Homophobia and Fuzzy Thinking
This is a video making the rounds on my Facebook feed with the caption, “If every straight person honestly answered this question, we’d wipe out homophobia tomorrow.”
Um, no. We wouldn’t.
The premise of the video is that if we can convince people that gay people are born gay, homophobia will disappear. This is patently false. It confuses fact and interpretation. Even if everyone believed that it is a fact that homosexual persons are born that way, there is still a huge space for interpretation. Indeed many interpretations already take “born that way” for granted and argue things like, “the scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely may be created provides a credible basis for a spiritual explanation that indicts the devil.” Or, perhaps only slightly less offensively, that people are born alcoholics too.
Seriously, since when does irrational hatred of a group evaporate because they were born that way? Would racism end if we could convince the KKK that black people are “born that way”? We all know the answer to that.
But I want to highlight a second reason that answering the video’s question honestly wouldn’t wipe out homophobia tomorrow: namely, that the question itself is dishonest. It presumes that the only possible answers to the question, “How does homosexuality come about?” are 1. By choice or 2. Born that way. But, with the exception of the last respondent, none of the respondents to the leading question go with option 1. There are a couple who go for an unadulterated option 2, but the majority give an answer that incorporates nature and nurture. The follow-up question, “When did you choose to be straight?” completely ignores the fact that most of these people don’t actually believe that people choose to be gay.
Surely if there is a great number of homophobic people out there who think that homosexuality is a matter of pure choice, it would not have been too difficult to catch a couple of them on camera for this clip. Heck, even the one woman who answered “choose to be gay,” struck me as more of a flake than a hater. One wonders where the enemy this video singles out is to be found. Where are all these homophobes that think homosexuality is a choice? And why weren’t they interviewed? Perhaps a couple were and the results weren’t good enough to make it out of the cutting room.
In any case, a more honest question to those who actually were interviewed and think that homosexuality is probably the result of some combination of nature and nurture would be, “What combination of nature and nurture do you think led to your being straight?”
To ask someone who doesn’t believe that homosexuality is a choice when they chose to be straight is a manipulative bait-and-switch. Did one of the interviewees ever question the premise? And were they edited out? The people who made it into the video were simply caught off guard, not argued out of a position which they never held.
Furthermore, the question seems to ignore the current state of research, which, from what I can gather, tends more and more towards some combination of nature-nurture, with the basic acknowledgement that the proportion of each will vary from individual to individual. Most of the people who were asked to stand in for homophobes in this video were actually closer to the research than the questioner. Beyond that, they were in a better position to have an intelligent discussion about other groups, like bisexuals or those who aren’t sure about their sexuality, that don’t fit into a strict 100% gay vs. 100% straight construction. These kinds of false constructions completely abstract from the reality of those even more marginalized groups who don’t fit the narrative. Imagine someone asking, “Do you think people who are confused about their sexuality choose to be confused about it, or are they born that way?” The world is a lot more complicated than that!
Let us, by all means, combat homophobia wherever we find it. But no one supporting a given cause, however noble, should sink to the level of dishonesty and manipulation. Not only is it not right – it simply won’t work. Real homophobes aren’t going to be convinced by this kind of tactic, and those people who don’t know what they think about homosexuality are not going to become more gay friendly if they feel tricked and manipulated by clever wordplay.
The simple fact is that homophobia is wrong whether someone is simply born that way or if there are other factors that contribute. To obscure that fact is to saw off the very branch you’re sitting on.
Brett Salkeld is Hanrahan Scholar-in-Residence at St. Mark’s College in Vancouver. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one.