Why it drives me crazy when you say gay people “have no choice”


Another Gay Pride Month is upon us and with it comes time to talk about all things LGBTQ, which is probably why I overheard a conversation on the TTC the other day in which a woman was emphatically telling her companion that homosexuals “have no choice because they are born that way. It’s in their DNA! Science has proven it!” She meant well, but I wanted to tell her to shut up. I didn’t, though, because I have remarkable restraint.

It’s commentary I invariably see echoed on social media whenever LGBTQ things are in the news. And it drives me nuts every time. People say it in defence of gay people, thinking, I imagine, that it’s an enlightened and progressive thing to say. It’s not, and you should stop saying it.

Here’s why:

You don’t know and you will never know why gay people are gay. Sure, I understand that there is some evidence that homosexuality can be traced to one’s genes or DNA. But that doesn’t explain much. You can science as hard as you want for the rest of your life and you will never know why everyone who is gay or straight or falls somewhere on the LGBTQ spectrum falls where they fall. People are a product of nature and nurture. We are products of both our DNA and our life experience, and everyone who is gay or not gay is gay or not gay for a variety of reasons that may or may not be in their DNA. Some people are gay because they were absolutely born that way and there was always no other possible way for them to be. Others choose to be gay. Others have become so because of their life experience and influences, and others are gay because of a combination of these factors. I’m stating this as a fact because you will never convince me that it is not a fact.

And insisting that gay people “have no choice” is saying that they are powerless, and, by proxy, that if they did have a choice they would – and, of course, should – choose the much superior and preferable straight option. Because nobody would choose to be gay, it being such a terrible thing.

This is a very bad, very insulting message.

The truth is that some people out there tried being gay and not being gay and decided for themselves, as fully functioning and capable adults, that they liked being gay better. This is a truth that should not be so difficult to handle.

The other problem with the whole genes/DNA/no choice argument is that it leaves open the suggestion that if we could just zero in on that pesky gay gene we could stop gayness in its tracks. This makes me nervous, probably because of what seems to me like a massive recent boost in crazy socially conservative fanaticism. In reality it’s probably just a light shining on pockets of middle America with which I’m not as familiar as I could be since I live in a progressive, big city, Canadian bubble. But either way. It freaks me out a little.

I get why scientists are curious. They’re scientists. But what scientists understand and laymen don’t is that “evidence” is not “proof.” It’s just evidence that provides pieces of a larger puzzle. Science headlines read by the wrong people always lead to misunderstandings and sometimes those misunderstandings are dangerous.

Most important though – and this is the crux of what I want to say – is that nobody owes me – or you – an explanation, pseudo scientific or otherwise, for who they choose to date, have sex with, love, or marry, whether they’re gay or not gay or sort of gay. Until we expect gay people to explain themselves as much as we expect straight people to explain themselves, and justify their choices – or lack thereof – which is not at all, we’re not really where we need to be.

You don’t owe me an explanation for being gay. That’s all there is to it.

So, this Pride Month, the next time you feel the compulsion to explain someone else’s sexual preferences, don’t. Have a drink instead, and don’t worry about it.

Some people are just gay. And that’s OK.

It doesn’t have to be in their DNA.