Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Heterosexual Lifeboat

Recently I've been reading (or having) more conversations about homosexuality, a topic which I've never really researched. My knowledge and understanding of homosexuality are based primarily on the homosexual and bisexual people I know personally, which, while not being very scientific, has been enough for me because...well, I've just had no reason to want more information. Because I don't really care what peoples' sexuality is.

I believe that sexuality is not a choice because I've watched people I care about struggle--and fail--to not be gay. Either they genuinely didn't want to be gay and were unable to change it, or they put on a long-term elaborate ruse primarily for my benefit, given how few people even knew they were struggling. Seems unlikely. That, and I fail to see the incentive for choosing an important personal quality that will earn you scorn, suspicion, social ostracism, and drastically reduced odds of finding a good mate.

But again, I've never really looked into it. My observations about the gay people I know well--combined with a general popular consensus that no, it's not a choice--have been enough for me.

But because of the uptick in talks about this lately, it got me thinking about it more. And as I was skimming abstracts about origins of homosexuality, I came across this:
"I came out to my mother in a letter. I was twenty-eight. "I was born this way," I wrote, following with the most shattering high note of self-loathing I can think of: "If there were a straight pill," I lamented, "I'd swallow it faster than you can say the word 'gay.'"
I didn't mean either of these things. I said them because I knew they would elicit pity and absolve my mother of the belief that her parenting was to blame for my same-sex attractions. It worked. Five years later, my mother continues to talk about my lesbianism as if it were a genetic defect like Down syndrome--a parallel she's actually drawn--because clearly, in her mind, no one would choose such a detestable and challenging state of being.
This is not a message I'm proud to have sent. Contrary to how I actually feel about my sexuality, it suggests that I'm drowning in a sea of self-disgust, desperately grasping for a heterosexual lifeboat to sail my way out of it. But would my mother have been as sympathetic and tolerant if she thought I had a choice in the matter? Would conservative allies support us if they believed we could help it?
If the answer is no, and I believe it is, what does it say about our self-worth and status in society if we, as gay people, must practice a politics of pity to secure our place in the world? It says, for one, that we don't have a place at the table. It says that we are tolerated, but not accepted. It says, ultimately, that it's time to change our rhetoric. Until homosexuality is cast and understood as a valid choice, rather than biological affliction, we will never rise above our current status...
A few thoughts:

1) I'm not sure how I feel about comparing homosexuality to Down syndrome in that I don't like the idea of portraying Down syndrome as some horrible fate anymore than I like the idea of portraying homosexuality that way.

2) As I read this I tried to imagine if the author were talking about gender, instead of sexuality. I didn't have a choice in being born female, and it's a fundamental part of my identity. However, if I felt from time to time that it would be nice to be a man, I don't think that means that I hate myself. I think it means I recognize that society treats men and women differently, and sometimes I'm jealous. It's not a reflection of how I feel about myself so much as how I feel about society.

The same can be applied to sexuality. The options aren't limited to something freely chosen or a biological affliction. I don't believe it's a choice, but that doesn't mean it's shameful, any more than being straight or male or female would be. And sure, if you hate yourself you will probably wish you were different, but wishing you were different doesn't necessarily mean you hate yourself. It may just mean you wish things were easier than they are. That's not the same thing.

So, yes, I see what the author is saying about not talking about sexuality as a horrible affliction, but at the same time I don't think she should be too hard on herself if she ever wished she wasn't gay.

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