And I can't change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can't change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
My love, my love, my love
She keeps me warm
Man, sung by a woman, those lyrics come off as totally lesb-- wait a minute.
It's easy to see why, especially for those of us with experiences in the ex-gay world and/or a strictly religious upbringing, these words would resonate. (Personally I dislike the song, not on grounds of its politics, but because I find it hamfistedly preachy and boring -- if I want a gay anthem I'll go to "Born This Way" or "Titanium" or "Two Men In Love," or several other songs. Hell, if even if I want Macklemore I'm gonna go for "Thrift Shop" over "Same Love" any day of the week.) Mr. Ambrosino, however, has the following to say:
[T]he chorus bugs me. By its logic, none of us has any control over our sexual identities. We are what we are, and there's not a damn thing we can do about that, so let's just stop trying to change. That's wrong. It's time for the LGBT community to stop fearing the word "choice," and to reclaim the dignity of sexual autonomy. ... To say it rather crassly: I've convinced a few men to try out my sexuality, but I've never managed to get them to try on my skin color. In other words, one's sexuality isn't as biologically determined as race. ... Whenever someone accepts me merely because she feels obligated to do so by my genetic code, I feel degraded rather than empowered. It's like saying, "You can't help it, sugar. You were born this way. Me, I was born with astigmatism and a wonky knee. We can't change our limitations even if we wanted to." ... I can't help wondering whether Macklemore would have thought I deserved a song even if I told him that I could, in fact, change this if I tried, if I wanted to.Whether you agree with his approach or not, I think he makes a compelling point. Is it, in fact, that big a victory for the gay rights movement if the reason that LGBT people have been accepted is because "they can't help it"? For that matter, is it even particularly secure? The fact that rats can't help being rats doesn't seem to motivate many people not to put out traps. We live in one of the more tolerant cultures worldwide -- right now. Tomorrow may be an altogether different story.
Now, I shrink from saying that "being gay is a choice" without further explanation. But I shrink equally from saying "you're born gay" without further explanation. I don't believe either of those ways of describing sexual orientation do justice to the reality -- not just because some people do experience sexual fluidity, but because I think the kind of things that sexual orientation and identity are, are not exactly inborn or chosen.
"No, it's jam every other day. Jam tomorrow, and jam yesterday, but never jam to-day."
I realize that sounds weird, at best; would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly. My own belief -- or maybe it'd be better to call it a hunch -- is that the confluence of choice, determinism, and identity is a complex reality in which no one element, considered alone, can adequately explain the outcome. Dorothy Sayers, writing about creating characters in her novels and plays, puts the matter well:
[I]f the characters and the situation are rightly conceived together, as integral parts of the same unity, then there will be no need to force them to the right solution of that situation. If each is allowed to develop in conformity with its proper nature, all will arrive of their own accord at a point of unity, which will be the same unity that pre-existed in the original idea. In language to which we are accustomed in other connections, neither predestination nor free will is everything, but, if the will acts freely in accordance with its true nature, it achieves by grace and not by judgment the eternal will of its maker, though possibly by a process unlike, and longer than, that which might have been imposed upon it by force. ... I could add a further example of the same kind of thing. In Murder Must Advertise [one of her mystery novels] I undertook (not very successfully) to present a contrast of two "cardboard" worlds, equally fictitious -- that of advertising and the world of the post-war Bright Young People. ... I mentioned this intention to a reader, who instantly replied, "Yes; and Peter Wimsey, who represents reality, never appears in either world except in disguise." It was perfectly true; and I had never noticed it. With all its defects of realism, there had been some measure of integral truth about the book's Idea, since it issued, without my conscious connivance, in a true symbolism. -- The Mind of the Maker, pp. 75, 77I don't think that identity, sexual or otherwise, is either primarily deterministic or primarily chosen. I think that the thing that God has made us specifically to be, our individual identity (as opposed to what we ontologically are, the universal category: human beings), is something objectively there*; but the extent to which we lay hold of that objective identity is determined partly by external factors -- some of those factors, in a fallen world, including sin and the effects of sin -- and partly, also, by our own choices. Not to turn this into a quotefest, but I'm going to turn this into a quotefest:
What am I? I am myself a word spoken by God. Can God speak a word that does not have any meaning? Yet am I sure that the meaning of my life is the meaning God intends for it? Does God impose a meaning on my life from the outside, through event, custom, routine, law, system, impact with others in society? Or am I called to create from within, with him, with his grace, a meaning which reflects his truth and makes me his "word" spoken freely in my personal situation? My true identity lies hidden in God's call to my freedom and my response to him. This means I must use my freedom in order to love, with full responsibility and authenticity, not merely receiving a form imposed on me by external forces ... but directing my love to the personal reality of my brother, and embracing God's will in its naked, often unpenetrable mystery. -- Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, pp. 46-47Choice is an act of creation, and we are made in the image of the Creator; the only thing we are told about God before being told that we are made in His image is precisely that He makes things. But God alone makes out of nothing. We make out of things that are already there. That is why our creation can be authentic or inauthentic, including our co-creation of our very selves. The freedom of ourselves as makers of ourselves, the integrity of the self which is our medium of working, and the purpose of beauty and worthiness in the final self that is made -- the artist, the medium, the artwork -- must all be respected; and in this trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; but the whole three are coeternal together, and coequal.
It's all quite straightforward.
Hence, I don't think it quite right to say that gayness is primarily a chosen thing. And I'm not at all certain that Mr. Ambrosino was saying that it is primarily chosen -- he is careful throughout to state that he and some other queer people experience at least some degree of choice in their sexual identity, but also says that he doesn't dispute those who feel that their sexuality is inborn. From the small amount (out of a great deal) that I've read of his critics on this subject, they would have done well to read more carefully.
While, simultaneously, I shy away from the idea that gayness is fixed and immutable on account of being deterministic, biologically or otherwise. There do seem to be good reasons for thinking that biology, though not genetics exactly, plays a large role in sexual orientation, but that, to my mind, does not explain it, for the same reason that appealing to paint and plaster is not an adequate explanation for The Last Judgment if the idea of Michelangelo as the painter is excluded: true, he could hardly use tools that weren't there or weren't appropriate to the piece, but that just is not the whole story. Or, as C. S. Lewis' Ramandu tells Eustace when the latter informs him that "In our world a star is a huge ball of flaming gas": "Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of."
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame.
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells,
Each hung bell's bow swung
Finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells.
Selves, goes itself; Myself it speaks and spells,
Crying, What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
-- Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.
*To use Existentialist language, if you care for that sort of thing, I believe that essence precedes existence, rather than the other way around. This is one of the reasons that, although I get a lot out of certain Existentialists -- Kierkegaard especially -- I don't think I fundamentally am one. Or am I? It does sometimes seem more like a mood than a philosophical school, and I've had the mood pretty bad for something like sixteen years now.