For years, the idea that people can choose
has been used by anti-queer political groups in order to protest extending the same rights to same-sex couples that heterosexual
couples enjoy. Their logic behind this appears to be as follows: since homosexuality
is a choice, and since it is also an "immoral lifestyle", then it should not be protected under the law since one can choose to not be queer and thus avoid the problems that accompany homosexuality.
However, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, radical political entities have recently adopted the idea of "queer by choice", which is the concept that sexuality is not solely genetically determined, and furthermore that it is possible for some people to make a conscious choice about altering their sexuality.
A significant person in this movement is Frank Aqueno, a writer and performance artist who began spreading the idea of queerness by choice. However, his personal website is all that remains of his activism, as in 2001 he retired from it, but still considers himself queer by choice. The Internet presence of the Queer By Choice (QBC) movement has been largely built by Gayle Madwin, who created the QBC website, Yahoo!Groups mailing list, and LiveJournal community. Also, with the help of Aqueno, Madwin has also been greatly influential in persuading Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) to remove their international policy that "sexual orientation is not a choice", thus permitting chapter leaders to assert their own views on the matter. However, this is not necessarily a good thing as far as fair representation is concerned. States Madwin, "...most of the chapters' leaders continue to make queer by choice people feel as unwelcome, misunderstood and harassed as ever."1
The concept that one can choose one's sexuality has not been welcomed with open arms by the queer community, insofar as a "queer community" as a consolidated group can exist. Individual queer people have made many indignant responses to this idea2, including:
- That's a disgusting idea. Who the hell would choose to be queer!?
- If you can choose to be queer, then people won't tolerate my sexuality any more! That queer by choice idea must be evil!
- I didn't choose to be queer.
- Scientific studies say that sexuality is genetic!
Careful thought will reveal the factual errors, logical fallacies, and yes, even homophobia present in these objections. For instance, in twin studies the concordance rate for male homosexuality was only 52% at best, leaving 48% of the singleton homosexual twins with no genetic explanation for their sexuality3. In addition, the fact that one person, or even several people, out of a queer population did not choose to be queer has little bearing on whether the rest of the population did. Also, judging an idea as universally morally corrupt solely due to its negative consequences for the judge is logically unsound; general morality does not depend solely on whether a situation affects one person negatively or positively.
I would say that the most upsetting reaction is, "Why would anyone choose to be queer?" That reaction is homophobic in that the speaker is saying that they cannot see any redeeming qualities in queerness, finding the negative social consequences so overwhelming that the joy one can find in one's sexuality is overpowered by said consequences. But even more than homophobic, it is profoundly upsetting and a telling indication of the kind of abuse that queer people expect to, or do, suffer because of their sexualities alone.
It is likely, however, that that response does not mean "who would choose to be gay?" but rather "who would choose to be vilified?" Of course, those two statements are not the same. Those who are QBC do not choose to be ostracized, but rather choose to experience love and physical intimacy with people who are not necessarily of the opposite gender as they--though there is no rule that states that they must give up all attraction to the "opposite sex".
Regardless of whether sexuality is genetically-dictated or chosen, however, I find it hard to believe that those who hate queer people will suddenly say "Oh, you're born that way? We don't hate you any more" upon finding a startling new, unexpected breakthrough in genetics. I, personally, believe that knee-jerk revilement of the idea of queerness by choice is detrimental to the progress of widespread acceptance of queerness as a whole. There is a very good reason that "divide and conquer" and "united we stand; divided we fall" are maxims that have withstood the test of time: the years have proven them true in many contexts.
1 Quoted from an e-mail from Madwin dated 10 February 2004.
2 Mainly through LiveJournal community postings, online mailing lists, and other fora, and also in real-life responses to me--but I suppose you'll have to take my word for the latter, won't you?
3 See "A genetic study of male sexual orientation" by J. M. Bailey and R. C. Pillard (1991). Also, with M. C. Neale and Y. Agyei, they carried out a similar study on female monozygotic twins called "Heritable factors influence sexual orientation in women" (1993). Reports on both studies may be located in archives of general psychological studies.