The Gay Option

Same-sex love is a choice—and it’s time LGBT activists start saying so

| May-June 2010

  • Gay Option

    image by Scott Bakal /

  • Gay Option

I came out to my mother in a letter. I was 28. “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 a biological affliction, we will never rise above our current status. We will remain Mother Nature’s mistake, tolerable (to some) because our condition is her fault, not ours.

By choice, I don’t mean that one can choose one’s sexual propensities any more than one can choose one’s personality. What I mean is that it’s a choice to act on every desire we have, and that acting on our same-sex attractions is just as valid as pursuing a passion for the Christian faith or Judaism or any other spiritual, intellectual, emotional, or physical craving that does not infringe on the rights of others. And it should be respected as such.

7/31/2010 4:06:34 PM

The author is comparing apples and oranges. Holding back your anger at Republicans, or refusing to eat cheesecake at the dinner table is not equivalent to "opt" out of "acting on" your homosexuality. The equivalent comparison is not eating or not expressing your opinion. Does she ever look at heterosexuals and say to them, "Nice expression of your heterosexual option" when they date? Making a bad argument for "choice" is just handing ammo to the opposition. While we may not enjoy the biological argument-- it is what works for heterosexuals too--they are born to love the opposite sex. I see nothing wrong in claiming it for myself. The author's nightmare dystopia of eugenics is a slippery slope argument based on homophobia, and feeds into fear. It's as if she's saying, "We better come up with something better, or they'll get us!" If she wants a better argument than biology, she needs to base it on the legitimacy of every person to be who they are--not on the suppression by the majority, or the fear that they will hurt us. She needs to remember: Heterosexuals who "opt out" of sexual expression are nuns and monks. Certainly a calling by very few. The majority of heterosexuals would never think of calling their dating a "choice." Neither should we.

7/31/2010 3:48:09 PM

This article is trying to make homosexuality and heterosexuality equal, and yet if the reverse argument were made for heterosexuals, no one would say that anyone "chooses" to act on their heterosexuality. They merely get to date, kiss, marry, and do other things that signify they are "acting on" their sexuality. While I understand that "I was born this way" may be rife with counter arguments, and may not be the best to hold our legitimacy-- certainly heterosexuals say the same thing. "I'm straight because I'm straight," they might say. "We marry the opposite sex because we marry the opposite sex." Certainly they don't say--oh, we just decided to "act on it." In reality, I agree with other commenters who say that there is only a choice to be who we are, or to not be who we are--- and that's not a legitimate choice. When the author can hold heterosexuals to the same kind of "choice" mentality that she's thought up here, I'll believe it more-- but it breaks down when you look at the straight "option."

Jonathon Edwards_2
7/12/2010 6:16:38 PM

Self contradictory bunk. Sexual orientation isn't a choice. It doesn't change. It's not fluid. When it looks that way in a individual, you're either seeing bi sexuality or someone coming out of the closet late. I have never met anyone who could convincingly argue otherwise. . Even this author agrees with that in this article. What she's really suggesting is that we play word games for political advantage, which is dishonest and seedy. She also creates a false dichotomy. There is a third option she ignores: to say its not a choice, but if it were I would choose to be gay. This accomplishes her political goal without compromising science and our lived experience. The 'its not a choice' argument doesn't have to be followed up by self loathing assertions that we would choose differently if we could. I wouldn't. That's where we all need to be, not in this linguistically false la la land she proposes.

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