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Monday, January 17, 2011

Is a Homosexual Lifestyle a "Choice"? Does It Matter if It Is?

Christian conservatives argue that God created males and females, ordered them to multiply and replenish the earth, making sex between them a divine imperative, and charge that same-sex acts are therefore against God’s (or nature’s) design.  They further argue a homosexual lifestyle is a “choice” made in contravention of that design and should not be governmentally endorsed by laws that give same-sex couples rights identical to those of heterosexual couples.  Gays and lesbians have countered that they were born the way they are and have no choice in the matter.  Their same-sex attraction cannot, therefore, be wrong or deviant, just different.  Is it wrong or abnormal for one person to have black hair or skin while another is blond or brunette and light complected?  Of course not.  The I-have-no-choice-in-my-sexual-orientation advocates therefore make a valid point, but I see things a little differently.

The first time I experienced an unintentional orgasm, I was fourteen years old.  My girl friend and I, two active young Mormons, were on a bus trip with the Las Vegas North Stake Youth Choir to Salt Lake City.  Our conductor, a single, smart-looking, brunette dynamo (who never married and never had any children), had decided to take us to “West Side Story,” the movie, after we had sung on Temple Square.  The movie had just been released, was playing in Salt Lake, but had not yet made it to Las Vegas.

I loved the movie—the pulsating beat of “America,” the romantic lyricism of “One Hand, One Heart,” and the comic preening that accompanied “I Feel Pretty.”  My blood was boiling.  On our way back home, my girl friend and I, in the throes of excitement, made out for hours.  At some point, my emotions boiled over, and I ended up with a big, gooey glob inside my shorts that soon penetrated my baby blue plaid polyester bell-bottoms, which, I was sure, were the most beautiful pants that had ever been made.  Did I have a choice in shooting my spunk?  To be honest, I didn’t even know it could happen.  It had taken me by complete surprise.  I would therefore say, given the level of stimulation I had achieved, that I had no choice in the matter—it had just happened.  Did I have a choice in making out with my girl friend, feeling her breasts through her sweater, and shoving my tongue halfway down her throat as she moaned?  You bet.

Sometime in the early 1980s, I, by then a married law student, was a columnist for “The Columbia Law School News.”  Another classmate, Chuck, wrote a gay column that always appeared either right above or right below mine.  Since our columns were accompanied by our mug shots, I knew what he looked like, but it was several weeks before I met him live.  We were at the gym.  The minute I saw him, I was intrigued by his energy and focus and found his intensity magnetic.  Over the next few weeks, we became close friends, and I finally got up the nerve to ask him about gay sex.  Since my only real understanding of gay proclivities had come from the media (this was just before AIDS broke as the so-called “gay disease”), I shared the common misunderstandings that prevailed at the time.  Until I met Chuck (who was given to Levis and black leather jackets), I thought all gay men wore dresses and, when engaged in sex, wanted to be women.  It did not occur to me that many, if not most, exulted in their maleness, had never thought of being a woman (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and most definitely wanted to be men.  I was aware of lesbians, but only vaguely.  I had a glancing familiarity with a few famous figures I’d run across in literature—primarily Gertrude Stein, Sappho, Colette, and Virginia Woolf.  But I was very unclear as to what it all meant.

Chuck filled me in (he was a strict “top” at a time when things like that more likely mattered but asserted that many others were not) and asked me what I thought.  I said I could appreciate what he had described to me and would like to try it myself sometime, if only to see what my reaction would be.  (As a former English major, I had long since learned not to judge a book by its cover.)  Chuck, who by then had dined at my house with me and my wife, Zena (not her real name), several times, gamely replied, “You can try it, David, but trust me—you’re not gay.”

In September of 1981, I accompanied Zena as she registered for the fall semester at New York University (NYU).  While she was completing her paper work at the Student Center, I dipped inside the men’s room and took a stall for the very real reason that I needed to use it.  I had not expected the hand that suddenly reached toward me from under the partition to my right, but when its fingers summoned me, I understood the invitation, and thought, “Shall I?”  Then I made a choice.  Regardless of the reason for which nature had called, I dropped to my knees and within seconds had experienced my first intentional guy-to-guy sex.

Was it good?  For me, it was terrific, a really big bang, and I was surprised by how much it made me feel like a man.  But did it change my life?  Yes and no.  As I thought about it over the next few days, I reached a conclusion that went something like this:  Well, that was fun, but am I actually unhappy as a married man?  Am I doing something that’s not in my nature?  No.  Does it make sense to give up the happiness and satisfaction I feel for something that might, in the long run, prove less rewarding?  Not really.  So, not feeling deprived in any way, and sexually fulfilled at home, I decided to keep things the way they were.  It had been an interesting experience, and I now knew I could identify closely with the feelings expressed by my gay friend Chuck, but I did not, as he said he did, have something inside me that compelled me to live a different way.

A few months later, on New Year’s Eve, I asked my wife if we were going to Times Square to watch the ball drop (that had been our tradition since moving to New York in 1977).  She looked up at me from her chair at the dining table, perhaps having made a New Year’s resolution, and said, “David, there’s something I think I’d better tell you.”  “Oh, what’s that?”  “I think I’ve fallen in love with my sociology professor at NYU.”  “Are you sure?”  “Yes.”

When I heard her words I felt a deep, sinking feeling, a pang of regret, a sense of loss.  Nevertheless, after wiping the tears from my eyes, I said, “Well, there’s something I guess I’d better tell you, too.  I think I might be gay, or at least bi-sexual.”  Zena, without missing a beat, said, “Oh, come on, David.  You can’t fool me.  I know you better than that.”

Fast-forward 30 years.  Zena, now on her second marriage, still lives with the man who was then her sociology professor.  I have had the same male partner for the past 15 years.  My partner of the previous 14 years remains one of my best friends.  All five of us often spend our holidays together.  All of us love each other.

My point is this:  What difference does it make if having a male lover, as opposed to a female one, was my choice?  It clearly was my choice.  Am I not entitled to make it?  Based on what authority?

Of one thing I am quite certain:  I—as the person given my particular set of genes and personality characteristics—clearly have the capacity to love and have sex with both men and women.  My innate nature allows me to choose among them and find the partner who’s best for me.  I’m not worried about the human race becoming extinct.  I’m more worried about treating the earth in a way that makes life sustainable, not only for us, but also for the many other species who suffer because of our ability to destroy or significantly harm the environment.  I’m more worried about overpopulation than the failure of some same-sex couples to reproduce.

Those who believe the Bible to be the only document by which people should live should face another issue.  In Egypt and other countries, where Christians are not a majority, they are sometimes the objects of persecution.  Do people choose to be Christians?  Of course they do.  If it were otherwise, then the world would be comprised of nothing but Christians.  Should people have the right to choose to be Christians?  Of course.  Then what underlying principle should be guiding us?

I believe that as long as what we choose does no harm to others, we should be free to choose it.  The pursuit of happiness—unless it infringes on the rights of or harms others—should be ours.  My choice of a male partner does not preclude my male neighbor from choosing a female one or my female neighbor across the hall from choosing a female companion.  All of us can be happy.  What matters is that we treat each other with dignity and respect and honor the choices each individual has made, provided those choices do no literal harm to anyone.

If someone wants to be a Christian, fine.  That does not harm me unless, by banding together, a majority, which has made its own choice, tries to deprive me of making mine.  My choice is to live with the man I love, and I have never been happier.  Come.  Join us for dinner.  You’ll see what I mean.


  1. First, regarding your main theme: If ghawd can make hair grow profusely in my ears, after living many, many years with hairless ears, he's fully capable of creating homosexuality. That's as deep as I wish to get into the issue.

    Secondly: I was a junior at Rancho High when West Side Story came out. It played at the theater on 2nd St. in Las Vegas, the name of which nos escapes me. You're probably the first person I've met since 1982 who would know what "Cruising Fremont Street" entailed, from the railroad station to the Blue Angel. Whoo wheee!

  2. While American society appears to have become more tolerant of homosexuality overall, organized religion of various beliefs still maintain a stronghold over the minds of millions and even billions of people. I make it a point to separate "mind" from "heart" because there are people who cannot ideologically tolerate, let alone accept, homosexuality as a lifestyle yet feel differently in their heart when it comes to this issue. The probability of knowing someone who is homosexual today is much higher than decades ago. And as society is slowly learning, gay men and women are just like their straight counterparts. They eat, sleep, work, laugh, and cry just like any other human being. And most importantly, they also have that same desire to love and be loved. Therefore, I think tolerance, and maybe even acceptance, of homosexuality has increased.

    At the end of the day, I think this all boils down to human nature. Humans feel this need to control. As you rightly pointed out David, why should it matter how one lives one's life as long as no harm is done to another person? Yet we as humans feel this need to condemn and control the way other people act and behave. There is no logic here, just irrational emotions.

    My answers to the questions you posed are "Depends" and "No". And thank you for a really wonderful piece!

  3. It took me awhile to become aware. But my behaviors were gay from day one. Behaviors that I was completely unaware of. Such as, who I checked out, who I crushed on, who I felt emotional, physical, and spiritual attraction too. They were... all gay behaviors but I didn't see it as gay. I wasn't aware that I was doing anything different for many years until expectations from the church told me what I should be doing. But even then I didn't understand, nor did I think at all about what I was doing vs. what I should be doing. I wasn't attracted to anyone male or female in a sexual way for reasons I think having to do with religious demonization of sexual coupling in general. So, from that alone, I am confident that innate sexual orientation is not a choice. And I'm confident that many of the innate behaviors associated with sexual orientation are not consciously chosen. But Oaks and Wickman would never believe me. (assholes) (see for more of their mind fuckary.)

    The choice comes when it's time to consciously act on it. I'm with Dave on this. It's no ones business what choice I make. It's my life. I rule my domain only. No one has any authority to make that choice for me or even suggest what choice I should be making. How could anyone know how truly to make a choice for someone else when it comes to how we play out our internal attractions and innate needs and desires? So, ultimately, the entire concept of choice, whether to be gay or not to be gay, is completely irrelevant.

    Let's keep in mind one more thing here, the word 'lifestyle'. If the religious right wants to use the word 'lifestyle' when talking of homosexuality, than they must also accept the term to be used with heterosexuality. No matter what 'lifestyle' one chooses, a choice to act on one's innate desires has been made. But why won't those living a heterosexual 'lifestyle' see that they have made a choice? Because they have never had their choice questioned, ridiculed or demonized. Those in the homosexual 'lifestyle' have, so we've had an additional choice to make that the heterosexuals have not, and that is, the choice to let go of the ridicule, demonization and hatred spewed at us in order to accept that we are indeed gay and that we have the right to choose that path for us. And then we can choose to live as we are, gay.