Born That Way, Or Not
Posted on July 30, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 79 Comments
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.
I saw that article several days ago. And while I still tend to believe that in most cases, “born that way” applies, she makes a compelling case for the irrelevance of the “why” of attraction, at least from a political standpoint.
In the end, does “why” matter to anyone other than the individual in question? One loves as one loves.
Until the very real social and physical dangers involved with expressing same sex yearnings for physical intimacy go away, we’re never really going to know how many people would be OK with the occasional encounter with someone of the same gender identity, not to mention with someone who’s non-cisgendered.
Sure you might identify as straight if you had to think of it, but there’s no way to know if no one ever teased or spoke ill of same sex sexual encounters, and there was no media, politics or religion talking against it, who knows how many of y’all would have been fine going on a date with someone who wasn’t a cisgendered opposite sex person. We really can’t say, can we?
The history of sexuality argues for this kind of approach. Ironically, investigating the history of sex is somewhat hampered by the political need for gay people to assert that orientation is innate. It would be great if we could move to the point of just letting people live; so that a matter of honest historical, scientific or other investigation is no longer potentially dangerous to certain people. It’s a minor harm from the great web of patriarchy and homophobia, but it’s still a harm.
People are complicated, that’s for sure. It’s hard enough to figure out what’s going on inside our own heads, and impossible to know what’s happening inside some one else’s head. I came to the conclusion a long time ago to accept what people say about their own feelings. I mean, seriously, what else can you do?
The really interesting question is whether a technique, genetic or otherwise, could reliably set a child’s course toward one orientation or the other, and if so, how the parents who chose those techniques would be regarded.
I can understand why some people cling to the “born this way” narrative, as it gives them a sort of “permission” to be who they are. I imagine that this is particularly true when close family members create a relationship rift in response to an individual member being queer – “born this way” means that they aren’t trying to hurt anyone, they aren’t just being selfish by being queer, they aren’t responsible for the situation and for the way that their family has decided to respond.
That can be powerful, and I get it.
But everywhere else, I wish the narrative would just go away. Politically, I don’t think it’s effective. Someone who has decided to hate you for something like the kind of person you love won’t be swayed by the argument. They will simply counter argue. Where the science has gaps, they will argue the gaps. Close the gaps, and they will simply say that the science is faulty, but GOD knows the Truth.
On the other hand, someone who can muster the level of empathy needed to grow out of bigotry toward queer individuals/communities is already on that path, even if “born this way” is what cements the epiphany for a given individual.
On the negative side, I think it’s untrue and harmful. I wouldn’t question that there are innate components to queerness, as there are to most aspects of our preferences and personalities, but that clearly can’t be the end of the discussion. We know this because there are cultures where homosexual behaviour is more accepted (at least in some forms), and there have even historically been cultures where it was the norm (at least among certain social classes and in certain social contexts). If it were purely a matter of innateness, we wouldn’t see that happen. The fact is, as far as I am concerned, that human sexuality is vast and messy and flexible and changeable. Any single explanation for queer attraction is going to be, at best, overly simplistic.
(And, personally, I think that the infatuation with distinct labels is harmful to individuals who, for whatever reason, see their sexuality shift over time or even between different situations. It leaves them feeling like they don’t belong in the choices that are available to them, so that they have to either shoehorn their sexuality into existing brackets – denying the parts of themselves that don’t fit – or they have to come up with an ever growing list of descriptive labels in an attempt to adequately describe something that is frequently too complex to ever fit comfortably in a label in the first place.)
I like your multi-axes imagery much better.
This multi-axis way of thinking about complex issues applies to all kinds of things, notably political/public-policy debates. It’s certainly more useful than the usual linear-axis right/left-liberal/conservative oversimplification that people bludgeon each other with. The metaphor I use most often is of a “space” that can be partially (and still probably oversimply) mapped via a set of binary axes, some of which might be linked in some way, others not. It’s also useful a useful metaphor in literary taxonomy, where the items being examined fit multiple categories with complex relationships to each other.
The other useful notion that Diamond adds to the discussion is that sexuality is developmentally and contextually dynamic rather than a flat, static “identity.” I remember back in grad school when a friend in education psychology explained some of Piaget’s work to me (especially as applied to the development of language skills), and the term “epigenetic” entered my vocabular. What a powerful notion that has been.
But really, with all the actual examples of the range of actual sexual behavior on view in ordinary life and the historical record (family men and women who come out in middle age; avowed “bisexuals” who settle into long-term same-sex relationships; the supposedly omnisexual Roman male or horny sailor on a long voyage; and so on), one would think that a fluid, dynamic, multidimensional view of what we as a species get up to would be a pretty obvious one to adopt, no matter what one’s particular set of limits or permissions might be.
Ya, focusing negatively on causes of orientation reminds me of the negative focus on lesbianism used to discredit the woman’s liberation movement.
The reply back then and now would be, “The day we all have equal rights will be the day your focus is not relevant.” (But spoken in better words than I write here)
absolutely well said! Why should anyone care why we choose the partner we do, it should definitely not be a political tool.
Right wingers, He’s just trolling you
I’d say Freud nailed it with the concept of polymorphous perversity. Coked up fiend though he may have been, a lot of his basic theories on theory of mind and development have stood the tests of time rather well.
I’m a big proponent of that argument. A law shouldn’t be based upon whether a behavior is innate or not. If someone is innately a psychopathic killer, we need to be protected. But allowing someone to marry his lover is nothing that threatens me or mine. (However “curing” someone to act straight and marry my daughter is a different matter).
There is more nature in the nature vs. nurture argument than I would like. But it doesn’t matter why someone picks a partner to marry. The state has no business in proscribing their liberty to do what doesn’t threaten the rest of us. (How can anybody call himself a Libertarian and not agree with the left on this issue?)
Yeah I’ve tried to make this argument. I have a hard time with the “born that way” argument, but, really, who cares? But as with many other things, if you don’t believe the “right” way (which in this case is “born that way”) then you’re considered a troglodyte.
I suspect you’ll have a better time of it. But who knows?
An astute observation as always, Scalzi.
I did my dissertation in this area and am a huge Lisa Diamond fan. Loved seeing this. She, and you, are correct.
This is a very interesting article, especially the part about other axes besides gender attraction being part of the formula. I knew about asexuality, but the sexually opportunistic to sexually conservative axis is new to me. It makes sense intuitively, based on my observations of both male and female behavior, but I’m curious about how strongly sexual opportunism is influenced by age, environment, culture, and experience.
I identify as straight, so I’ve been reluctant to get into these conversations about how much of orientation is innate versus environmental and mutable with gay, lesbian and bisexual friends, both because it could come off as “straightsplaining,” and because the “being gay or lesbian is a choice” or is “curable” arguments have been abused so horrifically. There have always been (and still are) people who try very hard to conform to their religion’s or their family’s (or society’s) expectations of them, and it makes them absolutely miserable.
But at the end of the day, I agree completely. Whether or not orientation is a choice for some individuals doesn’t matter. Their relationships should have the same rights, privileges, and protections as opposite-sex relationships. Whether or not social acceptance leads to more people openly or consciously identifying as gay, lesbian and bisexual (and all the other parts of the QUILTBAG) is a non issue too. If it does, so what? It hurts no one.
Well, the “immutable trait” point was a key one in the reasoning of Lawrence v. Texas, if I recall correctly. So it DOES matter, at least when things get to SCOTUS. Now a trait need not be genetic to be immutable, and need not be immutable to be protected, but it sure helps.
For a while it looked as if science might find an actual, single “gay gene.” I remember some concern in the gay community that someone would develop an in-utero test for it and abort babies that had it. Happily, it turned out to be much more complicated.
I remember my response when I was asked “what should we do if scientists identify the gay gene?” It was “weaponize it!”
I still think the ‘born that way’ argument serves as a useful bulwark against people uncomfortable with changing sexuality norms. Not bigots, exactly, but the kind of person who tells #BlackLivesMatter that they shouldn’t be making a scene, or laments how antagonistic trans people are being wearing clothes not of their gender. Not bigotry, exactly, but still harmful.
Against these people, the argument that there’s no choice to be made here, that there’s no compromise possible that will keep the status quo intact, is very helpful.
There’s an old saying that ‘the heart wants what the heart wants.’ Until we learn to re-program our deepest desires at will, it will always be so.
I find that sort of linear sexuality tracking a little limiting. I picture it as multidimensional with a number of axes
A format familiar to us all! Personally I identify as Chaotic Hetero.
I’m an identical twin, and I’m gay while my brother is straight. So I’ve always known that biology alone can’t be the sole factor in sexual orientation. On the other hand, I can say from first-hand experience that it ain’t voluntary either, and I don’t think it can be purely psychological (based on a lot factors, not the least of which is the repeated failures of any kind of “therapy” to help people “get over it,” much as some groups would like us to believe that such therapy works).
So yeah, as you say: there’s some complex shit going down there. Amen to that.
I think we’re close to Bonobos and it’s just the intellectualizing of the subject that has been screwing us all up for so long.
Plus just because something isn’t genetic doesn’t mean it’s voluntary. My first language is English – that’s not genetic, but it wasn’t a voluntary choice (at least not by me). I can’t just go out and force myself not to understand or speak English if society decides that virtue consists of being a monoglot Francophone.
Interesting. It reminds me of the Gingerbread Person: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Genderbread-2.1.jpg
As long as there are authoritarian political parties that insist that people bend to their dictated way of life, then the “born this way” is a necessity. As soon as it is dropped then the do-as-you’re-told party will sweep in and insist that to prevent your moral failings that you “choose” to be straight and cis. Part of the reason LGBT rights have got as far as they have (and there is still a hell of a long way to go, even in Western Countries) because there was no chance of choice. If you think you’ve secured your right to choose, and for the record I’d have no problem with that, then you are complacent; the job isn’t finished yet on irevocably securing LGBT rights and this is no time to start flying the Mission Accomplished banner and moving onto other things. Born this way is a political necessity still (and probably still true).
I’ve always favored the multi-dimensional approach, applied to more than just sex.
You can be somewhere on the line from homoamorous to heteroamorous, depending on what gender you tend to fall in love with. You can be somewhere else on the line from homosocial to heterosocial depending on whether you like to hang out with members of your on gender or the opposite. You can be somewhere on the line from cisgender to transgender, depending on how strongly you see yourself as a member of you biological sex or the opposite. You can have a position on the line between monogamous and polyamorous.
If you’re a monogamous man who is sexually attracted to other men, but you only fall in love with women, you may find yourself choosing to behave counter to one of your natural inclinations. This is assuming that those inclinations are fixed, or fluid, which is another dimension. I don’t assume that everyone’s attractions are as fixed mine. I assume that some people CAN choose who they are attracted to, and that some of those people are the ones claiming that everyone can do it.
To paraphrase Shakespeare: “Be not afraid of gender. Some are born gendered, some achieve gender, and others have gender thrust upon them.”
Love is a rare and precious thing. Shouldn’t we celebrate it in all of its forms and spend our time hating things that merit hate? (intolerance, greed, violence… the list is endless)
BUT MY RELIGIOUS BOOK SAYS OTHERWISE, SO I WILL IGNORE ALL EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY.
Plus just because something isn’t genetic doesn’t mean it’s voluntary.
I think this is a key point, too. It’s possible that I wasn’t “born straight” and that’s that. At the same time, I do not recall making any sort of choice in the matter. I have always been attracted to women exclusively. I can note when another guy is good looking, but there is zero sexual attraction involved. This is not something I have to “police” or something. It just is. Just like the specific women I’ve found myself attracted to: I didn’t have a choice in that. I see someone, talk to them, etc., and I either am attracted to them or not (this can, of course, change over time). I don’t get to say “right, I’m going to choose to be attracted to that person” or “oh dear, I feel attraction to this person and that’s bad so I’ll just decide not to be attracted to them anymore.” That’s absurd.
The “born that way” argument is one I’ve made many times, and I get that it’s an oversimplification. It was to counter the flat-out idiotic “it’s a lifestyle choice!” narrative. Yeah, I’m sure lots of people were deciding “right, I think I’ll decide to be a member of a tiny, persecuted minority! That sounds like a blast!”
As the stigma fades, maybe we’ll find out more about the complexity of human sexuality.
Can I love this essay a zillion times. Ok, maybe not that many, if we’re being reasonable. That would fill up way too many comment pages. But you get the general idea. I’ve described my sexuality as ‘ambisexterous’ my entire adult life. I’ve been open, honest, and completely unashamed about it. Honestly, I don’t care whether it’s nature, nurture, or something else — I move fluidly from one state to another state, and honestly, my primary criteria for relationships is ‘can I have years of meaningful, amazing mental discourse along with my intercourse with this fascinating person (ok, sometimes ‘these fascinating people’). I think that things like marriage, and cohabitation, and what happens in peoples’ hearts and minds over their relationships is highly individual, and highly personal. I believe that, like religion, there is a time for social interaction involving like-minded others and that event, but that the general public and random individuals I don’t even know have no right, nor do they have an obligation, to determine the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of my personal interactions. As long as we’re all consenting human adults, who cares and why does it matter to a total stranger?
@crypticmirror, while I appreciate your thoughts, as someone who’s been fighting for 35 years for LGBTQA rights, I think that when we, as a community, stop acknowledging the evolution of our definitions, we fall into the same trap that those whose lack of vision has limited our lives have tried to -shove- us in. Maintaining the most broad, flexible, and broad-range-of-human-affection-friendly perspective on all of it gives us the best chance of not shutting out members of the community who need us, and for whom we can fight, just because they don’t fit the ‘strict’ definition that has been shaped (in part by our opponents) for what is ‘normal’ in the community. If we are ‘born’ one way or the other, then those who are asexual, bisexual, ambisexterous, or other less concrete manifestations of human sexual expression can be marginalized by the very groups that are supposed to be working towards our nation’s mutual improved awareness.
Regardless of sexual orientation (or lack thereof), religious affiliation (or lack thereof), skin color, or any other “defining” characteristic, everyone should have the same chances at happiness and heartbreak. Not sure why there are so many people who just don’t understand that.
Speaking as a Bio student and het cis male…(so take this with as many grains of salt as you like)…
I’m inclined to say that sexuality is genetically- or epigenetically-determined, based on some pretty convincing evidence that there are noticeable brain chemistry and brain structure differences between homosexual and heterosexual members of the same biological sex. Haven’t seen a study on trans versus cis people yet, but I suspect something similar. This fuels my opinion on how governments should approach sexuality and gender identity–namely, “can’t help the way you’re born, so don’t discriminate”.
I agree completely that sexuality is basically a giant mixed sphere of shades of grey, as is gender. I also believe that one’s sexuality and gender should mean absolutely jack fucking shit when legal rights are concerned. You’re a transwoman? Same rights as a ciswoman. Gay man? Same rights as a het man, or gay woman, or het woman–people are people, they shouldn’t be broken up by a million distinctions.
tl;dr: I think that the vast majority if not all people are born with their sexuality and gender identity. Ergo, there should be no discrimination, official or otherwise, on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. That means paternity leave as well as maternity leave, marriage equality for all, trans people using their actual gender rather than the one they were assigned at birth, et cetera.
There probably are some people (of whatever orientation) ‘born that way’, just like there are people who have known they wanted to be a doctor since they were old enough to pick up a Fisher-Price My First Stethoscope without jamming up their nostrils; or people who have hated broccoli from infancy and will never, ever like it, no matter how artisan your preparation is. There are lots more people who aren’t, and whose interests will change over their lifetimes, sometimes within a defined range, sometimes radically. The idea that in the 21st century there are people who still believe everyone is “naturally” 100% straight unless some weird genetic thing or a traumatic experience knocks them off the straight and narrow (har) is…. let’s call it sad, shall we.
This is pure anti-judgmentalism on the part of this researcher. Look, there are some people out there who feel an undeniable urge to persecute and abuse those different from them. Call it bullying, or assault, or whatever, but the fact remains that these people NEED to do something to feel superior. They can’t be just normal average people; they NEED to be better than someone, anyone, for whatever reason. And the way they express that need is thru abuse and legislative maneuvering to codify the otherness of those they find inferior (i.e., everyone).
There MUST be some paper-thin superficial reason behind their abuse or else they appear to be just lunatics assaulting people for no reason. Therefore, non-heteronormative behavior MUST be categorized as “other”, and made illegal based on that otherness.
Otherwise these judgmental people are just monsters. And that can’t be; they’re your uncles and cousins and brothers. They just CAN’T be monsters.
Don’t you all understand? It’s like…these judgmental people were BORN this way…
Wait, that’s not right…
Heh. Whenever somebody tries to tell me that heterosexuality is the only natural way or whatever, I point out the literally dozens to hundreds of animal species that regularly engage in homosexual activity.
Then if they aren’t purple or screaming yet, I launch into a ten-minute speech about human sociobiology and how homosexual individuals and pairs actually provide vital child-care support in hunter-gatherer societies, and thus are technically naturally evolved.
And therefore that being gay is natural in the same way that having blue eyes is natural–uncommon, sure, but natural.
And the best part is I have the articles clipped somewhere in one of my binders. So I can whip that out if need be.
Thank you, Scientific American!
I suspect “Born This Way” came out of the LGBT community as a way to shut up the Religious Right’s “Choose Heterosexuality!” screeds.
Personally, I lean more towards sexually being part of a spectrum caused by both nature and nurture, as with so many things about us: You may be born with a predisposition leaning in one direction or another, but environment is a powerful factor in how you react to certain situations (hence all the publicly homophobic and privately gay Right Wingers!). The thing with environment is that it’s mutable – just about everybody of my generation was raised to believe the worst thing you could do to a man was question his sexuality and, by extension, his masculinity. Since I wasn’t athletic and preferred reading and performing arts to sports, I got the brunt of that, a lot.
But that started to change, for me at least, when I was in college and started to know gay and bisexual people personally – largely through that Great Socio-Cultural Icon, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the fan cult surrounding it! I discovered there were good gay people as well as bad gay people, and most gay people were both – just like I am. I think that a lot of people can point to one of a handful of movies or television shows or books or plays that started to change their minds on gays – for my Christian Conservative Mom it was the film La Cage Aux Folles, and for my homophobic Catholic-turned-Lesbian Aunt (Doesn’t every family have one?) it was Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books.
It’s taken my entire adult life to get over my early homophobic conditioning, and in some ways it’s still a work in progress. But yes, I pretty much agree it’s not all one thing – and to quote The Rock, “IT DOESN’T MATTTEERRRRR!”
I’m with you on this one. I don’t care why some is the way they are*, I just want to treat people as people.
*I am actually curious to why from a scientific standpoint but hopefully not enough to affect my behavior.
Mitt Romney would like to borrow your Binders Full of Gays, @Floored by Scalzi’s Awesomeness…. ;)
I think anybody who claims “heterosexuality is the Natural Order” has never had more than one dog or cat. Pets engage in same-sex sexual play all the time….
In the context of ethics I have always thought that arguing with anti-LGBT people about whether or not sexual orientation is a choice or something you are born with is giving their argument too much credit, though I can understand it may be tactically useful. It should not matter in the slightest whether it is a choice or not. Not just speaking of sexual orientation generally, but specific instances of people having sex. As in, tonight I choose to have sex with this person.
The same people will demand their right to freely choose whatever they want without interference from the government or anyone else. But on this one specific issue they argue that if you don’t choose their way then it should be legal to discriminate against you. Not just them, but the federal government, state and city governments should discriminate against you.
The large majority of anti-LGBT proponents are motivated by religious belief, or at least use their religion to justify their position. Religious beliefs or doctrines should be considered an invalid justification. Laws that prevent discrimination of LGBT persons are not an unjust deprivation of your right to insist that the rest of society comport with your religious beliefs.
Well, he’ll have to prove to me that 47% of the population wants him to have those binders, first! :D
Also “Tango Makes Three”, numerous other cases of gay penguins and other birds, some lizards, hermaphrodite fish in numerous species…
hell, bonobos have gay sex all the time, but mostly because bonobos solve all of their problems with sex. Lots and lots of sex.
I doubt very much that sexuality can be changed by shouting at people; in some way, some interaction of genetics and environment, whatever it is it’s generally pretty fixed. It’s expression may be moderated by social norms, though.
Personally I think loving men is silly, because men obviously aren’t loveable. I don’t know why I think that, but you could talk to me (or shout at me) for days and weeks at a time without changing my opinion in the slightest. The fact that (fortunately) half the world disagrees with me is nothing to the matter.
Probably in previous lives I thought differently.
@Floored: “I’m inclined to say that sexuality is genetically- or epigenetically-determined, based on some pretty convincing evidence that there are noticeable brain chemistry and brain structure differences between homosexual and heterosexual members of the same biological sex.”
You have either seen significant evidence that I haven’t, or you are much easier to convince than I am. Most research I’ve seen has been limited and/or flawed in some way … sometimes including the basic oversimplification of comparing “homosexuals and heterosexuals”.
The very tentative science regarding sexual orientation is one of those places where science journalism has done repeated pratfalls. Only, you know, not intentionally for the laughs. Which I suppose is just as well, because very few people realized that they should have laughed at it.
I would be unsurprised if there were a genetic and/or epigenetic component to sexual orientation. I would be *astonished* if that’s all it was.
And no, it shouldn’t matter other than as an interesting scientific question. Which is something I’ve been saying since, um, pre-DOMA, I think. Whenever it was when so many of my fellow LGBT activists adopted the “we just can’t help it” defense. Ugh. Never been a fan.
I should be treated like a human being because I *am* a fuckin’ human being.
John wrote: “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.” This may be inherently understood/intended in the above statement but I feel that there should remain a legal age of consent and legal protection for folks who might not have the capacity for informed consent.
I’m bisexual and I may well have been born this way but I don’t know for sure. It’s not like I can point to that moment at age two where I suddenly realized that I would someday fall in love with a handful of select individuals including some males and some females. It was a little more complicated and subtle than that, and it took me a while to figure out.
What I do know is that I am in fact bisexual all the time. I am bisexual when I am in a relationship with a man. I am bisexual when I am in a relationship with a woman. I am bisexual when I am not dating. This did not fit the official gay narrative when I was younger. At that time the sodomy laws were still on the books in my state and there were no anti discrimination laws. The political situation was so scary that I was willing to keep my mouth shut about my inconvenient sexual orientation in hopes that it would help gays get some basic human rights. It was a tactic that shouldn’t have been necessary, but maybe it was.
Now I hope we can graduate to a more enlightened worldview where we’re not looking for excuses to discriminate. Then maybe it will be safe for everyone to be honest about their sexuality and gender identity, and the resulting conversation should be eye opening.
Way back in the before-time when such things mattered, Carl Jung, psychiatrist and introvert extraordinaire, was asked by an interviewer whether he did not think introversion contained an element of narcissism and therefore of infantility. Those were the days when words like ‘narcissism’ and ‘infantility’ packed quite a wallop. Christopher Lasch was the last guru of popular culture I know of to use ‘narcissism’ in that context — ‘narcissism’ with the clear implication of ‘if you are in any degree a narcissist, you are not a fit human being.’* (‘Infantility’ was even worse.) Jung rose to the challenge: he replied that of course introversion contained elements of both narcissism and infantility — and that he as both a psychiatrist and an introvert knew it very well — but so what? Extroverts had their own disabilities and there would always be a certain number of introverts in any population, about a quarter of the total number of people or so, if only to provide a leaven for the extroverted lump. There was no way to counteract introversion nor was it even desirable; the trick was to make the most of introversion and to school introverts in their special capacities.
I can’t say “my hero” but I can say “good for him.”
*Whereas now, as we all know, it’s pretty much the other way around.
hell, bonobos have gay sex all the time, but mostly because bonobos solve all of their problems with sex. Lots and lots of sex.
@Floored by Scalzi’s awesomeness, I think they have the right idea, huh? Maybe if we -all- solved our problems that way, it’d be a much happier (and sleepier–I mean, a couple of rounds and you HAVE to nap, right?) world!
If someone is comfortable with however they’re sexually aligned I’m good too. Relationships are relationships and we all need to feel valued and accepted. I’m not going to let someone’s sexuality dictate my perceptions in that regard because to do so is ultimately groundless and pragmatically pointless.
Diamond’s dialogue appears largely scientific in perspective, which is fine in and of itself. We also are having very deep and ongoing discussions on the essence of consciousness in science. In the end, however, on a day to day basis it’s not very important why or how we think. The same goes with ones sexuality. It is what it is. It’s what it means to be human and of this planet.
Good article. I think sexuality is complex–and that it does change over time for many people. I had a gay friend who, much to his own surprise, became seriously involved with a woman for several years. And after that ended, instead of dating men again, he wound up marrying a (different) woman and having kids. I have a friend who has mostly self-identified throughout her life as straight, but who was once in a serious relationship with another woman for over a year. I have a friend who’s been with her lesbian partner for 20 years, but was previously married to man (by choice, not due to societal pressure). And so on. There are people whose sexual orientation fits neatly into firmly-defined boxes or categories; and there are people whose sexuality does not. And in a healthy society, there’s room for all of them.
I also agree that the question of whether one is “born that way” or not is very interesting from a biological perspective (as well as personal, social, and emotional perspectives), but it should be irrelevant in terms of law or social “morality.” Whether or not someone “can’t help” being gay or actively “chooses” to be gay is surely irrelevant in terms of whether they should have the equal rights with people living a strictly heterosexual lifestyle.
I have never been offered an opportunity to VOTE on whether or not an adult heterosexual couple can date, have consensual sex, or get married if they want to. So why on earth should I get any say in whether a gay couple can date, have consensual sex, or get married if they want to? Whether they were “born that way” or “choose” homosexuality… I have never understood how or why a gay person’s partner choices are supposedly MORE my business (to the extent of the rest of us being allowed to VOTE to DENY them equal CIVIL RIGHTS) than the partner choices of a strictly heterosexual person.
I’ve also never understood why convincing people that gays have no choice about being gay would be the Game Changer in that issue. Surely the only relevant factor is that I shouldn’t really get a say (let alone a legal vote) in what other consenting adult you date, have consensual sex with, or marry.
And if I AM going to be allowed to vote on who you can have sex with or marry, I’ve got a log list of couplings I’d rather vote against than gay people. For example, I’d like it to be illegal for anyone who batters women to marry a woman. But I don’t get a legal say in that, either, go figure.
Reblogged this on lonestarlove and commented:
I am sharing this blog because I wholeheartedly agree. To quote just a small part, “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” and then add I could not agree more! I am fortunate to be a hetero that knows who I am, but for those who aren’t (or aren’t even sure, for that matter), it is tough enough to live normally, but when the law says you’re not and holds back lawful opportunities because of your choices (born that way or not), that makes it even worse.
Laura Resnick I agree that many people’s sexuality doesn’t fit well into a predetermined box, all the more so if there are only two boxes labelled gay and straight. Maybe people’s actual sexual orientation changes over time, or maybe it’s just people’s perception that changes. I do know that the either or model of sexuality pressures bisexuals to discount or explain away some of their past relationships in light of their most recent relationship.
My practice is to believe whatever a person tells me about their gender identity or sexual orientation. The same observable behaviors can be conceptualized many different ways. For example, take the man you mentioned who identified as gay and later had two consecutive longterm relationships with women.
If he told me he was bisexual all along but when he found himself attracted to men he assumed he was gay because no one told him bisexuality was on the menu, I would believe him. In fact that would parallel my experience.
If he told me he was a little more attracted to men physically but clicks better romantically with women and it’s complicated I would believe him.
If he told me he really loved those two women but still identifies as gay for mostly political reasons, I would believe him.
If he told me he was gay and you could have knocked him over with a feather when one morning he woke up straight I’d be a bit surprised but I’d believe him.
If he told me his church group recommended an ex gay organization and now he’s cured I’d privately worry that he’d been brainwashed, but I guess I’d still take his word for it because that’s my rule.
The most relevant piece of information to me is how he defines himself.
i had a gay room mate in college. We were talking one day and was looking at a magazine. Ripped guy in a towel. He said something like I just want to be there and he pinted at the towel. I shrugged. To me its just some guy in a towel. His mouth hung open in shock. He couldnt believe the picture did not do anything for them. People are attracted to who they are attracted to.
Its not any different than when someone you know is drooling over someone of the opposite gender and you think, why? Different tastes for different people.
Also told me gay guys are guys first and gay second. Like the rest of us they oggle, but they just oggle a different gender, but they get the benefit of not having feminists complain about it.
Well, we do know that it can’t be entirely determined by chromosomal DNA (because of identical twins like Joe P. and his straight brother).
We do know there’s a genetic component, because identical twins are much more likely to both be gay or both be straight than fraternal twins.
We know there’s a birth-order effect, because the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay.
And we know there’s some familial effect (that is, a trait that runs in families but may or may not be genetic) because a man with a gay brother is more likely to be gay than a man without one. (No, that doesn’t mean Joe’s straight twin, who has a gay brother, is more likely to be gay than Joe, who doesn’t. Statistics don’t work that way.)
And just when I thought Guess was going to get through a whole post without saying anything obnoxious, he reconfirms my impression of him yet again.
*deep breath* Why do you question someone’s bisexuality because they settle into a long-term monogamous same-sex relationship? Bisexual doesn’t mean “cannot be happy unless they have a male and a female lover at the same time.” Many many people want long-term relationships; quite a few of those people prefer monogamy, and some of the rest would be happy with some shape of open relationship but don’t want that enough to go looking for additional partners (or are partnered with someone who ants monogamy, or or or…). Would you call out as anomalous an open bisexual who settled down with one person of the other gender?
I am bi and poly, and I’m annoyed by this stereotype. Monogamous bisexuals tend to be more annoyed by it, and by the implication that they can’t really commit to anyone.
Dear “Floored by…”
“I’m inclined to say that sexuality is genetically- or epigenetically-determined, based on some pretty convincing evidence that there are noticeable brain chemistry and brain structure differences between homosexual and heterosexual members of the same biological sex.”
That’s predicated upon entirely circular reasoning. Your assumption forces your conclusion.
We know that patterns of activity are reflected in brain structures. That is a correlation. We cannot, a priori, tell when it’s the organization of the brain structure that is driving the activity or the activity that is molding the brain structure. We have numerous examples for both–– studies of athletes in various kinds of artists, for example, that show that not only are their brains and brain chemistry structured differently from the norm, but that they also undergo changes depending on how much or little they are training or exercising their skill.
You can no more determine whether sexuality is “learned” or “epi/genetic” by looking at the human brain than you can tell whether a computer is running firmware or software by virtue of the fact that you detect a pattern of activity when you look at the EM emissions from the CPU.
In point of fact, unless you believe that sexuality has a nonmaterial spiritual component (some people do, no crime in that), ANY pattern of sexuality and sexual behavior you find a human being is ultimately going to be traceable to a pattern of neural impulses and chemical changes. Because, absent a nonmaterial source, that is the only thing that makes behavior.
Finally, determinism and innateness are truly terrible bases for civil law. It doesn’t matter whether it’s innate or a lifestyle choice. Really, it doesn’t.
If you wish to argue that it does matter, then I want to hear why we shouldn’t allow people to discriminate on the basis of religion? I don’t mean discriminate against the QUILTBAG community, I mean against religions. Because, religion is entirely a lifestyle choice! (Okay, qualifier––so long as you believe in free will, it’s a choice. Some belief systems don’t.)
Don’t try to bring the Constitution into it. All the First Amendment does is protect you from the government imposing its religious will upon you. It’s there to ensure there will never be a Church of USA. Individuals and nongovernmental organizations discriminating against each other on the basis of religion? That was commonplace up through the 1950’s, when specific laws were passed to make it mostly illegal. It was not a civil right derived from the Constitution, we just decided it would become a right.
We did it because we thought it would be a good thing, not because people didn’t have a choice in their religions.
So, lifestyle choice vs. essentialism? It shouldn’t even be on the table.
Unfortunately, for the Supreme Court, it is entirely on the table, but that’s their blockheadedness. You don’t have to imitate it.
pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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Deep-brain structure (hippocampus, hindbrain, cerebellum to an extent) is much more innate than it is based on experience; the hindbrain especially is comparatively static because having a plastic hindbrain can be really bad for survival. The cerebrum can be pretty plastic, I don’t deny that; I’m saying that based on the studies I’ve seen (yes, extremely limited studies, but within those limits pretty convincing) there are some small but observable deep-brain differences between heterosexual and homosexual individuals.
Now I haven’t seen any studies looking into pansexual, bisexual, asexual, transgender, or otherwise not outright het or gay people, but I hypothesize based on the studies that I have seen that there is in fact a significant genetic or epigenetic basis for sexuality and gender identity.
The caveat being that sexuality and identity are more of a sphere of shades of gray than a set of delineated categories, and that both are proximaly based in the structure of the brain, which is plastic to some extent even on the more static deep levels, and therefore cases like that of Joe P. that Xopher mentioned are to be expected given sheer random chance and the world’s population.
It’s no more than an academic question, though; I certainly don’t care personally that my friend Sam is genderless and as/arom, or that my roommate is sort of bi-ish, et cetera. I find it interesting to speculate what gives us our identities and makes us who we are, but I think it’s complete bullshit to deny people rights because of who they are.
LGBTetc people are people. They should have the same rights as everyone else. This should be self-evident; if you’re human, hell if you’re sapient, you’re entitled to the same rights as everyone else. I really get pissed that we need multiple Supreme Court rulings to treat people other than SWMs as people.
tl;dr: I’m not going to say “identity is locked in-genetic and can never change” because that’d be patently bull (brain being plastic as hell and all), but I am saying that there is evidence to suggest that genetic and epigenetic factors are the biggest driving force behind identity. Also this shouldn’t matter as public policy, it should be purely an academic question.
As a subset of my curiosity in how the person who is I came to be, I am of course interested in how my own sexuality developed. And because it helps to understand these questions by looking at other examples, different and similar, in the universe, I’m interested in how human beings, other conscious beings and sexual life all develop their sexuality. It doesn’t feel like a dry academic question to me. Understanding only adds to beauty…
What I’m emphatically uninterested in is how any specific person other than myself develops their sexuality. That would be anecdotal, which does not illuminate the scientific mystery.
At the same time, it seems like the problem is not that people ask these questions, but that people want to persecute others based on the answers. Ultimately, I really don’t think bigots care whether people are born a certain way. They only care that people are a certain way, and they have prejudices towards some of those ways which bigots unjustly act upon.
At the same time, scientists and people with scientific curiosity cannot be amoral. No scientific question should be generally and universally discouraged from being asked, but an ethical scientist must be aware of how others might unreasonably twist answers to try to rationalize injustice, otherwise we risk becoming enablers whether or not we mean to. There is a moral danger both in dreaming ourselves fit to judge what knowledge is acceptable for others to learn and share, and also in imagining we have no responsibility to use knowledge wisely.
IMHO, there’s a fundamental error in the widespread assumption of baselines as natural. Baselines are what scientists and statisticians artificially define as a useful way to measure change. But the notion that straight sexual orientation is a baseline is neither natural nor scientific, it’s just prejudice. Life itself is a mutation, so we are all mutants. Or, to quote Picard, life itself is an exercise in exceptions.
I’m inclined to agree: not a scientist, so don’t know whether it’s inborn or not, but if we could choose who we were attracted to, I’d have had much more fun in college, or my relationships would have lasted longer, or both.
And in general, where sexual relationships with consenting adults are concerned, my response to “But it’s wrong!” has always leaned less toward “But they can’t help it!” and more toward “Fuck you, it’s none of your damn business.”
Anyone who’s homophobic in this day and age is probably beyond convincing, anyhow. Might as well just wait for them to die out, save my breath, and go play video games.
Diamond is a developmental psychologist, where the answer to almost every attempt to explain something as nature or nurture, is “yes, and…” She’s also the author of probably the best longitudinal study of bisexual (broadly defined) women (arguably people in spite of being a single-sex sample), which came to the conclusion that bisexuality was a stable long-term orientation for women.
But I’ll point out that the “born this way” isn’t new, and it’s not especially alien to anti-gay groups. The theory that same-sex attraction was a medical issue demanding extreme measure in order to fix was dominant for over a century. Biomedical theories on their own have never offered protection from the use of medicine as a tool of oppression. Multiple other minorities have been vulnerable to “medical” interventions ranging from institutionalization, coerced assimilation, sterilization, and genocide. I’m not Godwinning there, just pointing out that bigotry is bigotry no matter how it’s rationalized.
I disagree with John.
I think it is legally significant whether one is born gay or straight.
If being gay is something that is inherent in your being and identity and not something you can control (similar to being born a minority or a bastard), then I understand the argument of gays being a protected class under the U.S. Constitution.
Otherwise, it is just a sexual preference that shouldn’t be given any more protection than those afforded to other [fill in the blank] sexual preferences.
Thanks for this. I always thought the point of recognizing the freedom of individuals was that they are allowed to be different, whether by nature or by choice. We are allowed to choose.
I do think it’s interesting that the people saying “GLBT people aren’t born that way and therefore don’t deserve equality” are very vocal about the need to protect their religious preferences – which are 100% chosen.
Other things that get legal protection in the United States that are not necessarily “born”:
* political affiliation
* veteran status
* legal gender
Not to mention the idea of race as an inherent quality rather than a politically constructed one is almost entirely pseudoscience. People inherit phenotypes, no set of phenotypes maps cleanly to human mDNA lineages.
And of course “born” and “immutable” are entirely different things.
You have made two major errors in your thinking:
1) As I, and the two posters after you, have pointed out, there are many, many “lifestyle choices” that we as a society have chosen to give legal protection to. Nothing requires that; we just decided as a society it’s a good idea. Most notably, none of them are Constitutionally required. If you believe they are, then you have badly misread the Constitution.
2) When the laws of the country give rights and privileges to straight people that they don’t give to others (e.g., the right to marry, with all the legal benefits that accrue therefrom), they are IN FACT giving more protection to a particular sexual preference. E quality and nondiscrimination laws only serve to eliminate that unequal protection, they don’t give QUILTBAG folk *more* rights.
Even if your thinking wasn’t entirely faulty in this matter, the question of essentialism is not going to be answered any time soon. Despite many folks having strongly held opinions on this, the “science” will not be settled for decades. Your attitude is tantamount to saying we should just sit around and wait and see, no matter who gets screwed over in the meantime. Because heaven forbid we should err on the side of giving some people equal rights who, you know, might not really deserve it. That would be an awful thing. Much better we withhold those rights until we are absolutely, positively certain they deserve them. Right?
re: “Born This Way”
You’re damn close to spot on. Each of the swings in rhetoric was driven entirely by political needs, not by anything resembling data. I was one of the players behind the swing back to essentialism in the late 1970s. There was this thing called the Brings Initiative (see Wikipedia for details). One of their big talking points was that “homosexuals can’t reproduce, so they have to recruit.”
Yeah, it was that kind of a time. Unfortunately, that resonated unfortunately well with the “it’s our choice” liberation politics message (which was also totally made up because it was politically useful, not ’cause we had any data). I was on the mobilizing committee against the Briggs Initiative, in San Francisco. It didn’t take us more than one meeting to consense on essentialism as the party line that we would hew to. Did any of us there actually believe essentialism? Possibly a few, possibly not a single one of us. Didn’t matter. It was about winning the hearts and minds of the voters. So we built a campaign around what we (collectively) considered a lie.
We were very successful at promulgating that lie. Honestly, I’m surprised at how successful. I figured that after another 10-15 years, the pendulum would swing away. Well, it’s taken a lot longer than that to start to develop a more nuanced understanding of sexuality, and most people still don’t get it.
You need to do rather more study into just how much of that stuff does change over person’s lifespan. Also, determining that any firmware, as it were, is involved does not make it the “most important” component. Honestly, it would be a huge surprise if there weren’t. A statistical differentiation doesn’t come close to implying that has a dominant role.
It might. It might not. You cannot begin to draw a conclusion about that from the existing data that is based on anything more than your predisposition to a particular conclusion.
pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
— Ctein’s Online Gallery http://ctein.com
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The entire question is a red herring. Diamond is right. It doesn’t matter. What matters is “Do you believe everyone is entitled to equal protection under the law, or not?” Instead, we spend our time arguing about whether or not it is a choice has any bearing at all on equal protection.
It shouldn’t matter a whit if it’s choice or genetics.
I read, write, and teach philosophy of sexuality for a living, and I have to say: this is SO lovely and well put. Thank you for such a clear an elegant synopsis of this incredibly complex issue!
It often surprises me how much folk believe science happens in a perfect “logic vacuum” with no preconceived notions or biases.
It doesn’t matter to me whether sexuality is nature or nurture (I actually side with Forrest Gump: it’s both). But it matters immensely to people who are interested in finding that perfect (and up till now, thankfully, mythic) pill or procedure or conditioning to “correct” the problem. It’s such a major trope in science fiction that you trip over books with this type of theme in them.
I don’t think the argument will ever go away, and I think there will always be people willing to do bad research based on the notion that there is a “sexuality smoking gun” neuron somewhere that can be quickly flipped to whatever they define as “normal”.
@Miles: Doesn’t confer more benefits than any other sexual orientation, but shouldn’t confer fewer either (presuming consenting adult humans, etc). Since heterosexuality has the “can marry, adopt, drag your poor SO to the company picnic and make them join you in the small talk with co-workers” benefits, so should homosexuality.
So therefore…not really seeing why the nature v. nurture argument is “legally significant.”
If we tried to fully describe a person’s sexuality there would be a huge number of factors to take into account. In addition to the gay-straight axis, people have mentioned the asexual-nonasexual axis. As I understand it this describes a person’s tendency to feel sexual attraction to specific people and is different from low sex drive-high sex drive, which is another axis. I think within asexuality there is also a sex repulsed-sex positive axis. Also demisexuality is often considered to be on the asexual spectrum, but a demisexual can only experience sexual attraction after a high level of emotional intimacy is established. I think there should probably be an axis for attracted at first sight-demisexual. Sexual and romantic orientations can be described on separate axes. There’s the monogamous-polyamorous axis. And all this is before you look at what people actually like to do in the bedroom, which would obviously complicate the picture much more.
Politically speaking, this doesn’t make for good sound bites. I think it’s also safe to say that no one will find a smoking gun gene for all this. Failing to think about these variables has led to flawed experimental design in a lot of sexuality studies. For example, too many studies have tried to determine sexual orientation by showing subjects naked pictures and checking for physical arousal. Obviously the subject would have to be pretty close to the attracted at first sight end of the demisexuality axis for this approach to measure anything.
Yeah, and genital response is far from a perfect proxy for arousal anyway, even in those who do become aroused quickly and fairly predictably by certain stimuli. Arousal nonconcordance. It’s a thing.
I will explain to you why your equal protection argument is wrong.
[Insultingly stupid argument deleted. Let’s not go down this highly aggravating avenue of discussion. If you must try to make this argument, Miles, send ctein an email – JS]
Dang, I missed it. What’ll I do without my daily dose of insultingly stupid to keep me humble?
pax / Ctein
Interesting discussion. However I can state with 100% certainty that I was born gay. I always knew I was gay… and never questioned it. It’s unfortunate the the DSM that I read at age three stated that gay was a mental illness… but I disagreed and moved on with my gay self just fine. But there was never a moment of hand wringing and wondering if somehow… some day… I would be able to kiss a man without gagging.
Well, Betsy darlin’…. if you just met the RIGHT man…
I’ve always been bothered by the “born that way” argument, philosophically. I do think that, personally, my identity is immutable. But from a LGBTQ rights perspective, I think it is actually a damaging argument in that it gives up too much ground.
Basically, hanging our entire idea of sexuality and gender on a static physical attribute means that if it could be shown that a particular queer individual wasn’t “born that way” — suddenly there is an argument for denying them their rights.
The better argument is that there is nothing wrong with being queer, and anyone can be queer for any reason. They are doing no harm to anyone else by doing so, and ought to be respected as human beings regardless of the path they took to their identity.
While my inexpert sense holds with those above who’ve said it’s probably both nature and nurture and some mindboggling complex interplay between the two, I would argue that people’s rights should never be based on the way they were or were not born. If the securing of rights is predicated on the idea that everyone is, in any given way, born the same, then doesn’t that build on a shaky foundation?
Which is to say, I agree with what you say here:
But I think the greater peril might lie in any acknowledgement that there’s an argument to made for inequality under the law from differences in birth or biology.
Basically, it’s not the science that we should elide, but rather the notion that it matters to rights that we must not give ground on, including the idea that the science could bolster an argument against equal rights.
I suspected, and ctein confirmed, that “born this way” is a stepping-stone.
Completely morally evil -> mental illness -> born this way -> you do you.
Arc of the universe and all that. Now, a lot of people ARE “born this way”, as Betsy testifies, so it’s the truth, just not the whole truth. And I’m comfortable in rounding “born” up to 5-7 years old.
Looking back, it’s clear I was utterly straight at age 3 and even had a “type”, so I’m gonna go with I was born this way and am a Kinsey 0, except, good Lord, have you SEEN Gillian Anderson? Okay, I’m a Kinsey .1 then. (Gosh, I can’t wait for X-Files to return… I lurve both of them…)
If religion (a complete choice, at least here in the US/UK/Oz/NZ/EU/Cdn) is protected, so must sexuality be. Worship whatever (or no) god you want, love and marry whoever (or not) you want. As long as it’s all consenting adults and you don’t do it in the road, go on with your bad self.
Gillian Anderson? Meh, she’s OK, but I prefer a woman with a little more muscle. Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, for example–yeah. I wish they drew superheroines like that, she looks infinitely more badass than any bikini-clad 90s antihero.
But the one who makes me question my sexuality is always George Takei. His voice…*shivers*…his voice does things to me.
Ah, one where I am actually an expert…
My Ph.D. is in genetics, and I teach human behavioral genetics, so I actually know the “genetic/epigenetic” answer from the literature. The answer is, as one previous poster thought: significant genetic component (twin and family studies), even larger biological component (“biological” here meaning things that are biological components of the environment, and not genetic – for example, epigenetic factors or uterine environment), and then…what’s left, which is not biological. The exact amount of non-biological environment and possibly choice isn’t easy to estimate, but it’s fair to say that it’s significant.
And, yeah, just because something isn’t biologically determined, it doesn’t follow that it is voluntary. There’s little evidence that folks can choose their sexual orientation/preferences/tendencies.
And, yeah, finally – who gives a shit? Shouldn’t matter why you choose to love who you choose to love. Or, for that matter, why you choose to have sex with the folks you choose to have sex with, assuming everyone involved are consenting adults.
Well, I found this a bit late, and everyone’s already said all the things I believe, so I don’t have anything to add, but thank you for providing a space for this kind of discussion.