"A Matter of Choice? Gay Life in America,"
July 27, 2001 8:02 AM   Subscribe

"A Matter of Choice? Gay Life in America," was announced to show on Nightline, and dozens of gays have contacted the program to complain about the title.
posted by christina (23 comments total)
there's a homosexual retirement community?
posted by moz at 8:14 AM on July 27, 2001

Sorry, but if the title of a television program is all we have to worry about these days, I'd say we have too much time on our hands... Wishing that the discussion of "biology vs. choice" was closed once and for all doesn't just make it so. Even those of us who well and truly believe that we were "born this way" are being disingenuous at best - and intellectually dishonest at worst - when we resort to initimidation and temper tantrums to decree that there are no valid questions left amongst the medical or religious communities.

(moz, my partner and I were talking about "retirement" and decided taht our idea of Hell on Earth would be a Queer Sun City full of geriatric citcuit boys, leather granddaddies and dykes on trikes... But I can imagine its appeal for older gays from previous generations who aren't as comfortable around heterosexuals.)
posted by m.polo at 8:39 AM on July 27, 2001

I think it is a great title. The vast majority of people just have no clue about homosexuality or where it comes from. Heck, I know people who think they don't know anyone who is gay... (think "Waiting For Guffman).

People need to see that homosexuals are not to be feared. They need to see that they shouldn't judge large groups of people based on stereotypes. Duh.
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 8:58 AM on July 27, 2001

I want some debate on the matter of choice. I'm currently sifting through the papers of J. Derek Freeman (of "The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead" (1999) fame) the controversy around which was argued in "nature vs. nurture" formulas. It is so cliched, so polarized. I'm beginning to think that this is the only kind of debate that can really reasonate with American audiences.

At the same time, Nightline is actually a really awful show, in my opinion. I can see how this is going to go already. Gay activist scientists will point to genetic evidence. Christian fundamentalist will raise non-issues about data. Both will draw totally unwarranted conclusions. Back and forth --- commercials for Miss Cleo --- some more talking in circles --- and they're done.
posted by rschram at 9:16 AM on July 27, 2001


it's difficult to say much on the matter of choice and homosexuality. there are people out there who have been to homosexual "therapy" groups, or have otherwise felt that they are no longer homosexual, but at that point it is difficult to judge. are you homosexual if you feel homosexual impulses, or only if you act those out?

further complicating that is psychology's current understanding of sexual orientation as a spectrum -- a range of behaviors, from exclusively hetero to exclusively homosexual and all that is in-between. you might find a surprising number of men who admit, via anonymous survey, to having had at least one homosexual experience in their lifetime. yet those people are for the most part heterosexual, and may in fact be in heterosexual relationships, and may not feel that they are denying any aspect of themselves.

to me, sexual orientation is clearly an example of behavior. that is not to suggest that it is like any other behavior, such as the habit of smoking. many behaviors have genetic influences, and it seems to me that homosexuality is one of those behaviors. and it is true that generally speaking, the stronger the genetic influence, the less malleable the behavior.

so, there's one end of debate on the matter of choice and homosexuality.
posted by moz at 9:29 AM on July 27, 2001

Choices are taken, decisions are made. End.

What's left to talk about? People are people. People need to be left to live as they choose. If everyone would be a little more self-aware, none of this would be happening. Honesty is the key. I think the Bible had it pretty darned nailed when it said to "be sure and notice the plank in your own eye, before you worry about the toothpick in your friends'" (six's nonstandard revised on the fly version)

We all have a life to lead. We all need a place to be ourselves and stand in our own crowd. If we Christians would stop attempting to be the purveyors of some holy cause where we want to stamp out those who don't buy what we say, and if others could slow down long enough to know we're not all like that, we'd be in better shape. The whole Christian themeology is about FREEDOM. FREEDOM. Do we really think boycotting Disney and trying to cancel some sitcom makes a GOOD impact? I for one do not.

So why do I even point out this? It's not part of the thread, but it is relevant. I point it out to say that we can have all the documentaries, all the revealing, eye opening news tidbits and facts we want - but until people start being HONEST - about themselves and who they are responsible for, nothing is going to change. I think it might be time to stop talking, stop spending millions on television shows, and start taking some action in regards to US - no one else.

"Know thyself" and you WILL begin to understand others.
posted by sixandone at 9:50 AM on July 27, 2001

Moz, I agree with you for the most part.

[M]any behaviors have genetic influences, and it seems to me that homosexuality is one of those behaviors.

Given this, I'm personally curious about how one might describe the process by which people adopt these behaviors. If in fact this is a question of "influence," I would hope that we could understand what it means to be so influenced. Being "influenced" into having an identity might make it seem more "real" or "natural." This is a case in which "knowing thyself" is the best goal. I mean that one should question one's conceptions about one's self.

I think the question that needs to be asked is whether we want to assert biologically based identities in the public sphere, or do we want to foster a more wide-ranging discussion about human sexuality. There's a total lack of symmetry in biological bases for homosexuality. No one, for instance, asks if there's a genetic basis for heterosexuality. (For obvious evolutionary reasons.) If you apply the same standard to all sexuality, then you'll find a lot of contradictory influences. How does an organism emerge form all that. To answer that question, you need a model of process, along the lines of child development or psychological systems.
posted by rschram at 9:55 AM on July 27, 2001

At least it's got a question mark in the title. The title could be read as being pointed at religious fundamentalists -- "You say homosexuality is a choice, but is it really?" -- as easily as it could be read of being doubtful of the gay position on the question. The title is actually quite ambiguous and nuanced, for a network news program.

I'm sure gays would like for the question to go away once and for all, by which I mean they would like to win the argument at last and be able to smack down anyone who gives them shit about it, but within my lifetime it wouldn't have even been a question worth discussing -- if you were gay, you were a deviant and quite likely damned to hell. This is progress, people.
posted by kindall at 10:20 AM on July 27, 2001

If homosexuality isn't a choice, is heterosexuality? What about bisexuality? Are we genetic robots, unable to make any decisions without our DNA preapproving them?

I've experimented sexually. I've got to say that I come down more on the side of those who believe that sexuality is a continuum, and nobody is 100% anything. I've been with men, and with women, and while I prefer women I would consider a relationship with a man if it seemed to be the right man. Unfortunately, most men (gay, straight or otherwise) seem to be overweening pricks. (I include myself in this...can you imagine dating someone who gets pissed off by something like a post on MetaFilter?)

I'm sure there are a complicated series of genetic factors that influence who we fancy. But ultimately, I made my choices, and I see nothing morally wrong with loving anyone. It's simply none of my business what others do if it doesn't directly affect me, and so I tend to side with the idea that all sexuality is a series of choices, that we make all our lives.
posted by Ezrael at 10:36 AM on July 27, 2001


well, if behavior has a strong genetic influence, the process by which people adopt behaviors is quite naturally through genetic inheritance from the parents. that does not mean that either parent is necessarily homosexual if the child is; i, for one, sincerely doubt that homosexuality can be described by merely one gene. (the actual number that influences sexual orientation might be fairly large, like 10, 20, or more.)

from all of the homosexual people i know and whose stories i have heard, it seems that there is a point in most of their lives where they realize their homosexuality (or dread it constantly -- this is before the point where they may necessarily accept their orientation). a large number also describe feeling "different" from others throughout their lives. it seems that for many, homosexuality is a phenomenon they've lived with for quite a while. (perhaps their entire life.)

i personally am quite wary of stories about people who "suddenly" discover their homosexuality. there is a movie starring ally sheedy that i saw on the independent film channel recently, about a magazine asst. editor who goes through such a discovery with a lesbian photographer (the latter played by sheedy). i find it difficult to believe that homosexuality could be so sudden, but i suppose such is possible; if it were so, i would argue that its genetic basis may well be different from other homosexuals for whom evidence of their orientation is there throughout their lives. that probably complicates the matter from a genetic point of view quite a bit.

as to your comment that no one applies a genetic basis to other aspects of human sexuality, i agree. homosexuality is a political issue, and one important to a lot of people, and therefore much research goes into it. yet it's quite probable that many other aspects of human sexuality have their origins in genetics, just as homosexuality may; and, more complicating, it's quite possible these origins are discrete and have little or nothing to do with each other. it may be a long time before we really have a good understanding of human sexuality.


we are genetic robots. however, it's a fallacy to believe that our the relationship between the mind's desires and our DNA is like that of a child and his or her mother, asking for permission to do something. rather, the so-called "approval" of DNA, to me, seems a priori; if you wanted to experiment with your sexuality, any genetic influence has already been resolved (in that case, in favor of the experimentation).
posted by moz at 11:07 AM on July 27, 2001


No, we aren't.

Unfortunately, that's as far as this argument can go, really. You can't prove to me that my DNA controls my actions (I'm willing to admit influence, but not control) and I can't convince you otherwise.

For instance, where do I get my DNA? From my parents, who got it from theirs, and so on. If your take on DNA was accurate, I could simply look at their lives and know all I would think and feel. But I am far more intelligent, insightful, and interested in the world than either of them, or anyone else in my family. Even allowing for mutation, the fact is that I have abilities that simply cannot be explained by genetic inheritance.

There's more to us than a code that tells our bodies how to grow. Our brains do more, far far more, in their intricate interaction between R-complex, Limbic and Neocortex, and beyond all that is yet more.

And I doubt that will convince you. And I know you can't convince me. So I'll let it go there. You can view yourself as being pre-programmed, but I shall not.
posted by Ezrael at 11:44 AM on July 27, 2001


originally, you may read, i noticed that "many behaviors have genetic influences"; the opposite is also true, that is, that many behaviors have little if any genetic influence.

still, you are pre-programmed by your DNA, but i think you took my words too far to the extreme; give me the chance to be a bit more clear. you are pre-programmed to have a certain color hair. you may dye your hair, but your body's natural hair color is immutable (unless you want to count gray hair). you are not pre-programmed to go to the grocery store at 5 o'clock on saturday. i am not denying that our environment influences the way we think, but i dare you to will your hair, by the power of your mind alone, to a different color. i dare you to parachute from a plane and see if the color of your hair will change to reflect your new experience.

we, as people, are products not only of our environment but of our genetics. not all aspects of ourselves are equally affected by either our environment or our genetics, as well. i would say that hair color is affected moreso by genetics than by environment, while one's smoking habit is affected more by environment than genetics.

i do not mean to suggest that you are the person who you are, with your opinions and your beliefs, by destiny; we all deserve more credit for ourselves than that. but homosexuality, it seems, is not like any other opinion or belief that you have. and, indeed, homosexuality is hard to pin down as a general concept. i can point you to twin studies -- studies of people, separated at birth from their identical twins -- where the percentage of homosexual men whose twins were also homosexual was 100%. the same study of women had nearly 0% concordance. (if not exactly 0% -- i can't remember.) it seems, therefore, that homosexuality differs between men and women in its origins. whether you want to buy all that or not, i can't say. i hold firm to the belief, though, that homosexuality has a stronger genetic influence than it has an environmental one.
posted by moz at 12:15 PM on July 27, 2001

I didn't watch the show, but one thing I should point out is that there is significant scientific thought that male homosexuality and female homosexuality are quite disparate phenomena -- although they have some of the same outcomes, they have little or no of the same causes or biological / psychological structures.

Where this seems to come down on the choice / biology thing is that lesbianism seems much more transitory / choice based than male homosexuality.

My anecdotal experience certainly bears this out: every one of the dozen or so lesbians and women bisexuals I knew back in Berkeley 10 years ago is now married to a man or dating men exclusively, which is a return to the status quo of high school and early college prior to their period of active lesbianism.

Whereas, every man I've ever known who's come out as gay is still gay now, exclusively and without regrets or interruptions. Every man who's come out as "bisexual" is also gay now, and has never dated women at any time even while identified as bi.

This is not to say that I think that lesbianism is a conscious choice -- but that whatever it is seems much more subject to circumstances and occurences in early adulthood and is apparently set aside with relative ease, whether consciously or unconsciously.
posted by MattD at 12:32 PM on July 27, 2001

moz -- I was working on my post and didn't see that you'd posted something similar, sorry...
posted by MattD at 12:33 PM on July 27, 2001

Bodies are bodies, and erogenous zones are erogenous zones. I have no doubt that you could blindfold the straightest guy to ever walk the earth, and he'd unknowingly get off on a blow job from another guy. What is ephemeral here is attraction, and while we queers can choose not to sleep with the people to whom we're attracted, I don't know any of us who can actually change to whom we are attracted.

That goes for just about anybody- if you don't like chicks with red hair, you just don't like chicks with red hair. If you aren't attracted to members of the opposite sex, you're just not. It doesn't preclude you being able to have sex with red-headed members of the opposite sex, it just makes it much less likely you'll choose to do so.

I don't ever remember not being attracted to women. It never even occurred to me that there was something unusual (by societal standards) about my attraction to women. All of my friends have had the same experience, though it seems that boys learn earlier on that being gay has a huge stigma attached. Attraction just is, and I don't think there's any way to alter what was hard-wired in. Even programs like Exodus admit that they don't "cure" homosexuality, they just convince homosexuals to act contrary to their attractions.
posted by headspace at 12:49 PM on July 27, 2001

moz: I know of at least one pair of Identical Twins who are of differing sexual orientation. They were featured in an Esquire collection of photographs and essays entitled Brothers. I forget their names now. But you can find the book on Amazon, and you can purchase it and read about them. Identical twins, one gay, one straight. Exact same DNA, different preference.

Hair color, size, and so forth...these are not programming. These are physical traits, not decisions. I may not be able to control my hair color by will, but I can decide what to do with my hair, as you point out. I think part of the problem is, and has always been, how you define what is our mind and what is our body, and which impulses come from which. My hair color, my size, these are not the same as my behavior.

I admit, again, to some genetic influence. But I have been sexually attracted to males and to females, and I have never chosen a male. Not because of any feeling that homosexuality is somehow wrong or immoral, either, and that I had to suppress it. I simply have chosen to be what I am, and that includes the sexual encounters I have had in my life. Basically, I have chosen women because I couldn't stand to have to deal with a man after sex. They irritate me. I can be friends with them, because I can always walk away, but being intimate with one does not appeal.

But I am attracted to them, for entirely different reasons than I am attracted to women. I see no reason to deny it, or to pretend that it isn't there. But I'm not programmed to participate in it, either.

As for Ex-Gay ministries...well, I've always felt and I always will feel that love is a private matter. I don't see any reason to be ashamed of loving anyone, and no reason to stop because of an old book.
posted by Ezrael at 2:05 PM on July 27, 2001

MattD - Sorry to blow your experience, then, but I'm what you could define as Bisexual, and I'm not gay now, and I am dating a woman now. Anectdotal evidence is ultimately just that, anectdotal. Living in the SF Bay area, I've seen a lot of behavior that does not jibe with the experiences I had in DC, or London, or Boston. It doesn't mean that the Bay Area isn't the way it is, just that each of these places have incredible variety, more than any one person can truly experience. Ultimately, I realize that using my own life experience is equally as limited, but it serves to deflate absolutes.
posted by Ezrael at 2:09 PM on July 27, 2001


point taken (regarding identical twins of differing orientation). to my fault, i neglected to mention that 100% concordance is not what i or any well-meaning psychologist might expect from a twin study. i mentioned it to attempt to show a genetic link, however.

your statement that identical twins have the exact same dna, however, is not true. identical twins actually share about 60% of their dna (i am not sure if the same sequences are shared by all twins, or if the similarities are along random sequences of your dna strand). which actually further demonstrates your point that one homosexual identical twin does not necessarily predicate the other as homosexual.

i can see, and i had not realized before, that the idea of being "programmed" leads to a connotation of intention or control which, in truth, is not really there. while the range of possible hair colors -- barring extremely situational mutation -- is fixed, the outcome is very random. i intended programming to imply that if red is your natural hair color, that's what it is, and there's no way of getting around that. your actual hair color can be changed, as has been mentioned.

let me try to provide a better analogy between sexual orientation and some other probable genetically-influenced behavior. consider sexual attraction. not attraction to any one type of person -- simply sexual attraction at its most abstract. sexual attraction, in and of itself, is a behavior that is universal to almost all. it is true that there is such a phenomenon as asexuality, though i am not sure if that is not merely a lifestyle choice of some or if it is a sexual orientation such as hetero/homo/bisexuality. yet, as a phenomenon, i would say asexuality is in such low number that if it were biological in nature, it would be reasonable to say it would be caused by mutation. and even assuming asexuality were a lifestyle choice, you cannot say that the urge to be attracted to others will no longer exist or will be impossible.

it's quite easy to understand how the notion of attraction would be genetic in nature; few behaviors are so closely linked to the survival of a species than sexual attraction. therein also lies the quandary in linking behavior with genetics: few behaviors are so evolutionarily important, and thus easy to explain or demonstrate as a function of genetics. but we're getting there.
posted by moz at 2:40 PM on July 27, 2001

Identical twins, one gay, one straight.

This is sitcom gold.
posted by rodii at 4:19 PM on July 27, 2001

Quick, somebody see if Patty Duke is available to play the old-but-still-hip Mom or something...
posted by m.polo at 5:51 PM on July 27, 2001

moz: I don't disagree that there is an evolutionary reason for sexual attraction. I simply believe, ultimately, that anything we do, we can choose. I believe in will over DNA, and I believe in will over nurture as well, when there is a decision to be made. As an example (and while I was under the impression that my twin and I, having begun from the same fertilized egg cell, shared the same DNA, but until I can get better information I will assume you to be correct) my father and I have a rare genetic condition. We have two Y chromosomes, instead of one.

Yet, despite sharing this condition, despite our almost identical appearance, despite the fact that he raised me to be a relentless Christian prosetylizer who used the Bible as the ultimate litmus test for reality...we share nothing. We are not alike. I read books that would bore him to tears. I choose friends he believes are damned to hell, and I have feelings he would probably despise me for. Some of those feelings have been for men, which would go over as well as a nuclear test at my father's house.

What I have inherited from him are purely physical characteristics like appearance. We're both tall, broad, bearded men. And that is it. We don't think the same, don't act the same. So while I will accept that there are tendencies one can inherit, and other tendencies one can learn, as long as you use your mind to think and examine who you are, what you are and why, you can make your own choices.

Your opinions are not inherited. What you do with your sex drive is a complicated interaction between certain inherited drives and your mind. And as far as I'm concerned, anyway, that's as should be, and the only person it concerns is each individual in their own way, because they are the ones who have to live with the results.

Let love increase, I read somewhere. If you can manage to get past yourself and love another, that seems like a triumph to me, and the gender of that person matters not a whit.

I realize ultimately that this is a sensitive topic, and that what I'm arguing for is that people make a choice that has lead them in the past through derision, suspicion and bigotry. I have often heard the question Why would anyone choose to put themselves through that? I understand that question. But I have always been a gadfly, and I have always chosen to tell the world to fuck off when it and I disagree. I would choose to put myself through that, if I met a man and found myself falling in love with him. It hasn't happened in my life, but it has come close, and I'd have loved him as well as I have any of my other loved ones. And fuck anyone who has a problem with it.

But that's ultimately only my opinion. I can't really prove it. I simply find myself unable to accept that I cannot make decisions about any aspect of my life that requires action on my part. If I have to choose to do it, then I can choose not to, is how I have always felt.
posted by Ezrael at 10:06 PM on July 27, 2001

From the article:

"Bettag [the executive producer], in his posted response, said that although many homosexuals believe the question [as to whether it's a choice] has been resolved, scientific and religious arguments remain."

Umm... okay. Let's see. I'm gay, and I can tell Bettag, based on my personal, first-hand experience, that it wasn't a choice. But no, I'm sure a religious person or a scientist knows me better than I know myself.

I'm sorry, but I don't understand why he can't just take my word for it.

I'm trying to be open-minded here, but it's kind of insulting, really.
posted by Tin Man at 10:29 PM on July 27, 2001


if you believe in will over nurture, then let me ask you: where did the will come from, if not your environment? is it just some abstract, platonic concept that floats around in the ether?

most of what you say is fine. i'm not arguing that our opinions are inherited, nor have i ever. however...

What I have inherited from him are purely physical characteristics like appearance.

this statement about your father is incorrect, and yet you seem to acknowledge as much earlier:

I don't disagree that there is an evolutionary reason for sexual attraction.

there is absolutely no way for any sort of physical trait or behavior to be evolutionary, but not genetic. you did inherit some behaviors from your father. perhaps it seems rather obvious or unspectacular that you and your father both feel sexual attraction towards some individuals, and yet that is undeniably a shared, inherited behavior.

you seem hung up on the idea that i'm trying to say that your opinions are inherited from your father or that nature might destine some people to voting republican: this is not the case at all. it never has been, it never will be. it might make things clearer to say that, really, the only behavior which is likely to be strongly genetic is any behavior which is directly evolutionary in nature. i realize voting republican versus democratic might destroy the world, but it is not directly linked to your ability to find a mate or to survive, and thus there is no reason for it to be hard-coded into your genes.
posted by moz at 8:44 AM on July 28, 2001

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