There’s a fascinating article about the biology of sexuality, dealing particularly with questions of the level of choice in what has come to be called sexual orientation, that disputes the current pro-homosexual intellectual consensus on the issue, in the left-wing magazine Mother Jones, of all unlikely places.
What is most interesting about it is that the article strongly questions the premise that sexual orientation is decided by biology, and entirely rejects the notion that it is a matter purely of genetics.
For the progressives to jettison that premise, of course, would be a big change indeed.
The article’s author, practicing psychotherapist Gary Greenberg, says explicitly, "Sexual orientation, as we have come to call this biological essence, was invented in order to secure freedom for gay people."
The article considers the matter of reparative therapy, in which therapists try to help unhappy homosexuals overcome their unwanted sexual urges, and Greenberg makes it very clear that he thinks the motives of most people who advocate such therapy are bad. However, he also notes that the reparative therapy movement is not entirely a Christian subculture and that it has real scientific foundations.
Even more importantly, Greenberg equally questions the motives of those on the other side who insist that (1) there is such a thing as a sexual orientation that is largely immutable for one reason or another and (2) that this identity is caused largely by one’s genetic makeup.
Greenberg explicitly rejects both of those claims, arguing instead for a theory that sexuality is fluid and dependent on many factors, and that as a consequence,
sexuality, profoundly mysterious and irrational, will not be contained by our categories, that it is time to find reasons other than medical science to insist that people ought to be able to love whom they love.
He quotes a nonreligious left-liberal American male aged 51, Aaron, who has struggled hard to overcome his homosexual desires, not because he has been oppressed by heterosexuals, but because, in Greenberg’s words, he "just didn’t want to be gay, and, like millions of Americans dissatisfied with their lives, he sought professional help and reinvented himself." Greenberg says that the reparative therapy movement and the general undermining of the assumption of a biological sexual imperative will thoroughly change the terms of the debate—for the better:
Self-reconstruction is what people in my profession (I am a practicing psychotherapist) specialize in, but when it comes to someone like Aaron, most of us draw the line. All the major psychotherapy guilds have barred their members from researching or practicing reparative therapy on the grounds that it is inherently unethical to treat something that is not a disease, that it contributes to oppression by pathologizing homosexuality, and that it is dangerous to patients whose self-esteem can only suffer when they try to change something about themselves that they can’t (and shouldn’t have to) change. Aaron knows this, of course, which is why he’s at great pains to prove he’s not pulling a Ted Haggard. For if he’s not a poseur, then he is a walking challenge to the political and scientific consensus that has emerged over the last century and a half: that sexual orientation is inborn and immutable, that efforts to change it are bound to fail, and that discrimination against gay people is therefore unjust.
But as crucial as this consensus has been to the struggle for gay rights, it may not be as sound as some might wish. While scientists have found intriguing biological differences between gay and straight people, the evidence so far stops well short of proving that we are born with a sexual orientation that we will have for life. Even more important, some research shows that sexual orientation is more fluid than we have come to think, that people, especially women, can and do move across customary sexual orientation boundaries, that there are ex-straights as well as ex-gays. Much of this research has stayed below the radar of the culture warriors, but reparative therapists are hoping to use it to enter the scientific mainstream and advocate for what they call the right of self-determination in matters of sexual orientation. If they are successful, gay activists may soon find themselves scrambling to make sense of a new scientific and political landscape.
One certainly needn’t accept all of Greenberg’s assertions and conclusions in order to recognize the truth of his central premise: that the arguments that homosexuality is immutable are false, and that they have been purveyed in order to force an unwilling world to accept homosexuality.
In addition, Greenberg undermines another important alleged scientific foundation behind calls for greater public acceptance of homosexuality, by favorably quoting a reparative therapy advocate who points out that intolerance by heterosexuals is not the root cause of dissatisfaction and unhappiness among homosexuals:
[He] cites a study from Denmark—the first place that legalized civil unions and perhaps, he says, the most gay-friendly place in the world—in which gay people turned out to have mental illness at a higher rate than straights, which proves, he says, that an intolerant society is not the culprit when gay people suffer.
The homosexual advocacy movement’s attempt at forced suppression of opposing thoughts has indeed been a social movement of gross intolerance, and it has greatly harmed those who find themselves afflicted by unwanted homosexual desires. As Greenberg notes, the reparative therapy patient Aaron "thinks of himself as a member of a sexual minority—not forced into the closet by an oppressive society, but living under the restrictive view that sexual orientation is a biological category, something we are born with and that is impossible to change."
Aaron, Greenberg says, is "more concerned with a different kind of intolerance: ‘Not all homosexual men want to lead a gay lifestyle. Gay activists shouldn’t be threatened by that. I mean, here I am, as a liberal, telling gay people to accept diversity.’ "
That would be an impressive change indeed, and a highly salubrious one.