Texas Senator Ted Cruz made headlines last week when he said that Apple CEO Tim Cook's sexuality reflected his "personal decisions" and "personal choices." This statement - that being gay is a choice - unfortunately reflects the view of a large portion of the American population and of the Mormon population. Two years ago, I published a post on my Beyond the Closet Door blog (now closed) entitled, "An Open Letter to Mormons: The Matter of Choice." In light of Cruz's recent comments, I have decided to republish this post today.
Some of you may have family members or friends who are gay. Perhaps you have had an opportunity to talk to them about this issue. Many if not most of you, however, have never knowingly been acquainted with someone who is gay; and even if you have, you have probably never had an in-depth conversation with them about what it means to be gay.
There are a number of reasons why you may not have ever had such a conversation. But if we were to be honest with each other, I think you would agree that one of the main reasons you have never had such a conversation is that, as active members of the LDS Church, you believe that being gay is a moral choice. Because of this belief, you tend to shy away from gay people, believing them to be immoral. And because of this, a conversation never occurs.
Some of you may never know a gay man or a lesbian. Others of you, however, will discover, if you haven’t already, that you have a son or a brother or a father who is gay; or a sister or a daughter or a mother who is lesbian. You will then be confronted with a choice: do you simply accept discredited notions that erect stone walls of misunderstanding, suspicion and condemnation; or, do you let what you know of your loved one lead you into a conversation that allows for education, understanding and respect?
If you choose the former option, you embark on a road that will bring heartache to both you and your loved one. Guaranteed. Sooner or later, you will regret the choice that you made.
If, on the other hand, you choose the latter option, any degree of effort you put into such conversation will correspondingly benefit both you and your gay loved one.
To inaugurate such a conversation, I would suggest that you first ask your loved one whether he believes being gay is a choice. Then listen, really listen, to his response. What you will likely hear is a firm “no.” This may be followed by a more lengthy account, describing how he became aware of his sexual orientation; how it did not appear fully “grown” on a certain day as a result of a “choice”; how, rather, it is something that grew and developed without nurture and sometimes in spite of efforts to weed it out of oneself.
He may then describe the torment he faced as a boy, as an adolescent, as a young man and as a mature man. He may describe the challenges he has faced since coming out. He may describe the taunts and insults that he has endured. He may describe how his soul has been wracked, time and time and time again, with guilt and self-loathing, believing himself to be unworthy of God’s love, of being someone whom, in fact, God hates.
And then he may ask you: “Do you seriously believe I would choose all this?”
It is entirely possible (if not probable) that you may come to the point where you can see/believe that your loved one did not choose to be gay. However, again because of social and religious conditioning, you consciously or subconsciously believe that there must be a cause of homosexuality (i.e., just like there must be a cause for things such as cancer), so you start looking for one. In future posts, I’m going to take a look at what some in our society believe might be possible “causes” for homosexuality, including the “sissy syndrome” and the “distant father/overbearing mother” syndrome.
For now, I’d like to close this with my own “testimony,” i.e., my own story. I have known since I was 12 years old, at the latest, that I was attracted to guys. This isn’t something I sought. It isn’t a condition I woke up with one morning. And it is most definitely not something I “chose.”
Like virtually every other boy like me growing up in the time I did, I desperately tried to hide these feelings so that no one would ever guess that I was “queer” or a “homo” or a “fag.” I did not nurture these feelings; rather, I tried every way I knew possible to kill them.
Of course, I never succeeded in this effort; but what I did succeed in is developing a hatred of my inner self as something that was dirty, perverted and detested and rejected by God. I succeeded in growing to maturity as a fragmented human being who had carefully partitioned off bits of himself, never knowing the joy of living as a whole person. And I succeeded in becoming a person who desperately sought the approval of others, fearful that if they only knew the real me, I would lose the love and the regard of those close to me.
Like I would choose all this?