Nature or nurture? Let’s never find out

Nature, nurture, lifestyle choice, whatever. Will we ever truly find out what makes us LGBTQ?

The subject of science interfering with sexuality in nature crops up rather too often, and today has given a new paper bag to scream into thanks to gay conversion’s number one cheerleader and general reminder that bigots never have to search too hard for a platform, Ann Widdecombe, and her assertion on national TV that science may well “provide an answer” for those wishing to “switch sexuality”. As ever,  I find myself puzzling over science’s fascination with unravelling this big secret about sexuality, whether it’s talk of geneticists doing research to see if they can identify the sexuality of a foetus, or the brains of torn-faced parents asking over and over whether it’s a “phase”.

My main concern is what happens when the code is cracked? When the research has been done, genes examined and studies analysed and crosschecked, will it result in a society truly understanding and accepting of gay and bi people and the rest of the LGBTQ community? Or will it set us firmly on the path to extinguishing it altogether?

Call me paranoid, but I’m a little suspicious of those desperate to uncover the big, unexplainable mystery that put me here in all my glory. Once you discover how something works, you do your best to influence it to be more beneficial to you, either eradicating it or promoting its survival – which outcome are we dealing with here? Ann Widdecombe is both smart enough to work it out, but stupid enough to say it out loud: we’re eyeing extinction here.

Genetic research is most often used to fix “problems” – so what does that say about our attitude to sexuality? Imagine, as research has hoped to do, if the 64-trillion pink pound question is definitively answered, the sexuality sudoku finally solved.

It’s nature! It’s a genetic thing! Great, so now we know what it is, maybe we can switch it off, right? Potential parents could opt for a test to tell them whether there’s a prospective interior decorator lurking within. Or maybe there’ll be a magic potion you can take, or a method of conception you can apply, that will eliminate any possibility that your child will ask for tickets to a Carly Rae Jepsen concert as soon as it can speak? Would they do it? You, reading this, would you? Why would you? Why wouldn’t you?

I asked friends about this, straight and gay, who either already had children or were potential parents. Obviously, with a gay man doing the asking, they were unanimous in their denial that they’d drink the potion for a 100% chance of giving birth to a “straight” baby – whatever that means – or at least a child who would grow up to be heterosexual.

Many of them cited ‘grandchildren’ as a reason for wanting heterosexual offspring. It may be true in the case of my friends, but as a general rebuttal it doesn’t wash – gay parenting is on the up, everywhere, enjoying a rise to prominence meteoric enough to rival Mobikes.

I’m not stupid, though; I kind of get what why someone wouldn’t want to have a gay child, but most of these excuses are based on stereotypes or equally applicable to straight children, but no less concerning for parents.

For starters, growing up as LGBTQ can be difficult – just take a look at the spate of suicides of young gay or trans people, or the vilification of trans people in the media – and there’s also the perceived loneliness, exposure to illnesses still viewed as predominantly gay, prejudice or violence from others (my mother’s only concern about having a gay child, she says), drug culture and, perhaps most worryingly of all, raising a child that will tell you your outfit looks like shit just as you’re on your way out the door to a party. And that’s before we even get onto the issue of religion.

I’m not saying my friends weren’t being truthful – they’re all comfortable with homosexuality and would defend me to the death – but I do wonder how many others out there would have the top off that potion bottle faster than you can open Netflix and find an episode of Queer Eye.

So what if it turns out to be nurture? Suppose it is a lifestyle choice after all. Rejoice gay-gene deniers! You can actually ‘catch gay’!

As a parent, should you drive yourself mad wondering what you should’ve done different? Whether you should have allowed your little pride and boy James to have that ‘pretty princess’ birthday cake just because he liked the colour pink? Was it your constant playing of Kylie on the kitchen radio?

Perhaps young Lisa would not be bringing Sarah home and kissing her aggressively on the doorstep if you’d made her wear pretty frocks and curled her hair rather than let her maraud across the fields in dungarees with the lads? And so for the next child, will you force upon it a ‘heteronormative’ existence in the hope you finally do get those grandchildren to leave sticky marks all over your windows? Maybe you won’t answer the door to your son’s effeminate little friend from down the road in case your one and only heir switches a promising start in football for a life devoted to ballet.

Was I born with ‘it’? Probably. I knew something was ‘up’ from an early age. Before I even knew what sex was, something didn’t ring true. I felt different, unusual. Bewildered. Other people noticed too and that was when the hell really started. Did I end up gay – after a lot of deliberating and genuine belief that I probably wasn’t – because I came into the world that way or was I living up to everybody else’s assumptions? I don’t think it matters.

Some of us truly have no idea. It can creep up gradually or pounce without warning. The straightest guy or girl of all can see a pair of eyes and fall in love with their owner, rendering them gay without even realising. Unlocking the answer to your own sexuality or gender isn’t just a switch you can flick – it’s often the result of thousands of cogs and mechanisms clicking into place – sometimes sticking or snagging along the way or seizing up altogether, rendering us silent.

Nature? Nurture? Who cares? Can’t it be both – some born with it, some growing into it? Why do we have a concrete answer? Let it be random. Knowledge is power, but sometimes it’s dangerous; it can be used to destroy.

Like chicken and egg and the expanding universe, there are some riddles we just can’t solve. Some questions don’t have an answer. I don’t want to be studied, examined like a curio in an antique shop, with everyone eager to know my origins or value. I’m not interested in being understood, or ‘explained’.

There’s no shame in “I don’t know”. I don’t know. I don’t want to. So if you do find out, don’t tell me. Keep it to yourself. That goes double for you, Ann.


An earlier version of this post – blissfully free of Ann Widdecombe – has appeared elsewhere.

1 Comment

  1. Shit, they figure out a way to do away with LGBTQ and the whole world is going to get considerably more boring. We do not want that.

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