Gay is NOT a "Lifestyle Choice"
What does "lifestyle choice" mean?
I have many gay friends - I attended university with some, worked in theater with others, and met still others down the many and varied avenues of my walk through life. They also have many "lifestyles." Some of the gay folk I call 'friend' are teachers; some are truck drivers, ministers, actors, writers, armed forces personnel, politicians, secretaries, mill-workers, retail sales-staff. Some are married, single, or in committed long-term relationships. Some are engaged, and some are fancy-free. Some live in large cities such as Vancouver, Montreal, New York, and Los Angeles, and some live in rural communities or on acreages... a wide variety of lifestyles.
Being gay is not a lifestyle anymore than being Eurasian or being blonde is a lifestyle. It is simply one form of sexual orientation.
In this era of political correctness, and conscientious politesse, it has become polite, correct, and, some believe, tolerant to describe being gay as a "lifestyle choice." Though some perceive this as a step, and for some, a giant step towards tolerance and acceptance, I believe the phrase is subtly dismissive, and is, in fact, simply another way practice avoidance and exclusion.
"Words, words, words..."
Semantics are important
Shakespeare once wrote, "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet..." What however, would the emotional impact be of likening your love to "a red, red rose," as Robert Burns did, if we used the name "rose" to refer to stink-weed?
Some may feel that this whole discussion is just another example of making a big to-do over a simple, innocuous phrase.
It is difficult, sometimes to have patience with those who demand we use certain terms of reference to show we respect them, or to refrain from using other terms of reference because those words clearly show our lack of respect.
It can feel clumsy and unnatural to use another term when the old words come to mind so quickly - words like ni**er, fa**ot, g**k, f*t a**, and the wealth of other pejoratives with which we are so familiar.
It's also not about being politically correct - adopting words that appear neutral or even respectful to avoid giving offense. It's really all about using semantics to politely dismiss or demean while giving the appearance of tolerance and acceptance.
How does it work?
Implicit in referring to a person's being gay with the phrase "lifestyle choice" is an equation, "being gay = lifestyle choice," that accomplishes several things simultaneously. It allows us to dismiss their choice because it is not something we would ever consider choosing, and it allows us to take the high moral ground, because their "choice" puts them outside the bounds of what many are taught is normal and acceptable.
Can you spot the gay baby?
Born or Made?
Can a person actually choose to be gay? A person can certainly choose to live and have intimate relations with another person of the same sex, but that does not make a person gay any more than having intimate relations with a person of the opposite gender makes that person straight.
Let's dispel a few of the more prevalent myths about homosexuality. A person no more chooses to be gay, than they choose to be born in Lebanon, or Korea, or Canada; to be born of Caucasian, Mediterranean, or African heritage; or to be born with straight or curly hair.
Raising the flag
Can a person be "turned gay?"
The "nature versus nurture" debate has long raged over whether a person is born gay or turned gay through life experience. A case can certainly be made for children or adults whose natural sexual instincts and inclinations have been interfered with by a sexual predator. There is certainly much evidence showing sexual confusion on the part of the predator's victims, however there is no evidence to support the conclusion that even continued interference can change the individual's natural sexual orientation.
There is no evidence proving that a child raised by a gay couple will experience gender confusion. There is no evidence proving that a child raised by a gay couple will change their sexual orientation. Further, there is absolutely no evidence showing that gayness is in any way contageous or contactable by children or adults through any kind of physical contact such as shaking hands, hugging, or even kissing.
There is, however, a growing body of hard evidence to support the conclusion that homosexuality is, in fact, genetic. Markers have been found in the DNA of homosexual men that do not occur in heterosexual men, pointing to a distinct, quantifiable, genetic difference. Comparable markers have not yet been found in female DNA, but researchers continue to explore this avenue for similar indicators.
Of what are we so afraid?
It is becoming more widely accepted in the medical community that rather than several finite divisions of sexual orientation - straight, gay, bi, trans-gendered, etc. - there is a continuum of sexual orientation that includes all forms of sexuality.
This can raise a frightening specter for some, because such a continuum contains everything from heterosexuality to sexual predators. On the surface, it would seem that if we accept one form of sexuality as OK and normal that we were previously taught was aberrant, then we must accept all forms of sexual expression as OK and normal. After all, homosexuality was only removed from the American Medical Psychology texts as abnormal behavior in the 20th century.
Forms of sexual expression that harm another person are not acceptable, however much the person whose nature that is would claim otherwise.
Some helpful definitions:
- Heterosexual: a male or female who is sexually attracted to age-appropriate persons of the opposite gender
- Homosexual: a male or female who is sexually attracted to age-appropriate persons of the same gender
- Pedophile: a male or, rarely, a female who is sexually attracted to children
- Sexual predator: (rapist, etc.) a male or female who attacks persons of either gender, in a variety of age groups, for a variety of reasons, causing injury and, sometimes, death
As much as some would like to cling to the notion that homosexual=pedophile=sexual predator, nothing could be farther from the truth. Crime statistics will quickly prove that rapists and pedophiles occur far more frequently among the heterosexual population. A more accurate equation would replace the word "homosexual" with heterosexual."
Though we recognize the truth when it is forced upon us, we allow hatred and fear to cloud our better judgement; we allow words - semantics - to be used as weapons, however subtly, against those who we perceive as different.
By allowing subtle discrimination, in the form of politically correct, polite phrases, we encourage the fearful and the ill-informed to hide behind those words.
Climb every mountain...
What choice is there?
What gay people can and do choose to do, is to live openly in their sexual orientation. The lifestyle they choose as an openly gay person is, in the best of all possible worlds, no different from the lifestyle choices a straight person might make - to be a teacher, a minister, a police officer, a farmer - to live single, or to marry.
What the rest of the world can do is to begin working towards the practice of real tolerance and acceptance, not mere lip-service to those ideals. It won't come easily and it won't come quickly, and there will be many more stumbles along the way, but if we all persevere, and refuse to give up, settle for, cease fighting, or bow to pressures that tell us to give it a rest, eventually, to everyone's surprise, we may see happier days.
Landmark decision - Same-sex marriage legal in New York
In June 2011, in a land-mark decision, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, of the State of New York, signed into law the right of gays to legally marry. Coming at the end of Gay Pride month, and on the day of New York City's annual Gay Rights Parade, the history-making vote enshrines in law the rights of same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in New York State. Though there is still much work to be done to ensure the end of discrimination and push for a stronger stance against hate-crime, toady, there is great cause for celebration!
© 2011 Text by Elle Fredine, All rights reserved
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