Nature vs Nurture: the Gay Debate

Ultimately, one of the key questions in all debates about the place of homosexuals in society is, “What causes homosexuality?” If it is genetic, the result of hormonal imbalances in the mother’s womb, or some other natural process, then there is an argument that can be made for some form of “equal rights”. On the other hand, if it is the result of mental trauma, conditioning, or some other reversible trend, then there is an argument that can be made for treatment.

Here’s what we do know. 1) There are several organizations that claim to be able to treat homosexuality with various success rates. They have lists of people who they claim to have treated. 2) The APA has removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. 3) Many homosexuals report being aware of no particular trauma, abuse, or other “cause”, and say they have “always felt this way”.  However there is a high incidence of being sexually abused as a child among male homosexuals. 4) Some mental disorders appear to be genetic/physical in nature, but can be effectively treated through medications and therapy. 5) Many people report having various phobias, anxieties, etc with no awareness of the cause (through repressed memories or other reasons) that can be very effectively treated through therapy.

Ultimately, there are a few problems with the claim that homosexuality is genetic/otherwise physical.  First, the only true evidence we have of it is unusual behavior, and some brain scans.  The brain scans establish a correlation between homosexuality and cross-gender brain structures, but not causation.  That would require longitudinal studies, which do not appear to have been performed.

Second, suppose it is genetic.  With the advances that are being made with gene therapy, fetal genetic testing, etc, it merely changes the nature of potential treatments.  It also introduces the possibility that people might start testing for the “gay gene” and aborting potentially gay babies.

Overall, however, I think it is more useful to look at how fetishes develop.  I suspect many of them develop slowly during puberty.  When hormones take off, it’s natural to start constructing fantasies.  Each person develops their own fantasies, and some of them are more unusual than others.  People can have those fantasies slowly strengthen into compulsions, where they have to indulge in the fantasy to experience pleasure.

Now, if someone notices that the same gender is sexually appealing, and embraces the thought rather than avoiding it, this could become a strong compulsion.  Obviously, I don’t think homosexuality is genetic.  Regardless of whether it is or isn’t, however, doesn’t change the fact that it can probably be treated either now or in the near future.

The question becomes whether acting on homosexuality is healthy or not.  Homosexuality was removed from the list of mental disorders, but for men, engaging in homosexual sex is not healthy.  AIDS brought an uncomfortable level of awareness of the hazards of STDs among gay men.  The same cannot be said about gay women, for obvious reasons.

Ultimately, everyone has to deal with an unpleasant part of reality: we can’t do everything we want.  That means we can’t take money from others.  We can’t hit someone just because we’re mad.  We can’t do a lot of things.  Me, I’d really like to be able to live without working.  Programming for fun would be a lot of fun.

Without self-discipline, all of society would fall apart.  Every person has to turn down or delay getting many things we’d like.  Desire does not require action.  If it did, every high school classroom would be the site of a teenage orgy.

Unfortunately, the reality is that people are very good at coming up for excuses for why they should be able to do something they shouldn’t.  People come up with reason for why it’s OK to gamble away their money instead of pay their mortgage, why it’s OK to buy a big screen TV instead of pay alimony or child support, etc.  We convince ourselves that wants are actually needs.

Regardless of what we want, we can’t have everything.  Your ability to want things will always exceed your ability to get things.  If you focus on sex, you will find any variety a ways to want things you shouldn’t have.  We hear too many cases of rapists, pedophiles, and a variety of other people who want sex with people they shouldn’t.  Rape is never OK.  Sex with children is never OK.  The desire doesn’t matter.  Some things are simply wrong.  If a desire is wrong, you have to deal with that by denying yourself.

Ultimately, homosexuality is an affliction of desire, just like many others.  For myself, I would like many things: wealth, more time to read, a better computer, a bigger house.  Ultimately, those things wouldn’t bring me happiness.  I will never run out of books to read.  There will always be a faster computer.  There will always be a bigger house.  If I spend my time chasing those things, I am more likely to make myself miserable than happy.  Self-denial hurts, but indulgence hurts worse.

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