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August 14th, 2005

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08:36 am - "It's not a choice."
There are few arguments in this world that I hate more than the "It's not a choice" theory of acceptance of homosexuality. Allow me to explain why:

(1) Heterosexuality and homosexuality will not be viewed as equal as long as this argument is made by straight 'supporters'. No matter how anyone tries to sugarcoat it, this argument actually reads: "Well, heterosexuality is the default, preferable, 'natural' norm. But, if some people *really* can't help if they were 'born' outside of it - if they cannot attain this norm - then, perhaps it is acceptable if they are homosexual." If you don't believe this is true, try asking most of the people who say this how they would feel if it turned out that homosexuals were choosing their sexual orientation. You might have to push a little bit. Many people will initially fight the hypothetical. But many of them will eventually admit that they wouldn't be as ok with it. I've even heard some people say that this would "threaten their sexuality."

(2) There is ALWAYS a choice. Always. If you are queer in any sense, and you acknowledge this, even if it's only to yourself - then you have made the choice to do this. If you have a queer partner, if you go out to queer events, if you are active in your community, then you have chosen to do these things. You were not born doing them, it turns out. Presumably you have made these choices because they are good, positive options for you, or at least, better and more positive than the other options you see for yourself. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with making these choices. They should be celebrated and encouraged, just as people's heterosexual choices - to speak of their opposite-sex partners, to keep pictures of them at work, to be openly affectionate in public, to get married, to talk about having kids with their partner, etc - are already celebrated and encouraged. Society already, by and large, restrict queer people's ability to celebrate these choices - and talking about them as though they are not choices - as though they are something unpleasant that cannot be helped, kind of like an undesirable sore that won't heal no matter what you try - only makes it worse.

(3) It brings out the most bizarre phobias in people. This past year, I had a straight friend say to me, "Well, I'm ok with homosexuality, because that's not a choice. But I'm not ok with those trans people. I think that's a choice. They were born one way, just like homosexuals were born homosexual. They should live according to their birth sex." I was too dumbfounded by this incredibly perverse argument even to respond. I just stared at her.

(4) It confuses the issue for bisexuals and pansexuals. I have heard people argue that bisexuals and pansexuals could choose to be with opposite-sex partners, so it was wrong of them to be with same-sex partners (again - the argument that heterosexuality is preferable, and it's only ok for those who *cannot* have opposite-sex partners to whom they are attracted to have same-sex partners). So, the "it's not a choice" argument does not even awlays refer to whether you actually choose your own sexual orientation; in some cases, it just refers to whether you could be with an opposite-sex partner.

(5) So what if it was a choice? Hypothetically, what if someone right here, right now, said "I want to be gay" - and was able to effect a change in their sexual orientation? Would that make them bad? Sinful? Evil? Wrong? I have no opinion on whether some people can or cannot do this - some people believe that they have (Queer by Choice), and I certainly have no evidence to rebut or support their claim, but I have come to believe that it should be irrelevant. The Religious Wrong would say that all queers are making "lifestyle choices." I now believe that the response should not be, "It's not a choice!" but "So what if queers are?" I know that most people believe that they did not choose to be queer. But ask yourself - what part of your identity would be wrong even if it was a choice? If you could have chosen it, rather than discovering or realizing it, then why would it be anything worse?

(6) I can't speak for any other country, since I've only ever been an American, but a large part of my American identity is the freedom to live not only as I was born, but as I choose. This is no new, radical, progressive, or revolutionary idea cooked up in 21st century San Francisco or Seattle. For example, this country has long embraced freedom of religion - something that one can be born with (e.g. some Jews believe that their Jewishness is so innate that it is independent of any conscious choice they make once they are old enough to understand Judaism doctrinally) or that one can choose (e.g. converts to all religions) - and we don't give a damn whether it's one or the other. For many years, I was interested in converting to Judaism, and I was open with virtually everyone I knew about my interest in converting. Although I heard every opinion under the sun, from supportive to egregiously anti-Semitic, no one EVER told me that my secular rights and freedoms should be less than those of other Jews if I converted, because I would be making the choice to convert, whereas the latter group was born with it. A deeply held religious identity was viewed as something worth protecting; whether it was bestowed at birth or acquired later was irrelevant. And so too should sexuality be - innate (and potentially chosen?) sexual orientation, and also lifestyle choices made on the basis of sexual orientation.

EDIT I know there are some controversial ideas in this post, and if you disagree with anything, please feel free to discuss.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(65 comments | Leave a comment)


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[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 05:15 pm (UTC)
I posted something somewhat similar a while back....

Basically, I believe the "It's not a choice" thing came about because early on in the liberation movement the bigots would say "Well, you're *choosing* to be a pervert!" So the gays and lesbians and all would counter with "I can't help it--I was *born* this way!" Anyone who claimed to choose their orientation was seen by the bigots as "proof" that queers really were all intentional sickos.

Well, it got to the point that the gay right movement wanted to silence the idea that they were choosing to be that way becaus of the misinterpretation by the bigots, so now it's uncool to say that you've chosen your sexuality.

Honestly, it's become like a religion--if you aren't (insert label) here through-and-through, if you go through more than one coming-out, if you identify as something not straight for anty period of time and THEN identify as anything else--some people assume you weren't really serious about it. That's why some bisexuals/pansexuals do bitch a lot about the rest of the community, because so many assume we're fence-sitters, that we're just not accepting the fact that we're *gay*. Try being a bi chick amid staunch lesbians sometime--you find out real quick that a lot of them think we're ll jus trying to get thressomes or our (straight) boyfriends and that we can't really have a real relationship with the same sex.

But that's just my POV.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 05:17 pm (UTC)
All I know is that I never *chose* my identity...

Well, true I could have "chosen" suicide....

I'm living as who I am, not as anyone I consciously chose myself to be.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 11:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting. :) In reading through the comments I've gotten so far, it seems to me as though I wasn't as clear as I could have been with what I meant by "choice". I think that perhaps the one sentence that I already wrote that gets to the heart of the "choice" question for me is...

They should be celebrated and encouraged, just as people's heterosexual choices - to speak of their opposite-sex partners, to keep pictures of them at work, to be openly affectionate in public, to get married, to talk about having kids with their partner, etc - are already celebrated and encouraged.

I'm not saying that heterosexuals chose heterosexual identity. I am saying that they made choices such as the above - to act on their heterosexual identity by getting married, by sharing things about their primary relationship with their friends, acquaintances, and coworkers, etc - and that the parallel queer choices, made based on an oft-innate queer identity, should be similarly viewed as positive.

So, for example, when I hear people saying things like, "I'm for gay marriage because I don't think that homosexuals choose to be gay - they can't help it, so why shouldn't they marry the person they love?" - my reaction is, "Well, homosexuals and others in same-sex relationships cannot "help" their sexual orientation any more than heterosexuals can - but, at the same time, the relationships that they have entered are absolutely due to conscious choices, which should be celebrated and respected, just as the heterosexual counterparts to their choices would be."

I hope this clears up my take on it a little bit.
Date:August 14th, 2005 05:25 pm (UTC)

Myself, I think that "it IS or ISN'T a choice" is a false dichotomy, much like the "nature/nurture" one found in neurology and psychology. I have gotten to the point of saying, "It just IS" when describing my gender, my sexuality, or my neurological problems. If people don't like it, that's their problem, not mine. I know that I do not consciously control any of these attributes; to tease them out to say, "oh, he chose this tic" or "this is because his mother was a coldhearted bitch" or "oh my God, you have a frontal lobe executive dysfunction that makes you do Behavior X" is moot.

I prefer to be a human being, complete with good points and flaws, instead of a walking pity party that "normal" people feel simultaneously sorry for and superior to. (And I remember wanting to become Jewish...I opted out because I finally figured out there are fundie nutcases in every religion.)
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 05:45 pm (UTC)
>> I prefer to be a human being, complete with good points and flaws, instead of a walking pity party that "normal" people feel simultaneously sorry for and superior to.

Well said!
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 05:41 pm (UTC)
I didn't choose to be attracted to women.

I did choose to accept that as part of my identity and to internalize those feelings.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 06:49 pm (UTC)
My feelings exactly.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 05:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for posting this! I couldn't agree more. I take no position on whether sexual orientation "actually is" a choice or not, but I completely believe that using the "it's not a choice" argument to defend people's right to *have* their sexual orientation does more harm than good in the long run.

#4 strikes so close to home for me: "I have heard people argue that bisexuals and pansexuals could choose to be with opposite-sex partners, so it was wrong of them to be with same-sex partners (again - the argument that heterosexuality is preferable, and it's only ok for those who *cannot* have opposite-sex partners to whom they are attracted to have same-sex partners)." This is why I will not talk about my "queerness" (if that's a word) with my mother. She actively *pities* homosexuals for being unable to lead "normal" lives, but as such, she is pro-gay-marriage, anti-discrimination, etc. Bi/pansexuals, on the other hand, are the ultimate sexual deviants in her eyes. She uses the exact argument that you wrote in #4 -- if bi/pansexuals can choose to lead a "normal" life -- which, to her, includes getting married to a person of the "opposite" sex and settling down to have babies -- then it is their obligation to society to do so!

Even if the "it's not a choice" argument appears to work (as in the case of my mom), what queer person would want someone on our side only because of their *pity*?
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! The "Who would choose such a miserable life?" argument makes me cringe. I don't want liberal straight people feeling sorry for me, as if I spend all day curled up in the fetal position and weeping because I was born with THE GAY. Mind if I link this in my LJ?
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 10:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your thoughts. I've unlocked the post so you can link it.

I guess that I do understand the straight liberals' point; I've heard the same argument from Jews re: conversion ("Why would you voluntarily choose to be Jewish?") I guess that the idea is that one makes choices to avoid discrimination, and if a choice would lead to discrimination, that no rational person would choose it. Therefore, gay people, who are presumably rational, *must* not have chosen it, and we should embrace them because they can't help "being that way".

From my perspective...yes, discrimination is something to be avoided, but there are some choices for which the good outweighs the bad discrimination. Presumably, for most queer people, the good (of being themselves, of being free to express themselves, etc) outweighs the bad - and I feel that the good gets obscured when people answer the "Why would anyone choose to be that way?" question with "Because they can't help it."
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 06:55 pm (UTC)
While I somewhat agree, I find that the 'it's a choice' argument can be really hard of bisexuals and pansexuals in a different way.

If you asked me, I'd say that I believe that my 'default' orientation, what I would have been if a world was completely accepting and there were no pressures to choose one way or another, would have undeniably been lesbian. That is not, however, what I identify as. I grew up with assumptive hetereosexuality, like almost everyone else, and most of my relationships have been with men. At first, that was just because that's _what you did_, and I didn't question it, but later in life, it's been because I feel that I've made a choice to continue to be attracted to and date men, rather than solely women.

So, than, what would that make me? A 'queer by choice' who screwed up and hurt the movement? There's a fair bit of hostility normally towards the wider-directed orientations in terms of one's 'duties' not to let themselves slip by on hetereosexual privelege, etc. When one assumes that all orientation is a choice, it makes this even nastier for them - They have actively _chosen_ not to support queer rights, the queer movements, etc. by 'choosing' an opposite sex partner. And I admit, that tends to worry me. Choice or nature, both are bad options for some people.

For me, it boils down to 'My gut tells me that X is physically attractive, but I am a rational, thinking human being, and I can choose how I express or interpert that attraction'. It shouldn't have to be one or the other, because I believe that both choice and birth are significant elements in being queer.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 07:37 pm (UTC)
I feel the same way, but you said it better than I could have. :)
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 08:18 pm (UTC)
Date:August 14th, 2005 08:24 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. Within the "its not a choice" argument is implied relevance. when you thin kabout it, it doesn't fucking matter a lick. i honestly don't care why i find it totally hot to make out with people regardless of their gender. if it was socialization or genetics doesn't matter at all. the whole nature vs nuture argument isn't just a dangerous one to get into with all sorts of heavy implications, it's fucking BORING.
Date:August 14th, 2005 08:43 pm (UTC)
But it's not a choice.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 10:21 pm (UTC)
I hope you're being ironic.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 08:52 pm (UTC)
All I can say that it's not a choice for me, I have these attractions and feeling so strong they seem to be apart of my essence. But I can only speak for myself.

My experience doesn't cancel out the possiblity that it could be a choice for some people.

But spending endless energy on the "choice issue" is pretty useless, IMHO. People deserve basic respect and dignity no matter what they naturally are or choose to be.
[User Picture]
Date:August 16th, 2005 04:01 pm (UTC)
But I can only speak for myself.

I want to blow that up on a giant poster and hang it across these comments.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 09:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 11:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you for being brave enough to post this. Please take a bow to a very loud round of applause.
[User Picture]
Date:August 14th, 2005 11:38 pm (UTC)
i can only speak for myself, but i don't recall being given a choice or making any kind of conscious desicions about who i'm attracted to and who i'm not attacted to and, while you may not like the argument as it is used by some, i belive that it is an extremely usefull and =valid= one, especially in the US.

your point (1) : seems to be based on how 'straight' people view and discuss 'not straight' people. I see that as completely irrelevant. How other people view and discuss me has no bearing whatsoever on the hypostatis -of- me. i also disagree with your conclusion about 'will never be seen as equal.' many 'straight' people i have discussed this issue with stop in their tracks when I ask them if -they- ever made a choice about who they were sexually attracted to. Some of them begin to say yes, but it's a simple matter to remove gender from the argument and ask them if they have ever been sexually attracted to someone they did not like. The answer is invariably yes. They had no choice about the attraction. Some have argued that they made a choice -not- to pursue that attraction, but that argument disintegrates when it is pointed out that they -have- chosen to pursue -other- attractions. Celibacy -is- a choice. Sexual attraction is Not.

your point (2) : is not based on sexual orientation or preference but on admitting it to yourself. while you're correct as far as that goes, again it has no bearing on sexual identity and preference. It also has no bearing on the relative usefullness or validity of the argument.

your point (3) : as with your point (1) has only to do with the thoughts and prejudices of 'straight' people and nothing to do with sexual identity or preference. It has nothing to do with the usefulness or validity of the argument, but with how that argument was misunderstood. As an aside, the literature on whether transpeople have a 'choice' in their gender identity is voluminous. If you would like me to recommend some to your bigoted acquaintance, I'd be more than happy to.

your point (4) : this time is based on the opinions and prejudices of 'not bisexual' and 'not pansexual' people. again, it has no bearing on the issue or the usefulness or validity of the argument. Simply put, it does =not= confuse the issue. bi and pansexuals do not have 'choices' about who they are physically attracted to. asexuals do not have 'choices' about NOT being attracted to anyone. whether it's genetic, neural or issues with pre-conscious upbringing are irrelevant.

your point (5) : is, in my opinion, the most interesting point you make, because you're right, it -shouldn't- matter, but again has nothing to do with the issue you first raise or on the validity or usefullness of the argument. however, I have a pragmatic answer for you to your "So what if it is a choice" question. the 'not straight' community has a serious stake in being counted and protected by Government under Civil Rights statutes. Civil Rights statutes do =not= protect those who are making 'choices' about who they are.

again, completely irrelevant to the reality of sexual identity and orientation.

your point (6) - again has nothing to do with the relative validity or usefulness of the argument.

it would seem that your issue with the "it's not a choice" argument is, fundamentally, how that argument has been misunderstood by the underbrained. I do not feel that's a good enough reason to stop using it, especially given the current political climate in the US.


[User Picture]
Date:August 15th, 2005 04:42 am (UTC)
First, I think that you misunderstand a central portion of my post. I was not contending that sexual attraction was a choice for the vast majority of queer people; the only time that I mentioned it as a choice was to give a nod to the "queer by choice" community. I spoke of the choices we make in living our lives - being open about our sexual orientation, choosing to act on our orientation (by partnering with people of the same sex), etc. Surely you agree that these conscious actions are choices. You are correct that as to point (1), I was discussing how straight people view queer people. Although it is irrelevant to your hypostasis - it is immensely relevant in terms of how society views us, since the majority of people are straight.

I disagree that my point (2) is only relevant to coming out to oneself. I also made reference to coming out to the straight world, being active in one's community (as queer), etc - all things that are good, positive choices. Indeed, it was only in this sense that I used the word "choice" for the majority of my post.

Regarding point (3) - you repeatedly state that how straight people understand the argument does not affect its usefulness. I disagree strongly. After all, straight people are the ones who need convincing. If they are convinced to accept homosexuality on the grounds that it is not a choice, then the moment that they can find something that THEY believe is a choice, they will have an issue with that. (For example, they might point to bisexuality, transsexuality, pansexuality, etc - and label those things choices.) PLEASE NOTE that I am not saying any of these things actually ARE choices. What I am saying is that whether or not they are tolerated should NOT be dependent on the fact that, for many to most people, there was no choice involved.

Point (4): let me restate it. The language of choice confuses the issue for many straight people who are hearing the argument (again, with straight people being the ones that the argument is trying to convince), for the following reason. BECAUSE the issue has been presented to them as "homosexuals do not have a choice because they are unable to feel attraction to people of the opposite sex" - with bisexuals and pansexuals, many straight people feel that they have a choice - to choose to be with some member of the opposite sex that they are attracted to, and not act on their same-sex attractions.

Point (5): I'm a little confused by your legal argument. If you mean that the queer community has an interest in receiving statutory protection (e.g. civil rights), then the "choice" issue is not particularly relevant. For example, states such as California have already enacted many anti-discrimination measures on the basis of sexual orientation. The federal government can choose to do the same - regardless of the "choice" question. (Again, compare religion - although religion is fundamentally a matter of choice and conviction for most people, the government can pass, and has passed, statutes to protect religious expression (in addition to the constitutional protections already in place)) I think that what you intended to reference was the possibility of sexual orientation being treated as a "suspect" class for purposes certain constitutional claims (compare race, gender). The tripartite standard used for suspect class determinations is (from High Tech Gays, quoting Bowen v. Gilliard):

To be a "suspect" or "quasi-suspect" class, homosexuals must 1) have suffered a history of discrimination; 2) exhibit obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group; and 3) show that they are a minority or politically powerless, or alternatively show that the statutory classification at issue burdens a fundamental right.

It is prong 2 - the "immutable" language - that causes people to worry the moment that the "choice" issue is questioned; however, prong 2 can be satisfied in other ways. So, I'm not really clear on the specifics of your pragmatic answer.

Again, I disagree with your "how that argument has been misunderstood by the underbrained" followed immediately by "I do not feel that's a good enough reason to stop using it" - given that the "underbrained" are the group that needs to understand.
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[User Picture]
Date:August 15th, 2005 12:35 am (UTC)
I agree with you so much on this- especially as I would defintely see many aspects of my expressed sexuality as freely chosen.
For example- I am innately bisexual, capable of attraction to male-bodied and female-bodied people, and those who identify as male or female. However, due to my experiences, I have discovered that my relationships with male-ID'd bioguys have, largely, not been as good for me as my relationships with people of other genders. Mostly due to various kinds of gender-based baggage that i just don't have the time, energy, or inclination to deal with.
Therefore, I made the conscious choice not to seek out relationships with them. This is one I've been really happy about, and at peace with.
So, YES, sometimes, and some people, have the capacity to make the conscious choice to live a queer(er) life. I sure have been able to. And, y'know, it's been a whole lot better than the alternative.

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