I wanted to believe that my work of writing about this topic had since passed and that I would never again have to write in defense of it, of us, of the nature of our being. Unfortunately we still live in a world where there are people who still do not understand us, that still have false beliefs about who and what we are, where we come from, and the things we have faced in our youth, all consequences we never chose.
Choice, that is the subject matter of this article and it is in reference to those of us who belong to the LGBTQ+ community. For the past 20 years, human sexuality has been a constant topic of interest for me. For the past 10 years it has been a topic of research, reading, writing, and conversation as well.
Over the last two decades I have occasionally encountered the belief that members of the LGBTQ+ become lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender by choice. That they also choose to have feelings, both emotional and sexual, towards members of the same gender. Typically this opinion comes from those who are very unfamiliar on the topic, but whom sometimes feel the need to be vocal about their opinion anyway. They are also usually politically conservative and religious.
Engaging these people in conversation can often lead to a breakdown of their tightly held belief, particularly when you swap the words lesbian, gay, and bisexual with the word straight. To counter question if straight people make the conscious choice to be straight, as opposed to any other sexuality, has generally been enough to silence or even alter the mindset of the proponents I have met who held this belief.
I used this very argument about ten years ago, when I had befriended the most religiously conservative person I have ever met in my life. I have written about him several times before, and as always I will not reveal his identity for the sake of his privacy. In this article I will refer to him as “Dylan.”
Dylan admitted that he had never exchanged any meaningful conversation with anyone who identified with the LGBTQ+ before, he had never taken the time to listen to or read information from someone of my community, as he never felt inclined to do so. He did, however, have opinions about the LGBTQ+ that he formed from religious scripture, his parents, friends, conservative talk show hosts, and other such conservatively bias sources.
The very nature of his perception was based solely on this determination: that gay people have sex with other people of the same gender. Beyond that he knew nothing else aside from the far left political positions of the LGBTQ+. I remember distinctly the moment he realized that the personal lives of the lesbians, gays, and bisexuals did not center solely around same-gender sex. He bluntly remarked, “I had no idea love was involved.”
Not even for a moment did he consider that two men or two women could actually love each other and that it was a central factor in same-sex relationships. That concept was just not even on his radar of possibilities because the sources that led to his opinion never offered him that possibility. Dylan was not a bad person, he was not intentionally forming negative beliefs about the LGBTQ+, he simply never found himself in a situation where he was learning from someone in the community.
He wasn’t the only person learning things during our conversations, I was learning things too. About how his perspective was formed, why he held certain opinions, where he was getting his information, what people, books, and media sources had built up a veil through which he viewed something he had no firsthand experience with. By seeing and understanding the barrier between us, we figured out how to cross it.
The barriers are like walls or trenches, dividing people who could otherwise learn a great deal about one another and often times come out the other side as both better people. These trenches are dug by misinformation, misunderstanding, lack of desire to learn, preconceived notions, tightly held false beliefs, fear, lies, and even self-hatred.
Dylan once asked me why I wanted to like other men. It was quite possibly the strangest question he had ever asked me. Where he had drawn the conclusion that I had wanted to be emotionally and physically attracted to other men was befuddling to me. Why would he think that? How did he come to the belief that I chose to like other men?
Not knowing the best way to answer his question, I decided to ask him the same thing. Why did he decide to like women? He replied that he didn’t decide, it just happened over time, he discovered that he was attracted to girls and as he grew older he felt drawn to know and learn more and more about them both emotionally and sexually. He found himself developing feelings for certain girls he met, a powerful attraction that compelled him to pursue them.
I explained to Dylan that his answer was the same type of answer any LGBTQ+ person will give. While the source of what causes lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be attracted to the same gender may still be open for debate, how that attraction works is the same as with straight people. Most lesbians, gays, and bisexuals realize they are attracted to people of the same gender when they are young. Some as early as childhood during their pre-teens, but most realize it during adolescence. Some do so even later during their post-adolescence. I was eleven years old the first time I realized it.
While it is a little more difficult to put it into this perspective, one could also ask why do you like chocolate? Why do you like the color blue? Why do you like the scent of lavender? The answers to these questions are not easy to convey, but what we know is that whether we like them or not, we never made the conscious choice to do so or not to do so. We just simply discover a preference, and for those of us who like them, we are simply drawn to them, to experience them and for those who don’t like them, they feel the need to avoid them. No one chooses to like them and no one chooses to hate them. No one chooses to be or not be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight, we merely discover it.
So is there any kind of choice at all when it comes to human sexuality? Yes, there is a choice to be made. The choice to act on the things we feel. Dylan and I came to this agreement a decade ago, that indeed no one chooses what gender they are emotionally and physically attracted to, but everyone chooses whether or not they want to act out those feelings.
While that statement is absolutely true, it doesn’t mean it’s a positive conclusion. In fact, while everyone has the free will to not pursue the people they find emotionally and sexually attractive or engage in sexual relations with, the resulting effect on that person for making the choice to abstain is dire. Just because a straight man may choose not to engage in any kind of intimate relationship with a woman, doesn’t mean he’s no longer straight. Just because a gay or bisexual man chooses not to engage in any kind of intimate relationship with another man, doesn’t mean he’s no longer gay or bisexual.
Deteriorated mental health is the leading consequence for lesbians and gays who choose to not allow themselves to become romantically and sexually involved with those of the same gender. A similar effect occurs with heterosexuals who also choose not to engage emotionally or sexually with those of the opposite gender. Why is this? It’s likely due to the fact that we are programmed to seek out meaningful, healthy, productive relationships with others.
You do not have to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community to know that mental health issues abound for gays and lesbians still inside the proverbial closet, pretending to be and living out their life as though they are straight. From drug addiction and alcohol abuse, to depression and social anxiety, gays and lesbians face many consequences for choosing not to act on their natural desire to be in same-gender relationships. Most often this choice is made out of fear, the fear of being rejected by the people in their lives, such as family members, friends, and coworkers.
Sometimes the choice is not one of just fear, but one of hatred. More specifically self-hatred. Where this self-hatred spawns from is often different for each individual. It can be born from a religious belief, from a culturally inherited social belief, or from a self-created perception of what it means to be a man or a woman. As an example, I’ll use myself. When I was much younger, I not only refused to accept that I was interested in other guys, I hated the feelings altogether.
Once I realized that I was more than just a little curious about other guys and that in fact I was becoming emotionally drawn to them in a very romantic sense, my fear of being a faggot and others discovering it grew into hatred. First as a hatred towards gays and lesbians for multiple reasons, and eventually as self-hatred.
It made me angry when I saw people who were obviously gay. I didn’t want to see gay people, I didn’t want to hear them speak, I didn’t want to be around them or be acknowledged by them. I hated them because of how they acted, how they dressed, how they talked, I hated that they kissed each other in public, I hated that they held hands, I hated that they thought it was okay to not only have gay feelings but to also act on them. I saw them as sinful, dirty, disgusting degenerates. I hated that they were happy and that I wasn’t happy. I hated that they accepted themselves and each other. I hated them because they reminded me of the very thing I hated about myself and wanted to dispel from my mind.
Conversion therapy, which attempts to turn gays and lesbians straight by building a mental connection between homosexuality and punishment/negativity, has now been made illegal in several states, counties, and cities across the United States, because it doesn’t actually turn gays and lesbians straight. What it does instead is give them psychological trauma regarding their sexuality. Essentially conversion therapy is exactly what I did to myself when I was a kid, I just didn’t need to be shocked by an electric current every time I was exposed to something homoerotic. Instead I punished myself until I became depressed and mentally unstable, which is exactly what happens to patients who go through conversion therapy.
My futile attempt to get rid of my interest in other men grew from hating gays to hating myself. Back then, I was still religious and would pray to God to get rid of the feelings for me. I’d promise Him all of these different things if He would take it away, such as being nicer to my siblings, doing better at school, all these silly things that kids think about. For years I prayed to be free of this curse and that’s really how I saw it – as a curse. I didn’t understand why God had made me that way, why He created me as a faggot, but for years I would silently cry myself to sleep worrying about it, scared of it, hating it, hating myself, wishing, praying for it to be taken away.
I would try in vain to not think about it, every time the thoughts would arise when I was around another guy I felt attracted to, I’d try to push them out of my head, try to distract myself from it. I’d call myself a faggot, tell myself that it was sick and disgusting, that I was a freak, to make the thoughts stop. It was ridiculously impossible, but I refused to accept that I was some kind of queer. Every day at school I was put into the situation of seeing or meeting other boys I was attracted to, every night on television there was a good chance I’d see a man I thought was attractive. Every single day of my life I lived on my own little island of hell, where every moment I fought a losing battle against the nature of my own being.
By the time I reached sixteen, I was incredibly introverted, depressed, and so lost inside my own head, I struggled to live outside myself. I now look at pictures of me from back in those days and I see so much sadness, so much fear inside of me that I can’t stand to look at those pictures for long. I wasn’t really a person anymore, a shell of one, a ghost of a person. Pretending to be someone that I wasn’t just to keep from completely falling apart. It’s no wonder that I began having suicidal thoughts. I came to the conclusion that dying was a better idea than accepting homosexual thoughts and feelings, I was convinced that being dead was better than being a faggot.
The first time I planned to kill myself was the summer after my sophomore year of high school. The only thing that stopped me was fear, the fear of dying alone on a hillside and the thought that everyone would still hate me, not just for having gay feelings, but for choosing to die. Less than two years later, I began thinking about crashing my truck on purpose to kill myself. I’d think about it every day on my way to work. I was 19 the second time that I decided to stop thinking about killing myself and just do it, and I intended to shoot myself when no one else was home. Before that happened, however, I confessed my feelings to other people and they intervened.
The truth is, no one wants to complete suicide, no one wants to die, they just don’t want to hurt anymore. It took a lot of self-healing and self-acceptance to stop hating myself, and it took a long time to realize that no matter what I did, I would never stop having feelings for certain individuals of the same-gender and that it was okay to have them, whether I be gay or bisexual.
Now days, when I hear people state the false belief that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals choose to have that attraction to members of the same gender, I am reminded of the horror I went through as a kid. That opinion insinuates that by choice, I lived through my own hell, when indeed I could have merely made the easy choice not to have an emotional and physical attraction to other members of the same gender if I wanted to. It truly is absurd and naïve, an unfounded belief that has no merit or logic.
I can imagine a young guy or girl, hearing someone say that to them or in their presence and feeling that same sense of fear, anguish, and self-hatred that I once felt. The thought makes me angry, it makes me angry that anyone could be so unaware of the harm of what they mistakenly believe to be true. Thoughts and opinions can be dangerous to those who are young and susceptible to the influences of those they look up to or care about.
Young LGBTQ+ members complete suicide because they don’t believe anyone would love them for who they know themselves to be. They are afraid of the thoughts and opinions of people who speak demoralizing words of ignorance and hatred towards the LGBTQ+ and who use legislation to oppress and dehumanize them. It is for them that I write this, it has always been for them that I made the choice to ever begin writing at all about my own experiences. And it’s because I was once just like them, I used to be that kid uncertain if his family would throw him away, if his friends would turn their backs on him, the kid who wondered if anyone cared, if he would ever feel loved and accepted.
On the long dark road of coming to terms with who and what I am, I have lost people along the way. People that I once cared for, who mattered greatly to me, that I wanted to have in my life forever, to share life experiences with, to make memories with, to bond with emotionally and spiritually. I lost them because they chose to believe negative and false things about lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people. They chose to not learn or understand, they chose to not listen or inquire, they chose to not walk a mile in our shoes.
The trench that is dug between us, is never as wide or deep as we believe it to be, and I am convinced that if both sides are willing to talk, to learn about the other side and why they believe what they do and if they are willing to consider their beliefs or opinions might be wrong, then it is possible to live in tolerance and compromise. Some of the best people I have met, turned out to make the worst choices because of false opinions they held about other people they didn’t know or understand. But even when you light a fire in the trench and walk away, it doesn’t mean that it can never be crossed.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please access my immediate assistance resource page. A comprehensive listing of online and phone resources and services is also available.