Saturday, May 23, 2009

Can I choose to be gay?

I have a question I know is sure to be controversial but I have to ask. Based on my experiences as a gay man and from relationships I have been in with men identifying as gay, I have often wondered if it is possible that some people CHOOSE to be gay. I was recently in a relationship with a man who said he was gay but had a previous relationship with a woman. One night while we were dating, he revealed to me that he had been violently raped by his older brother when he was growing up. He said he believed he was always gay and the traumatic event did not make him gay. Nonetheless the story disturbed me and left me questioning the idea that some people may become gay as a result of some kind of childhood trauma. To add to my confusion, the man I was dating called me one day to tell me the woman he was previously dated asked him to come back to her and that he decided he wasn't really gay after all.

This a great question; it’s a the real-life “hot-potato” question that leads to intense conversations and much confusion. The causes of sexual orientation are unknown. Any theories as to why a person might be gay usually don’t work for another person. A great analogy is what causes “left-handedness.” We simply don’t know what causes a person to be left-handed. What we do know about left-handedness is that people are this way from birth, usually have a stable predominant hand, and can use their other hand as well.

This analogy can be helpful in many ways. Just like a kid starts to use his left-hand more often, and sees that he is different, people with a gay orientation recognize something is different. Sexual orientation is stable from an early age. What appears to change is our awareness of our orientation.

For some people who are left-handed, they are trained not to use that hand. So too, many people are taught not to express any same-sex orientation and play it straight.

In some cultures, giving something to another person using your left hand is a cultural insult. There is a lot of pressure to conform to the cultural expectations and use your right hand. In a similar way, gay people have a lot of pressure to “play straight.”

A few people are ambidextrous, meaning they can use both hands with equal dominance. So it is with sexual orientation; there are some people genuinely attracted to people of both genders.

When someone experiences damage to the dominant hand, they can learn to use the other hand to compensate. Given various circumstances, a straight guy can have sex with a guy, and a gay guy can have sex with a woman. This is simply an expression of sexuality; it doesn’t change the initial orientation.

The left-handed community has experienced significant stereotypes over the years. As a result, there is “left-handedness pride” (seriously, there is!). You can see the analogy to gay pride. (link:

All in all, I don’t know what’s up with your friend. It would be unethical for me to even guess. What I would say is that there are many different factors that impact a way a person chooses to express sexuality. This is the key. My orientation is stable, but I choose to engage in a variety of different behaviors.

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