Saturday, 23 March 2013

The dangers of unnecessary defence.

A few days ago I retweeted this meme about sexuality tweeted by @secularbloke:

Now, I should say that I think this image has a good point to make; it's pretty clear that sexuality is not a matter of choice, and it can be worth pointing out to people that nobody is ever accused of "choosing" to be straight.

However, I've written before about the dangers we run into when we miss the point on various controversial issues; for example, when we attempt to defend abortion with the "what if she was raped?" argument (as though there weren't plenty of other defences), or when we defend a person's actions, when they didn't do anything wrong anyway, by suggesting they may not have understood what they were doing.

I begin to think one or two of the arguments we make against homophobia may fall into the same trap.  The meme above makes a good point, in response to the common (often, I suspect, rather disingenuous) misconception that being gay is a choice.  Well, OK... but the question I think we're forgetting to ask ourselves is why would my sexuality be anything to do with you if it WERE a choice?  The suggestion seems to be that if homophobes could be convinced that sexuality is not a choice they'll decide it's none of their business; I think this rather misses the more important point that, actually, it just is none of their business.

Although it's slightly less clear-cut, I think one might make a similar case for the common argument that homosexuality is "unnatural".  It isn't, there's good evidence for that fact, and very arguably the pernicious myth that being gay is unnatural ought to be challenged... but I think we might make a parallel argument that actually, why would it matter if it were unnatural?  Who cares whether it's natural?

Humans do all sorts of things that are "unnatural" and against our biological purposes. Never mind the arguments about gay marriage, marriage doesn't happen in nature; my condition of shackedupness is more "natural" than the marriages of religious people who disapprove of me.  I use birth control which is not natural (as do the majority of people), but nobody seems to want to tell me that means I'm not allowed to have sex, or that I wouldn't be allowed to get married if I happened to want to.

What's "natural" about wearing clothes, or doing calculus, or playing rugby?

To feel hurt and to defend oneself when called "unnatural" is very... well, natural.  But perhaps another point we should be just as keen to make is "what's so great about being natural anyway?".

By arguing that sexuality is not a choice, however rightly, we risk implying that if it WERE a choice we would be doing something wrong by being gay or bisexual.  By arguing that being gay or bi is natural, however rightly, we risk implying that if it WERE unnatural we would be as guilty and repellent as our detractors suggest.  The fact is that sexuality is nobody else's business, and would not be even if it were a matter of choice.  People's sex lives are their own concern, and that is true whether what they want to do is considered "natural" or not.  I'm not saying we should stop making the arguments we already do, I'm just saying there is a danger when we defend ourselves against one point that we might unconsciously be conceding another.


  1. Excellent points, Lucy. And I wholeheartedly agree. It's nobody else's business.

    I can provide a bit of insight into why the "choice" question rears its ugly head so often in my surroundings. In my ex-cult of Mormonism, one of the prime dogmas used to control believers is that everything in this world depends upon "free agency." You will constantly hear parents say things like "I am so grateful that Susie has chosen to be baptized" (as if an 8-year old indoctrinated in the cult could choose otherwise!) or "Mikey has chosen to go on a mission" (when, in reality, to opt to not serve a mission after high school would be a shameful scandal for family, friends, neighbors).

    In fact, Mormons will use this "choice" doctrine to justify practically anything, as exemplified by the Mormon father in the Sandy Hook massacre. He told the news media that god values free agency so much that he would not intervene when the gunman chose to murder his daughter. Wowza. Isn't it odd that god would send an angel to save Nephi from his murderous brothers in the Book of Mormon, yet turn a blind eye when it came to those children. Does this mean that god also refuses to intervene because tsunamis and earthquakes also have a choice? Doh-oh!

    I have long felt that the ultimate purpose of preaching "choice" for anything and everything in the Mormon cult is that then they can always blame YOU if you can't see the Emperor's new clothes. What? You doubt that Native Americans are Jews? You are choosing to listen to scientists rather than the prophets. You don't believe god works through a seer stone in a hat? You have chosen to question Joseph Smith's claims. You don't see how you can afford to pay 10% of your income to the church? You choose to ignore god's promise to bless you for obedience. You feel attracted to your own sex rather than the opposite sex? You are choosing to rebel against god's plan for you to multiply and replenish the earth. And with all the above now you feel depressed? You simply need to choose to be happy and fulfilled.

    In short, Mormonism purports that choice trumps all. As far as they're concerned, sexual orientation is no different than choosing whether or not to drink --gasp! horror! sin!-- a cup of tea. They deem it their business because it is god's business, and they are his chosen people to carry out his business in the latter-days. Pffffft.

  2. An excellent point well made! Couldn't agree more. Especially interesting the whole natural vs. unnatural thing that people trot out, the two terms are so peculiarly irrelevant to nearly all rational debate about modern human issues.

  3. Well said. The fact is that there is no such thing as a 'biological purpose'. There are biological processes. It is natural to grow old, it is natural to sometime conceive as a result of sexual activity, but it makes no sense to say that it is natural (or unnatural) to have sex, with boys, girls, or both.