Born That Way, Or Not
Was pointed today to this interview with developmental psychologist Lisa Diamond, on the subject of sexuality, and additionally, whether it matters whether people who identify as gay or bisexual are “born that way” or not. She takes the position that ultimately it really doesn’t matter:
It is time to just take the whole idea of sexuality as immutable, the born this way notion, and just come to a consensus as scientists and as legal scholars that we need to put it to rest. It’s unscientific, it’s unnecessary and it’s unjust. It doesn’t matter how we got to be this way. As a scientist, I think it’s one of the most fascinating questions out there and one that I will continue to investigate. As a lesbian and a progressive, I think it’s totally irrelevant and just politics.
I don’t know if in fact Diamond is correct, but I’ll note that for a very long time now I’ve personally held the position that I don’t care why or if someone decides to love someone of the same sex (physically and/or emotionally and all the stuff in between), simply that if they do, that love should be respected, legally and socially. I think it’s entirely possible that some people are “born that way,” that some people become that way through environment (Diamond notes that “environment” should be considered a term rather more expansive than “how you grew up and with whom”), and that others might have become so by a combination of both, or some other factor entirely. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, outside of a dry and somewhat abstract set of academic questions. However you got there, you got there.
Diamond also talks about sexual fluidity, which “means that people are born with a sexual orientation and also with a degree of sexual flexibility,” which is to say (at least as I understand it), you know your general sexuality, and you also know how much leeway you give yourself inside of that understanding. So for example you might identify as straight but be willing to acknowledge that every once in a while you find someone of the same sex attractive, or gay but with occasional hetero crushes, or bisexual but with a lean one way more than another on average. Or, you know, you might identify as something rather more expansive than that.
This also makes a great deal of sense to me. People have been talking about the Kinsey scale for years, but I find that sort of linear sexuality tracking a little limiting. I picture it as multidimensional with a number of axes: Gay-straight might be one; sexual-asexual might be another; conservative – opportunistic might be a third. A guy who is largely straight but highly sexual and somewhat opportunistic might not turn down a same-sex encounter because, hey, sex; another man who is gay but closer to asexual and conservative might turn down the same opportunity.
These three axes are not necessarily the complete set, I would note; likewise I would note that not every dimension of sexuality has the same range on every person. And finally, of course, one’s understanding of one’s sexuality may change over time — again for various reasons.
All of which is to say, sexuality: There’s some complex shit going down there.
And all the more reason, from the point of view of social and legal acceptance, not to actually care how someone arrived at their sexuality. The law should care if sexual encounters are consensual; society should discourage (to use a word mildly) non-consensual encounters. Other than that, you know, fair play.
Note that I think that people should know, as much as they are interested in the subject, the hows and whys of their own sexuality. I think knowing who you are and what led you to that understanding is useful to help you avoid behaviors that aren’t good for you, and to help you find which ones are. But your personal knowledge of yourself is different than society or the law demanding you are who you are, sexually, is because of one factor exclusively, or more than another, in a precise recipe. You should care about your sexuality. I’m not convinced the law or society needs to care anywhere as much.