The debate over the ’causes’ of homosexuality is toxic and pernicious to the gay rights movement. In the past it was important to encourage people to abandon the idea that gay people could be converted. Now, the debate is merely damaging. It indulges homophobes who consider homosexuality an aberration demanding an explanation. It raises hopes of a gay gene that can be tested for and taken into account when deciding to continue or terminate a pregnancy And it damages our claims for respect and liberty.
The ‘born this way’ argument may help people (including gay people) to accept the fact that homosexuality exists, because it’s much easier to accept something you can’t control. But ultimately it does a disservice to the claims we make for rights to make choices seen by many as deviant. Such choices include marrying people of the same sex, talking about our attractions while serving in the armed forces, and having anal sex in the privacy of our own homes with consenting adults. None of these choices are necessary logical consequences of being born homosexual. In a truly liberal society, that shouldn’t matter. It’s my right to make truly free choices which don’t affect anyone else, regardless of whether I arrived at them through nature, nurture, logic, faith, ideology, or madness. By offering the explanation that we were born this way, we endorse the view that being gay needs to be justified.
The claim that being gay is something that people do not choose inescapably precedes the claim that nobody would choose it if they could. This reassurance in turn validates the claim that homosexuality is an affliction which people are unfortunate enough to suffer. As a result, gay rights are argued for on the basis of excuses, not pride. And they are won through pity, not respect. No true or lasting social progress can ever be achieved by appeasing bigots. The debate must be redefined. It is only by claiming responsibility and taking pride in being gay that we will gain respect for the way we choose to live our lives. And only through respect will we ever truly tackle prejudice against ourselves and other downtrodden groups. Demanding respect must start with the claim that regardless of whether people are born homosexual, they always choose to be gay.
The claim that people are born gay is an inevitable precursor to the claim that being gay is the same as homosexual. It is nothing more than a sexual preference, and gay people are in all other respects identical to straight people. Queer identities, communities, and cultures therefore all become optional—a lavish overemphasis of a very small part of who a person is, or even simply a reaction to homophobia. In this view, an ideal world would have no need for gay pride, bars, flags, or villages. Gay people could be normal like everybody else. Effeminate queens could go back to playing rugby and butch lesbians could drop the power tools. Ultimately, this vision of gay liberation means gay annihilation. That cannot be good for anyone who wants to be accepted for being different. And different we are. Proportionately more gay men than straight men enjoy the Eurovision Song Contest. Proportionately more lesbians than straight women cut their hair short. Embracing those differences is not prejudiced; denying them is. Of course there are people of all sexual orientations with all different identities. But an important part of who we are is linked to the fact that we are born homosexual, but only later become gay.
‘We were born this way’ is a hypothesis on the brink of being set in the stone of conventional wisdom. I suspect that this has more to do with convenience than biological reality or social awareness. Only by continuing to challenge conventional wisdom can the gay rights movement sustain the success it has had so far.