“It’s Not A Choice” Is Harmful
How many times have you heard the rhetoric, “You shouldn’t discriminate against gay people because they don’t have a choice”? It’s everywhere. It’s perhaps the most common argument against homophobia. Lady Gaga made “Born This Way”, and the Born This Way Foundation.
And I hate it. It is the worst period argument period ever. I’m bisexual, and I find this notion – I shouldn’t be discriminated against because I was born this way – absolutely horrifying.
Note: I will be using the word “gay” primarily in this essay, because it is (a) shorter than “non-heterosexual sexualities” and (b) most anti-homophobia campaigns focus on gay people primarily, and I am responding to the campaigns.
First of all, what happens if we find out that people aren’t born this way? We have a lot of evidence that people aren’t. When you compare two identical twins, with the same DNA and same prenatal environment, there’s somewhere between a 5% and 50% chance that, if one twin is gay, the other twin is gay.
Let’s assume that it’s 50%. That still means that over half of what determines whether or not you are gay is due to non-prenatal or genetic factors. Remember, some of those people would have been gay anyway; between 2 and 10 percent of the population identifies as gay.
So this seems to indicate that there’s still a pretty significant part of determining who is gay happens after birth. Probably factors that happen before puberty, but in my own experience, I didn’t realize I was bisexual until I turned 18. Maybe I was just in denial, or maybe my sexuality changed. It’s a possibility that must be refuted using science. You can’t refute things on principle.
Wait, if we aren’t born this way, then it’s totally okay to discriminate against us! You just said you became bisexual at 18, and that’s totally old enough to judge you for becoming that. It’s now okay to fire you and beat you up and stuff.
No! you say, because they still don’t understand. Okay, you admit, backing off from the more extreme claim, People aren’t Born This Way. But, people still don’t get to choose whether or not they’re gay.
I invite you, friend, to this community: Queer By Choice. Now, I’m not a member of this community; I didn’t choose to be bisexual as much as I realized I was sexually attracted to guys over the period of a few months. But they claim to make up 8% of the gay community, and if they’re telling the truth – and I’m inclined to respect them and assume they are – then this becomes a huge problem.
Ha! Now, while we can’t beat up/fire/discriminate against 92% of gay people, we can do that to this specific 8% of gay people! See? The argument fits perfectly!
There’s another reason that it’s a bad argument. It’s dishonest. No one who thinks “We shouldn’t discriminate against gay people, because after all, they’re born that way” would change their mind if they found out that gay people weren’t born that way.
No one would suddenly change their mind and start advocating for traditional marriage, or the ability to fire gay people, or any of the more heinous things. Sure, some people may use it to rationalize the cognitive dissonance between values they’ve been taught about gay people, and the way they actually feel about them. But do you really think the old christian grandmother who recently accepted her gay grandson is going to turn against him if someone told her that gay people do get a choice?
No! That’s not how real people work.
Why do we feel the need to use this dishonest argument? Probably because we think it’s a way to temper the actions of homophobes; to turn their basic assumptions upside down, and force them to rethink this perspective.
And you know what? Maybe it worked. Maybe this argument was the one that made the nationwide acceptance of gays skyrocket so fast that laws couldn’t keep up with public opinion, as can be seen in this chart (as compared to interracial marriages).
But my guess is that it wasn’t this specific argument. It was widespread acceptance in the media. It was the fact that Lady Gaga accepted gay people at all! It was the fact that Katy Perry kissed a girl, and she liked it. Ellen DeGeneres came out on her show, and Glee had gay characters. Just by allowing people to see gay characters, to see gay celebrities, changed their opinions. This is also known as the contact hypothesis.
So not only is the Born This Way argument factually wrong, its also probably ineffective. Another thing it is? Offensive.
The implication of the Born This Way argument is “Yeah, being gay is bad, but you didn’t have a choice, so we’re not going to punish you.” Doesn’t that seem fucked up?
Being gay isn’t bad. Being gay isn’t something we tolerate because we know people can’t help it. Every single sexuality deserves to be celebrated. Not torn down at the same time it’s being built up. We shouldn’t sacrifice celebrating every sexuality in order to get the mainstream to accept every sexuality. We can, and should, fight for both.
This is really the central reason I wrote this post. It may not be a choice. But using that rationale to not discriminate against different sexualities throws people who have made choices to do things that aren’t socially acceptable to the dogs.
Sex Before Marriage? Choice!
Drag Queens? Absolutely a choice.
Polyamory? Still a choice.
We can’t let our sexual freedoms be limited to things that aren’t choices. We have to cultivate a culture where whether or not something is a choice doesn’t factor into our acceptance of it.