I have often heard religious conservatives condemn those they say have “chosen” the gay lifestyle, insinuating that being gay was a “choice” made at some point in those people’s lives. That’s because righteous zealots consider homosexuality to be a terrible sin and, according to their belief system, a sin can only be committed voluntarily. On the other hand I have never heard a gay person talk about making a choice to be gay. Instead I have heard many gay individuals talk about the first time they realized that they were gay, which was usually in early in their lives. Based on my personal observations it has become increasingly obvious to me that no one chooses to be gay, they just are what they are, and they have been aware that they are for most of their lives.
I have a relatively close relative who was seven years older than me. He had several brothers both older and younger and I spent a lot of time around the entire family when I was a kid. I can vividly recall when I was very young, often all of his brothers would be out in the yard playing football and roughhousing, but Tim (I call him that here) was usually in the house chatting with his sisters, often drawing one beautiful bridal dress after another on a sketch pad. Many in this large family had artistic talents, but Tim definitely had different interest than his brothers, but I was young and thought nothing of it at the time.
As I grew into a teenager myself I occasionally heard various members of his family imply that Tim doing some something or was involved in something was… well… somewhat embarrassing. I also got the distinct impression that family members, especially his sisters, were also concerned for his safety. As I got older I figured out that Tim was gay, and that revelation did come as a big surprise.
Then Tim settled down to live with his partner in their florist business. (Tim was one of the best floral designers in the state and his partner handled the business end of the shop.) The cat was now out of the bag, or to be more precise, Tim was out of closet. Like most Cajun families, Tim’s was fairly open minded and they seemed relieved that he was at least safe in a committed relationship instead of cruising gay bars where he had once been roughed up by some homophobic rednecks. Tim’s partner was as welcome at family gatherings as were any of the other in-laws. If anyone had any objections they wisely kept them left unexpressed. Tim and his partner lived together for more than thirty years before his partner was killed in an accident.
I relate this story because I am certain the gay person that I know best, with whom I still communicate with on a regular basis, did not choose to be gay. His sexual orientation has always been a big part of who he is and who he had always been. From what I can gather there are many other very similar stories.
However, putting rhetorical evidence aside, let’s approach this question rationally. When Tim was growing up being a homosexual was far from being easy. Gays (not many of us used the term back then) were reviled and revealing their sexual orientation often meant loss of employment and even rejection by their own families. I’m sure many chose to remain firmly in their closets their entire lives. In the South at least I can only remember those in certain “artistic” professions being even tolerated.
Why then, if they truly had a choice, would anyone “choose” that life style? Among my small peer group growing up I think that we would have rather died than find out we were really gay. In fact, for many homophobes, I suspect that it is the fear that they themselves have gay tendencies that causes them to hate the gay community. That said, I was not surprised when at a recent high school reunion one of my classmates in our very small graduating class showed up with his same sex partner. People are so much more accepting now than they were when Tim was growing up. Yet statistics show that percentage wise there were no fewer gay people by then than there are today. Why then would people back then make the totally irrational “choice” to be gay? The only answer is that then, like today, there was no “choice” involved.
Also the entire concept of people choosing to be gay implies that each of us had that choice, that at some point we all made conscious decisions to swing this way or that. If you want to confuse the heck out of religious zealots, ask them, “When did you decide to be straight”? When they glance deep inside they will realize they never made that choice at all, that they always knew more of less what their sexual orientation was. From there is a straight forward conclusion that gay people never faced that decision either; they always knew, at least once they were able to admit it to themselves, where their sexual compass was pointed.
However, never assume that you will convince religious conservatives with your arguments. That’s because the logical conclusion of those arguments, when mated to their religious beliefs, is totally alien to them. Because if people don’t “choose” to be gay, then the logical conclusion is that they were born that with that orientation or came by it through no fault of their own. Since religious people believe that God has a hand in everything, this would logically mean that God willed that some individuals to have different sexual orientations. By extending the argument further one can conclude that if God made some people gay, then far from condemning the gay population, He considers them as perfectly normal as the rest of His children.
Scientists are studying the source(s) of sexual orientation and why some of us are straight, some are gay, and some are bisexual. I’m betting that they will find a perfectly valid physical or mental reason or reasons why some of us swing way and some another. When that happens expect many conservatives to treat what proof those scientist provide with the same disbelief and attacks which were previously evoked against evolution and global warming. Far right conservatives innately lack the flexibility which would enable them to integrate newly discovered inconvenient facts into their belief system. However, that day is coming and eventually everyone will learn to accept the new reality, though it may take another generation or two.