One of the most common misconceptions about gay people is that they choose to be gay.
Trust me, no one would choose this. There are very few gay people that come out at an early age, due to many different factors. I think the earlier people come out the better, because it would save them and others a lot of hardship.
Think about everything that usually comes with being gay. Although times have changed, and many areas of the country have generally accepting attitudes toward gay people, being gay still carries a negative connotation that causes gay people to be viewed and treated less favorably than most by society at large. Many gay people, no matter where they live, continue to struggle through a lifetime of rejection, intolerance and unprovoked hostility. While physical gay bashing and violence toward gay people has been dramatically reduced in recent years, the permanent psychological damage caused by lack of acceptance can be an even greater concern. Gay people are constantly directly and indirectly told that they’re not normal, that they can and should change, and that a part of who they are is contrary to God’s design for nature.
LGBTQ people are ten times more likely to face discrimination based on sexual orientation than heterosexuals. 50% of teens who come out experience a negative reaction from their parents; 36% suffer physical abuse, and 26% are kicked out of their homes. 40% of the U.S. homeless teen population are LGBTQ teens, despite the fact that LGBTQ people in general comprise roughly only 5% of the U.S. population. LGBTQ adults are six times more likely than straight adults to suffer chronic depression, three times more likely do develop drug or alcohol dependency, and eight times more likely to attempt suicide. LGBTQ adults are much less likely to secure equal education, jobs, healthcare and adoptive rights. (Psychology Today)
Who would choose a life like that?
Of course all of those numbers are just numbers until we know someone personally who is affected by them. Many people may or may not be surprised to know that many of those statistics apply to me. I’m happy to share which ones and how in the hopes that further education can help others.
All living beings are naturally wired with the “fight or flight” response. Due to the often unbearable stress, anxiety, and depression caused by the negative repercussions of living as a gay individual, and the helplessness of not being able to choose who we are and how people treat us, the fight or flight response manifests itself in a variety of ways. When met with oppression and opposition, the basic need to survive kicks in, creating a strong urge to fight with whatever force and means necessary. Many LGBTQ people react like pendulums: after being pushed too far toward one extreme, they swing back, propelling themselves toward the opposite extreme. Pride becomes a natural defense mechanism, and many often purposely make a point of living as limitless as possible. A life like that causes its own physical, mental and psychological distress, and while many swing back toward the center to find balance, others never do. For some, the reaction they feel most strongly is the urge for flight. This looks different for everyone as well- some uproot their whole lives and escape into LGBTQ communities like Capitol Hill or San Francisco, cutting ties with anyone who opposes their actions, which is easy to mistake as opposing them personally, because the two are so inseparably intertwined. While moving physically can eliminate or reduce some external opposition, the permanent psychological damage caused by the rejection of those who feel their rejection of the way we love is required by the way they love is inescapable. At the lowest lows, LGBTQ people are eight times more likely to choose the ultimate “flight” response by escaping the endless internal conflict the only way they know how: suicide. What a shame. We cannot choose our naturally ingrained “fight or flight” response any more than we can choose our sexuality, but what we can choose is the path of our fight or flight.
Throughout this process, I have tried to be as open as possible, to have as many conversations as possible, and to share my story and journey as much as possible. In conversations regarding the journey, I try to remember to ask people if they have any related questions. They usually either say they don’t have any questions, or they ask questions about gay sex. I guess that makes sense, because most people think that’s all that it’s about. Honestly, I hope that my life, actions and beliefs aren’t motivated by sex any more than anyone else’s. There is a wide range of heterosexual people who view and act on their own sexuality in an expansive variety of ways; the same is true of LGBTQ people.
I don’t want to get too personal or inappropriate here, but I think I can help a lot of people understand a side of homosexual people they might not realize exists. Before I came out, I had little to no interaction with, knowledge of, or experience within the gay community. It was a shock to see that what I had always heard and thought about gay people was so much different than reality. A lot of my motivation in sharing so much is to help overcome the gross injustice of the way the gay community and the “gay lifestyle” is most often represented. For me, the idea of the way gay sex happens honestly just isn’t really that appealing. I’m sure there are many women who feel similarly about sex with men, and there are men who are uncertain or nervous about what sex with a woman will be like (although I feel there’s less hesitancy there in most cases). That doesn’t mean those people aren’t straight, and my hesitancy doesn’t mean I’m not gay. I can probably understand a straight man’s desire to have sex with a woman much more easily than a straight man could understand a gay man’s desire to have sex with another man. To be honest, if I could choose to be sexually attracted to women, that would seem to make more sense because having sex with a vagina seems less gross than having sex with a man. But sex is not about body parts, it’s about the partner. When I wrote that, I didn’t even catch that I wrote “vagina” when I meant a “woman” and “man” when I meant “man.” That subtlety is significant; I certainly don’t mean it in a misogynistic way, as if women are simply vaginas for men to have sex with. I think it indicates that I have never felt a woman could provide the kind of relationship that would be fulfilling to me on an emotional, spiritual, mental or physical level.
Being gay, straight or anything else isn’t just about sex. There is so much more to human life, interaction, relationships and marriage than sex. Sex is supposed to be an outward, physical expression of an inward, invisible love. When you love someone, the desire to express that love physically comes naturally, and hesitancy is overcome. A lot of people, straight and otherwise, use sex for a lot of other reasons, but not everyone in any spectrum does. I’m sure this is confusing, but my point is, it’s not a choice, and it’s not all about sex. If people could choose their sexual orientation, they wouldn’t choose the one that causes so much internal and external conflict. Nobody chooses their orientation.
Sexual orientation is extremely complex, just like any other aspect of human life. Respected scientists go back and forth over whether there’s a “gay gene” or other scientific evidence to prove sexual orientation is literally biological, inscribed upon genes before we’re even born. Anyone can find a scientist willing to tell them what they want to hear, with evidence to support their points. The same is true of Biblical interpretation and theology. If we really think about it, there should be no wonder they there are so many uncertainties, unanswered questions, and polarizing positions on this topic and many others. While biologists go back and forth, all reputable, non-religiously affiliated psychological associations agree that sexual orientation cannot be changed, and any attempt to do so is extremely detrimental to any patient’s well-being. Several states have outlawed conversion therapy for minors and non-consenting adults, with courts ruling that the sound evidence denouncing the practice is enough to overrule the religious freedom of religiously motivated parents hoping to see their kids be turned “back” to heterosexuality. In 2013, Exodus International, the largest “Ex-Gay” ministry, closed down, issuing an apology to everyone they had hurt with the false hope that they could change their orientation through the right combination of finding the original “cause,” prayer, Bible study, and obedience to God. It reluctantly revealed that “99.9%” of people with whom they had worked had experienced no permanent change in their sexual orientation.
Many still grasp desperately to their deeply ingrained belief that sexual orientation is a choice, and for understandable reasons. Those understandable reasons mostly include: that’s what they’ve been told their whole life, and they’ve never taken the time to research alternative view points. If it’s not a choice, then that might say something about God and creation that they could never bring themselves to fathom. If everyone is made in God’s image, and roughly 5% of the world’s population is gay, what does that mean for those whose faith seems to require them to believe otherwise? It doesn’t mean God is gay, it simply means that roughly 5% of creation is gay, and they still bear God’s image. What’s wrong with that?
Although many still believe homosexuality is a choice, many Christians, Christian organizations and Christian churches have updated their beliefs to state that while a homosexual orientation is unchangeable and isn’t inherently sinful, any homosexual behavior or “lifestyle” certainly is. As one Young Life leader so eloquently put it, “The bible says that it is wrong to be a homosexual, but it does not say you can’t be a homosexual. The ACT is the sin, not the desire. The bible is clear about that as well.” At first, this position raised a lot of questions, such as,”Where does The Bible say it’s wrong to be homosexual, without saying one can’t be a homosexual?” I get the whole ACT vs. desire thing, but I couldn’t ask for clarification because he told me not to reply. Even if I could reply, I don’t think he would be able to clarify what he believed any better than he could articulate why he believed it.
It’s good to know that The Bible is so clear on this one issue. It’s only unclear on the many, many other issues that allow for multiple different viewpoints and interpretations as we continue to serve alongside each other. That’s sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell. If you actually research this issue, you’ll find one consistency among all the works by the most highly respected Biblical authors, scholars and interpreters: uncertainty. The only thing they can agree on is that The Bible is not as clear on this issue as most Christians are. Unfortunately, when English translations of The Bible began using the words “homosexuality” and “homosexual” in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, the majority of American thoughts, feelings and attitudes toward homosexuals were even worse than those toward African Americans and women. The unfounded fear, disgust, and ignorant misunderstanding of LGBTQ people still linger today, even if they look much different. In reality, most Christians are genuinely doing their best to uphold what they believe is the truth of The Bible. For the most part, their actions are genuinely motivated by what they’ve always been taught is the Biblical approach to love, truth and grace. Can’t fault them for that.
Let’s say we wholeheartedly trust science and licensed medical professionals to help us with broken bones, cancer, childbirth, eyesight, braces and our understanding of sexual orientation (not to say that we don’t also trust God to be involved in all those processes). If we can do that, then we might make it over the hump and get to a point where we can understand that it’s not a choice. If we can get outside of our comfort zones long enough to really listen to a few stories from a few gay people, we might notice that all the stories are surprisingly similar. Every gay person whose story I’ve heard or read says the same things I say: that they didn’t choose to be gay, that they tried unsuccessfully to change their orientation for convenience sake, and that even if they could have chosen, they wouldn’t have chosen this. Many people wrestle their whole lives with that, and others eventually fully accept themselves and seek meaningful love rather than meaningless sex, no matter how natural it feels. Straight people face their own challenges when figuring out how to best manage and express their sexuality, and many of their challenges also include social stigma and result in rejection. They’re just statistically much less susceptible to chronic depression, chemical dependence, homelessness and suicide, because no matter how they express their heterosexuality, it is always more acceptable than any expression of homosexuality.
If we can make it over the hump of accepting that sexual orientation and all that comes with it is not a choice, and certainly not a choice anyone would consciously make, then the next question is, “What about the ACT? If The Bible is clear that the ACT and not the desire is sin, then why can’t all those gay people just choose not to commit the ACT?” First of all, it is most often taught that sin is not ACTS, but that ACTS are merely symptoms of an inherently sinful human condition. Every person who has ever lived, except Jesus, has sinned daily by choosing to become their own God, resulting in ACTS that are the result of that unavoidable condition. Although many Christians agree with that, many still hold to the viewpoint that it’s ok to be gay as long as you don’t ACT on it- as long as you stay celibate. If we can accept that sexual orientation is unchangeable, then accepting that position would mean that God created all gay people for celibacy. Celibacy is certainly an alternative to sexual sin promoted in The Bible, but it is clear that celibacy is a gift given to some and not all. Every reference to celibacy in The Bible makes it clear that it is a choice, not a requirement; The Bible actually denounces the idea that it should be required of anyone who doesn’t make the choice to exercise the gift of celibacy.
In 1 Corinthians 7:7, when discussing celibacy, Paul states, “Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.”
Matthew 19:10-12 says, “The disciples said to him [Jesus], “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he [Jesus] said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
The Bible is clear that not all men (or women) are the same, and that we all have different gifts and ways that God works in us and through us to represent His character on earth. To believe that all LGBTQ people are required to live celibate lives is to assume that they are all blessed with the same gift. That kind of logic doesn’t apply to any other people group or any other issue in The Bible, but such is the case with many of the common arguments that loving, well-meaning, genuine Christians wield against gay Christians in their efforts to exude their version of love and grace.
Sexual orientation is not a choice. I’ve said before that for a long time I told myself and others that if I could choose, I would have chosen to be straight. The most important choice we can make in life is to align ourselves with reality. There are a lot of different opinions about reality and absolute truth, but one consistent reality is that everyone’s absolute truth is absolutely as real to them as our own understanding of absolute truth. If we can align ourselves with that reality, we can accept ourselves and others despite the different choices made in genuine efforts to live lives that demonstrate everyone’s best efforts at love.