Minor edits to introduction made 5/6/2016.
The other day at dinner, a friend and I were talking about an article which attempted to defend the thesis that homosexuality is a choice. My friend, who is a lesbian, said that she didn’t agree with the article; she thinks at least some people might be born gay and that this author shouldn’t presume to speak for all gay people. I thought about this for a while, reread the article, and here’s what I think.
The important question, the one I keep coming back to is, what are the implications of believing homosexuality is inborn? If we blame (or credit) our genes for our behavior, regardless of the behavior we’re talking about, where does that lead us?
Arguments that relate characteristics and behavior to genetics have been critiqued by feminists for thirty years because these arguments surface every decade or so, like clockwork, in an attempt to explain male violence and aggression. Men can’t help being rapists, or so the argument goes. It’s genetic. Men can’t help cheating; they’re biologically programmed to spread their seed to as many females as possible. Feminists have said and said that this is bullshit, as proven by the existence of men who don’t cheat and don’t rape. If otherwise progressive people argue that partner choice is innate, how will we respond to misogynists who say that violent masculinity is just genetic programming? If we really believe that behaviors are genetically determined and impervious to our conscious attempts to change them, how can any of us hope for a world without male violence?
To use another example, mainstream liberal popular opinion about fat people is currently diametrically opposed to liberal ideas about the innate nature of gayness. In contrast to the poor homosexuals–who are normal people born a little different but who just want a house in the suburbs, 2.5 kids, and an SUV like their heterosexual counterparts–fat people are lazy slobs. They’re ugly, dirty, smelly, unfit, unhealthy, don’t care about themselves, let themselves go, they’re embarrassing and ridiculous. It’s no wonder people make fun of them all the time, and if they don’t like it, well, why don’t they just go on a diet? In other words, fat people are fat because they choose to be–or at least, they fail to choose the easily available alternative.
For a long time, given my failures at dieting discussed ad nauseum elsewhere in this blog, I believed that body size was completely genetically determined; that contrary to what I’d been told since my chubby adorable infancy, being fat was not a choice. What I hoped to gain by that argument is the same thing gay people hope for–social acceptance. Over time I’ve come to realize that, were I sufficiently motivated, I probably could eat nothing but raw vegetables for the rest of my life, do aerobic exercise four hours a day, and I might thereby maintain a body weight somewhere near the socially acceptable range. Lots of women, whose genes put them closer from the get-go to the “right” body size, stay a few pounds thinner than they might otherwise be through this kind of chronic restricted eating. But you know, I like ice cream. I like sitting around with a book. I like leisurely walks holding my lover’s hand. I don’t like to sweat. And over time I also came to realize that it shouldn’t matter whether a characteristic or behavior is due to nature, nurture, or some combination thereof. It shouldn’t matter if I could weigh 220 pounds instead of 400. The fact is, I am the size I am, whatever the reasons, and a truly just society wouldn’t deprive anyone of courtesy or civil rights based on a characteristic like skin color, body size, anatomical sex, or the anatomical sex of one’s lover.
This is why I believe quibbling about whether I’m a big fat dyke by choice or nature is a waste of time better spent fighting for liberation. I am a big fat dyke, and even if you think I should choose to be something else, that doesn’t make it right for you to scream at me in the street, take away my job, evict me from my apartment, refuse me a motel room, beat me up, put me in prison, rape me, or kill me. Arguments for tolerance based on genetics are actually undermining our efforts towards the just society we really want; if we reserve decency, dignity, and human rights for those we think can’t help themselves, we unwittingly justify the mistreatment, marginalization and oppression of those that popular opinion, science, or society’s elites assert could conform if they only tried.