|General points||Scientific evidence||About changing||Frequently Asked Questions|
people "born" gay or straight?
Or do we have choices?
This page will inevitably offend many people. After all, I am a heterosexual man telling gay men that being gay is bad. I recognize that the issue of sexuality cuts to the most sensitive parts of our nature. There is a lot of pain here, and I don't want to add to that. There is also a lot of bigotry among those who call themselves Christians. Let us get beyond that evil, and try to understand what homosexuality really is.
This page is based on theory and observation. If you want a web site from people who have actually been through it themselves, visit Evergreen International at http://www.evergreen-intl.org/
Introduction: "I can't change the way I am"
I will always remember the first time someone told me this. The lady in question was a new member of the church. She felt that she had always been a particular way, and it was no use suggesting that she could change. I have heard the same sentiment many times since. But she was not referring to her sexuality. She was referring to another habit (I forget which) that some others disliked. I wonder if she had an "irritating habit" gene?
Attitudes are very hard to change, and it appears that sexual attitudes, being so deeply felt, are hardest of all. This page looks at whether or not someone should ever try to change their sexual attitude (or orientation - the word means a similar thing), particularly regarding homosexuality. Put bluntly, it asks:
- Is anything wrong with being gay?
- Is anyone born that way?
To answer the first question, we will need to look at sexual attraction in general.
People are not "gay" or "straight." We are all more complicated than this, and have more freedom than we may like to admit. Some attitudes and habits are just more difficult to change than others. The main points of this page are as follows:
- Heterosexuals are often guilty of cruel, ignorant, unkind and abusive language and behavior toward homosexuals. This is wrong, and heterosexuals need to repent. Sexual sin is bad, but plain nastiness is worse.
- Homosexuality does lasting damage to family life, just as many other behaviors do.
- The church strongly warns people away from homosexuality. Not because it is any worse than say, fornication, but because it appears to be extremely difficult to change once adopted.
- This is not to say that homosexuals are inferior. Many homosexuals have good qualities that many heterosexuals lack.
- Scientists agree that, if there is any genetic element (which is still in doubt), it is less significant than free choice.
The topic of the church and homosexuality is covered in two excellent articles at "All About Mormons". This page mainly deals with issues that are not directly addressed there. As with many pages on this site, this page reflects my own understanding, and is not an official statement of church policy unless stated.
Why have a page on homosexuality?
Isnt this a web site about prophecy and science? Then why cover homosexuality? Well, there are three reasons:
- Misunderstandings around this issue keep many people away from the gospel. That is unnecessary, and makes me sad.
- I have read some very good materials on the topic, but none of them seem to do it justice. As one writer puts it (an LDS man with a gay son who died of AIDS): "conventional explanations don't adequately account for what is really happening to people."
- Many people have not studied the topic, but reject the church because they see it as backward and small minded
- Some people who use this web site search for this topic
What are my qualifications for writing this? Well, it is true that I have known a few gay men (or men who felt they might be gay). But my main qualification is that, as far as I can see, homosexuality is no different from any other identity issue, and homosexual desire is not fundamentally different from any other desire.
Beyond that, I too have always felt I was different. I have never enjoyed sports, and felt alienated from mainstream society. I can also see that the gay community has a lot to offer. So I find a lot of the accounts I read to be familiar. But I think we all have a lot more freedom of choice than we are prepared to admit.
NB When I use the term "gay" or "gay man" I also mean lesbians, unless the context suggests otherwise.
Sexuality within society
From a religious point of view, heterosexual marriage and fidelity were given by God because he knows what is best for us.
From a scientific point of view, heterosexual marriage is an institution that developed in order for a complex society to live together in relative peace and freedom.
From both points of view, homosexuality is counter-productive. These few pages just look at the scientific viewpoint. (The religious viewpoint is much simpler: God says "don't.")
|Is there anything wrong with homosexuality?|
What is good about homosexuality?
Homosexuals are all different, just as heterosexuals are. But many homosexuals reject the more predatory and hypocritical aspects of mainstream culture. If you reject loud mouthed idiots and are more able to speak with members of the opposite sex as human beings, that is a good thing. But you don't have to be gay to be sensitive. In fact, all the good things associated with homosexuality can be had without being homosexual. Homosexuality on its own, has no real benefits. (See the question about happiness and the section on 'what is sexuality,' below.)
In general, the individual problems are relatively minor. Together, they are enough to be significant. They are still not as serious as some other behaviors, so why make such a fuss? Because once a person has chosen this behavior (or allowed themselves to drift into it), it becomes extremely difficult to change - the damage lasts a long time. So being a homosexual is rather like having a leg missing. It is not the worst thing that can happen, but it is very difficult to fix, and even if a person is born that way, fixing it is still the best solution.
This section does not look at the eternal ramifications of homosexuality (e.g. eternal progression is built on the model of the family), but only on its effect in this life.
What is bad about homosexuality?
"Nothing - I know lots of good gay men and lesbians!"
This is usually the first response, so perhaps I should clarify some things:
- Every individual is a mixture of many things.
Just because you are gay does not mean you cannot be excellent in other ways.
- The problems listed here are not as serious as some other things.
I am not claiming that gay men are psychopathic child abusers. The overall observable differences are probably not huge. I am just saying that they are real issues that will, if adopted in general, tend to have real (and negative) effects, even if those effects are minimized.
- Gays and lesbians are a persecuted minority.
Any openly gay person is aware of being watched with (often groundless) suspicion. So a gay man is likely to try harder. For example, a gay couple who adopt children are more likely to be a model family. Some of the following points would only become significant if homosexuality became ordinary and commonplace.
- Everyone says their own friends are good.
This is going to sound offensive, but we can never say "my friends are good and gay and therefore being gay is harmless" unless we know...
- ...what the same person would be like if they were not gay and had never had any gay feelings in their whole life, and
- ...that any difference can be attributed to their being sexual orientation. It is quite possible that a typical gay man is happier and more stable for reasons that are not directly related to sexual orientation - see below.
So what is wrong with being gay? I shall ignore the major theological issues for now...
1. In a word, childlessness.
By choosing homosexuality, you choose an affliction that many people (who never had the choice) spend millions of dollars trying to overcome. You cut yourself off from the most wonderful, fulfilling, and meaningful experience possible - having your own children. Some people are unable to have children for medical reasons, and they deserve every help and support. But to voluntarily cut yourself off from this experience is to forever limit the joy and growth you might have received.
But there are other issues as well:
2. It reduces freedom of action
This is the smallest of the three problems.
I am not suggesting that homosexuality is a slippery slope to anarchy and the destruction of society (though this could be argued), but simply that social norms are a good thing. It is a fact (perhaps unavoidably) that when heterosexual men and women are together, they behave differently than when they are in a same sex environment. Why? Because sexual attraction is so powerful, and because roles (whether biologically or environmentally determined) mean that men and women are different. These differences are healthy.
There are times when same-sex groups are preferable. For example, girls perform academically better in same sex schools than in mixed schools. Or there are times when it is just fun to be yourself and talk to people who think the same. There are those who argue that male and female differences are significant in other ways too.
If homosexuality was common, it would be impossible to have a single sex group where there was absolutely no danger of sexual desire. This is not because homosexuals are weaker than heterosexuals. It would be just the same if a few heterosexual men were mixed into a group of heterosexual women. The women could not behave in quite the same way as before. Thus their freedom is limited. Even if the men always behaved impeccably, there is the possibility of misunderstanding, and a precedent is set for other men who may be more devious.
The usual answer to this argument is that people can learn to be self controlled. This is true. But there will always be some who have less self-control than others. Hence he problem can be reduced, but it cannot be eliminated .
3. It avoids variety
Homosexuality is often portrayed as a form of variety. But there is generally less variety between two people of the same sex than there is between two people of the opposite sex. Homosexuality, in general, thus avoids the challenge of variety.
It could be argued that multiple partners (whether homosexual or heterosexual) provides that variety. But I would argue the opposite: multiple partners means avoiding variety. When one partner presents behavior that we cannot cope with, we just move on.
Living a whole life with someone who is fundamentally different is healthy. It forces us to become more understanding. Men and women in particular tend to have complementary strengths, and learning to live together in love is one of the great growing experiences of life.
You might respond, if heterosexuals are so understanding, why are so many so prejudiced?
- Partly due to the sin of serial monogamy. As noted above, many people do not face up to difficulties, but just move on to another partner.
- Partly because we often do not face up to our problems but just learn to live with being unhappy. Hence the popular idea that being single is fun, but being married is miserable. We choose to make them so by not facing up to challenges.
The wisest and most balanced, unselfish and nicest people I know are those are elderly married couples who have learned how to be in love their whole life.
4. It weakens family bonds
A gay couple cannot have their own children. They can (in theory) adopt, but the biological parent will be someone else. From what I know of adoption, the adopted child usually feels a link with their birth parent, just as a birth parent feels a bond with their child. Hence the gay couple family bond is weaker, being divided.
If we accept the conclusions of evolutionary theory, and these particular conclusions are backed up by numerous studies, we should not expect an adopted family to be as strong as a natural family. This is of course the average - many natural families are very weak, and many gay families will be very strong. But overall, there is a difference, and in a country of several million people, this translates into a few more unhappy and dysfunctional people.
This is not to say that adopted parents are worse parents. At present people adopt because they have no choice. Hence many probably try harder, and this can easily make up for any increased biological risk. This is specially true in current gay families. Because of the adverse publicity and the small numbers involved, I would expect that each gay couple who adopts children would try extra hard to be perfect parents. But as more and more gay couples adopt children, the pressure to be exemplary disappears. Once gay couples are just ordinary couples, the effects of weakened bonds will become more apparent.
One solution is to not have children. But apart from reducing freedom of choice, this avoids all the benefits of having children. As with marrying someone who is different, learning to live with and love children has the effect of improving a person's understanding and unselfishness. (Which is not to say that this is automatic - we choose to bring up children well or badly, just as we choose everything else.)
5. It creates confusion, which creates misery
Because sexuality is so personal and so complex, it seems to have the unique ability to confuse and create misery.
many people who "come out" as gay report initial confusion over their sexual nature. This generally makes them unhappy. I suggest that the confusion is not because they are "trying to be something they are not" but because they do not know what they are. Something has made them suddenly see homosexuality as an option (it could be a number of things) and now hey are confused.
Or consider the woman who has been raped. She knows it is not her fault, so why not get on with life and not worry about it? There is no logical reason to get upset, but people do get very, very upset. The worry seems to be "Did I encourage it somehow? Will I feel as happy about my body?" etc. It seems that any hint of doubt over your sexual nature creates confusion.
Or the example of the child who is sexually abused. Logically once they realize it is not their fault, they should be able to forget it. But of course they cannot. The feelings are apparently similar to being raped, but without the experience of an adult to guide them.
Sexual confusion is a damaging thing. It is a simple fact in any sphere of information that more information leads to more confusion. No matter how clearly we explain the options, more options will lead to more confusion. There is no compelling reason for more options (see the comments below about happiness), so why add to the pain?
There is also the fact that, once boundaries are blurred, it is easier to confuse ourselves, to miss he obvious, and to confuse others. Pedophiles, for example, benefit greatly from the boundaries of right and wrong being blurred, even though gay men would be the first to say that pedophilia is wrong (even if there is a pedophilia gene).
When the potential for pain is so great, and there is no compelling need to accept alternative sexual orientations, we should be very careful before adding to the potential for confusion.
6. The genetic argument favors adultery - and worse.
As one writer put it, "The rationalizations presented for homosexual behavior... [such as 'it is not my choice'] are suspiciously identical to the rationalizations I have heard presented by child molesters and confirmed adulterers in the context of my work as an attorney." (Sunstone, Feb '89 p.4)
The usual response is to show the differences between homosexual behavior (consenting adults) and child molesting or adultery (which creates victims). But that response misses the point. We all accept that there are worse things in life than homosexuality. The point is that if we accept the argument for one, how can we reject the same argument when used for the other? For example, there is a very strong case for a genetic basis for adultery (e.g,. men are biologically programmed to spread their seed as far as possible). If we even begin to accept the argument for homosexuality, we will have to say that adultery is acceptable.
"But I am happier being gay than being straight!"
Hopefully, people who "come out" as being gay are happier than before - it would be sad to think that someone became gay and then became more miserable at the same time. But everything that makes a gay man happier being gay than straight can be traced to something other than being gay:
- Acceptance from others.
- Escaping an abusive environment.
- Feeling vindicated in your beliefs.
- No longer struggling.
- Finding that you are different, special.
- Release of tension, and perhaps more sexual opportunities.
All of these things can be achieved in other ways, without deciding "I am gay."
And of course it does not help your happiness if you are struggling with self-control, and everyone says "you cannot control it! It is unhealthy to try! You were born that way!" That just creates internal torment.
"Where is the evidence for all this damage?"
I do not claim that these effects are dramatic - life is too complicated for that - but they are real. A person's sexuality is only a part of their life, and the fundamental differences between homosexuality and heterosexuality are easily swamped by other unrelated considerations. That is why I have concentrated on the theory rather than try to produce masses of statistics.
There will be many good gay men and many bad heterosexual men. But the evidence for the above points (as general principles) is clear. It is difficult to see how homosexuality could avoid contributing to these problems.
No doubt some readers will want to help me with this. (Chris stands back as his hotmail account is flooded with angry messages).
|What is sexuality, anyway?|
Before we can understand homosexuality or heterosexuality, we need to understand sexuality in general.
Biology is not specific. What you think makes all the difference.
If you have experienced sexual desire, you will know that it is not a case of 'yes' or 'no.' It depends on how someone looks, how they behave, their age, what they say, their shape, height weight, how they dress... if your genes are able to pre-program all of these things, they are very clever indeed.
The genetic element of sexual attraction seems to be very malleable. Why is it that what was sexually attractive hundreds of years ago (e.g. white skin, lots of fat) or even last century (e.g. flat chested women in the 1920s) is generally considered less sexually attractive now? Do genes follow fashions? And what if you fell in love with a woman (or man) only to find that they were actually a man (or a woman) in disguise, as in some stories? It seems that you fall in how you think a person is, and not how they actually are.
"Homosexual activity may be observed in nearly every culture but the way in which it manifests itself varies widely. In some societies, it is an acceptable form of behavior for youth, who then are expected to 'graduate' to heterosexual activity. In medieval Japan many Samurai had male lovers, often in addition to wives, to whom lifelong devotion was the norm. In our culture, however, there is a much more rigid bifurcation between heterosexual and homosexual: gay people are consigned, as it were, to a separate ontological status as human beings, sometimes even to a separate existence. The peculiarities of a given culture doubtlessly color the self perceptions of its homosexuals, and a cross-culture sampling of these perceptions might yield somewhat different results." (Sunstone Review, April 83 p.40)
Biological drives are routinely re-directed
Let us start with the assumption that there is a biological basis of sorts. What does it "make" us do or feel?
People seem able to be satisfied by all kinds of sexual experience.
- Some people remain celibate because they are so obsessed with their career - they are "married to their work." Is there a gene for this?
- We hear of fetishists - people who are 'tuned on' by shoes, leather, or whatever. Is there a gene for loving shoes? I doubt it.
- Some people engage in sadomasochism or zoophilia. Are there genes for these?
- Some people grow to have sexual desires for children. Is there a gene for pedophilia?
- If there are genes for these things, who is to say there are not genes for all kinds of other variations in taste? Does it follow that all should be treated equally?
History shows that human societies express sexuality in different ways. In some ancient societies it was normal behavior for men to have homosexual experiences when young, then become heterosexual later on. Is that because the genes suddenly changed? In some societies, homosexuality was the norm (the island of Lesbos was the classic example, hence the name Lesbian). Has normal genetic makeup changed so much since then?
Today, we often hear of people who saw themselves as heterosexual for many years, then decide that they are in fact homosexual. It works the other way too. (Though not as often, given that there are far more heterosexuals than homosexuals.) Some of the people who were once gay but have now become straight form groups (such as "The Evergreen Foundation" or "Exodus") and offer counseling and help to others who feel they may want to change. This fact seems to really annoy the homosexual lobby, though they don't mind if it is the other way around.
So I see no reason to suppose that sexual orientation is not subject to free choice. The only unique feature seems to be that changing orientation seems to be extraordinarily difficult or traumatic. This is to be expected, as it involves so many issues that are vitally important to the individual.
Biology is only one small part
Sexuality is "the quality or state of being sexual: (a): the condition of having sex (b): sexual activity (c): expression of sexual receptivity or interest esp. when excessive. (Webster's Dictionary.) Thus, sexuality is a general term for anything covering numerous feelings, behaviors, and attitudes:
- feelings of identity in terms of biological gender, self-worth and purpose
- beliefs regarding personal identity, biological facts
- desires to explore and grow, and for physical stimulation
- external physical characteristics, others' opinions
- beliefs regarding what is normal, healthy, moral or right
- peer group standards of desirability
- purpose and goals regarding family and relationships
- attitudes to friendship, lust, duty, etc.
- desire to fit in, be accepted, feel important, wanted, needed, liked
- desire to be different
- etc., etc.
It may be helpful to divide all these feelings and beliefs into those we are born with and those we learn. Here I have erred on the side of biology - I am assuming that many things are
(what we are born with, or what is unavoidable)
(what we learn)
- the need to be loved
- the need to feel significant as an individual
- the ability to enjoy physical stimulation of many kinds
- the appreciation of beauty (a sunny day, a healthy body, etc.)
- the desire to learn and experiment
- physical appearance
- the need to procreate
- some things are forbidden by society (and thus become desirable)
- other people expect certain things
- goals and ambitions
- what gives power
- what gains approval
- who cares
- etc., etc.
Many of these needs and attributes can be satisfied through physically intimate contact with, or intellectual identification with, another human being at an intimate level. We call that sexuality. But it is just an umbrella term for something more complex.
Any complicated experience, if we dwell on it enough or practice it enough, will eventually becomes a feeling, or a habit. That is, we do not think it through each time. Some behaviors start so young, and have so many influences, that it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to identify where they came from.
In truth, of course, all feelings are learned. We learn to interpret feelings in just the same way that we learn to interpret any other stimuli. New born babies, for example, take a while before they can make sense of the messages they get from their eyes.
|Breaking sexual orientation into manageable pieces|
Changing from liking women to liking men (for example) would be a huge step for anyone. But is such a step necessary?
Breaking it down into its component parts
- Is it wrong to have good friends of a particular sex? Of course not. (It may not be sensible to spend time alone with someone if you have a problem with temptation, but that is a relatively small price to pay.)
- Is it wrong to find someone of a particular sex physically beautiful? No - after all, I am very definitely heterosexual, but I can admire a male athlete as well as anyone. A man does not have to be gay to find Michelangelo's "David" beautiful. At the most, this just requires a subtle shift from "sexually beautiful" to just "beautiful."
- Is it wrong to behave in a masculine or feminine way? That is a pretty meaningless question, as no behavior is uniquely masculine or feminine. We all need to be firm yet sensitive at all times, and adjust the balance according to need. No fundamental problems here.
- What about the sexual act itself? Stripped of all the other layers, it is purely physical. Forgive me being crude, but your nerve endings do not know if your partner is male or female.
- So, what is the problem? Just that "I do not love people of that sex." This can be overcome. We love what we know and care for. If we spend time getting to know someone, and see things from their point of view, we grow to love them. If that person is already a good friend, and someone you like being with, it is so much easier.
- But perhaps it does not feel right? Then we need to identify where we get our ideas of right and wrong. Perhaps we think something is ethically wrong? Perhaps our friends would not approve? Perhaps we have always done things a certain way? Whatever the problem is, we can address it and overcome it.
And so we can go on. Divide and conquer - whatever is the problem, it can be addressed in some way.
What is it you love about the people you do love (male, female, or whatever)? Let's say you are a man, and you find men more attractive than women. Why? List the reasons. Perhaps you like dominant people? There are dominant women. Perhaps you like muscular people? There are muscular women. Perhaps you like people with beards? Come on, now we are being silly. Whatever a man can provide, a woman can provide the same. So we come down to the last line of defense, which is "I don't know - I just do!"
Let us have a look at that concept. That is the key. It is easy to identify the issues, but eventually we have to face up to the decision - do we want to?
This is the point where I make my stand. If I am being offensive to gays and lesbians, I suppose that this is the big issue, the crux, the key to the whole matter. I believe that "I don't know" is not acceptable as an excuse. We cannot afford to allow our lives to be tossed about by mysterious circumstances. We are not slaves to mysterious forces. We can learn what those forces are, or we can ignore them.
There is already a perfectly simple explanation for sexual preference - it is largely motivated by, and wholly controlled by, learned behavior and attitudes. Any genetic element is routinely controlled by these attitudes, whether conscious or not. Unless something dramatic is discovered by science (which seems highly unlikely), these are facts we need to accept if we want to live in the real world.
It's all about the fall of Adam
It's the same old story: consciousness, free will, choices, knowledge, independence - call it what you will. We can choose to be controlled by mysterious forces, or we can learn about those forces and take control ourselves. That was the whole point of the fall of Adam. Before the fall (as far as I can see), mankind existed for untold ages as a victim of circumstances, unable to understand or do anything about his life. After the fall, mankind began to take control of his life - and responsibility for it - for good or for ill.
"Man is not the creature of circumstance. Circumstances are the creature of man."
I once knew a man who was very interested in the church, but would not join, and would not get married either, because he once (many years ago) had a homosexual experience. He did not know if he perhaps would again, so his life was on hold. Instead of controlling his life, and deciding "I will not do this" or "I will do this" and living accordingly, he was letting his life control him.
This must sound very "holier than thou," coming from someone who does not have any particular homosexual desires (though I am sure I could develop them if I chose - as a male, I find a lot to admire in other males). But I do have experience of this principle at work in other areas of my life. We all do. It is a common problem. It is perhaps the universal problem in all walks of life. We all choose to let our lives control us in some ways, instead of taking charge.
I often read (in newspapers mainly) of people who have broken up a family because they just felt attracted to someone else, or people who do something bad and then try to blame someone else for effectively controlling them. I have had people tell me "I hope I don't do this or that thing again, but you can never know for sure." Well actually you can know for sure. If something is important enough, you make a decision and stick to it. And if you think you might be tempted to break that decision, you find ways to reduce or avoid those temptations. It is not easy to take control of your life - if I could manage it in every area myself, I would be perfect - but it is possible.
Giving up, on the basis of "I don't know why, I just do," is not an acceptable reason for destructive behavior.
How to make it easier
I realise that, no matter how we "divide and conquer," some changes will still be very difficult. It seems to me that the simplest thing we can do is to stop listening to people who tell us we have no free will. We do have free will. Telling us that we are weak tends to make us weak.
The bottom line
When we look closely at homosexuality, it looks just like any other feeling or behavior - influenced by genes, but subject to free will.