We don’t choose who we’re attracted do. But we do choose what we do with that attraction.
Recently, I had a conversation with a very religious friend that opened with what was, to say the least, a surprising question. I’m not straight, I’m polyamorous – she knows these – so when she said, “Can I ask you a question, since you are, well, you know…”, I said sure. I’m used to this. But I was not expecting her next words. “Do you think that being gay is a choice, or just the way you’re born?”
What? I didn’t say it, but I thought it. I did say born, generally; that yes, there are people who choose same-gender relationships, physical or not; that people are rarely all one-or-the-other – I gave her a brief into to the Kinsey Scale; but generally, people don’t suddenly do a 180 on who they’re attracted to.
It turned out I was thinking in the wrong direction.
Her question was about the people who are “saved” or “converted” from homosexuality, and whether this is real. She used as examples a famous preacher who publicly presents himself as a success story and, closer to home, a man who went to a local church and sang in the choir, who was “kind of swishy, you know, girly, and had some boyfriends”. His church elders told him that he could not continue to sing if he was going to be “in that lifestyle”, that if he was a man of God he needed to look and like and behave like a man. She said he loved music, his church, his faith.
Would it surprise you that she said a few months later, he gave testimony that God has delivered him from his homosexual lifestyle? He cut off his braids, stopped wearing bright colored clothes, spoke in a firm, stern voice when he was speaking to a group. He also never dated a woman and rarely socialized with anyone.
“Was he faking it,” she asked me, “or could he really have been saved?”
For my money, and I told her so, he was no more straight than he had been before. Denying those feelings? Much more likely. Whether he was choosing to act on them was another story.
“So you CAN choose to be gay!”
No. But all of us decide all the time how to handle our attractions.
“But what about people who say they are gay but haven’t…you know…been with anyone?”
Well, I said, let’s turn this around. When did you know you were straight?
She said she always knew.
“When you were a kid?” Yes. “But you hadn’t done anything with anyone.”
So that landed. But what about those “formerly gay” men? Did I think that even if they were born that way, if they believed it enough, they could become not gay?
No. But I told her that I believe we all choose how we act, how we behave, and what we do.
It’s more likely that these men choose not act on their attractions, for whatever reason, be it fear of their God, desire to remain in their church or family, desire to live the life they believe they are supposed to, any one of a number of reasons. The attraction doesn’t change…the behavior does. And yes, some have relationships with women, some have children with them. But does anyone really know what happens between two people?
She still wasn’t convinced.
I asked her if she tried to make a connection with every guy she found attractive or was attracted to. She said no…and seemed pretty offended by that question. I asked if she had every regretted not making a connection with someone and she said yes, of course. I asked if she had ever decided not to pursue someone because of her lifestyle or her faith and after thinking about it, she said yes.
Each of those was a decision to act on an attraction – a heterosexual attraction. And she made a choice whether or not to pursue it. Whether she acted on all or none of them didn’t change who or what she was.
Those “formerly gay” men, I told her that most likely, the attractions had not changed – what had changed was whether or not they acted on them.
“So they’re not gay anymore.”
“Do you have to follow through on an attraction to be straight?”
“So why do they have to follow through on an attraction to be gay?”
I’m not sure I convinced her. But it was clear she’d never thought of the idea that each of us chooses, constantly, how we express our attractions and desires. We may not be able to control who we are attracted to, but we can control how we respond.
That anyone does it out of fear or coersion…that they feel they have to hide who they love or are attracted to, or change this, or cover it up to survive…that they are shamed or threatened into “becoming straight”…that anyone feels that they have to choose between themselves and their lives to have a life, the attitudes and opinions driving that pressure, that’s what needs to be converted.
Photo: Jenna Jaafri/Flickr