Genetics vs. choice, revisited
Argh! I’d been planning to put up a “top 25” list of lovely women on Monday to coincide with AfterEllen’s top 100, but wordpress just will not cooperate with me when it comes to a photo post. So instead, we move to a more thinky thought topic. No hot girls. Boo.
As I’ve mentioned on here, I’ve had a change of perspective recently on the whole debate over whether sexuality is genetically determined or a choice. For a long time, like many LGBT people, I was very adamant that we’re “born this way.” Obviously, there’s a political advantage to this position, because it’s harder to take away rights from people who fit into a certain class through no fault of their own. Immutability is a big thing in the legal field too, but the interesting thing is that with immutability, specifically in asylum claims, the trait is either something that you were born with or can’t change or something so fundamental to your identity that you can’t be expected to change it. I think that’s a great way of looking at sexuality, frankly.
Though I do think there are genetic factors involved, and also that upbringing can play a role in how someone’s sexual identity develops, I think it’s a little more amorphous than someone being born “a lesbian.” Sexuality, like race and many other things, is socially constructed. We happen to see the word in terms of gay, straight, bisexual, and many people have pointed out the flaws in that organisational system. I’m not going to tackle those problems today, but I am going to suggest that while who you’re attracted to may include some genetic factors, there’s also a choice element.
When I was first starting to think that I might be gay, and not bisexual as originally assumed, I sat there trying to come up with “the answer.” I tried to get all zen and think “what am I? What am I?” But I don’t think it really works that way. In the end, I think though I obviously had the potential to be with men, and was with one for quite a while, I chose to be a lesbian. But that doesn’t mean that I should be expected to change it. That doesn’t mean that when asking for rights someone should say to me, “well, you were with a man before, so if you want rights, go straight!” Since I came of age, attraction to women and desire to be with women has been an important part of my sexuality and my identity. Even if I hadn’t noticed this attraction until I was thirty, fifty, seventy… I would have no less right to be treated as a human being than if I had known at five. The fact is, if choosing (or recognising) your sexual identity were like picking out vegetables in the supermarket, few people would choose to be gay. Being gay is difficult. You run risks of harassment and violence. Romantically, you simply have a much smaller pool of people to choose from, and your relationship will only be legally recognised in a handful of jurisdictions. So I think it’s okay to admit that there is an element of choice involved in sexuality, but also to recognise that it is a fundamental choice, and that whatever someone chooses, we should respect that choice.