Wednesday, June 11, 2014

On what defines someone's sexual orientation....

In my last post, I showed a link to this blog post.  I didn't talk much about it then because I wanted to devote an entire post to just what it has to say and what the one comment (as of this writing) on the post says.

Before I get started, I want to be sure to note that when I say "gay" here, I am referring to anyone who not heterosexual, be they male or female.  I find it easier to just say that, so please don't think I am addressing exclusively gay men, although that is what I can best speak to as I am one.

First, I think this post does a wonderful job explaining what does and does not make someone gay or straight.  Many people, of all sexual orientations, think that being gay (or lesbian or bi) is simply a matter of who you have sex with.  After all, isn't the word "sex" in "sexual orientation"?  And yes, I have actually seen someone online write that.  Here's the thing, under that logic, a virgin has no sexual orientation.  The problem with this is self-evident, people have a sexual orientation even if they have never had sex.  There is also a large dose of hypocrisy here, because the same people who insist on this have no problem insisting that people are born straight.  Excuse me, but if one is true, the other must be too.  Of course, these hypocrites are also the people who insist that homosexuality is a choice and that only heterosexuality is "normal".

Let's unpack all of this, starting with some basic facts:

[1] Sexual orientation is inborn and a part of who a person is.  Whether it is gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual (did I miss any?) your sexual orientation is a part of who you are.
[2] Sexual orientation is not synonymous with sexual activity.  Someone who is straight might experiment with someone of the same sex.  This does not make them gay or bi.  It just means that they are experimenting.  Someone who is gay or lesbian can have sex with someone of the opposite sex and this does not make them straight or bi.
[3] Sexual orientation is *NOT* the equivalent of political beliefs, religious beliefs, or anything like that.  Those can (and frequently do) change.  Sexual orientation does not change.  It can be ignored and suppressed, but it does not change.  So stop with the false equivalences.

The problem is that there are many people (and not just on the political/religious right) who want to equate sexual activity with sexual orientation.  Around the time I was coming out, I was actually asked by someone how I knew I was gay if I had never had sex with a woman.  My answer was simple, I am not attracted to women.  I can tell you that I think a woman is beautiful and I can admire her attributes, but the attributes have no impact on me in a physical sense (trying to be delicate here).  On the other hand, put a hot guy in the room and a physical reaction will most definitely occur.  Being gay really does have an impact across your life, not just in the bedroom or wherever else you have sex.  Being gay impacts how people look at me, legal and religious options I have, choices about my family, and a whole lot more.

The first step (after the realization that you are gay) for most people is coming out of the closet.  I addressed that here, so I don't want to belabor the point too much except to address something in the comment I mentioned above.  The commenter spends a lot of time talking about how gay men make "false arguments" which are "designed to make you feel justified in your 'coming out' ritual."  I want to address some comments a little bit more, so here is a quote from the comment:

                           I'm conservative. I don't have to have a "coming out" party to
                           announce that I'm a conservative, and that this will "shape many
                           if not all of my experiences and opinions." Similarly, I don't
                           choose a specific day to announce that I prefer to sleep with the
                           opposite gender because this will, "shape many if not all of my
                           experiences and opinions." I'm also a carnivore. While this does
                           "shape many if not all of my experiences and opinions," I have
                           yet to have a "coming out" date to announce my propensity to eat
                           meat. 

                           I don't announce these things because nobody does, nor should they,
                           care. Your opinions and personality will speak for itself. I don't need
                           what you ultimately decide to do in the bedroom to be the definition
                           you choose to label yourself with.

There are so many issues with this that I could spend several blog posts talking about them.  I want to start with the assumption that being gay is akin to political ideology or dietary choices.  This assumption is so wrong headed that it is laughable.  While all of these things do shape how you view the world (as do all your experiences), both dietary choices and political ideology are *CHOICES* and not immutable whereas sexual orientation is an inborn part of you and is immutable.  You can deny it, suppress it, or fight it, but it does not change short of some incredibly dramatic and life-changing event (if then).  I know there are people who claim to be "ex-gays" but (as far as I can tell) they are either deceiving themselves or were never actually gay in the first place.  Also, note how the commenter equates sexual orientation with "what you ultimately decided to do in the bedroom," continuing the thought that sexual orientation is a "choice".

As for his comment about "I don't choose a specific day to announce that I prefer to sleep with the opposite gender," all I need to say is that our society if heteronormative and therefore everyone assumes that you are straight unless you actually say otherwise, so this argument is completely nonsensical as well as being a non-sequitur.  Trying to equate the two is like comparing apples and oranges, in other words, it makes no sense.

I do want to address something else, even though it is not strictly speaking related to this topic.  Over the past several months, there have been cries from the religious and political right that they are being persecuted against because of their beliefs regarding sexual orientation.  For example, bakers and photographers being told that they must serve gay customers and cannot refuse them due to religious beliefs.  While I am not at all fond of people being told who they must or must no deal with in terms of business, I find myself reluctantly forced to agree with the courts.  The reason is one that is questionable logically, but has been played out often enough that it is a valid concern: the slippery slope.  After all, if someone is told that they can refuse to serve someone due to their religious beliefs (which are inherently subjective and thus not subject to any legal test), where will it stop?  Experience tells us that most people, if given an inch, will take a mile.  In order for a exception to a law to be made, there have to be measurable standards that the exception can be compared to.  When something is inherently subjective, there can be no test which makes the exception untenable.  This is a case where the courts need to decide how rights interact with the open market and the courts felt (rightly) that if you enter the market, you need to put up with some restrictions (like are currently in place regarding serving people of other races) if you wish to serve the public.

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