Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Are People Born Gay?

Meet Ted Haggard - one of the skeletons in the Evangelical movement's closet that refuses to stay dead.

A former poster boy for the Christian right-wing, he was once on the forefront of the Moral Majority's resurgence in America.

Three years ago, author Jeff Sharlet boasted that "no pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism."

Ted himself spoke to President Bush and his advisers on a weekly basis, once joking that the only issue he didn't see eye-to-eye with Bush on was whether Ford or Chevrolet produced the superior automobile.

Ted Haggard was also one of the most vocal and outspoken critics of homosexuality, preaching a bigoted agenda from the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He opposed gay marriage, same-sex civil unions and proudly declared that homosexuality was an aberrant and sinful lifestyle condemned in the scriptures.

But then, in one of modern history's most delicious twists of irony, Ted Haggard was 'found out.'

A male prostitute, Mike Jones, came forward and revealed that Ted Haggard had been a monthly customer of his for over three years, paying Jones for clandestine homosexual encounters fueled by crystal meth.

Suddenly, this shining star of the anti-gay movement was exposed as a meth-snorting, prostitute-frequenting fraud, who lived a double life behind his family's back. Jones revealed that Haggard had enjoyed snorting meth before he'd even met his current wife, was a frequent 'bottom' (the recipient of anal sex) and fantasized about an orgy with six teenage 'college guys.'

Following this exposure, the downfall of Ted Haggard was drawn out and messy. Initially denying the claims, sneering: "I have not, I have never had a gay relationship with anybody," he soon struggled against his church's attempt to brush his indiscretion under the carpet. They washed their hands of him, but annoyingly (and entertainingly) he refused to go down quietly.

In fact, HBO will soon be airing a documentary about him, in which he complains that he never claimed to be heterosexual in the first place and, while still 'struggling' with same-sex attraction, is "committed to living a heterosexual life, because I believe it's better for children to be raised by a mother and a father."


Many Christians are highly critical of Ted Haggard's decision to air his sexuality on television; since Ted Haggard's downfall exposed many of the flaws and hypocrisies of the modern Evangelical movement.

At the time of the scandal, the first thing most people realized about Ted Haggard's exposure was how neatly it fitted into the Shakespearean philosophy of he 'doth protest too much.'

It's a generally accepted belief that the more aggressive and homophobic somebody's rants are, the more likely that they're just trying to overcompensate for their own repressed sexuality. Ted Haggard, as one of the most outspoken critics of homosexuality, neatly confirmed that belief when he was exposed.

But it's the second generally accepted belief that the Evangelicals are protesting. When Ted Haggard goes on television to claim that he'd never truly been heterosexual, he's going to confirm the theory that people don't choose to be gay - they're simply born that way.

Born That Way

As John Adams once said, facts are stubborn things. If it's proven that people are born straight, gay or somewhere in between, it neatly skewers the concept of homosexuality being a 'sinful choice' that can merely be renounced.

This is one of the most stringently enforced beliefs the Conservative Christians keep falling back on: The concept that people aren't 'born' gay. They believe that homosexuals 'choose' to be like that, or society (specifically liberal news channels) 'turn' them gay with their disgustingly permissive attitudes.

But while conservatives are quick to hold up scientific papers that deny the existence of a so-called 'gay' gene, the one thing you'll find noticeably absent from their arguments are the testimonies of any gay people. This is because, like many conservative beliefs, their arguments simply don't hold up to scrutiny.

Ask somebody gay whether they 'chose' their sexuality and you'll be generally laughed at.

In fact, I asked acclaimed novelist and journalist Paul Burston, editor of Time Out London's gay section, how he came to understand his sexuality (hopefully, he won't mind me reprinting it here):

Personally, I knew I was gay from a very young age - or if not 'gay', then certainly 'different'. The notion that someone would choose to be a member of a persecuted minority is ridiculous. It's a myth put about by homophobic assholes in an attempt to justify their bigotry.

Of course one can choose to act on the impulse or not, but the impulse is there. Homosexuality has existed in all cultures at all times, and rarely has it been actively encouraged - quite the contrary in fact. Despite, this gay men and women continue to come out, and fight for acceptance in an often hostile world. If they could choose to be straight, I dare say some of them would.

The only man I ever knew who tried to deny his true nature and live a straight life ended up hanging himself. Maybe the Christians think this was for the best?

I might not have a petri-dish containing the 'gay gene,' but I do have many gay friends and from speaking to them (something most Christians haven't done) there is no doubt in my mind that they're born with a predetermined sexuality, much like the rest of us.

The Ramifications

Whether you 'choose' your sexuality, or are stuck with it from birth, it still won't stop Christians claiming that homosexuality is abhorrent and sinful. In fact, it actually supports that notion.

When it comes to sexuality, the options don't just include 'straight,' 'gay' or 'somewhere in between.' Christians often find parallels between homosexuality and sexual preferences, like pedophilia or bestiality.

Texas senator John Cornyn argued: "If your neighbor marries a box turtle, it doesn’t affect your everyday life. But that doesn’t make it right." (Los Angeles comedian Aziz Ansari then pointed out that a box turtle was a pretty random animal to choose for an example, suggesting that at; "one point or another, Senator Cornyn must have thought about making love to a box turtle.”)

If it's true that people are born with predetermined sexualities, it also would be true that those with illegal sexual preferences (such as toward children or animals) are also 'born that way.' Nobody would argue that pedophilia or bestiality are acceptable, so why should homosexuality be any different?

Sticky Points

This is generally the impasse that people reach in the debate about whether homosexuality is 'right' or 'wrong.'

Conservatives argue that men and women are born 'male' or 'female' and designed to mate with each other, making homosexuality 'unnatural.' More liberal people point out that homosexuality is rife in nature, which means it's logical that such behavior would be exhibited by the 'human animal' as well.

Conservatives counter that argument by refuting the appeal to nature, stating that many animals devour their young, practice cannibalism and live polygamously. As man is 'better' than animals, they shouldn't allow themselves to practice cruel 'natural' behavior.

[Wait? Doesn't that totally demolish their 'unnatural' argument? Editorial Bear]

Conservatives would be better off retreating to the position, the one that equates homosexuality with pedophilia or bestiality. Neither of those sexual preferences is acceptable in civilised society and while people might be 'born' attracted to animals or children, they're quite rightly condemned if they act on their desires. What makes homosexuality different to either of those two abnormal sexual preferences?

The answer is: Consent.

The reason pedophilia and bestiality are both illegal is because practicing them implies rape.

Children are not old enough to give informed consent, so an adult who has sexual relations with a child does so against that child's will (even if the adult considers the sex to be consensual.)

Animals, likewise, can't give consent and therefore sexual relationships with animals is considered cruelty.

Homosexuality, on the other hand, involves two consenting adults, who enter willingly into the relationship without hurting each other or the rest of the community. It's that difference which presents a fundamental difference between homosexuality and other, abhorrent sexual preferences.

With most conservatives, the belief that homosexuality is 'right' or 'wrong' is deeply ingrained - but allowing gay people to have committed relationships, recognized by law, isn't about whether gay sex is a 'sin' or not:

It's about whether two consenting adults have the freedom to live their lives as they choose to. Anti-gay activists are basically saying: "Even though your lifestyle doesn't impact mine, I choose to deny you the same rights I enjoy."

To me, that's as fundamentally 'wrong' as anything two men or two women could get up to behind closed doors.

Born Gay

But back to the question regarding whether people are born gay or straight... I've often argued that the answer is 'neither.' I believe sexuality is a pretty fluid thing and nobody is ever 100% truly 'straight' or 'gay.' Funnily enough, my conservative Christian chum CK argued exactly the same thing (sort of) in this post about Ted Haggard.

I believe men and women are born merely preferring men or women. They can really prefer men, or really prefer women, or be somewhere in between (or hover in the red area around illegal sexual preferences.) For example, I'd imagine my sexuality would look something like this:

As you can see from this chart, I completely prefer women, but I do own several Coors albums and admit that John Barrowman is a handsome fella.

John Barrowman: Pretty handsome fella

CK's sexuality, on the other hand, would probably look something like this:

As you can see, he prefers women even more adamantly, with that preference offset only slightly by the fact that he drives a Kia.

Hopefully CK has a good sense of humor!

When it comes to most 'straight' women I know, even the most rigid of them would probably admit to having a sexuality resembling this:

Straight women overwhelmingly prefer men, but I have yet to meet any woman who wouldn't willingly make out with Angelina Jolie 'just to see what it would be like.'

Angelina Jolie: Straight women's kryptonite

Personally, I think my belief about people's fluid sexuality is pretty convincing - even more so now I've got these pretty charts to back my theories up with.

I think if more people accepted that sexuality isn't quite as black and white as Christians would like to believe, I think there'd be far less fuss and bother about the question of whether or not homosexuality is right or wrong. As long as no children or animals are being mistreated or abused, what does it matter what somebody's preferences are?

Many Christians argue that humanity has risen above the law of nature, so even though homosexuality is rife in nature, we shouldn't allow ourselves to define 'right' or 'wrong' merely by what happens out in the jungle.

But if humanity has truly risen above the laws of the animal kingdom, why on Earth shouldn't the rules regarding human sexuality be a little more sophisticated than those of mother nature?

After all, the world is overstuffed with six billion hungry people. The last thing we need is to have sexuality reduced to being merely the tool of procreation. If it was, we'd be knee deep in babies before we knew it!


Tom said...

For bonus points, do a graphic for Captain Jack, the character. (Did you catch the Doctor Who xmas special yet?)

More relevant thoughts: Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's not sinful. I mean, if someone had a disease that made them (want to) steal, we wouldn't just accept that.

Not that I consider homosexual activity equivalent to robbery, but I just wanted to make the point that just because something is natural, doesn't make it moral. I personally don't mind homesexual activity, provided it's done in private like heterosexual activity is. When someone runs a gay pride parade down my street, I take issue.

A random thought: If someone made a pill that "cured" homesexuality (and there are animal studies towards this going on at Oregon State University), how would people react. This is a debate that actually happens with deaf people, where there are treatments that more-or-less cure deafness, but people oppose them on the grounds that they destroy the deaf community.

Food for thought.

ck said...

You know the Black Widow spider kills her mate... can I have your wife's email? Since the animal kingdom is where we want to get our natural behavior from...

I parrot Tom's answer. Born that way or not.. natural or not... its a sin in the Bible. Unlike homosexuality, anger has been shown to be ingrained in a person's inner most being. I am angry... I do not have justification for living out that anger. It is still sin.

I find your, 'my gay friend says he was born that way' argument rather flawed. I could just as easily find a 'reformed (and even some practicing) homosexual' that would say it was a choice.But again, people are born male and female. Not gay or strait, we are designed to mate with the other sex. Doesn't stop it from being joyful, but that is the way it rolls.

Coffee Bean said...

We do not attend New Life, but know many people that do. We have heard Ted Haggard speak and gone to special events there (they put on a big production at Easter, called The Thorn, and we've known people who were in it). I find it interesting that you say that evangelicals want to just sweep him under the rug and forget about him. After all this came down, our Pastor preached about forgiveness and praying for Ted Haggard and his family... and I heard of many other churches doing the same. It was a good thing that he was found out and exposed, although very painful for his wife and children. And his church.

Somewhere there has to be a line. It is not just conservatives drawing the line. Look at California... undoubtably one of, if not the most, liberal states! The majority said NO to gay marriage.

Some of what has gone on in light of that decision has got to cause you some concern. How is it that people have the "right" to parade around naked? Judges on the entire west coast have gone insane!

Here in Colorado they passed a law where people can use whatever bathroom they feel they belong in. What? Did not anyone up at the capitol question that? Does that not open a door for predators?

Something has gone very very wrong in this society. The entertainment industry has a lot to do with it. You just wrote a post about the uber gay Dr. Who. The limits have been pushed and pushed to where people are being forced to push back. The oversexualization we are submitted to day in and day out in this country is not healthy. Look at what they want to push through in the schools and at what age! Our kids can't even have a time of innocence anymore.

If the powers that be in the gay world are really just wanting to have the same benefits that marriage provides they would have looked at the situation and considered it carefully. This isn't about the same rights. It is about seeking elevated rights. The rights of the gender confused individual here in Colorado are taking precedence over the rights of the majority. What about the children?!?!

The gay movement would have made much more headway with partner benefits if they had gone at it from a different angle. Marriage is defined as between one man and one woman. It has been defined as such throughout history. There has got to be a line.

Roland Hulme said...

Coffee Bean! I can understand your opinions... I mean, I can't stand 'gay' being shoved down my throat (poor choice of words) and it's a fine line with shows like Doctor Who. As far as I'm concerned, it seems ridiculous to define yourself purely by who you want to sleep with... I mean, does Hugh Hefner's choice to only sleep with big breasted blonds define him?

But sexualisation doesn't scare me. People parading naked in the streets, explicit sex on TV, promiscuous characters in film and television... Personally that doesn't offend me nearly as much as parents exposing their kids to guns, teenagers living in the same house as unsupervised guns, violent video games or violence on TV (and American TV has uncensored violence on at 10am, but flips out if they see a nipple on TV.)

Sex doesn't scare me. Violence and prudish censorship of our 1st amendment rights does.

ck said...

CoffeeBean... you reminded me!

he soon struggled against his church's attempt to brush his indiscretion under the carpet

Roland, you are way off base with that comment. This issue was anything but brushed under the carpet.

The team that was called (by his church... but from outside of his church) to fix this issue actually did not accept Haggard's attempt to minimize it.

This was by far one of the best handled issues I've seen of this nature in a long time (ever?).

Haggard struggled not because of their attempt to brush it under the carpet, but because they refused to let him brush it under the carpet.

Roland Hulme said...

Hey CK!

You're right. I'm not sure 'brush under the carpet' is the right term. Perhaps 'throw under the bus' is.

I mean, you had all the evangelical leaders claiming that Ted was leading the evangelical movement then downplaying his important and the significance of the NAE. 'Ba-da-bump.' The first victims under the bus.

I loved the way James Dobson, supposedly Ted Haggard's friend, quickly jumped ship from trying to support or restore Ted.

Then Tim Ralph went on air claiming Ted was totally heterosexual - 'ba-da'bump.' That was the truth being thrown under the bus. Nothing like being faced with a problem and attempting to gloss over it with a BIG, FAT LIE.

And they basically washed their hands of him - 'go and get yourself secular employment' was the line.

You're right that 'brush under the carpet' wasn't the right turn of phrase. Basically, they realised what a liability he was - and an oafish egomaniac - and kicked him out before he could do any more political damage.

It's like the story of the prodigal son, only the COMPLETE OPPOSITE.

ck said...

You are twisting this to fit your view of the situation.

The prodigal son is a good story to think about in this situation (though not the best fit... we'll hit that in a minute... and remember what happened the last time you tried to go scripture to scripture with me). The father gave the son what he wanted, complete freedom, and let him go. He did not run him down to try and convince him to not leave. He gave him his 'reward' and let him leave.

Ted was given his freedom. If Ted repents fully, he will be accepted back. Likely at even a greater position then when he left. Christianity loves the come back kid story.

The better story is 1 Cor 7. The brother was sleeping with his mother in law, something even the world found disgusting. The church was accepting the situation and they were called to expel him from the church. Then it is believed that this same brother is the person mentioned in 2 Cor. where the church is being told to accept him back in the fold.

What Ted Haggard did was sick by any common standard.
1. He cheated on his wife.
2. He cheated on his wife AND children.
3. He paid a prostitute.
4. He did it while on meth.

Then you throw the church standards on the situation:
5. He did it with a person of the same sex.
6. He did it while being in a position that calls for higher judgment and consequences for your actions.

Think about what actions (the first 4) you are trying to minimize here? When did the church become the bad one in this situation? Seems like we should let Ted Haggard be accountable for his actions.

Roland Hulme said...

Hey CK!

Actually, I can't really argue with you on any of those points. Ted Haggard, by all accounts, is to blame for his situation.

I feel sorry for his wife and kids. He basically lived a lie, pretending to be straight to fit into what was 'acceptable' in Christian society, while actually denying his true feelings AND misleading his wife, who probably though that he loved her.

Cheating with anybody, same sex or not, is dispicable, especially when it's 'risky' sex (fueled by drugs) which exposed his wife unwittingly to health risks.

I guess I'm just rolling my eyes at the church who are so desperate for him to 'renounce' his sins. You can't renounce being gay any more than you can renounce being black, or having ginger hair.

I've heard stories of people who are apparently 'cured' of being gay and most of them come across as delusional, or 'relapse' into gay behavior or, in the example Paul Burston gave, just kill themselves because they can't deny who they really are.

In our church, we actually have a lesbian couple and I think it's great they they're welcomed into our church community and their faith is recognized. Instead of two people feeling rejected and ostrocized by religion, they now feel included in it - and instead of losing two 'sheep,' Jesus gains another two.

Their faith, I'm sure he'd be the first person to say, outweighs their perceived 'sins.'

As a happily married, pretty moralistic atheist, I think it's easier for me to condemn Ted Haggard for his lies and behavior than for his church 'family.'

Roland Hulme said...

Nargh. It deleted half my comment.

I was just going to add that we have a lesbian couple at our church and I think it's wonderful that they're welcomed into the church community.

I'm sure Jesus would be the first to suggest that their faith is more important than their perceived 'sins.'

He'd probably follow it up by saying: "I never said anything about gay people. Has that idiot Paul been misattributing stuff to me again?"

ck said...

Actually you are half right with Jesus. We actually have an idea of his reaction thanks to the Bible.

I believe he would praise them for their faith, then tell them to sin no more.

No sin is unforgivable, but sin is sin and is expected to be repented of.

sexychikadee said...

I'd like to see my chart... the needle would just be waving around all willy-nilly! :)

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