No, Being Gay Is Not a Choice

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
Feb. 4 2014 2:31 PM

No, Being Gay Is Not a Choice

Two men kiss in Malaga, Spain.
They were born wanting to do this.

Photo by Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

Last Wednesday, Brandon Ambrosino—continuing his swift ascent as chief homophobia apologist of the gay blogosphere—wrote a vacuous and meandering piece in the New Republic claiming that homosexuality (including his own) is a choice. Predictably, the article launched a thousand think pieces, including E.J. Graff’s excellent retort in The Nation on Tuesday, arguing that America isn’t yet progressive enough to contemplate homosexuality as a choice.

But it’s really pointless to quibble with Ambrosino’s philosophical points, because science proved his factual assertions wrong long ago. In study after study, biologists have found that homosexuality, at least in men, is clearly, undoubtedly, inarguably an inborn trait. And although the scientific community hasn’t yet settled on a precise explanation for sexual orientation, many biologists agree that the fraternal birth order effect is likely the cause of homosexuality in 15 to 30 percent of all gay men. The physiological mechanism behind this effect, meanwhile, may soon help scientists understand the broader biological basis for homosexuality.

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While reporting a story on the birth order effect last summer, I spoke with a number of scientists who specialize in sexuality and orientation. Most of them believed that there are myriad elaborate biological factors at play and that we’ll never pinpoint a sole “cause” of homosexuality. But not a single one seriously entertained the notion that sexual orientation, especially in men, is anything other than an inborn trait. Female sexuality does appear to be somewhat fluid, and some women show flexibility in sexual orientation throughout their lifetime. Male sexuality, however, is clearly fixed from birth. Men are born gay, bi, or straight—and that orientation can never be altered.

Ambrosino doesn’t accept this. In his essay, he states that “I could, in fact, change [my orientation] if I tried, if I wanted to. I chose this.” With all due respect to Ambrosino, this is false. If Ambrosino is gay, he has been gay all his life, and he will continue to be gay for the rest of it. He can’t do anything to change it, and any claims to the contrary indicate that he is simply in denial. There are terrible political consequences to the theory of homosexuality-as-choice—already detailed brilliantly by Gabriel Arana—but I’m not convinced we even need to debate those. The science here is clear: Homosexuality, at least in men, is absolutely not a choice. To pretend otherwise is not just to deny empirical evidence, but also to give anti-gay conservatives a weapon to wield against gay rights activists. And that, I suspect, is precisely what Ambrosino wanted to achieve with this frivolous, fallacious mess.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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