April 11th, 2012

Is being gay a choice?

[NOTE: There was some mention yesterday in the comments section about the question of whether being gay is a choice or not, which made me think it might be a good idea to clarify some of my thoughts on the matter.]

What do we really know about gay people and society at this point? Here is my own idiosyncratic summary:

(1) Being gay is neither is wholly biological nor wholly environmental, but most likely some roughly equal mix of the two.

(2) The predilection to be gay is not wholly a choice, although the act most definitely is. However, the only viable alternative for many or most gay people people is lifelong celibacy, an exceedingly difficult road.

Then there are bisexuals, people who report attractions to both sexes to a greater or lesser extent. For example, I’ve personally known two men who identify as mostly gay but who each were strongly attracted—and in fact in love with—a woman, whom they later married. In the first case the wife didn’t know of her husband’s bisexuality, and in the second she did.

In the first case, there was a divorce after a few years, when the husband decided he was so much more attracted to men than to his wife that the marriage could not work out over time. They were quite young and had no children, and she went on to marry someone else and have children by him.

In the second case, the marriage lasted very happily for many many decades and several children, till death did them part. During the marriage, the man was completely faithful to his wife and never strayed, with man or woman. But after her death he formed a stable, long-lasting relationship with a man.

I offer these examples not to say they are typical of the gay population (they are not), but to offer them as instances where the choice to live life as a heterosexual seemed possible, and in at least one instance of the two that choice seemed to work very nicely. But the possibility was predicted on the fact that, for this man, there was a woman to whom he was highly enough attracted to live a life with her. That is not the situation with the huge number of people who are predominantly gay rather than bisexual.

Attraction is a funny thing, whether for gays, bisexuals, or heterosexuals. We can’t will ourselves to be sexually attracted to and to love someone, no matter how nice that person may be, or how wonderful a spouse they might make, even if they love us and want us. And although we could will ourselves to live in a loveless, attractionless marriage, it’s hard to see whom that particular choice would benefit.

But when we are attracted, we also have a choice on how to act. For heterosexuals, the choice is whether to marry this person or that person, or whether to marry at all. For bisexuals, it’s more complicated because the choices are more vast, but—as with the men I described above—a bisexual person can choose to live a heterosexual life and be faithful. For a gay person, the choice is to express the sexual part of his/her being or to be celibate for life.

Why should a gay person choose celibacy? I can see no reason except if that person subscribes deeply to a religion that believes that gay behavior is a sin to be avoided at all costs. Celibacy’s a hard life, though, one that usually only a Catholic priest takes on for religious reasons. But these people are not priests, they are just ordinary people trying to live their lives. I would never ask anyone to make that choice, even if they are religious; it is between them, their conscience, and God.

[ADDENDUM: I’d like to emphasize the link above to this article, which contains a brief summary of research on the nature/nurture question. The following seems especially interesting to me [MZ twins are identical, DZ are fraternal, and the twins and brothers who were recruited for the study had at least one member of the pair who was gay]:

J. Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard also studied the gayness between MZ twins, DZ twins, and non-related adopted brothers. They examined how many of the sample population examined were gay and how many were straight. They found that 52% of MZ twins were both self-identified homosexuals, 22% of DZ twins were so, and only 5% of non-related adopted brothers were so. This evidence, repeated and found to be true a second time, showed to the biological camp that the more closely genetically linked a pair is, the more likely they both are to exhibit gay or straight tendencies. Later experimenters found similar evidence in females.

Other twin studies using somewhat different methodology seem to have replicated the basic finding, so it seems they’re on to something. It would be much better if we had a study that used twins reared apart, but it would be nearly impossible nowadays to get a big enough sample of such people.]

32 Responses to “Is being gay a choice?”

  1. gpc31 Says:

    Keynes was very much like your second example of a bisexual man. He was flamboyantly gay within Bloomsbury, yet became very happily married to a Russian ballerina, much to the puzzlement of his friends.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    gpc31: actually, Keynes was an even more amazing case than that, because until he met Lopokova, he was not even bisexual but was completely gay. He must have been a closet bisexual, closeted even from himself! He wasn’t trying to change—he was perfectly content to be gay—but love for Lopokova just hit him like a bolt out of the blue. In fact, his conversion to being a married man caused a great deal of consternation among his friends, many of whom were gay themselves.

    I wrote a post about his marriage, here.

  3. gpc31 Says:

    Thanks for the background info and clarification! Did I win the over/under on who would first mention Keynes?

  4. ErisGuy Says:

    One’s sexual preference: homosexual, bestial, pedophile, rapist may not be a choice, but it’s a choice to perform the act.

  5. neo-neocon Says:

    ErisGuy: that’s a point I make in the post.

  6. Left Coast Conservative Says:

    I do not think a persons sexual orientation is a choice. It seems that people who think that being gay or lesbian is a choice have an agenda that some kind of therapy or counseling can “convert” a gay man to heterosexuality.

    This is absurd on its face, and I’ll demonstrate the absurdity with a thought experiment. If sexual orientation is a choice, than my heterosexuality is also a choice. It follows that counseling, therapy, or even my own volition that make me change from heterosexuality to homosexuality.

    That is the logical fallacy: no choice, counseling, therapy, or any other action, method, or compulsion can make a man as attractive to me as a woman. Sexual orientation is, therefore, not a choice, but an ingrained characteristic of our individuality, as is gender, race, and skin color. These are descriptive traits, determinants of neither our value as human beings, nor our status under our system of ordered liberty.

    Unequal treatment of gays and lesbians based on their sexual orientation is, therefore, both immoral and unconstitutional. Yes, I am talking marriage here. DOMA is unconstitutional on its face, and should be struck down, all because sexual orientation is not a choice.

  7. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    As a conservative Christian, both theologically and politically, I am compelled to oppose gay behavior
    By that I mean to not endorse it, and to restrain it politically as possible.
    Having said that, I have a couple of gay friends whose company I enjoy.
    They have a stable and loving relationship. They are not “queer nation” radicals, nor pedophiles.
    But the Book I live my life by says that it is wrong behavior, and I have found over the course of my life, that there were often times things I didn’t understand the reason for, only to see the wisdom of later.
    Before this stable loving relationship, at least one was engaged in harmful self-destructive behavior (which is almost symptomatic of homosexuality in men).
    I feel sorry for those going through that and yet believe that they should remain celibate because God knows more about it than we do.
    Just because it feels good, doesn’t mean it is good.
    If you don’t attach spiritual authority to the Bible, I don’t expect you to follow it’s constraints. I expect you to follow the law, and I will engage in political activity to promote my belief as others will theirs.
    Nature and nurture are involved.
    But neither makes it right.

  8. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    DOMA is not unconstitutional as it only protects states from having to recognize homosexual marriages they will not endorse themselves.
    It does not forbid homosexual marriages.
    It’s a 10th amendment thing.

  9. Promethea Says:

    For those who think that promoting same-sex marriage is the way to go, please remember that public school textbooks will be *required* to show happy same-sex couples as the normal way to go.

    In social studies books, there will be special features on famous homosexuals (Michelangelo, Tschaikhovsky, etc.), chosen specifically because they were homosexual.

    Math problems will routinely (based on some diversity formula) include homosexual couples shopping, eating dinner, etc. etc. In other words, this life style will be promoted, and those who don’t agree will be persecuted.

    How will this affect our society? It’s something to think about and discuss. Being “fashionably open-minded” just doesn’t cut it on this issue.

    And the usual disclaimer….I know several same-sex couples and they are all lovely people who should not be oppressed. None of these people have children. They just need the courage to be *different.” We don’t have to mainstream everybody who is *different.*

    I do fear for our future society when all norms are broken down.

  10. holmes Says:

    We have a neighbor who is gay. His identical twin is heterosexual. And the neighbor used to be married to a woman and had a child with her. It’s all very confusing.

    I don’t know that gay issues should be a matter of public policy. I’d rather see marriage totally privatized at this point and stop using the state as an affirmation stop (for a lot of things).

    And of course, we have Transgender Week in the Department of Interior where we celebrate truly confused people. Not even joking. (By the way, a Transgendered person is protected from discrimination within the federal government at the point they commit to becoming the other sex; I keep waiting for someone to make that commitment and insist on using the female bathroom.) So maybe this whole public policy thing is unavoidable.

  11. holmes Says:

    stop=stamp

  12. Charles Says:

    “One’s sexual preference: homosexual, bestial, pedophile, rapist may not be a choice, but it’s a choice to perform the act.”

    Just once, just ONCE! I would like to see an online discussion about gays whithout someone mentioning “preferences” that harm others! (i.e. bestial, pedophile, rapist). Idiot!

    As for those of you who say that my “homosexual” behaviour is wrong; that’s fine, believe whatever you want – but keep your beliefs out of my life!

    Ever try believing that “let he who is without sin caste the first stone”? no, I didn’t think so.

  13. holmes Says:

    Charles- agreed.

    However, there are as many in the gay community who want affirmative acceptance as well, and that makes it easier for many to want to resist. It’s not enough for them to “live and let live” but rather, “Live and actively approve of my choices/lifestyle…or else.” That seems to now be the case in the UK and Canada, and if we are heading there, I would push back on that.

    Otherwise, I’m friendly with gay people and have no problem with it politically. It is a sin in my religion, the one you quote from above, as are many, many things (which doesn’t lessen what a sin is, but rather makes us realize how depraved we actually all are. )

  14. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States Says:

    >>> It would be much better if we had a study that used twins reared apart, but it would be nearly impossible nowadays to get a big enough sample of such people.

    It would be enormously better, and yes, it would be quite difficult to get a big enough sample. I suspect it would be far less difficult with today’s internet, however, if you put out a call for respondents who were twins raised separately with no indication of what they were the subject of. You have to adjust, perhaps, for some kind of selection bias (perhaps gay twins reared separately are more outgoing than the average gay individual or twin, for example) but I suspect you could figure out some way to do that, if only by carefully partitioning the set of respondents into a control group and non-control group.

  15. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Holmes.
    Failure to actively and affirmatively approve of homosexuality is, under the current definition, putting your beliefs in somebody else’s life.
    Would Eugene Robinson have gotten all that oleaginous praise if he’d left his wife and kids for another woman? And put her front and center at his bishoping?

  16. Left Coast Conservative Says:

    DOMA is not unconstitutional as it only protects states from having to recognize homosexual marriages they will not endorse themselves.

    There is a good case to be made that Section 3 of DOMA, at the least, is unconstitutional. Section 3 of DOMA codifies Federal non-recognition of same-sex marriage and is unconstitutional because it results in similarly situated individuals being treated differently under the law. That is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

    People get their nickers in a twist over the same-sex aspect and completely lose sight of the implications of the 14th Amendment, and precedent that has already been set striking down laws that prohibited interracial marriage.

    This very issue is currently wending it’s way to the Supreme Court, and so far decisions have affirmed that DOMA is unconstitutional. See the case Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. The District court held that Section 3 of DOMA violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In Massachusetts v. United States Department if Health and Human Services the same court held that DOMA Section 3 violates the 10th Amendment. These district court decisions are important steps to a circuit court split that will put this issue right in front of the Supreme Court.

    A promising case that may get this issue to the SCOTUS is Perry v. Schwarzenegger in which Judge Vaughn Walker wrote, citing Loving v. Virginia:

    “the [constitutional] right to marry protects an individual’s choice of marital partner regardless of gender”

    Loving being the key case that resulted in interracial marriage prohibitions ruled violations of the 14th Amendment.

    The precedents exist and the lawsuits are filed and underway to strike down DOMA, and I predict that it will happen sooner (5 years) rather than later. And 20 years from now we will all wonder why such a fuss was made in blogs like this one.

    One final note: why does someone with the Nom de Internet “Left Coast Conservative” support same-sex marriage? I don’t really. What I support is the principle that the Bill of Rights is not a smorgasbord where we are free to choose only the parts we like. I believe that the Bill of Rights exists to ensure the maximum amount of individual liberty free from interference from government encroachment. And no argument that I have heard against same-sex marriage is logical when separated from the religious views of the person making the argument. Well, the Bill of Rights also limits the government from legislating religious values, which is what DOMA really is an attempt to accomplish. I believe my view is the true conservative view.

  17. Les Says:

    I was born in 1959, so my life to date has spanned the evolution of homosexuality from being an illegal “deviancy” to becoming the “who cares” of today.

    I’m happily straight, but from the earliest age had an interesting exposure to homosexuality, in the form of a neighbour, Mark, who was the same age as me. We knew each other from pre-school, until leaving High School at age 18, after which I never saw him again. As neighbours, and because we went to the same schools, we basically grew up together, and while we were never close friends, we were always friendly enough. I dated his sister (who was hot – I think now in part that was because she was trying to compensate for the self-consciousness of her slightly older brother) for about two years, so I did see a fair bit of him during those middle teen years.

    This guy was gay from the earliest age. As kids, he made my sisters seem like tom-boys, and he was always the damsel needing saving, the mother doing the cooking, the nurse etc when we played as kids (a funny combo – he was the damsel needing rescuing, my older sister was usually the hero, and I was always the side-kick who died!). We didn’t know what homosexual was back then, and “gay” still meant “bright” and/or “happy”. But we all knew Mark was different, but we were all used to it and accepted it.

    In High School, where guys who were sufficiently different were normally picked on, Mark was pretty much left alone. On occasions when someone did pick on him, we’d all stick up for him. He was strange and weird, but harmless and nice enough – he was however our strange and weird, and we looked after him.

    Mark was undoubtedly born gay. It was obvious, even to us kids, without knowing what it was, at the earliest age. He was so blatantly effeminate even as a little kid, that his parent used to get embarrassed, but they got used to it, as we all did.

    I have a niece who is gay, and I thought she would be by the time she reached her teens. She grew up in a nurturing family of practising Catholics with three brothers – it wasn’t her upbringing. She was just always inclined that way.

    The answer to whether people are born gay or become gay is simple: it is all of the above. Some are absolutely born that way, and grow up that way. Some are inclined one way of the other and are able to consciously decide, or be swayed in one direction of the other, often after a period of uncertainty. Many don’t realise it until something in their lives happens to make it obvious. For others, it may be an inclination or a fad.

    For some it is an escape – my wife has had three friends leave their husbands and take up with other women – but none of them regarded themselves as gay (although their partners were very much so – the very masculine type). Interestingly in all three cases they eventually reunited with their husbands – the issue seemed to be being stuck in mediocre marriages and just wanting something different, but not wanting to go so far as starting a relationship with another man (it tends to make reconciling easier if there isn’t another man involved).

    Gay and bi-sexuals cover the full range, just as I suspect many heterosexuals are probably borderline, but never try the cross. I would suspect women may be more inclined to experiment than men, but men may actually be more inclined to homosexuality than women – it is just that the social taboos are greater.

    I’m of the view that a lot of anti-homosexual sentiment is driven by a certain anxiety driven my sexual uncertainty.

    Attempts to categorises causes for homosexuality usually fall into the trap of a polarised set of either/or options. In reality, every cause is correct once the full range of people is taken into account.

    My parting two cents: homophobic guys are looking at things in completely the wrong way. If you like girls, then the more guys who are homosexual, the better – it cuts down the competition!

    Other than that, I see no reason to actively promote homosexuality. In fact it doesn’t need promoting at all – well except by desperate dateless guys. Otherwise it is just a case of acceptance.

  18. Marine's Mom Says:

    It befuddles me that people in general think that celibacy is such an unusual thing. Agreed, it is becoming more and more rare, but I know many people who are single and therefore celibate by choice. In our church, we believe that sex outside of marriage is a sin, no matter what your leanings. Yes, it is difficult, but, as has been mentioned in this thread, just because it feels good doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. There are many deviant impulses that exist in humanity. The proclivity is not the sin. The act is the sin.

  19. neo-neocon Says:

    Marine’s Mom: being celibate because you’re not married yet (or haven’t found the right spouse yet), and are religious and don’t want to have extramarital sex, is very different from being celibate because you are religious and gay. In the latter case, the celibacy of abstaining from the act would be lifelong, like the vow a priest takes. That is quite unusual.

    The person who is celibate because he/she is religious and single and heterosexual is not certain that he/she will never have sex, because tomorrow he/she could meet someone, marry, and become sexual. So there is hope there for the future. A very different scenario, psychologically speaking.

    Then of course there are people who don’t care about sex, who are asexual. For them celibacy is no problem. But for most people it would be a big problem, and a very difficult renunciation, especially if for a lifetime.

  20. Parker Says:

    IMO it all comes down to freedom. Homosexuals & bisexuals have the right to their sexuality, chosen or innate. Its not my business or the business of the state. When it comes to civil law we must recognize all contracts between consenting adults who are free, as a birth right, to enter into whatever arrangements they so choose.

    As far as marriage is concerned, that is a religious institution, and religious sects have the right to determine who may or may be married. Marriage should not be considered a secular issue.

  21. T Says:

    @ 5:54 above Left Coast Conservative Says:

    “I do not think a persons sexual orientation is a choice. . . . This is absurd on its face . . . .”

    So your pronouncement denies that we are herd animals and asserts that it is an absurdity to think that we are influenced by others in any way.

    And as proof you offer what, exactly?

  22. T Says:

    Parker wrote:

    “Marriage should not be considered a secular issue.”

    I do not disagree in theory, but in practice things are murkier. The govt recognizes marriage for certain actions. Some of them can be duplicated with legal documents (e.g., a power of attorney) but some can not (the right to file a joint tax return). IMO this is why the argument becomes complicated.

    Neither do I, however, take the side of those who argue that gay marriage is purely and simply a birthright. If one is going to argue for overturning a cultural recognition that stretches back millenia, thenIMO the burden of proof falls on those who would see that tradition annulled. I have yet to hear a convincing argument from that constituency.

  23. Parker Says:

    T,

    I see marriage as a religious institution. It is not a ‘birth right’ that anyone can claim. However, outside of the parameters of religion I hope we can agree that consenting adults have the birth right to engage in sexual activities of their choice and enter into civil contracts as they may choose. Freedom is a delicate thing. It is bruised and abused whenever one decides to sanction others based upon religious or ideological doctrine.

  24. foxmarks Says:

    Homosexuality is a rare and abnormal condition, whatever the prevailing opinion on its causes. No amount of political programming will overcome the innate biology of reproduction.

    A society might become more tolerant of homosexuality, but it cannot be a foundation of society. For those who honor traditional gods, the gay act is a crime against nature. It is this view which the homosexual activists attempt to refute by defining gay as something quite common and mainstream.

    For those who deny traditional gods, the gay act is an evolutionary dead-end. In the coldest view, it isn’t different from most other biological defects. If the nature part can be identified, homosexual babies will rarely be allowed to live to birth.

    The same factions that demand gay justice also demand unfettered abortion. However much homosexuals suffered in the shadows, they will suffer more in the spotlight.

    And heaven help those who are gay and Muslim.

    There are irreconcilable conflicts within the factions that wish to destroy Christian moral tradition. Their common enemy keeps them from being at each others’ throats. Should they succeed in defeating Christian order, the ensuing brutality will be cataclysmic.

  25. expat Says:

    I believe both the religious and secular institutions of marriage came about because of the children that can result from the sexual union. Things like fidelity and life-long partnership create a more stable environment for children. These desired behaviours carry over to heterosexual couples who are not or no longer fertile because they are the norm children are taught. Of course, marriage did not always protect children, nor did it prevent some from leading a more adventerous sex life. But we must judge it against a no-rules alternative.

    My problem with gay marriage advocates is that they seeem to have no appreciation of the child factor. Gay sex simply doesn’t create a child for which one has responsibilities. Gays simply don’t have to worry about whether they forgot to take the pill or whether unplanned pregnancy might cause you to marry this sexual partner so your offspring will have both a mother and a father.

    It’s true that heterosexual marriage and families have been eroded in the last 50 years, partly by the pill and partly by the sexual revolution and feminism. But we aren’t finished with the topic yet; we are in the middle of trying to establish new norms. Everyone now knows that fatherless families are not great for kids. most recognize that patchwork is better for quilts than for raising children.

    My problem with gay marriage is that it will give an equal voice in this discussion to people who don’t have an equal stake in the outcome. Some of the most vocal advocates are not people who should have a say in an institution centered on children. These sickies are not like gays I know, but still they claim to speak for all gays in the same way that Nancy Pelosi presumes to speak for me.

    I really wish that gays would accept the idea of civil unions (and perhaps give them a better name) so that these partnerships would have some time to establish their own norms and to sideline those who don’t really care about society at large. And while this is happening, heteros can work on the problems they have caused for children. We all have to work on making the next big book on the topic of families have the title Coming Together.

  26. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Choice or hard-wired. Or even both. I see arguments pointing to one, or the other, as convenient.
    Currently, it’s convenient to argue hard-wired. That way, there’s no point in trying to convert the folks to the straight–not necessarily narrow–life and no point in condemning them for what they can’t help.
    Unanticipated problem with that, if true, is it’s either genetic or an in-utero issue, and there may be some pre-natal identifier. In which case we may see abortion for selection against gay. Hard to see the pro-abortion folks arguing against that with a straight face since they already don’t argue against abortion for sex selection. Or, if it’s genetic, some of the genetic repair I keep hearing about might apply and they are straightened out before or shortly after being born. Hard to argue against that, too.

  27. Charles Says:

    For straight folks who believe that being gay is a “choice”?

    Does this mean that you choose to be straight; but, with enough wine and dine you could be turned gay? Yea, that’s what I thought.

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    Charles: I haven’t read all the comments, but it’s not my impression that most people think being gay is a choice. Instead, they think sexual activity between same-sex people is a choice, and a gay person has a choice to remain celibate.

    My point was that, unless a gay person is deeply religious in a religion that says gay sex is a terrible sin, why would—or should—a gay person refrain from sex? It doesn’t make any sense to me. It seems like a personal decision that’s no one else’s business.

  29. neo-neocon Says:

    Charles: and actually, from the research I’ve read, it seems to me that sexual orientation is a continuum. That is, on either side of the spectrum are people who are 100% gay or 100% heterosexual. Everyone else is in-between, to different extents. Bisexuals are smack in the middle. So there is probably a sizable proportion of the population who could have a few homosexual relationships under the right circumstances (on a desert island with only men, for example–or with the right wining and dining, as you say). How large or small this group would be is anybody’s guess; I certainly don’t know.

  30. Karl Says:

    Ultimately, your behavior upon whatever the etiology of the impulse is a choice.

    In a Graduate Level class it was made clear to me that the design of the southern end of the alimentary canal was not for entry, where as the more ventral aperture of the female
    pelvis appears to be more amenable to entry or exit.

    Draw your own conclusions. I am not here for argument.

    I am divorced celibate male by both choice and religious
    belief. Celibacy is not an impossible choice. It is the choice
    of society to make that appear so and, in my opinion, is a deliberate and dishonest choice.

    I firmly believe that a choice can “teach” that a behavior is more pleasant. With repetition I certainly can see learning a different perspective. I reject that learning to enjoy different behaviors and preferences is impossible or harmful inherently.

    For me marriage is for procreation and spousal support, which limits it to couples of the opposite sex. Only the disingenouos want to argue around the margins.

    All of this “stuff” is about undoing the family and allowing
    the government to control our children. That is how I see it and I do see the destruction of society in the future with a coming bloodletting persecution of unbelievable proportions push by those who are “tolerant” of only those
    who obey them.

    Bye.

  31. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Karl has saved the best for last.

  32. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Neo, Why not drill deeper and ask, “Is marriage a secular or religious institution, and why?”

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