Opinion

Is sexual orientation nature or nurture? Am I wrong not to care?

Nature, nurture, lifestyle choice, whatever. The world seems obsessed with finding out what makes the gays gay.

Every time it crops up, as it has today in the Guardian, I find myself puzzling over the fascination with unravelling this big secret. It’s just something that happens; why can’t we be satisfied with that? But, no, curious minds continue to peer through the dirty net curtains and into gay society for some kind of solution. And when the code is deciphered, then what? When all the research has been done, genes examined and endless, dull, wittering studies analysed and crosschecked, what happens next? Will it lead to society truly understanding and accepting homosexuality and its ‘practitioners’? Or will we be 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 fella-fancying 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?

Scientists are only cosying up and getting to know cancer because they want to make it go bye-bye for good, after all, and all those studies that show ginger hair is on its way toward extinction – thinning out, if you like – are in their own way trying to prevent this great genetic loss.

Imagine, then, as recent research hopes 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 perhaps opt to have 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 Lady Gaga 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 some 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 and have a 100% chance of giving birth to a straight baby – that’s if a baby, with no sexual awareness whatsoever can be perceived as straight, of course; I’m not a scientist so can’t really delve too deeply here – or at least a child who would grow up to be heterosexual. And of course these are people I choose to spend my life being with – they’re not monsters.

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 those insufferable Anya Hindmarch ‘I am not a plastic bag’ shopping sacks.

There are lots of factors involved in being reluctant to have a gay child, most of them based on stereotypes or equally applicable to straight children, but no less concerning for parents.

For starters, growing up as one can be difficult, even now – just take a look at the recent spate of suicides of young gay or trans people – 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 are 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 set up a TiVo to record Queer Eye for the Straight Guy reruns.

And so onto nurture. Scenario two, then. Suppose it is a lifestyle choice after all. Rejoice gay-gene deniers! You can actually ‘catch gay’!

All it takes is a little boy using lip balm while his mother tells him how much she loves him or staring just a little bit too hard at that poster of David Hasselhoff in his fire-engine red speedos and, eventually, you’ll be having an awkward conversation with your pride and joy in TGI Fridays on his 15th birthday. What then?

Do you drive yourself mad wondering whether you should have allowed him 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 your front porch 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 the name-calling commenced. 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 gays truly have no idea. It can creep up gradually or can 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. It’s all just labels. 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’. I’d rather just get on with it.

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.

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  1. I think the ability to let go and just accept stuff is a hugely underrated talent. There’s always somebody who says, ‘But what if …?’
    It may be how science has advanced, but you’re right, we just need to like the way we are.

  2. Pardon my unusual-ness but I don’t even enjoy there being a label for “straight,” honestly. I give the whole thing a giant eye-roll and think humans are trying waaay too hard to separate themselves from the rest of the Earthlings in this (overtly religion-centered) sexuality debate. I have a 10 month-old daughter with a hetero partner and all we hope for her is to grow up knowing how to recognize a healthy relationship from a destructive one. Actually no, that’s a lie. We’d be a bit more excited if she liked girls because then we could breathe a sigh of unplanned pregnancy relief. I certainly haven’t found a solid reason for all the concern and like to think of a future where people scoff at what a big deal was made over people loving each other (oh the terror!) much like we do now when we ridicule the idea of the earth being flat. Eff the sexuality labels. Eff them all in the A. There are REAL problems to worry about. <3

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