Girls who are boys who like boys to be girls… Biology and Homophobia

Slate ran the story of Cynthia Nixon explaining her homosexuality:

I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.  [Source: Slate, ‘Is Cynthia Nixon’s Sexuality Really a Choice?’]

Nixon’s comments have reportedly upset a lot of people but it raises an issue with which I’ve always been a little bit uncomfortable: regardless of whether or not homosexuality is biologically hardwired, why isn’t homosexuality a morally fine sexual orientation?

There are a few reasons why we should be worried about the argument.  Let’s start with the hypotheticals.

Let us imagine that they one day work out a litmus test for determining homosexuality.  They’ve found the genes which are the ’cause’ of homosexual tendencies.

1.  What happens if somebody falls madly in love with a partner of the same sex, but they fail the litmus test?  Is homosexuality only a valid choice if you’re biologically homosexual?

2.  Should prospective parents be permitted to screen foetus for homosexuality?

3.  What prevents the argument ‘Oh, sure it’s biological but people can overcome biological impulses?’  We see this problem a lot in the pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology.  Some crank from the University of East Bumcrack comes out with a study ‘proving’ that men raping women is a biologically hardwired into the brains of men.  Only raving lunatics think that this is a justification or apology for rape.  The more sane of those who drink the evolutionary psychology Kool Aid usually add the caveats: ‘But just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s morally right.’  We fall into the same hole if we try to convince homophobes that biology discredits homophobia.

The answer to all three of the above is: homosexuality is wonderful.  It doesn’t matter what the biology is, love is love and love should be celebrated.  Love is the manifestation of reason and the zenith of rationality.  There is nothing more rational than to fall in love.  Two rational people falling in love should be a cause for celebration, not an inquiry into whether it’s the correct form of love or whether the love is biologically determined.  It’s this rationality aspect which divorces it from exploitation with which homophobes keep trying to associate homosexuality.  Meanwhile, homophobia does nothing but hurt people.

And yet both advocates and ‘phobes seem to be in a deathmatch over whether it’s a choice.

Advocates don’t gain any ground against homophobes by showing that homosexuality is a biological product.  Pointing to bodgy ‘science’ in the attempt to prove genetics (the twin study is the most inane of these) just hands homophobes the tools to discredit activists.

Nixon’s declaration that she’s gay by choice (although she later muddled through ‘I’m bisexual but everybody hates bisexuals’ before landing on ‘I choose to be gay but other people’s sexuality might be biologically determined’) should open up the debate, but it’s not.  We’re still stuck playing on the homophobes’ home turf.

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

3 thoughts on “Girls who are boys who like boys to be girls… Biology and Homophobia”

  1. I’m glad to see you take an interest in the topic, but know you can do better than this.

    ‘…she muddled through ‘I’m bisexual but everybody hates bisexuals” is exactly the kind of unhelpful comment your commentary purports to be against. The discourse on sexuality is already fraught. Don’t be a chump!

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