Responsible choices

In honour of Saturday’s historic vote in the U.S. Senate to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, an appropriately-named compromise policy that allows gays and lesbians to serve in the U.S. military, provided that they don’t reveal that they are gay or lesbian, this blog entry is dedicated to the discussion of sexual orientation.  

A few weeks ago, a friend was among many Facebookers to post the following message:

“My wish is that people will understand that being gay is not a disease nor a choice – people who are gay are not looking for a cure but acceptance & equal rights. …”

It would have been easier to stay quiet, and had it not been for the inclusion of “nor a choice”, I might have just carried on with my day. I had something to say and I would hate to disappoint. Here is my response to that status, for your consideration:

“Homosexuality is definitely not a disease, but how do we know that it is not a choice? Consider how empowering it would be to all gays if it actually WAS a choice, rather than something they just had to “deal with”?

I was once told that if I didn’t have an obvious, objective, and indisputable answer for something, and was going to make up an explanation for it, that that explanation should be inspiring. I am inspired by the thought that everyone can choose who they are attracted to and who they choose to love, regardless of their gender.

Consider that to claim otherwise (i.e. that a person is “born gay”) is to claim that one’s sexuality is “not their fault”. It’s a form of self-protection against the bigoted and intolerant, whose opinions don’t matter anyway.”

The most enlightening opinion I have heard about this nature vs. nurture debate is that we are ALL born bisexual; that is, with the ability to love both men and women, and at various points in our lives we make decisions that move us along the sexuality spectrum, so to speak, between heterosexual and homosexual and perhaps in between them.

I’m not suggesting for a second that a child wakes up one day and exclaims “I’m going to be straight/gay.” I believe that the decision to pursue sexual/intimate partners and/or love in the same or opposite sex is a subtle decision made over time, based on experiences we are subjected to or choose to try on, comments and opinions we hear, the social environment we grow up in or expect we might grow up in, the success or failure of past relationships, the unreal interpretations we invent about how people see us and how we see people, the perception of how life *would* be if we chose one path over the other, one’s preferences for rebellion or conformity, and many, many, many more factors that we may or may not even be aware of. But, I do believe it is something that is controlled by each individual.

Another view I heard that opened my eyes was shared with me just the other day. I was asked to consider that perhaps there is such a stigma against gays and lesbians because, by default, people are assumed to be straight. Therefore, a person who says they are homosexual is going against the assumed grain. This might be the result of thousands of years where sexuality was only seen as a means of procreation. It could also arise from the tremendous (and, in my humble opinion, undue) influence we have allowed religion to have on our society and our beliefs. When the Catholic church can come out so harshly against gays and lesbians, can we really be surprised that the most powerful country in the world, with the most powerful armed forces, could publicly state that the presence of members who “demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts … would create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion that are the essence of military capability?” (excerpt from U.S. Code, Title 10, § 654. Policy concerning homosexuality in the armed forces).

Bigotry and intolerance breed the same. I was astounded when I heard that certification of the law (the process that actually makes the new law legal and in force) to repeal DADT would only be done after the U.S. military could successfully implement “training programs” designed to teach soldiers how to fight alongside gays and lesbians. NOTHING should change in terms of how two people have and now will interact with each other, support each other, or defend each other on the battlefield. Straight and gay soldiers have fought side-by-side for decades. The only difference that may arise now is that revealing one’s sexual preferences will no longer be a forced secret. That’s a good thing.

As someone who stands firmly for choice in every situation, I am proud to stand for a person’s choice of sexual partner, whatever that choice may be. What you do in your bedroom has no bearing on my life, and thus I have no right to tell you what you should or should not do there.

Repealing DADT will have a positive impact on our world, but it is only a small step. We all have a role to play in eliminating prejudice and bigotry. Those with antiquated views on sexuality need to open their minds to a new paradigm. Religious leaders need to stop the guilt, relinquish the emotional control they hold on people’s personal actions, and stop pretending to be the sole deciders of “right” vs. “wrong” in favour of respecting people’s right to choose their own course. The public at large needs to stop caring about their neighbour’s sexuality. And, gays and lesbians need to take responsibility for their ongoing choices, stop playing the victim, and stop drawing attention to their sexuality in one moment and then pleading for privacy in the next.

I have had numerous debates with people in blogs, on facebook, and elsewhere on the internet, where I have shared an opposite viewpoint. Unfortunately, in some of these cases, the original poster has been offended and has gotten angry. My view is clear. If you make your opinion known publicly, you must expect the possibility that someone will answer you just as publicly. If you put your sexuality on display in a public parade, you must expect that people might share an opinion on the subject on display. You don’t have to like what they say, but if you expect that people will respect your right to public self-expression, you must grant detractors and supporters alike that same respect.

And, speaking of public self-expression, what’s with gay “pride” parades? Making a parade about your sexuality an issue of “pride” invites questions as to why one feels the desire to share such “pride” so openly. When was the last time you were invited to a Straight Pride parade? Is our sexuality something to be “proud” of? And why do such parades have to involve scantily clad people parading in public? And how does being barely dressed indicate pride?

Consider instead that parades didn’t come about because of pride. Rather, they serve to publicize a struggle for acceptance, a cry that their community should be noticed. Sadly, the parades are the most public example of how gays and lesbians promote an “us against the world” paradigm. This approach is hurting the cause more than it is helping it.  The language surrounding the gay and lesbian lifestyle needs to change. In order for the world to stop focusing on gays and lesbians’ differences, they must stop focusing on this point themselves. Be attracted to who you want. Love who you want. Be who you want. But if you are going to “post” your sexuality in public for all to see, know that you are going to hear responses.

Only when a person takes responsibility for their words and their actions can they reasonably ask another person to be responsible for theirs. It is irresponsible to call the world’s attention to your sexuality only to then chastise those who criticize what they see. Only when someone respects themselves can they expect others to respect them. The sooner everyone takes on their responsibilities, the sooner we can tackle the next issue that is keeping people apart.

When can we put the past behind us and start on the path to positive change? Why not now?

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