Homosexuality: Innate Or Acquired?

“You were going to describe some reservations you have about the modern view of homosexuality,” said John.

Dr Smith took a deep breath and briefly drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair.

“Yes.  But, to begin with, I must stress that I’m far from being an expert in this area.  I’ve only ever read about the subject, I’ve never had a homosexual client, at least, not one I knew about.  Second, I’m pretty open-minded about it.  I’m certainly not antagonistic towards homosexuals.  Live and let live has always been my motto.

“That said, I do have reservations about the modern view that homosexuality is a normal human variation.  To me, both as a scientist and as an ordinary heterosexual male, it seems self-evident that it is not normal.  The trouble is, its normality has become the politically correct view, and you can get into trouble nowadays for expressing opposing views.  In some contexts, it’s become almost heretical to criticize the received wisdom.

“Anyhow, my first reservation concerns the fact that homosexuality is a highly complex subject, with many different facets.  It’s not one single thing, with one single explanation, or one single cause.

“For instance, it’s clear enough that there are different kinds of homosexuality.  I can think immediately of half a dozen.  There are environmental, hedonistic, fashionable, cultural and adolescent varieties, and that’s not to speak of the physiological or psychological issues which may form the core of the matter.

“The environmental forms are obvious enough.  We are sexual beings, it’s part of our nature, and the sexual impulse doesn’t cease in the absence of the opposite sex.  Rather, the remaining sex, deprived of its natural expression, may seek solace with its own kind.  Thus homosexuality and lesbianism have never been unknown in celibate male and female religious orders, in monasteries or convents, in harems, single sex military units, male-only naval vessels, prisoner-of-war camps, ordinary prisons, single-sex boarding schools, and so on.  Are these occurrences normal?  Of course not.  It is precisely the abnormal circumstances which create the potential for homosexual activity.

“Constraints on ordinary male/female unions can also bring about  homosexuality.  It has always been commonplace throughout the Muslim world, for example, due to strictly enforced religious barriers between the sexes and men being allowed four wives, which creates a shortage of women.

“Hedonistic versions have been known throughout history as well.  They stem from ignoring the mental and emotional aspects of sex and regarding sexual pleasure as purely physical, so that it doesn’t particularly matter how the pleasure is obtained.  Libertines have often been notorious for indiscriminate affairs with either sex.

“Fashions too, have sometimes led to homosexual activity.  Having a lesbian affair was once all the rage in some circles in New York, or so I’ve been told, and certainly sophisticates in London, Paris, Peking and elsewhere have indulged in same-sex dalliances across the centuries.

“The Ancient Greeks were famous, of course, or infamous if you prefer, for encouraging young men to have love affairs with prepubescent boys, but I read somewhere that there was an underlying practicality involved:  birth control.

“Homosexuality can besides happen out of curiosity, ‘I wonder what it’s like’ sort of thing.  It can also occur during adolescence, when sexual feelings and emotions are developing, bodies are changing, hormones are firing off all over the pace, and same sex ‘crushes’ can come about.  Intense friendships are common during adolescence and, sometimes, particularly when combined with curiosity, can lead to experiments with homosexual or lesbian sex.

“Further, girls have been known to ‘play marriage’ and ‘practice’ on one another.  Casanova mentions it in the Venice of his day and I’ve been informed it sometimes occurs in all-girl boarding schools.

“Youthful rebelliousness, the desire to shock, is another possible cause, as is sheer naughtiness, the flouting of taboos.  However, such things tend to be short-lived and of little significance, though tastes acquired when young, amongst other things, can contribute to the phenomenon of bisexuality.

“Turning back to adults, an ignorant or insensitive husband can also drive a woman into the arms of one of her own kind.  I’ve been told lesbian love can be very tender and sensual.  A woman who has known little or no pleasure with a boorish husband, yet finds it with another woman, might readily come to believe that she is ‘in fact’ a lesbian.

“Anyway, to conclude here, it is plain enough that you cannot declare something to be normal when you could be talking about many different phenomena.”

John frowned.

“But in most of the instances you’ve mentioned it’s been largely a question of experimentation, or ‘for want of anything better,’ hasn’t it?  It’s been surrogate sex, not a true homosexuality.  It might not have happened if circumstances had been different.  Nowadays, though, when people talk about homosexuality, they’re referring to sexual orientation, something you’re born with.  That’s what they mean by normal; that it’s a natural occurrence, a human variation, leading to an alternative lifestyle.”

“Yes, I’m just getting to that,” answered Dr Smith.  “You see, my second reservation concerns evolution.  In evolutionary terms, the idea of homosexuality being normal simply cannot be correct.  No mammalian species could survive if the male and female roles were in any way optional.  And, in point of fact, evolution made sure that male was attracted to female and vice versa.  Plainly then, from a biological point of view, homosexuality is an aberration, it is not normal.  Even homosexuals themselves acknowledge this when they refer to the rest of us as straight.

“Nonetheless, I’m fully prepared to accept that some people may be born that way.  I mean, there’s a disorder of some sort, often several, for virtually every biological system and aspect of the human body, from the hair on our heads to our toenails, and everything in between.  Problems certainly occur in reproductive organs and in the physiological systems which control them.  So it’s perfectly possible that homosexuality, and I include lesbianism, may in some cases be explained physiologically – the person in question is just wired up differently.  That said, I’m personally convinced that such cases would be rare, as rare as hermaphroditism is, for instance.

“But the bottom line when talking about possible physiological explanations for homosexuality is that human diseases and disorders are not the norm.  The vast majority of people are normal and healthy.  Illness and physiological defects are the abnormal.”

“What about genetics?” John interrupted.  “Haven’t scientists now demonstrated a genetic basis for homosexuality?”

“Some think they have, yes, and I freely accept it as a possibility in some cases.  But, to me, thinking in evolutionary terms, the genetic explanation doesn’t make any long term sense.  Since true homosexuals don’t normally breed, the gene would vanish in a single generation.  Even if the defective gene reappeared regularly, it would disappear just as quickly each time.  Isn’t that a rather obvious flaw in the genetic hypothesis?”

“Artificial insemination would overcome it though,” observed John.  “That would perpetuate the gene.”

“True.  But the word ‘artificial’ makes my case.  It’s not normal!”

“Yes, of course,” John grinned, then became serious again.  “What about those anthropological or sociological studies I’ve heard about which state that there is always a percentage of homosexuals in every society?”

“Well, like you, I’ve heard about them, but no more than that.  I’d need to read them, find out about the authors, and study the methods used.  Some reports rather strongly suggested exaggeration to me, or jumping to conclusions, or perhaps even wishful thinking.  For example, an anthropologist I did read found just one homosexual in a tribe of many thousands in South America.  That’s a minuscule percentage.  Yet I’ve heard mention of supposedly scientific findings that ten percent or more of men are homosexual.  Well, purely on the basis of my own experience of clinical practice I’d never accept that as factual.  I simply do not believe it.  I’d want to check the methodology minutely and I’m pretty sure I’d find faults in it.”

The two men, older and younger, counsellor and client, fell silent for a minute or two.

“But how do you explain homosexuality then?” asked John eventually.  “I mean, it may only effect a minority, but it’s not exactly rare is it?  If you reject genetics, what does cause it?”

“Well, as I said at the outset, I haven’t studied the matter closely.  Nevertheless, from my admittedly limited reading and experience, I’m convinced that the older, no longer fashionable view, is the correct one, that homosexuality is usually psychological in origin.

“It’s true that zoologists have observed homosexual behaviour in some animal species, but not in the exclusive sense you find among humans.  It would fly in the face of evolution if it occurred.  By exclusive, I mean the homosexual who turns his or her back on the opposite sex, and who is revolted by, or impervious to, the prospect of normal sexual intercourse and relationships, and avoids them on a lifetime basis.

“So, what makes the difference between the homosexual play of some animals and the exclusive human homosexual?  In my opinion, it is the mind, with its long, slow development, its dependence on choice, its potential for osmotic or unconscious learning, and the unperceived influence of the subconscious on personal choices.

“Another factor is emotional sensitivity.  It’s my belief that homosexuals are extra-sensitive people, that’s why there are, relatively speaking, so many in the arts.

“Anyhow, there are many factors which might, or could, derail normal sexual development in a sensitive person:  fears based on childish misunderstandings about sex; fear of the opposite sex’s mysterious genitals; an overbearing mother or father; shocking childhood encounters or traumas, such as sexual abuse; even revenge for real or imagined adult wrongdoings of a nonsexual kind.  All these can, or could, play a part in turning what would otherwise have been a normal person into a homosexual.  Self-esteem problems are yet another factor, such as fear of proving sexually incompetent, or the belief that one is ugly or undesirable.

“My own conclusion is, therefore, that while it may be an inborn phenomenon in some people, most exclusive homosexuality is a psychological issue, one which could be resolved, or cured if you prefer, by psychotherapy, if the person really wanted and was prepared to make the effort.  Consequently, I’m confident that, in the majority of cases, homosexuality is a chosen path.  You’re not born a homosexual, you become one.”

“Not a popular point of view today.”

“No.  But it seems like common sense to me,” Dr Smith replied, smiling.  “However, the view of homosexuality as a natural orientation – that people are just born that way – has become more or less standard nowadays and I suspect that some young people are being led, or misled, down a path they had no need to follow.  Fleeting attractions during puberty, combined perhaps with an unsuitable or unhappy environment – such as a single-sex boarding school or a broken home – could cause young people influenced by modern ideas to assume they are homosexual.  Couple that perhaps with possible nervousness about the opposite sex and the sexual act – plus the fact that homosexuality is the easy way out in such contexts – and a totally unnecessary homosexual episode, or a lifetime of homosexuality may ensue.

“All that said, let me reiterate that I, personally, am not antagonistic towards homosexuals.  I am completely tolerant of them.  I say ‘tolerant’ because I don’t know any.  But I certainly don’t want to see them mocked or mistreated or persecuted.  Not at all, live and let live.  Just don’t try and tell me their way of life is normal.  It isn’t.”

“It’s quite a relief to hear you talk like this,” said John.  “I think you’ve pretty much said what I have felt, but have never put into words.  That business about political correctness really struck a chord.  I had a friend at school who thought he was gay because he loved working out with weights and admired the other guys’ bodies in the gym.  I told him not to be such an ass.  If you want to be Mr Universe, muscley bodies are what you admire.  But his head was full of what he’d heard or read about being born gay so he wouldn’t listen.  Fortunately for him, he was seduced by a buxom blonde at his sister’s 21st birthday party and became the most incredibly enthusiastic stud overnight.  And of course he had the body for it.”

Dr Smith joined in John’s laughter.

“My sister, who’s a writer,” Dr Smith went on shortly; “and very fussy about the precise use of words, can’t stand people using the word ‘gay’ to mean homosexual.  ‘Gay’ used to mean carefree enjoyment, she says.  It was one of the most expressive and pleasing words in the English language.  ‘It’s a tragedy that the word has been expropriated by a minority who have no particular reason to call themselves ‘gay,’ she said to me last time I saw her.  ‘If you mean homosexual, say homosexual.  Using a euphemism doesn’t change anything.’  She thinks we should all revert to using ‘gay’ in its old sense, to describe jollity or innocent fun, and start talking again about going to gay parties and having a gay old time.  ‘Let’s get our word back,’ she said.”

“My father would agree with that!” John grinned.

“Well, it may not be too late.  But, whatever, to me, using the word ‘gay’ to describe homosexuals does seem to support the psychological case I’ve been making.  Euphemisms are employed when people wish to avoid awkward subjects; or want to deflect attention; or seek to disguise their meaning, or don’t want to confront the truth about things.  All of which issues are psychological at root.”