I was prompted to write this post based on the recent blog debating whether the Boy Scouts of America should lift the ban against openly gay scouts and scout leaders. It quickly became obvious that the narrative was not about the BSA but whether homosexuality is a choice. As far as I am concerned, anything concerning gays, whether gay marriage, gay rights, etc; comes down to the basic question of what makes a human being prefer same sex over the opposite sex.
My first in depth experience with gays and the gay community came in the early 1970s while I was counseling young males and females in the San Francisco Bay Area. My psychotherapy practice was focused on the usual broad range of issues such as drug abuse and other psycho-emotional disorders that plague older adolescents and young adults. My formal training hadn’t particularly prepared me well for the gay client group and I was forced to become better informed and more deeply involved to make myself more effective. This period of time was long before the identification and the outbreak of the HIV pandemic and the focus was on the “gay lifestyle” and its impact on gay individuals.
Using certain psychological models that were based on emotional trauma and other events that created deviance, did not seem to answer the question of why these people were gay. Most had not had the experience of being sexually assaulted or seduced by a male at some time during their development. Many indicated to me that they had known from a very young age that they were attracted to members of the same sex. Almost universally they would indicate that if they were given a choice, “they would prefer to be just as everyone else”. This group was devastated by feelings of guilt, denial, poor self-esteem, poor image and extreme feelings of isolation.
The general group behavior was one of frequent visits to gay bars and bath houses, promiscuous sexual behavior, risky sexual behaviors (that later would prove to be fatal to so many), high incidence of suicide, and abnormally high abuse of alcohol and drugs.
As I got to know the community it became obvious that this lifestyle was not driven by choice or some other psycho-emotional malady; but, by the lifestyle developed around individuals compelled by their sexual orientation and their attempts to compensate for their perceived social deviance. For those that had accepted their sexual orientation, they had no higher incidence of psychological disorders than the general population.
In the last four decades or so, scientific evidence has clearly established that genetics and brain structure is deeply involved with a number of preferences and behaviors. Sexual orientation is just one of many that are determined in utero. It appears to be a combination of genetic propensity coupled with hormones flooding the fetus.
Certain brain structures have also been linked to sexual preference and perceptual systems, creating a fertile ground to be developed during human growth and development.
However, nature alone does fully explain homosexuality; the “lions share” certainly, but Nurture and the experiences encountered. The question still remains, how much is nature and how much is nurture? Scientific inquiry continues to work on this question and so far the results indicate that nature is the determining variable.
This is where the development of sexual orientation becomes dicier. Without knowing for sure the ratio between nature verses nurture, what triggers homosexual expression. Just as I indicated that my earlier experience couldn’t identify any one set of variable/variables, it is not clear what experiences in someone’s life that has the propensity for same sex orientation, causes the homosexual expression.
In the case of child abuse and child sexual abuse, it has been clearly established that children exposed to or are victims of child abuse have a much higher potential to be abusers themselves. However, most homosexuals were never subjected to homosexuality as children, yet were homosexual themselves when they reached adolescence or adulthood. Most homosexuals emerge out of normal homes and family arrangements. So it is fairly obvious that early same sex exposure is not a causality of the preference. There have been studies of children raised by same sex couples, where exposure was part of the developmental experience, and there isn’t any higher rate of homosexuality in this group than the general population.
Do homosexuals emerge out of families who are more liberal and tolerant than normal? This doesn’t appear to be the case. The rate of homosexuality appears to transcend all types of families and social structures. Families that are the most traditional still have the same rate as any other family. Homosexuals who are of more liberal backgrounds seem to have fewer emotional problems than those that come out of traditional backgrounds. This would indicate that beliefs about sexual expression, moral and ethical beliefs and religious orientation has no significant impact on the rates of homosexuality and expression.
So what part does nurture play? At this point it is known to play a part, but what it is, is still an unknown.
True choice comes in the expression of sexuality. It doesn’t matter whether it is expressed in either a heterosexual or homosexual manner. Most parents attempt to discourage their children from engaging in sexual activity until they are mature enough, old enough to understand the consequences and under the right circumstances. Once someone reaches the age of majority, parents have little to say about the matter. As long as people are sexual beings, which most of us are; sexual expression should be allowed as long as it is done consensually and where no one is harmed.
Is homosexuality or heterosexuality a choice, obviously no, but expression is clearly a choice and orientation should be respected and not vilified.