The myth of choice

Yesterday, the Supreme Court did one thing right by refusing to hear the appeal of a California ban on “conversion therapy.” In the accompanying New York Times article, there was this…

Some conservative and religious groups continue to argue that sexuality is not innate and that a person could change his or her sexual orientation.

I could say something like, “anyone who knows anyone who’s gay knows that ‘choice’ with regard to sexuality is ridiculous,” but really, anyone should know that choice is a myth. All you have to do to prove this is to “choose” to have sex with someone opposite your preference. You know, for science.

I think this choice myth is rooted in the bisexual experience but also in a simplification of what human sexuality is.

Back in the 40’s, Alfred Kinsey brought us the Kinsey Scale. In attempting to represent that all people are not exclusively one thing or another, Al said…

Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.

we're dimensional, babyAnd, of course, my experience tells me this is true. But, I think too many people have bought into the idea that sexual response (i.e., what turns us on) is the end of the sexual preference story. The Kinsey Scale is just one of many dimensions of human sexuality. The other major axis is emotional response; That which makes you satisfied on an emotional/romantic/relationship level. I think there are additional axes besides just these two, but two is enough for this conversation.

I am a good example of these two axes in action. I am somewhere near a Kinsey 3 (vacillating over time between 2 and 4), but if there were an equivalent scale for what I need emotionally, I’d be way over on the heterosexual side of things.

If you’re bisexual, you do have choice. You can choose which gender you have sex with. But choosing who you have sex with is not the same as choosing who you need to be with to be emotionally fulfilled. And choosing who you have sex with still does not mean you can control what turns you on.

So I imagine there are a lot of people of certain political or religious world views who are at least incidentally bisexual and have the occasional-to-frequent libidinous thought about someone of their own gender but either refuse to act on that urge or do so in a secretive way and retain their heteronormative persona and have decided they’re exercising “choice.” They’re not. They cannot choose not to have those libidinous thoughts no matter how much they’re bothered by them. It feels like choice because there’s a yes/no and either/or quality to their situations, but in the end, we are what we are and the heart wants what it wants.

To extrapolate the conservative Christian congressman’s random dalliance with another guy in an airport bathroom while still making his connection to reunite with his wife and 2.5 children as anything like the “choice” he feels a gay person should make in living a life opposite to the one every fibre of their being tells them is right is silly and misguided.