Monday, September 03, 2007

Gender Identity and Sexual Preference.

It should be obvious that talking about gender identity and sexual preference is one of the trickiest and most controversial conversations an American can have. So one might think that I would just steer clear of writing about these subjects on a public forum. But I consider it a priority not to shy away from commenting on difficult subjects. For better or for worse, I feel compelled to describe my thoughts about these things. Maybe next week I can talk about religion, and the day after I can examine race. That should be an effective way to alienate whatever small reader base I've been able to accumulate.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I support the rights of homosexuals. I believe that any interactions between two consenting adults that avoid hurting a third party should be left unregulated by the government. Likewise, absolutely no individual that adheres to consent should have to face governmental discrimination because of his/her sexual preference or gender identity. Furthermore, I have gay friends and I enjoy spending time with them. I don't judge their activities any more than I would my "heterosexual" friends. Nobody has ever made me feel threatened by their preference for homosexuality. And as a group I value their contributions much as I would any other identity-defined segment of society.

Having established my position, I'd like to continue by pointing out my belief that our society needlessly conflates gender identity and sexual preference. Just because someone identifies more with the opposite gender... that fact doesn't necessarily mean that they are "gay". Sexuality is much more nuanced than that. Having a gender identity that is incongruous with one's physical characteristics may lead to expectations of homosexual behavior, both on the part of the individual and others. Some may view this as an unfortunate reality, but it's one we have to contend with nonetheless. But when it comes right down to it, I don't believe there is any single factor that determines who we are attracted to or what sexual activities we engage in.

This is why I take exception to the assumption that homosexuality is genetically determined. I don't believe that there is a "gay" gene. If there were, it seems to me that this gene would not be selected for by evolution. The average number of offspring born with the gene would be less than those without it, and the difference would increase with each generation. Therefore there would be an ever decreasing proportion of homosexuals in society. Yet we have no reason to believe that this is the case. This argument seems (to me) like common sense. I do believe that there are clusters of genes that work together to create certain general dispositions, but sexual behavior is way too complex for me to accept the idea that it is preordained at birth. Furthermore, it's my understanding that the components of DNA information allow animals to exist along a spectrum within any specific dimension of identity. One may be born with a predisposition to grow taller than the average human being, but environmental factors will affect individual development. If you were born with the "potential" of being 6'5", but didn't have proper nutrition (or had your feet cut off)- then you would not reach that height. Whether this was a positive or negative outcome would depend on individual perspective. Regardless this example deals with a trait that is both extremely obvious and concretely measured. Applying the same logic to personality and identity characteristics should further reinforce my point.

I AM NOT saying that people choose their sexual preference or gender identity. That's just as simplistic as believing in "fate". The potential manifestations of a specific human genome are virtually limitless. For things as vague and nebulous as identity or sexual preference, I don't think one can predict the final outcome on the basis of DNA. There is definitely a blueprint for a future individual at every conception. But it's akin to an architect's rough sketch for a building- it doesn't accurately predict what the final product is going to be. One's environment is the ultimate determinant. The events and forces that act on people, especially at early stages of development, have crucial ramifications in every aspect of an individual life. How the individual responds to these changes adds another level of complexity to development. Ultimately there is no single explanation for what people become, so why do people seem to require one?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never had a choice and I never asked why. It always felt natural.

1:01 AM  

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