The Gay Question Is Not A Question So Stop Treating It Like It’s A Question

I originally wrote this during the Republican primary for the 2012 Presidential Election. At the time, Michelle Bachmann was a front runner and with her staunchly anti-gay stance came a whole slew of debate about a question I’d long thought answered: whether homosexuality is a choice or not. I’d like to say times have changed since then but unfortunately these sentiments still plague our society; our current Vice President no less, is well known to have been no friend to the LGBTQ community.

I’m a straight, white male, so there’s really little to nothing that I can add to story of any oppressed group. But maybe I can try and reach the oppressors– those who still hold onto ideas that are of a less sophisticated era. 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, can I? Respectfully, I can only tell you that you’re being intellectually lazy, and note that whether you’ve earned that respect is tenuous considering your bias actively disrupts people’s lives and safety.

There’s a big world out there full of billions of people. It doesn’t do any of us any good for you to completely dismiss an entire group of people. You’ve cut yourself off from ideas, perspectives, things you could learn. These are valuable relationships you could be having. It only hurts you to hold onto a negative feeling about anyone, regardless of the reason.

Here’s the bottom line here, though. It’s not a choice. It’s as natural an aspect of a given human being as any other. You can’t choose to be gay anymore than you can choose to be straight. So how can you condemn someone for being as God made them? 

A very prevalent argument made by people who are holding onto their prejudices is that there isn’t any scientific proof that homosexuality is anything but a choice. This is just false and a quick google search would fix this but since I did the research, here’s some of my findings.

Let’s start with brain structure. We know men and women are different. We also know they have different brain structures. A homosexual’s brain structure is also different from a heterosexual’s. For instance the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a region that controls cyclical bodily functions throughout a 24 hour period, has been found to be larger in homosexual men. The anterior commissure, a bundle of nerve fibers that connects the two brain hemispheres, was also found to be larger in homosexual men. The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates the secretion of pituitary hormones as well as basic functions such as hunger and thirst, has been found to be structurally different in homosexual men.

Then there are the genetic linkages to homosexuality. In what is perhaps the most famous study, it was discovered there are linkages between the Xq28 chromosome and homosexual behavior. The study, led be Dean Hamer, dealt with the higher rate of occurrence in homosexuality along specific maternal genetic lines. If you have a lot of gay relatives on your 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” in the press. Much drama has followed this discovery. For example, a study to replicate the findings of the Hamer group appeared to completely refute them. However, there is a fair amount of controversy as to the way this second study was conducted.

Further genetic study continues, including a study that involved removing the fucose mutarotase gene in female mice. The result was male-like sexual behavior. In other words, they made lesbian mice through genetics.

Further studies continue to show a linkage to homosexuality involving the maternal X chromosome. Epigenetics, or “on top of genetics”, is 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. A study found that an extreme skewing of X-inactivation was significantly higher in mothers of gay men.

A study of birth order reported that the odds of a male child being gay increase by 33% with each older brother. 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. A study involving female maternal relatives of gay men having a higher fecundity than female maternal relatives also found homosexual males to more often be born later and have a greater number of older brothers than older sisters.

You can’t choose the physical make up of your brain any more than you can choose your genetic make up. There’s no choice there, whatsoever. These occurances are as natural as the blue sky.

Did you know there’s a whole slew of evidence of homosexual behavior throughout the animal kingdom? The bird kingdom in general is full of same sex and transgendered behavior. It’s common in birds for same sex parents to raise young, such as in the Laysan albatross population of Oahu, Hawaii, in which shortages of males led to pairs of female parents raising the young, or the pair of male Penguins who hatched an egg abandoned by it’s biological parents. Some male Ostriches court each other and even build nests together

In bonobos (dwarf chimps), it is essential to engage in homosexual activity to even be accepted within the group. 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 blowholeMale lions use homosexual sex as a bonding mechanism. Elephants will get involved in same sex relations for years. Male giraffes engage in a practice called necking. Some sheep and rams have been found to have an exclusive homosexual orientation. Lizards can be gay as well. Everything from fruit bats to spiders to crustaceans have exhibited observable gay behavior. Listing all the different animals that have exhibited gay behavior would be exhausting and also pointless since several of those above links consist of extensive lists of such animals, essentially doing the work for me, so I’ll obstain.

This is science. Scientists have to report what they see. Emotional and intellectual bias must be removed and the firmly established scientific method for gathering data must be strictly adhered to. Any scientist worth anything knows this and will follow it to the letter. Their reputation and career rides on it. If you want to refute the science, formulate a new experiment to disprove it. If your findings disprove the previous findings and are determined to be sound, then your results become the accepted thinking.

The religious angle to the “homosexuality is unnatural” argument is thornier because when it comes to matters involving faith things can get volatile quickly. One’s faith is very personal so I’m not going to attack your religion. I was raised a Catholic so it’s the Christian faith I’m going to focus on. And I’ve found it’s far less thornier when you look at things in context. With context, you’ll find there’s actually very little condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible if any at all.

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. 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. The Bible had already gone through several long and involved translations from these languages before getting to English.

Before we get started, it’s often been said that there is no mention of homosexuality in the original text. This is true. There WERE references to same sex sexual acts but homosexuality as a concept didn’t exist and therefore there were no words for homosexual or homosexuality in either biblical Hebrew or biblical Greek. It’s just how things were back then. There wasn’t a distinction between homosexual and heterosexual. 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. The word homosexuality didn’t even exist until it was coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1868. So if the Bible you’re reading contains that word, you’re dealing with a very fast and loose interpretation of sacred texts.

A key to finding the true context of The Bible is in the realization that it was not written by Christians. It was written by Jews. This is an undisputable fact. Christ did not exist when the Old Testament was written. Jews even wrote 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.

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 interpretations.

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. and 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 english translations of 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.”) What this hinges on is the meaning of the Hebrew word “to’evah”. The blunt interpretation is “abomination” but there seems to be a lot of evidence, based on the various ways it is used in the original text, that this definition is reductive or outright false. One of the major interpretations I’ve come across is that to’evah is simply any foreign or non-Jewish ritual. It’s often referring to practices associated with the idolatry or ritual impurity of the non-Jewish Egyptians and Romans of the time.

Leviticus contains two lines about man lying with man being an abomination but other than that there are extensive and detailed instructions on the proper way to sacrifice an animal upon an alter, and how and under which circumstances to sprinkle the blood on the alter and how and under which circumstances to burn the carcass, etc. It’s really feels like it’s about 2/3 of the book when you’re reading it but it’s okay to ignore all of that but not okay to ignore those two lines?

Well, let’s examine those lines. The abomination in these verses does not refer to homosexual acts per se, but any sex act that lacks a procreative purpose. It’s the wasting of sperm in other words. The surrounding verses deal with everything from incest (which weakens the bloodline) to sex with prostitutes (which they felt brought impurity 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. 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. 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) 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.

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. This is further backed up 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.”) as well as 16 more Bible verses (Isa 1:9, 10; 3:9; 13:19; Jer 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Ezek 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 used to condemn homosexuality. But in the original Hebrew, it simply refers to people from the infamous city of Sodom. It has nothing to do with anal sex. That interpretation would come much later in the fourth century A.D. The reason would be 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. 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 in this case, rape) or simply just having knowledge. The word Yada is used 943 times in the Old Testament and in the context of everything from common objects to God Himself. 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.

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, 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. He actually seems to be calling this out more in regards to sex with women than with men.

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 “atypical” or unusual to contemporary cultural norms. He’s attacking a wide variety of activities that mainly boil down to the same sort of idolatry associated with the Greek Gentiles at the time that was associated with the non-Jewish rituals from the time of Leviticus.

He uses the phrase “para physin” in quite a few more verses, none of them seeming to have an air of moral condemnation   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. People try 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 God and it’s only natural for their personal biases, experience, neuroses, etc. to color things. This is not an attempt to invalidate the Bible but merely an attempt to find its truest truth.

If you’re reading the Bible literally, I’d say you’re missing that truth. The truth is never in language. It’s in the ideas contained within the language; that’s how language works. It’s something Eastern religions have understood for centuries. 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 I’d urge you try to begin untangling. If you oppose something so strongly, it makes sense to make sure you understand what you’re opposing and if it’s even worth the effort to do so. The world is changing. The attitudes towards homosexuality have already changed so much for the better in the few years since originally writing this in 2012. It’ll become more accepted everyday and opposing the basic humanity of any vulnerable group will put you on the wrong side of history every time. You have so much to gain by letting go of prejudices.

A tribute to Keith Haring.