with appropriately gendered toys.  Boys had to play with trucks and cars and other boy toys. Girls had to play with dolls and dresses and other girl toys.  Unless the child was gay.  Only then was it okay to let them play with opposite gendered toys.

When she told me that, I mentioned that, based on her textbooks, I should be gay.  I hated "girly" toys. I much preferred to play with bricks and building toys.  I also hated to dress in girly clothes.  According to her text, I should either have been forced to play with girl toys, or assumed to be gay and "allowed" to play with boy toys.

She agreed with my point, then mentioned some friends that she knew that grew up believing they *had* to be gay, because they liked "girly" things. She also mentioned that they lived in a great deal of emotional pain over their sexuality because of this.  She had come to believe that these were people who weren't actually gay, but because our culture assumes sexuality based on gendered activities, they assumed they couldn't be anything else.  It had nothing to do with who they were actually sexually attracted to.  Because they liked "girly" things, they must be gay, therefore they must be sexually attracted to men.

This brings to mind something my daughter brought up.  Love and attraction are not synonymous with sexual attraction, even if those things are present from birth.  Being attracted to someone and wanting to touch them with your genitals is not the same thing. If you've ever had a chance to read some historical letters, you will see some examples.  J. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis were extremely close friends.  Their letters to each other were expressions of deep love and affection.  These sorts of expressions of platonic love were common for the time.  While modern humans tend to view ourselves as being more accepting of relationships, we have a terrible habit of sexualizing them.  Anyone expressing themselves in the same language as those used by Tolkein and Lewis today would be branded as gay.  Even my own parents' generation allowed far more open expressions of love between people that did not involve sex or sexual attraction.  Other cultures still do.  Our own culture (in Canada and the US) does not allow for such intimacy without sexualization, and I think we are much the worse for it.

Among the conversations I've had with Eldest, we've talked about how things are gendered in our culture.  Having studied historical dress, I find that men today have it pretty crappy.  They used to be able to dress in lace and flounces, wear bright colours, wigs, freaky shoes, clothes that today would be considered dresses, and so on.  Today's males can't enjoy such things without being assumed to be gay.  At least for girls, if they dress or behave boyishly, they're called tomboys and do not as frequently have their sexuality judged for them.  Heaven help the boy who likes pink or satin or lacy frills.  

Unfortunately, though there is some effort to change that, those efforts are being co-opted by gay activists.  The example that jumps to mind is of a boy who wore a pink shirt to school.  He liked pink.  Once at school, he got teased horribly for it and was called gay.  This lead to a backlash of support for him, with many of his fellow students wearing pink to school.  Eventually, people all over the place were wearing pink in support of this boy, and there is even a "wear pink" day.

So what went wrong?  Well, what started out as a backlash against this boy being bullied for wearing pink, with being called gay being part of the bullying, it became a LGBT promotion event.  People started selling and wearing pink t-shirts that read "it's okay to be gay." 

Now, instead of being an anti-bullying campaign, it became a anti-gay-bullying campaign.  Never mind that the boy wasn't gay.  He just liked pink and wanted to wear it.  He was bullied for it, which should not have happened.  That part of the bullying involved calling him gay was pretty meaningless.  The word isn't even used the same way anymore among most public school teens, and is now being used the way people used the word "lame" in my youth. 

Instead of being about bullying, the whole thing became about sexuality.

Why do we have to push sexuality on our children?  Especially when they're so very young, and all they want to do is play dress up.  It isn't any better when some 5 or 6 year old boy wants to wear pink and his parents say, "that's okay, honey.  We love you even if you're gay."  Huh?  He's 6, for crying out loud.  Let him play dress up!  Let him wear pink!  But for crying out loud, why turn it into something sexual?  And then we wonder why some kids are gender confused?  I remember talking to a mom new to our home schooling group.  While her 7 year old daughter was playing with the other kids, conversation somehow got to potential grandchildren.  She announced that she had to get used to the idea of not being a grandmother because her daughter was gay.  What struck me was not only the strange idea that a 7 year old was already sexualized, but the mother's preening body language.  She wasn't just proud that her daughter was gay.  She was proud of what a great mother this made her.  I found myself wondering, was her daughter really gay, or did her mother decide that for her? 

The images in the above link give an example of how our culture assigns gender to behaviour.  A boy likes to smell flowers?  He must be gay.  A girl likes skateboards instead of dolls?  She must be gay.  Why can't they just be children who like different things?  Why do we have to sexualize their choices, or assign sexuality onto them for those choices?  That these particular children did turn out to be gay is beside the point. 

There are a number of questions that also come up about the "born gay" trope, when it's used to claim that all people who are gay were born that way.  This is on top of our cultural habit of assigning sexuality based on things like colour preference, choice of toys and preferred activities.  How does this explain people who "discover" they are gay or bisexual later in life, even after they have led completely heterosexual lives before then, and had not felt sexual attraction to their own gender until later in life?   

What about the statistics that show same sex relationships have higher instances of infidelity and domestic abuse? What about the higher divorce rates of same sex marriages (and why do gays even want to get married at all, since it's supposedly such a terrible heterosexual construct in the first place?) Why is homosexuality so often associated with fetishes and offensive behaviour in gay pride parades, which includes everything from full nudity to engaging in sex on floats, to disrupting mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and desecrating the church and Host while harassing the people inside?  Why are so many in the LGBTetc. community people with incredible trauma and abuse in their past?  Could it be that, in going so far to "normalize" all forms of sexuality, we are inadvertently harming people who actually do need treatment?  That in being so "accepting" of a behaviour, we are in fact ignoring symptoms of a problem?  And what do we tell people who say they are gay, but don't want to be?

 How much of our sexuality is biology, and how much is choice?  Being humans, a species that requires two sexes to procreate, heterosexuality is a necessity.  The biological urge to procreate is a heterosexual urge.  It can be nothing else, since it's the only way our species can procreate.  Like any other species of binary gender, heterosexuality is the default.  That this is necessary for the propagation of the species doesn't mean it's the only type of sex binary gender creatures engage in.  I think pretty much everyone has seen a dog trying to hump a human's leg.  I've seen cows trying to mount other cows, and have stopped one of our male barn cats from raping another male cat - and it was most definitely a rape.  Dolphins will screw anything, even a pipe, and will attempt to have sex with human females.  I even watched a video taken by researchers in the Antarctic of a leopard seal sexually assaulting a penguin.  Talk about playing with your food!  When it comes to sexual urges, it's pretty much no holds barred in the animal kingdom.

Unlike animals, humans are not ruled by our sexual urges.  We are not led by our genitals, though some people certainly live their lives as if they are!  Our physiological responses do not rule us, nor do they decide attraction or even sexuality.  Finding someone sexually attractive does not mean we are sexually attracted to that person, even if there is a physiological response.  Our bodies will respond to things, even at odds with our desires.  Perhaps the most extreme example is in rape.  Men who have been raped by women are often told that this is impossible; that they must have had consensual sex because they had an erection or even ejaculated.  They must have enjoyed it or wanted it.  Their rape wasn't really rape.  This is based on the assumption that their physiological response is one of sexual desire.  Yet how many pubescent boys have found themselves embarrassed by erections at inopportune moments?  Even paraplegics with no sensation will get erections.  One paraplegic man whose interview I read recalled the first time he was bathed by a new and inexperienced nurse.  When, much to his embarrassment, he developed an erection, she actually dropped the sponge and ran away, leaving him helpless in the tub.  An older, experienced nurse eventually came and bathed him.  He felt humiliated, yet had no control over his body's response.  The inexperienced nurse could not get past the idea that his physiological response was also a sexual response, and was never assigned to bathe him again.

It's not only men who are demeaned and humiliated by the assumption that physiological response = sexual desire.  Women who have been raped can also struggle with their unwanted physiological responses.  Some women report their shock and horror when, while being raped, their bodies responded to the rape in a pleasurable way.  This has led to much guilt, shame and confusion (sound familiar?).  If their bodies responded this way, was it really rape?  Did they actually like it?  Did that mean they deserved it?

Of course, the answers are yes, no and no.  Their physiological response does not negate their trauma.  It does not mean they liked being raped, or that they wanted to be raped.  Yet we live in a culture that equates physiological response with attraction and desire, and this can cause unbelievable psychological pain.

This leads us to numerous questions.  What is attraction?  When and why is attraction considered sexual desire, rather than just appreciation?  What role does culture play on what we do or don't find attractive? When and why does attraction determine sexual orientation?  Why do we choose to act on our desires? 

Oh, and to answer the question I know is out there, when did I choose to be heterosexual?  The answer, for me, is about 14 years of age.  Maybe a bit earlier, but not much.  Perhaps I was a late bloomer, but the idea of being sexually attracted to either gender was completely foreign to me until then.  Even when I had the maddest crush on someone when I was younger, it had no sexual element to it at all.  Perhaps because I was raised in a very different culture than my peers - a culture that saw women walking hand in hand, men hugging, and everyone kissing everyone else in greeting, even if they were complete strangers - I did not grow up associating the desire to be with someone with wanting to touch genitals with them.

So how do I conclude an already ridiculously long post?  The original statement was, NO ONE chooses to be gay.  It may indeed be true that some people know they are gay from an early age, though it has yet to be determined if anyone is born gay.  To claim that this is true for all gay people is not only false, but it demeans the reality of those who do choose to be gay.  At the very least, it calls them liars.  It also degrades the relationships they choose to be in, reducing them to nothing but hormones and sexual urges.  This would be equally true of heterosexual relationships.  I find my husband sexually attractive because I love him.  I do not love him because I find him sexually attractive.  And I think my husband is HOT. ;-) 

The point is, the relationship came first.  For some people, their relationship with a person is important enough, deep enough, and loving enough, that becoming sexually active with that person is just one more step in the relationship.  Even if it's a same sex relationship, and they themselves were heterosexual.

We can, and do, choose.

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