What If Being Gay Were A Choice?

Let us imagine a world where choosing your sexuality is as conscious, and awkward, as sex ed was.

So another religious fundamentalist has spoken out in support of a downright evil law against homosexuality, and he’s doing that thing they always do. Specifically, he’s talking about “homosexual behavior”, part of the general project to support the idea that homosexuality is something one chooses rather than something intrinsic.

Now, I’m not going to state definitively that the origins of homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality, and so on are well understood. The best current work in the field, as far as I know, indicates that it’s nothing resembling a conscious choice, but let’s actually set that aside for a moment. Let’s completely spot the fundamentalists this one, with the following hypothetical.

Let us imagine that one schoolday in, say, ninth grade, there’s no afternoon classes because it’s Sexuality Day. You and all the other kids troop down to the auditorium for a special presentation on how to properly choose your sexuality. Maybe your parents have talked with you about making this big decision, maybe they’ve just avoided the subject, maybe they’ve told you that it’s up to you to make up your own mind.

In the auditorium, you watch a cheesy old filmstrip from the 70s, all about the importance of choosing your sexuality, and the pros and cons of picking gay, straight, or bi. After the filmstrip, there are some guest speakers talking about why they chose the way they did, and counselors available to answer any questions kids might have, and pass out brochures with titles like “PICK GAY TODAY AND KEEP THE STORK AWAY!” or “STRAIGHT IS GREAT TO PROCREATE!” Basically it’s like Driver’s Education, only much worse. But hey, you’re fourteen, you’re glad of the break from classes.

At the end of this ungodly farce, everyone lines up at the privacy booths, where you get your Official Sexuality Form and a little stub pencil, and you go in the booth and check the box for the sexual orientation you want. And that’s your sexuality for the rest of your life. It’s officially on file, so it’s easily checked if anyone ever doubts your orientation. I have to admit, as a straight man who dresses neatly and enjoys the work of Stephen Sondheim, that would save me some time and stereotyping.

The point is, in this world, sexual orientation is absolutely, definitively, a choice. There was a cheesy public-school filmstrip, that makes it official. The fundamentalists are absolutely right about it being a choice, and you have a box checked on a form to prove it.

My question is this: even given that world, what legal or moral right does anyone have to pick on someone for checking the other box?

Now when I say “pick on”, let’s put this in context. We’re talking mockery, dehumanization, disownment by family, verbal and physical abuse, employment discrimination, reduced legal rights, and other social and legal penalties up to and including legalized or unpunished murder. That, in the actual grownup world, is the range of abuses faced by homosexuals on a normal basis.

Even if we stipulate facts not in evidence, i.e. that the victim is known to have checked Box B instead of Box A in ninth grade, I still cannot imagine a legal or moral case justifying any of that. Am I missing something?

About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is a writer and editor, and quite possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    This is a hypothetical, but we can go with it.
    Presumably, one could change back, right? Would there be advertising? “Stay gay.” “Go Straight” Litigation?
    Presumably if the thing were a choice, the process of going one way or the other might be difficult. Would there be legal limits on the number of times, or frequency? Maybe the reparative therapy would work in this hypothetical.
    Do you have to be of the age of majority to make the change? Give legal notice? Will stationery companies provide boxes of notepaper whose purpose is informing soon-to-be-ex-partners? Man, that dates me. I imagine there’ll be a Facebook thingy to make it quick and avoid the postage.

  2. I’ve never, ever understood the argument about choice. Left un-influenced, un-molested, non-imprinted with one sexuality or the other, boys do emerge with one orientation or the other. I’ve met people as kids who are adults now who just simply were destined to be same-gender-attracted. I knew them well enough to know that there were no external stimuli training them in any direction or “choice.”

    These days, I know of two boys (6th & 8th grade) who have publicly disclosed being gay. In some subcultures and micro societies, such as mine in NH, neanderthal hate-responses simply don’t happen. I see that nationwide as well. The fk-tards with the tactical, weaponized Bibles are isolated and clustered-up into their own sick little fear-pods. Someone, something, NOT THE BIBLE, told them that they could pick a cause and play Police, Jury and Executioner. The Bible NEVER commissioned ANY man to enforce God’s laws or perceived laws. The topic-choice they made is rather interesting though — why not gambling? (an essay for another time)

    I remember the conversations as a kid. We did not even know that same-gender-attraction was considered by some to be wrong. CHOICE was never a topic of discussion.

    I’m walking through this Memory Lane only to point-out that at the origins and foundations of a life (childhood), an orientation IS. I did not say “is chosen.” I did not claim “is created.” I said “is.” in childhood, the orientation exists.

    Now, I have also seen people like ME who had heavy-heavy imprinting of same-gender sexual activity on a huge scale. Some professionals will claim such imprinting can “cause one to be gay.” I fully doubt it.

    My first 1000 orgasms were caused by, triggered with, because of sick, entitled male morons who were trained to take what they wanted.

    None of that imprinted anything on me except fear of all things sexual once I graduated from childhood. I still got all goofy when certain girls talked to me, looked at me or would even agree to go out with me. I was sexually attracted to girls. To this day, a hot-babe to me is a woman with a fit body.

    Sorry to be long — Choice? ‘Tis a red herring.

  3. Am I missing something? …. Yup!

    It’s easy to win arguments, even with yourself, when you reduce this world and reality to linear, simplistic deterministic logic. That allows the “does not compute defence”, and the opportunity to consign yourself and others to groups using a nice tick in a box – Occam’s razor- and the limits of individual knowledge to define both good and bad from your own image. Aint it great to be angelic and self deified at the same time.

    And as for “Let us imagine a world where choosing your sexuality is as conscious, and awkward, as sex ed was.” – hell the embarrassment factors that I saw abounding, all at +10, would have guaranteed men who dresses neatly and enjoy Sondheim – and even got them to join in the Amateur Operatic Society… and bake Quiche! P^)

  4. Well yes, I think you are missing something. There would be a legal and moral case to be made if checking the other box caused some harm, in some way, to someone, and with enough impact to override other moral things that matter….like individual freedom to live your life.

    Morality needs to be grounded in reality, and real reality, not parched scripture written with ostrich quills.

    More concise – what Justin said.

  5. That it’s not about reason?

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