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The Gay Question

I’ve seen and read a rash of recent news items about some form of intolerance towards homosexuals. Many of these dealt with a question I’d long thought answered; whether homosexuality is a choice or not. It’s made for some really discouraging reading. But I’m not going to get into specifics with the offending news items or who's involved. I’m going to try something different here. I’m going to take the personal out of this. You can’t fight intolerance with more intolerance. I could write a big diatribe about ignorance, but that will only preach to the converted. So I’m going to try and respect your viewpoint and not tell you you’re wrong. If what you’ve learned from your life experience is that homosexuality is wrong, a choice, a sin, unnatural-- what ever it is you’ve learned, I really can’t tell you you’re wrong. Those are the conclusions you’ve drawn based on your experience. But I’m also going to ask you to investigate a little further. I’m going to try and suggest some different ways of seeing things. If I'm going to throw my hat in the ring, I want to come correct with some knowledge. You don’t have to agree with any of it, but maybe you’ll see some truth in what I’m saying.

The reason I think you should broaden your ideas about homosexuality, is that it does no good to you to completely dismiss and entire group of people. You'll no doubt say you've met some gays who have maybe painted an unfavorable picture for you. But based on those few, you’ve drawn unfair conclusions about literally millions of people that you haven’t even met. You’ve cut yourself off from ideas and viewpoints simply because you don’t like someone’s sexual preference. These are potential friendships you could be having. It only hurts you to hold onto a negative feeling about anyone, regardless of the reason.

I can tell you from my own experience that a lot of the arguments I’ve heard declaring homosexuality to be a choice won’t stand up if you look a little further. Yes, there are many scholarly articles (do a Google search) linking a history of sexual abuse to a homosexual lifestyle. From my own personal experience, I’ve met many a gay man and woman who have had perfectly normal childhoods, meaning raised by loving parents and free from any sort of sexual abuse. Maybe they simply haven’t confided in me but I can also spot the self-destructive sexuality that comes with a history of sexual abuse and it’s very different from a person who has long, sustained relationships with one person.

Sure, some people experiment with sexuality, particularly in college. It can be tough to believe it’s not a choice in a world of things like Girls Gone Wild. It is true that some usually straight people will choose to occasionally enter into a same sex partnership. It is also true that a great many go on to have long, healthy relationships with the opposite sex. How can I sit here and tell you it’s not a choice when it clearly was once a choice in these instances? Well, they eventually went one way or the other, right? You can’t choose to be gay anymore than you can choose to be straight. Think about where you are mentally when you go off to college. You may think you’re an adult but you’re not. Not even close. You’re thrown into an environment of newfound freedoms and a flood of new viewpoints and cultures. It can be overwhelming. A lot of the sexual experimenting may be the looking-for-attention variety. But in many cases the experimenting comes from one having doubts about his/her sexuality and now that they're free from a restrictive home environment, they sieze the opportunity to figure it out. You have no idea of who you are at that age. Most people, if they're being honest, don't really know until they're in their mid-twenties at least.

I've read many accounts of people forming their opinions about choice in homosexuality after having spoken to people who used to be gay and have reformed. These reformed gays will swear that it was a choice. That’s kind of hard to argue with and I won’t try. Some could very well have been confused when they took on a gay lifestyle. They were young after all. But I want you to think about something. How honest is this person being with you, particularly if you live in an environment that tends to be hostile towards gays?

Now for the first of the big arguments; I keep hearing is that science hasn't produced anything conclusive as far as homosexuality being something inborn. Again, I’m not going to tell you you’re mistaken. I’ll simply present some findings I’ve come across and let you make up your mind. These are all just the results of Google searches. Much of it is a bit beyond my comprehension so I'll try to explain as best I can. To cover it all would be exhausting. This is simply what I could wrap my brain around.

We're going to start with the premise that a man and a woman have different brain structures. It's a fact. If you've ever met anyone of the opposite sex that shouldn't blow your mind. Also a fact; a homosexual’s brain structure is different from a heterosexual’s. For instance the suprachiasmatic nucleus (1) and the anterior commissure (3) are larger in homosexual men (2) (4). The hypothalamus, of which most of us heard about in biology at some point (if you forget, click this-- (5) ) has been found to be structurally different in homosexual men (6).

Then there are the genetic linkages to homosexuality. Perhaps the most famous study discovered the linkages of the Xq28 chromosome to homosexual behavior (7). The study, led be Dean Hamer, dealt with the higher rate of occurrence in homosexuality along specific maternal genetic lines. In other words if you have a lot of gay relatives on Mom’s side, the likelihood of you being gay is greater. The significance of the findings of the Xq28 chromosome’s linkage to homosexuality earned it the name “the gay gene” (8). Further research appeared to refute the Hamer study (9), however, there is a fair amount of controversy as to the way this second study was conducted (8). And a later study, while finding a slightly reduced maximum likelihood estimation at the site of Xq28, found significant linkages at a slew of other sites along the maternal genetic code (10). Further genetic study continues. Like the one in which the fucose mutarotase gene was removed from female mice. The result was male-like sexual behavior. In other words, they made lesbian mice through genetics (11).

There is also Epigenetics (or “on top of genetics”); a system of influence on the expression of genes. Women have two X chromosomes. In the transference of genetic information to an embryo, one of these X’s is inactive (12). A study found that an extreme skewing of X-inactivation was significantly higher in mothers of gay men (13). It's passed on to the male child, just like color blindness.

If you are a male and have a lot of older brothers, there is a higher likelihood that you will be gay, 33% higher with each older brother according to this study (14). Male fetuses produce a Y-linked minor histocompatibility antigen (H-Y), likely to be involved in the development of sex typical traits. With each male fetus, the mother produces antibodies that attack these H-Y antigens.

With just a sampling of genetic studies, the argument that homosexuality is unnatural seems to collapse. Now let's set fire to the wreckage of that argument. What of the evidence that homosexuality occurs elsewhere in the animal kingdom? Homosexual activity has been observed in well over a thousand other species (16).  In many cases, it's simply out of necessity for a species' survival. It’s common in the bird kingdom for same sex parents to raise young (16), such as in the Laysan albatross population of Oahu, Hawaii. Shortages of males led to pairs of female parents raising the young. Sometimes it's out of individual survival such as a pair of male Penguins who hatched an egg abandoned by it’s biological parents (17).

Some male Ostriches court each other and even build nests together (18). With Bonobos, it is essential to engage in homosexual activity to even be accepted within the group (19). Dolphins have been observed to engage in group sexual encounters of mixed company involving both heterosexual and homosexual couplings and penetration of “non-approved” orifices such as the blowhole (20). They’ll do this even in captivity at times, which would make for a really memorable time with the family at Sea World. Male lions use homosexual sex as a bonding mechanism (16). Elephants will get involved in same sex relations for years (20). Male giraffes engage in a practice called necking (21). Some sheep have been found to have an exclusive homosexual orientation (22). Lizards can be gay as well (23). Everything from fruit bats to spiders to crustaceans have exhibited observable gay behavior (24). Again, there’s well over a thousand animal species that have been observed in homosexual activity.

Scientists have to report what they see, whether they're comfortable with the findings or not (16). Emotional and intellectual bias must be removed. There's a firmly established scientific method for gathering data and it's strictly adhered to. Any scientist worth anything will follow it to the letter. Their reputation and career rides on it. If you think the findings of a particular study are wrong, formulate a new experiment and disprove it. If your findings disprove the previous findings and are determined to be sound, then your results become the accepted thinking. Facts are king. But as of now, the science on homosexuality is leaning heavily in the direction of inborn. I'm sure we can at least agree that we have no choice over the bodies and brains we are born with.

I saved the big one for last. I wanted to keep you with me as long as possible and when it comes to matters involving faith, things can get volatile quickly. But one of the most frequent and power-charged arguments reasoning that homosexuality is unnatural is its very condemnation in the Bible. I’m not going to attack your religion. I was raised a Catholic. It’s still a part of me. But if you lock yourself into any idea, even one derived from faith, you’ll miss the truth every time, even if it’s staring you in the face.

The King James edition is what I grew up with and it’s likely the one you grew up with too. There are several passages that would seem to condemn homosexuality. But it’s not that simple. I’m not going to denigrate the Bible. It’s an amazing book full of amazing truths. But there is a very real history to the creation of the Bible.

It’s true that no book has been translated into more languages, but it’s also true that one of those languages happens to be English. The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew, with a few passages in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Greek (25). The Bible had already gone through several long and involved translations from these languages long before getting to English.

It’s often been said that there is no mention of homosexuality in the original text. This is absolutely true. However there WERE references to same gender sex acts. There were no words for homosexual or homosexuality in either biblical Hebrew or biblical Greek and this is for a couple of reasons. First, it’s just how things were back then. There wasn’t a distinction between homosexual and heterosexual. You were just sexual. People didn’t see themselves as gay or straight even when they occasionally played for both teams. There was certainly debate over the merits of same gender sex and some variance among cultures in attitude towards it. But there was no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual (26). The very word "homosexuality" didn't exist until it was coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1868 (27). So if the Bible you are reading contains that word, you’re dealing with a very fast and loose interpretation of sacred texts.

Something you may not think about is that the Bible, the book on which Christianity is based, was not written by Christians. It was written by Jews. Christ did not exist when the Old Testament was written. Jews wrote even the New Testament. Jesus’ disciples, those who witnessed his life and then wrote about it, were Jews. In fact, until three centuries after Christ’s death, there was no one organized Christian church or one agreed upon Christian law (28).

This is important to remember because the Jewish interpretation of the same verses Christians use to condemn homosexuals is very different. Since Jews wrote it, it seems like common sense to lean towards their interpretation.

Let’s start with Leviticus. The Laws of the Book of Leviticus were meant solely for Israelites as conditions for residing in the Holy land. They were intended to promote the purity and longevity of Israel and keep Israel separate and Holy (29). In most cases, the laws deal with issues of health and safety such as details on which animals are kosher or safe to eat (cloven hoofed animals are not), or measures to prevent the spread of disease.

The two verses from Leviticus that are often used to condemn homosexuality are Leviticus 18:22 (“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”) and Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”) Abomination in Hebrew is “to’evah”. To’eveh refers to anything that is an insult to God, but usually refers to practices associated with idolatry or ritual impurity (30). The Israelites were big on rituals. Afterall, Leviticus contains extensive and detailed instructions on the proper way to sacrifice an animal, which animal to sacrifice in a given situation, how to scatter the blood on the alter, how to burn the carcass, etc. In fact, a good third of Leviticus is devoted to this. But back to the aforementioned verses, the abominations do not refer to homosexual acts per se, but any sex act that lacks a procreative purpose (31). In other words, it's the wasting of sperm. The surrounding verses deal with everything from incest (which weakens the bloodline) to sex with prostitutes (which they felt brought impurity and disease into the bloodline). The longevity of Israel was of utmost importance and healthy procreation was a big part of that. Masturbation is also considered an abomination in this light. So is a man having sex with a woman with some form of contraception. So is fellatio. Some have even stretched this to include marrying a barren woman (33). It should be duly noted that there’s no mention of women laying with women in this verse (no seed would be wasted). In fact there is no actual condemnation of lesbian acts anywhere in the Torah (or Old Testament) (34), (35). The abomination mentioned in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 was not that two men were having sex together; it was that two Israelite men were wasting Israelite seed. And just to reiterate, about a third of this book is dedicated in great detail to animal sacrifice. There is something very disingenuous to me about disregarding all of that while treating these two small verses as inescapable law.

If we know that there was no distinction between gay and straight in Biblical times, then the interpretation that the destruction of Sodom in the Book of Genesis was the result of God punishing rampant homosexuality can’t be accurate. In fact, that interpretation would seem to be strictly Christian in origin as the generally agreed upon Jewish interpretation is that Sodom was destroyed because of their rampant greed and mistreatment of outsiders (36). This interpretation is further backed up in the Bible itself by Ezekiel 16:48-49 ("This is the sin of Sodom; she and her suburbs had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was abominable in God's eyes."). To emphasize, it's also backed up by 16 more Bible verses (Isaiah 1:9, 10; 3:9; 13:19; Jeremiah 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ezekiel 16:46, 53, 55, 56; Matt 10:15; 11:23-24; Mark 6:11; and Luke 10:12; 17:29).

The word “sodomite” appears in a few of the Bible verses that are used to condemn homosexuality. The term has come to mean someone who engages in anal sex. But in the original Hebrew, it simply refers to people from the city of Sodom. It has nothing at all to do with anal sex. That interpretation wouldn't come until much later in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. (30). The origin of that interpretation is a mis-reading of Genesis 19:5: (“And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them”) First off, some context. Lot saw two men by the gates of Sodom and invited them into his home, not knowing who they were or anything about them. Hospitality is Jewish custom after all (37). When hearing of this, the people of Sodom, their xenophobia getting the better of them, descended upon Lot’s home to call out these outsiders.

The “know” in this verse is translated from the Hebrew word “Yada”. There are arguments on both sides as to whether it means, “to know” as in sex or simply just having knowledge. But the word Yada is used 943 times in the Old Testament and in the context of everything from common objects to God Himself (38). The only time, out of 943 uses where it seems to have a sexual connotation is in Genesis 4 (“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD”). In all manner of logic simply from it’s context in regards to Genesis 19:5, “know” would seem to mean the people of Sodom wanted to find out who these outsiders were and throw them out. Taking this to mean sex of some sort, or the somewhat common "war rape" interpretation seems a bit of a stretch to me.

Romans 1:26 states: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” Romans 1:27 states: ”And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet”. Again, I can see where the anti-homosexual interpretation comes from. But it’s all in the author Paul’s intent and the context of the times. Let it be pointed out that the writings of Paul tend to be very hard to translate and understand in general (39), so knowing Paul’s actual intent may be difficult or impossible. What we do know is that in Romans, he’s addressing his fellow Israelites. In the aforementioned verses he is reacting to what he sees as his people falling away from God. When I read these verses it seems like he’s referring to the same uncontrollable lust that wastes valuable Israelite seed and futrthermore he seems to be calling this out more in regards to sex with women than with men. It’s all interpretation.

And again we come back to confusion about a phrase, in this case “against nature”. This is the King James translation from the original Greek of the word “para physin”. But the meaning of para physin is actually closer to “unconventional” or “unusual” (30) When I keyed it into Google translate myself, I got “unnatural”. He’s attacking a wide variety of activities that dishonor God in these two verses, mainly the idolatry associated with the Greek Gentiles (30). Irresponsible sex or the act of sex without procreation went along with idol worship. This includes all of those aforementioned sexual acts that are common today (fellatio, sex with contraception, etc). He uses the phrase “para physin” in quite a few more verses, none of them seeming to have an air of moral condemnation (40) including Romans 11:24 (For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?) and Corinthians 11:14 (Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?)?  Is he really condemning a man for having long hair as against nature? Or is he simply saying it’s unusual?

In order to understand the Bible, you have to understand the culture in which it was written. This is something that all Bible historians and theologians know. Every time the text is translated, small pieces get lost. On top of that, people are trying to find meaning in passages referring to cultural traditions that have long since disappeared. Another thing to consider is the Bible was written by humans, with all their fallibility. They’re doing the best they can to interpret a greater truth but it’s only natural for their personal biases, experience, neuroses, etc. to color things. To really know God, you need to know Him yourself. This is not an attempt to call the Bible’s validity into question. If you find solstice and wisdom in its pages that's great. But wouldn't you want to be sure you're getting truest, purest version? Where the Bible is concerned, meaning becomes clearer, and far more interesting, when there is an historical context. Like any religious text, I don’t take the Bible literally. If you do, let me suggest you “read the white”. The truth is never in language. It’s in the ideas contained within the language. It’s something Eastern religions have understood for millenia. It’s easier to communicate the incommunicable by suggesting it through parables, koans, etc. No one can show you the truth; they can only point you in a direction. You have to arrive at it on your own.

I don’t expect to change anyone’s opinions based on any of this. It’s only my hope. For some of you, the beliefs you have about homosexuality are deeply ingrained and intertwined with many other ways with which you view the world. But SOMETHING I’ve said here had to have pushed you in a new direction, one you may never have thought of. If you oppose something so strongly, to me it would make sense to make sure you understand exactly what you’re opposing just to know if it's worth the effort to oppose it. Hopefully I’ve planted some seed of acceptance. One thing I can say, and I don’t want this to be taken in an antagonistic way, is that the world is changing. The attitudes towards homosexuality are changing. It’s rightly becoming more accepted everyday. There will be a time very soon where you will be on the wrong side of history. I don’t want to see that. You have nothing to gain by holding onto prejudices about anyone.

My tribute to Keith Haring.

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