I can’t hope to do in a few thousand words what experts have failed to do in a few million… I can’t begin to define homosexuality in any real or concrete terms — words which can withstand the rigors of the scientific method.
But that’s not my goal… not here, at least.
What I’d like to do, this brisk Sunday evening, is to lightly tread a few well-trod paths describing the flora and fauna — and to venture a little way into the darkness to hazard a few thoughts of my own.
In the end, I hope that you’ll have a larger vocabulary… and perhaps a deeper understanding of width and breadth of the wood were walking in — of the pitch were playing on.
A Little Terminology
Words, as I said in the introduction — and as I say frequently, because people forget it too quickly — have power. And how we describe ourselves can actually inform our world-view.
Wikipedia has a lot more to say on these terms, so I’ll link there for more reading, but I thought it would be handy to discuss them here.
The term “homosexual” was coined at the tail-end of the 19th century by a Hungarian scientist. Until then, there really was no way of discussing it in any real sense… there were things people did, there were ways that people behaved, there were stereotypes and innuendo… but there was nothing really to hang one’s hat on.
I would suggest that the coining of the term was both a blessing and a curse.
With its advent, there was finally a term for people to latch onto when bemoaning the disintegration of society… conversely, with the label came a certain recognition. And recognition, I would say, has recently given way to acceptance (if only begrudgingly).
An interesting sidebar, here, would discuss the downfall of homosociality in the wake of the coinage of “homosexuality” — specifically in the US, where pre-WWII, men calling-on, sleeping next to, and dancing with other men was the norm. But that would be another article entirely.
In the world at-large, the terms “gay” and “lesbian” are simply user-friendly terms for “homosexual”… with “lesbian” wholly reserved for women, and “gay” being used for both men and women without much differentiation — much to my chagrin.
In the church, though, the terms “gay” and “lesbian” are the source of some contention… their use considered a sign of having given-in to a lifestyle or at the very least a world-view that is frowned-upon: good latter-day saints “struggle with same-sex attraction (SSA)” or (phrased differently, but understood the same) “same-gender attraction (SGA)”, bad latter-day saints are “gay” or “lesbian”, move to San Francisco, hate their parents, and sacrifice small puppies during moonlit orgies.
Or something like that.
The controversy, not-surprisingly, is most-heated among gay and lesbian Mormons themselves… and is not likely to be resolved any time soon. In general, though, the terms “SSA” and “SGA” are used by people who want to draw a differentiation between how they _feel_ or _behave_ and who there _are_. In many cases, SSA and SGA are used as a label for a dis-ease if not outrightly a disease. SSA/SGA is an affliction, not a state of being. Oddly, though, the term is often used as a direct replacement for the terms “gay” or “lesbian” — resulting in usage which frames the discussion in the more popular way… “I’m SGA”, for example, which ignores the underlying logic of using the term “SGA” in the first place.
On a personal note, I knew that I was attracted to men starting in my early adolescence… but didn’t actually call myself “gay” or “homosexual” until I was 23 — as that term had such a thick pejorative/negative air about it. “I can’t be homosexual”, I’d reason, “homosexuals wear leather, pierce their genitals, and molest children — that’s not me!” … but I finally grew to realize that just as their are many different types of straight people — many of whom I’d never invite to dinner with mom — there are many types of gay folks. I am who I make of me.
“Fag” is analogous in almost every way to the term “nigger” (if you haven’t yet, you really ought to read Nigger, by Randall Kennedy) with regards to its complex relationship to denigration and empowerment, not to mention the bizarro-world rules of who gets to use the term, and when. My suggestion? If you’re straight, don’t ever use the term… if you’re queer, stop using it. You’re embarrassing yourself.
Queer is a useful term which spans the entire non-straight spectrum of gays, bisexuals, lesbians, transgenders, and the like. It’s generally acceptable to use… though I’m still not entirely comfortable speaking it (but use it regularly in writing — go figure).
Queer, Indeed: The Socio-Sexual Matrix
When I was growing-up, you were either a boy or a girl. I’m not sure what world I was living in, but I miss its simplicity. Today, gender (also called “sexual identity”) is an increasingly complex morass of social, sexual, cultural, and biological confusion.
It’s no wonder that social conservatives (the Brethren among them) look at it all and shake their head. What some see as a liberation of the sexual self, they see as confusion and pain and a perversion of something so fundamental to the human condition.
Of course, the pain and confusion were always there, we’re only now bringing it into the light. It’s my hope that in the years to come, people of faith will find a language to address it all, which brings comfort and clarity — not more pain and confusion.
To that end, I’ve often wondered how to actually discuss gender… I’m not alone, of course, Alfred Kinsey (whose scale I discuss in a moment) really pioneered the discussion in the 40s. My own thinking lead me to devise (and revise) what I call the socio-sexual matrix, which is a way of describing oneself in a way that more accurately conveys many of the notions associated with the less-helpful idea of gender.
(Have I lost you yet?)
Check out the information graphic, and you’ll see that there are a number of vertical categories which define the the matrix, each with a corresponding set of options (which themselves may fall along a continuum). I won’t take much time to discuss the graphic here, as it could easily take up the entirety of the post… but I welcome questions/feedback. Two notes, however… please read the note on transgendered people, and also note that role-playing is not mentioned (people who accept a certain cultural role in a relationship regardless of the role which might be assigned), as I’m not certain how it might or might not fit.
So let me use the continuum to describe myself: I am a male with a Y chromosome with a moderate libido. I am attracted to men. I prefer monogamous, committed relationships… and I don’t do kink.
The Kinsey Scale
Alfred Kinsey, after years of exhaustive research, devised what is known as the Kinsey Scale… a continuum of sexual orientation with 0 representing a completely heterosexual individual and 6 a completely homosexual individual. While the scale is useful in scientific realms, it has a good deal of use for the individual in coming to understand their own personal circumstances. A more recent adaptation of the scale includes various categories, where one can be rated 0-6 in preference, in sociality, in arousal, and the like.
One short-fall of the scale is that it is largely atemporal… a 6 is a six is a six. But that designation doesn’t seem to really reflect reality. My own scale which could describe both cumulative experience and recent orientation, as I firmly believe that orientation (well, most aspects of human sexuality) are plastic (though, like bones, they tend to loose this quality with time).
When I was younger, I would have classified myself as a 4/5, whereas I am now a 5/6.
The latest distribution numbers I heard for people across the scale are (in order from 0-6): 75, 5, 5, 5, 5, and 5%. My own belief is that the numbers are probably more like 5, 75, 10, 0, 2, and 3… which takes into account widespread adolescent experimentation, and the near-impossibility of being evenly divided between two choices.
Biology & Choice
Whereas early understanding (mostly through the lens of social mores) led many to assume that homosexuality was strictly behavioral, and that such behavior was a choice, modern science leads to one inexorable fact: biology plays some role in orientation.
The difficulty in discussing the science, however, is that the issue is so politicized — with most people involved in the debate with a substantial personal stake in any given study’s findings — that I find most literature on the subject difficult to accept at face-value. I look forward to more inquiry by less invested parties… that being said, there does seem to be enough solid work done to draw the conclusion which I have.
Here’re the basics (please forgive the lack of citations, I’ll include them in the final draft of the essay): homosexual behavior is found across the animal kingdom; homosexual behavior in humans is found across all socio-economic, cultural, political, and national divides at a fairly consistent rate of 5% for males and 7% for women; the likelihood that identical twins raised in separate homes would manifest the same orientation is statistically significant; and finally, beyond the numbers game, solid research into brain chemistry and genetics seem to also imply a biological role. The biology in question is not merely genetic, but also in-utero hormonal imprinting, and finally post-natal environmental factors.
In the end, I think that we’ll find that homosexuality is the product of a rich and varied set of variables, including genetic make-up, in-utero conditions, environment, up-bringing, and personal choice.
Choice, of course, is quite the little stickler… the common refrain among the gays and lesbians I know is “I didn’t choose this, I cannot change it”. Related to this, of course, is the quip “why would I choose this?!”, implying that a person would never choose to be homosexual (as the politics of homosexuality change, however, this last quip is loosing favor, as it relegates homosexuality to a morally inferior or less-desirable status). I find the search for biological triggers fascinating on its face (as pure science), but don’t see much value in it for any meaningful discussion.
The first idea — that change is only possible when choice is the root cause of a situation — is categorically false… there are myriad instances in everyone’s life where we make choices that mitigate/reverse/change a pre-existent circumstance. I’ll pause while you think of a dozen or so of your own.
The second idea — that no one would choose a socially-debilitating condition — is equally inaccurate… my mother didn’t choose to be addicted to nicotene when she chose to start smoking; children don’t choose obesity; very few people, indeed, have the wherewithal to actually foresee the end from the beginning. So to say that no one would choose to be homosexual doesn’t mean that no one would choose behavior that might reinforce/accentuate their innate orientation (because I believe sexuality is plastic, I believe that behavior can inform orientation… though less-so with age).
Why Biology Doesn’t Matter (Much)
Biology, in the end, is best used as an argument against the people that call homosexuality “unnatural”. It is anything but… In truth, in discussions with other people of faith, biology shouldn’t play a major role. First, though it does lessen the role of choice in the formation of orientation, it does not play a significant enough role to be considered determinative. Secondly, most people of faith believe that the life of man is a struggle _against_ our nature… and therefore personal choice is to be enacted _against_ the dictates of our flesh.
Which brings us to our second area of investigation: homosexuality and doctrine.