I very rarely feel the need to dignify idiotic rhetoric with a response, primarily because I assume that y’all already know that said rhetoric is idiotic, and because the people who spout that sort of rhetoric are unlikely to be convinced by my words. But lately, I’ve noticed a resurgence in the “being gay is a lifestyle choice” trope, and I’ve just got to take a stance.
Being gay (or bi, lesbian, queer, trans, etc) is not a “lifestyle choice.” As Dan Savage points out, if it was, we would totally have missionaries going door to door to convert straight people. And, in fact, there is no unified LGBQT lifestyle to choose, even if it was a choice. If one truly believes that being gay is a lifestyle choice, than wouldn’t one just as easily say that being heterosexual is also a lifestyle choice, and that therefore there is no “natural” basis of sexuality?
There are a lot of misconceptions about sexuality in the world, and this whole lifestyle choice thing is one of them. People do not opt to be gay, lesbian, straight, kinky, or anything else. They just are. They might experiment with other sexualities early in life, but no one wakes up and makes a conscious decision to be gay. People do, on occasion, try to force themselves into being straight because of social pressure, but this is not a choice.
No one is really sure how, when, and why sexual and gender orientations emerge, although a lot of studies have been conducted. The biggest conclusion seems to be that gender and sexual orientation are far more fluid than most people realize, and that there are a lot of permutations out there. None of these permutations are choices. People don’t choose to be straight ciswomen, genderqueer asexuals, or anything else. Rather, facets of gender and sexual orientation emerge over time, and we can’t really do that much to control them.
The argument that being gay is a lifestyle choice bothers me on a number of levels.
First of all, it assumes that one sexual orientation, heterosexuality, is “normal” and superior to other sexual orientations. This is literally heteronormative, and also intensely wrong. Yes, humans do at some point need to have sex with each other to perpetuate the species. But, you know what? Homosexual and bisexual behavior have been observed in many mammals, suggesting that heterosexuality is not necessarily a biological imperative, although arguments could be made that heterosexuality should, statistically speaking, be the most common sexual orientation.
It also assumes that there is a “gay lifestyle” to which people can opt into, and this just isn’t the case. As discussed above, there are so many potential arrangements of sexual orientation and gender identity that the possibilities are dazzling, and even within the same category, there’s a lot of diversity. Gay men, for example, come in many guises, and they lead a wide variety of actual lifestyles which have very little to do with their sexual orientation, from luxurious existences as banking executives to hardscrabble lives on the street.
And in the case of people who know from a very young age what their sexual orientation or gender identity is, are you telling me that, say, six year old children are seeing a “lifestyle” which they decide to model themselves after? No. They just happen to be very secure in their identity. Furthermore, being taught that same sex marriage happens, or that gender identity can be diverse, is not going to magically transform children into something they are not.
Yes, having open discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation in the schools might lead to an increased and earlier expression of “deviant” genders and sexualities, but I think that’s because people would understand that they are perfectly normal, wonderful, beautiful people, not because people would be seduced by the idea of a “lifestyle.” In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that being supportive of the full spectrum of human sexuality could actually radically reduce bullying in schools and depression among teens.
I would argue that religious affiliation is far more of a “lifestyle choice,” and I would never insult someone by referring to religious identity as a lifestyle. So why can’t LGBQTs get the same respect?