Is it a choice?
November 12, 2005 4:34 PM   Subscribe

Having long rolled my eyes at the debate over whether homosexuality is a choice, can I get an explanation of this argument from someone?

Why do so many heterosexuals (and even some homosexuals apparently, though I've never met encountered one this opinion) honestly believe homosexuality to be a conscious choice despite all scientific evidence pointing away from this conclusion and all gay people knowing pretty much for a fact that it's not true? Is it just stubborness and ignorance or is there some honest-to-goodness reason for this way of thinking? I'm pretty sure the Bible makes absolutely no mention of the origin of sexuality. Tenuous research into the field shows some direct biological correlations. Anyone who is of this thinking, could you provide me insight into how you draw your conclusion.
posted by Holygrail2 to Science & Nature (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I asked a homosexuality question that presupposed it was purely genetic, and got some responses that deal with your question.
posted by geoff. at 4:44 PM on November 12, 2005


maybe people who think so are bi?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:44 PM on November 12, 2005


The way humans forumlate logical arguments tends to have this chronology:

1. Select a conclusion
2. Insert logic

So if you don't like the homogays but feel a need to justify your political views, a popular method is to assert that it's a choice and backfill with enough logic to make the argument stand up, at least for those who agree with you.
posted by jewzilla at 4:48 PM on November 12, 2005


Why does it matter even if it is a choice? Should people not choose homosexuality? Why not?
posted by Mwongozi at 4:52 PM on November 12, 2005


Believers in "homosexuality is a choice" must conclude that based on three other of their core beliefs:

1. God hates homosexuality. It's a sin.

   1a. Therefore, God will punish homosexuality.

2. God is all powerful.

   2b. Therefore, God could have made homosexuality a choice or a "non-choice".

3. God is not evil.

   3a. Therefore (Calvinists and other believers in predestination excepted), a non-evil God wouldn't saddle anyone with -- and punish them for -- a sin that they cannot choose to avoid.

Thus, homosexuality must be a choice.
(If it's not a choice, either God is not omnipotent or God is evil or homosexuality is not a sin).
posted by orthogonality at 4:55 PM on November 12, 2005 [1 favorite]


The nice thing about science is that you can have differing opinions on topics without being told that you have that opinion because God gave it to you.

Oh wait a second...
posted by shepd at 5:03 PM on November 12, 2005


Mwongozi writes "Why does it matter even if it is a choice?"

Generally you can discriminate against stuff that's a choice (BDSMers, LARPers, people with tats/piercings/blue hair, smokers, guys who drive Corvettes) and not against stuff that isn't a choice (race, sex, disabilities)
posted by Mitheral at 5:06 PM on November 12, 2005


Except for Calvinists, I think, most Christians presuppose an a priori, innate notion of free will that allows humans to avoid "sinful" behavior. Of course, no such notion can be backed up be any empirical evidence (I can't levitate off the ground by my choice, for example) but that doesn't stop this supernatural notion from being promulgated by the Church.
posted by Rothko at 5:14 PM on November 12, 2005


The way this is usually framed by the religious right is something like this:

(I don't agree with this line of thought, by the way).

All of us have natural inclinations towards sin, because we live in a fallen world. We don't all have inclinations towards the same sins. Some of us are naturally greedy; some of us are naturally lustful; some of us are naturally prideful; and some of us are naturally attracted to the same sex.

But a person who is naturally greedy doesn't have the right to steal things, and can overcome that temptation and be happy without stealing things (or, say, ringing up $20,000 in credit card debt). A person who is naturally lustful can overcome temptation and be happily monogamous. A person who is naturally prideful can learn humility. And a person who is naturally attracted to the same sex doesn't have to act on that temptation.

(I think there's also a little bit of that idea, which some people in ancient Greece agreed with, that EVERYONE really wants to have gay sex--it's an inherently attractive thing. So the only difference between gay people and straight people is that some of them give in to that temptation).

The reality is, of course, that gay people usually aren't very happy with celibacy or marriage to someone they're not attracted to. Which is why ex-gay "ministries" frame homosexuality as a pathology or disorder that can be overcome with therapy and such.
posted by Jeanne at 5:19 PM on November 12, 2005


Generally you can discriminate against stuff that's a choice

Is both not possible? Some people are "born" gay and other choose to be gay? (For whatever reason.)

I'm not saying that's the way it is, I'm just saying that I really don't think whether it's a choice or not is actually that big a deal.
posted by Mwongozi at 5:24 PM on November 12, 2005


"Tenuous research". has proven nada conclusively. If so, please cite said research if you are going to make it an absolute.

The comment that "all gay people knowing pretty much for a fact that it's not true"< --- ((referring to it being a choice)). i'd also like to see the/your research this br>
The issue/question is as unanswerable as some of the many jumbo questions humans have been asking for all time. and to flippantly roll ones eyes at one side of the debate clearly indicates one who is not ready for the rigorous multi layered attention a study of that sort deserves.
So just be gay and happy and come to terms that some people don't get it like you do. Just as most people have a flimsy grasp on math , physics or how someone catches a cold. (**hint, it's not from a draft or cold breeze)

Maybe you're bothered by the fact that when it's over simplified and called a "choice" it gets reduced to and lumped in with other insignificant choices we make on a daily basis. Rather than a multitude of circumstances and variables that lead one to make certain decisions consciously or unconsciously.

Then again I might not know jack about anything, i'm just watching AFV on a saturday night.
posted by stavx at 5:26 PM on November 12, 2005


I think people who rely on the "we can't help it, we were born this way" argument aren't doing gay civil rights any favors.

While you may be a perfect Kinsey 6 who has known since infancy that you were gay as a goose, that's not how it is for a lot of other queer people.

For a lot of people, sexual orientation is fluid rather than fixed -- it changes over the course of a lifetime. Does that mean we don't deserve to be treated fairly?

I experience my sexuality as a combination of innate traits, social influences, and personal choices. Rather than equating it with skin color, I prefer the analogy of religion: a deeply private and personal choice that is none of the government's business.
posted by ottereroticist at 5:53 PM on November 12, 2005


Its simple.

The belief is that if you're gay, you can have as much sex as you want.

Sadly, this isn't true.
posted by grahamwell at 6:11 PM on November 12, 2005


Why do so many heterosexuals (and even some homosexuals apparently, though I've never met encountered one this opinion) honestly believe homosexuality to be a conscious choice

because they think that much of what they like and don't like, do and don't do, are conscious choices

the idea that they might not be able to choose their inclinations, sexual or otherwise, is quite frightening to them
posted by pyramid termite at 6:43 PM on November 12, 2005


This might not answer the literal question you've asked, but I hope it helps.

I like Jonah Goldberg's solution:

(1) We just don't know how much of homosexuality is a choice vs. environmental vs. congenital. (Maybe it's all of those things.)

(2) But even if it's actually a choice or environmental, we still don't really know anything about how people become gay.

(3) So, for practical purposes, people are essentially born gay.

From this, he concludes: "it doesn't matter how some so-called 'waverers' became gay. Because they are that way now. And unless conservatives are going to endorse some pretty draconian and, more to the point, unenforceable policies, gays aren't going to go away or be 'cured.'"

Supporters of gay rights should avoid conceding that the real issue is whether homosexuality is a choice. You risk painting yourself into a corner when you get sucked into that debate. It's better to be able to argue for gay rights while recognizing that we just don't know the explanation for why people have different sexual orientations.


because they think that much of what they like and don't like, do and don't do, are conscious choices. the idea that they might not be able to choose their inclinations, sexual or otherwise, is quite frightening to them

I think that's dead wrong. Most heterosexuals who view homosexuality as a choice have probably not thought through the logical conclusions of that belief: If homosexuality is a choice, then heterosexuality is a choice too.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:00 PM on November 12, 2005


When the term "choice" is used, can someone explain what choice means as a non-supernatural concept?
posted by Rothko at 7:05 PM on November 12, 2005


I believe some homosexuals are born as such, and other people choose to go one way or another. Why does it have to be all choice or all no-choice? It really bothers me when people assume everyone who considers themselves homosexual (or bisexual, or whatever-sexual) was born that way. I understand the importance of being able to say some people are born that way so homosexuality isn't treated as just another choice, i.e. something that can be discriminated against. But unfortunately, not everyone is born one way or another. People choose to identify as they do for a variety of reasons.

I.e. ditto what Mwongozi said.
posted by limeonaire at 7:05 PM on November 12, 2005


(I think there's also a little bit of that idea, which some people in ancient Greece agreed with, that EVERYONE really wants to have gay sex--it's an inherently attractive thing. So the only difference between gay people and straight people is that some of them give in to that temptation).

I suspect that many of the folks who espouse this particular worldview have been convinced of it primarily by their own personal experience.
posted by Lazlo at 7:06 PM on November 12, 2005


If homosexuality is a choice, then heterosexuality is a choice too.

Unfortunately, the obvious response to that postulation is to point out that heterosexuality is the default/norm/natural orientation, and therefore is not a choice any more than any other instinct is a choice. That's not necessarily my opinion, but it's one that I'm quite sure any homophobe would argue immediately upon hearing aforementioned statement.


Anyway, I'm of the belief that we are not currently in a position to know one way or the other what "causes" homosexuality, but as per the above Goldberg quote, it doesn't really matter. It's clearly not a conscious "Gee, wouldn't sucking cock just be spiffy! I think I'll go off and be gay now, when I previously fancied wimmens!" decision; anyone treating it as such is simply grasping for some way to justify their bigoted point of view.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:15 PM on November 12, 2005


For those of us who favor causality over 'free-will' the whole subject seems rather moot. It's worth noting however that one need not be a fundy to believe in free will. It's a seductive idea for even the secular among us.

Also, people who force this subject not only have an axe to grind, but are also employing a strawman in what is essentially a shrowded discussion on morality, and they will invariably resort to begging the question.1 Just flag them and move on.

1 I scored the hattrick in one sentence. What do I win?
posted by drpynchon at 7:25 PM on November 12, 2005


Well, I'd start by saying that I base my belief that homosexuality is - at least usually - not a choice on the fact that my heterosexuality was not a choice so I don't see the slightest reason to believe someone else's homosexuality is one. I suddenly realised that girls made me feel all funny in the undercarriage, you know? One day they didn't, then they did. Also, I've had numerous opportunities to "choose" a bit of the old XY-on-XY action and I've always thought, "Yeah, but I really don't fancy that at all".

But to answer your question: usually religious bullshit. Many god-bothering dimwits' brains get a bit taxed by the notion that these damned queers might not be able to help their urges. No no no, our Loving Heavenly Father wouldn't make people like that. They're sinners. They have to choose that.
posted by Decani at 7:28 PM on November 12, 2005


Generally you can discriminate against stuff that's a choice (BDSMers, LARPers, people with tats/piercings/blue hair, smokers, guys who drive Corvettes)

Umm... sado-masochistic urges are a choice, are they? Did I miss a memo?
posted by Decani at 7:30 PM on November 12, 2005


It's worth noting however that one need not be a fundy to believe in free will. It's a seductive idea for even the secular among us.

How do secular people define free will without either disgarding causality or invoking a supernatural component?
posted by Rothko at 7:52 PM on November 12, 2005


Generally you can discriminate against stuff that's a choice (BDSMers, LARPers, people with tats/piercings/blue hair, smokers, guys who drive Corvettes) and not against stuff that isn't a choice (race, sex, disabilities)

Since when is BDSM a choice?
posted by duck at 7:55 PM on November 12, 2005


Rothko, my experience has been that such people usually disregard causality in favor of intuition. From a distance it might seem clear that non-reflex actions are willed by the human mind/consciousness, as it pleases. One's mind functions perfectly well without being bothered by the notion that it is simply a byproduct of an incredibly complex network of cells contained in the physical brain, which are at the mercy of the same laws of physics as everything else. And even for those who accept this, myself included, consciousness confined to the physical is still a really difficult thing to understand. But I digress... I hear someone in another dorm has a bong.
posted by drpynchon at 8:16 PM on November 12, 2005


I think it's 'cause some percentage of older people in straight, long term relationships are actually kinda tempted by homosexuality, but feel they're supposed to be hetero. So they bottle up their latent frustration and continue to do what they feel is the right thing -- and feel gay folk should too. But since the sexual revolutions of the late 1960s I imagine their numbers are far reduced in number.
posted by Rash at 9:00 PM on November 12, 2005


in number
posted by Rash at 9:01 PM on November 12, 2005


Since when is LARPing a choice?
posted by S.C. at 9:31 PM on November 12, 2005


The research to answer some of your question centers on twin studies. You can find a relevant summary of one such study here.

My answer: while homosexuality is correlated to genes, it is not tied inextricably to them. It appears to be a combination of genetic factors and social experience. As far as being a "choice", that really gets into the nature of free will as a whole and the answer to that I don't think anyone else can answer for you. Perhaps it is a concious choice such as the choice to eat food, but even if you starve yourself you are still going to be unconciously and physically hungry, and likewise you could choose to not reveal or act on being gay, but that doesn't make you straight.
posted by sophist at 10:29 PM on November 12, 2005


It's a choice to act on it. That's the point the sensible anti-homosexuals would argue. How the desires came about is irrelevant, it's how people act on them. Choose 'sin', or choose the 'hard but better' path.
posted by twirlypen at 2:01 AM on November 13, 2005


It's funny that we can believe in born homosexuality but generally don't believe in things like born criminality.
posted by srboisvert at 3:47 AM on November 13, 2005


Metafilter: "'hard but better' "!
posted by Wilder at 5:42 AM on November 13, 2005


sensible anti-homosexuals

Nice oxymoron :)
posted by cyrusdogstar at 7:35 AM on November 13, 2005


I don't think the twin studies speak to the choice issue. In fact I know from talking to one of the researchers who's published a twin study suggesting that homosexuality is not innate that he does not believe it to be a choice.

Many things that are not innate are also not choices. And you don't even have to agonize about the nature of free will to recognize that. E.g. Dissociative personality disorder is caused by severe abuse. It is not innate, and neither is it a choice. Understanding that it is not a choice does not require any deep philosophical thinking about the nature of free will.

(Yes, the example is an illness. No, I do not thing homosexuality is an illness. I used an illness as an example because most of the things that I could think of that we study about the brain are illnesses and this was a pretty clear example of a non-innate, non-genetic brain-thing that is obviously not a choice).

I just wanted to point out that its wrong to equate the "not genetic/not innate" camps with the "it's a choice" camp.

As for why some people think it's a choice, I think it's partly the "choose to act on it" mentioned above. But I think there really are people who believe that it's about bad influences and being "recruited" somehow. Remember this (original link was another site, but same quote) from the blue?

Untrammeled homosexuality can take over and destroy a social system," says Cameron. "If you isolate sexuality as something solely for one's own personal amusement, and all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get- and that is what homosexuality seems to be-then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist. The evidence is that men do a better job on men and women on women, if all you are looking for is orgasm." So powerful is the allure of gays, Cameron believes, that if society approves that gay people, more and more heterosexuals will be inexorably drawn into homosexuality. "I'm convinced that lesbians are particularly good seducers," says Cameron. "People in homosexuality are incredibly evangelical," he adds, sounding evangelical himself. "It's pure sexuality. It's almost like pure heroin. It's such a rush. They are committed in almost a religious way. And they'll take enormous risks, do anything." He says that for married men and women, gay sex would be irresistible. "Martial sex tends toward the boring end," he points out. "Generally, it doesn't deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does" So, Cameron believes, within a few generations homosexuality would be come the dominant form of sexual behavior.

Now those are the people who think it's a choice.
posted by duck at 8:53 AM on November 13, 2005



Is both not possible? Some people are "born" gay and other choose to be gay? (For whatever reason.)


In my experience, the people who seem to have "chosen" to be gay - myself included - give this appearance of choice because they could have been happy with either a same-sex or an other-sex partner, and have "chosen" a same-sex. I don't think this is a choice to be gay, though. This is being born bisexual (or whatever name you want to use) and choosing one particular relationship over another.

I had never thought about being gay until a woman asked me out. I asked myself "could I date a woman? I don't know, but I can try" and six years later, we are still together. Did I choose to be involved in a gay relationship, yes. Did I choose to be gay? No. A lot of people would have just answered that first question with "No I can't date a woman" or would have tried it and felt wrong.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:07 AM on November 13, 2005


1 I scored the hattrick in one sentence. What do I win?

Ah... but you spelled shrouded (shrowded) wrong...
posted by arcticwoman at 9:12 AM on November 13, 2005


It's a way in which some conservative religious people justify bigotry against gay people as being something which differs from things like racism and sexism. They claim people are making a choice to commit a sin (gay sex) and that they are merely asking them to refrain from practicing that sin. They would argue that those concerned are perfectly capable of refraining from that sin and changing their ways to God-approved heterosexuality (with appropriate counselling and support), so that there's nothing cruel or stupid about their demands.

They are able to rationalise this by drawing on a lot of pseudoscience by groups like NARTH who offer so-called 'reparative therapy' which is meant to be able to change sexual orientation, but which is in reality a cruel and damaging con based on a cocktail of bonkers psycholanalytical theories which have nothing to do with the Bible. They also base it on dodgy testimonies from the ex-gay ministeries whose much vaunted cures, so often turn out to consist of people getting back in the closet again and then being caught cruising a little further down the line.
posted by Flitcraft at 12:12 PM on November 13, 2005


It's funny that we can believe in born homosexuality but generally don't believe in things like born criminality

Not entirely true. Klinefelter's Syndrome is a genetic condition thought to implicate higher incidence rates of anti-social behavior, including criminality.
posted by Rothko at 1:12 PM on November 13, 2005



Generally you can discriminate against stuff that's a choice (BDSMers,...

It's not a choice. I was born this way. When I was four years old, my favorite toy was a pair of handcuffs. And I always played with rope or string on a daily basis.

Sure, I could choose to not engage in BDSM activities. But I'd still be what I am.
posted by Clay201 at 1:31 AM on November 14, 2005


Why do so many heterosexuals (and even some homosexuals apparently, though I've never met encountered one this opinion) honestly believe homosexuality to be a conscious choice despite all scientific evidence pointing away from this conclusion and all gay people knowing pretty much for a fact that it's not true?

What evidence is that? I've never actually seen any. I actually do believe homosexuality is a choice, although I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

If we believe in innate sexuality, a bisexual person could clearly decide to become either exclusively heterosexual or homosexual for whatever reason.

If all people are bisexual (as some people claim) then homosexuality would be a choice for everyone.

I don't think everyone is innately bisexual, however, I think the human brain is very susceptible to conditioning (or brainwashing) and that people might be able to switch teams if they really wanted too, but I don't think there is any reason to do so.
posted by delmoi at 3:11 PM on November 14, 2005


How do secular people define free will without either disgarding causality or invoking a supernatural component?

That's not the asked question (perhaps you should ask it yourself, might start a good discussion) However, my feeling is (in a nutshell) that free will or the lack thereof is (basically) not measurable, (for a variety of reasons), and therefore the question is invalid to begin with.
posted by delmoi at 3:15 PM on November 14, 2005


How do secular people define free will without either disgarding causality or invoking a supernatural component?

*Yawn*. False dichotomy. Next.
posted by Decani at 7:23 PM on November 14, 2005


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