I don’t have a clear memory of the very first time I wondered if I might be gay. I know that the question crossed my mind a few times while I was in high school. I had been a serious tomboy growing up, but many of my feelings during that time were tied up in what transsexuals describe going through, that there had been some cosmic mistake and I was intended to be born a boy. Somewhere around puberty I outgrew that sense of wrongness.
There’s no way for me to know, or even guess, how much of what I had felt when younger was a true gender identity crisis or if it was my immature brain’s way of making sense of the fact that I was lesbian and knew on a subconscious level that I didn’t fit into society’s expectations for females. I suspect that it was probably some of both.
When I had those first few “I wonder if I could be” thoughts wandering through my head as a teenager I didn’t have a frame of reference to help me answer the question. It wasn’t like I had been going around thinking about kissing girls at school and what few crushes I’d had I didn’t recognize to be crushes. Everything in our culture, including all the fiction I read, told me I was supposed to think about kissing boys. It should have been a hint that the last time I had an actual crush on a boy was in sixth grade and I had no emotional or physical desire for any of my male classmates as a teen.
My teen years were in the 1970’s. It was the dawn of the gay rights movement, and it was the era of Anita Bryant. It seemed like it was always gay men people were talking about or showing in the media. So I was living under this impression that lesbians must be much more rare than gay men. And if that was true, it was really silly for me to think that I might be something as rare as that. I guess I was equating rare with special, and I didn’t feel I could be special like that.
The other major stumbling block to self-understanding was that almost all talk of homosexuality focused on sex. The word sex was right there in the label! Homos are homos because they want to have sex with the same sex. Homosexuals were talked about as if they all had lots of sex and they had it promiscuously, without much regard for or interest in emotional attachments.
If someone, anyone, had explained to me that being a lesbian wasn’t about a raging desire to have wanton, frequent sex with strange women everything would have been so much clearer to me so much earlier. Because you see, I did know that I very, very much liked girls. I even thought the idea of becoming a nun sounded attractive, spending my life in a community of women. I wasn’t Catholic.
It took me a few more years before I finally had access to the frame of reference that I needed to answer the question, “Am I a lesbian?” Several things combined within a year’s time to bring about that final “Yes!” answer, none of which was having sex with, or even kissing, another woman. I was out as a lesbian for several months before I kissed a woman for the first time. (And oh yes, it was very, very nice.)
What on earth does all that have to do with biology and a cure for homosexuality?
Well for one thing, it’s very clear to me that even if I didn’t know it, or wasn’t sure of it, I have always been gay. Once I could confidently apply that label to myself so much of my life retroactively made sense, when before it had been like a bunch of jigsaw puzzle pieces forced together in ways that didn’t really fit. I could think back to examples very early on in my childhood that made it obvious that it was always a part of me. I did not, at the age of 23, decide to be a lesbian. At the age of 23 I affirmed that I was, and always had been, a lesbian.
While I agree with the notion that human sexuality is flexible, and that all sorts of things combine to help a person define who and what they are, I strongly believe that sexual orientation is innate. It may be partly genetic, it may be partly biological due to influences in the womb. I don’t totally discount that an individual’s life experiences can push them to identify one way or the other. But my experience, and scientific evidence from the past couple decades, prove to me that it’s not a choice, it’s an inherent part of an individual’s nature.
I’ve always thought that was a good thing, for science to study the subject to determine the potential reasons and causes for homosexuality in humans. It becomes much more difficult for fellow citizens to actively discriminate against gay people when there is irrefutable evidence that an individual’s sexual orientation is predetermined to at least some extent and has nothing to do with morality. That being gay is as natural for some people as being straight is for the majority.
But, taking things to their logical conclusion, if there are known genetic or biological causes, it means that it’s also possible for science to discover potential “cures”. That’s frightening. Despite the fact that I took several years to figure things out, I never struggled against the idea that I am gay. I didn’t hide from the truth, wrapping myself in layers of denial. I was just confused.
You see, I very, very much like women. I like that I like women. Yes, a large part of why I feel that way is because I’m a lesbian. But I have never once not wanted be a lesbian. I like being a lesbian because it means I get to have all those lovely feelings about women. I feel sorry for straight women because they don’t get to experience the wonderfulness of women the way that I get to. (And really, it’s a constant puzzle to me that straight women don’t “get it”. Yeah, I know that’s because I’m a lesbian too. I don’t get them either.) It’s all inextricably tied together. The idea of science unraveling it to make me “normal” and have “normal feelings” for women makes me want to shriek in horror.
If and when we get that far, the cure debate is going to be bigger and bloodier than the debates over civil rights and morality. I see it as tampering with the natural order of things. I am not ill, I am not immoral, and I am not disabled by being a lesbian. All problems that I’ve had due to my sexual orientation can be laid at society’s feet, not a fluke of nature. It’s a fluke that I embrace, and if society were accepting, anyone else born that way would embrace it also.
Here’s a link to an interesting article in The New Yorker about some of the more recent research and what it may, or may not, mean: http://nymag.com/news/features/33520/