Want to know one of the fastest and surest ways to become a social outcast, while alienating your friends and sometimes losing your family network?
In case you don’t know, all you have to do is let folks know that you are a lesbian – or gay, or bisexual or transgender, and you will discover that the very fabric of your personal, cultural environment was made of a puff of air.
Poof, it’s gone, and there you are standing alone on a precipice of guilt and fear.
Now some of our younger readers may note that they didn’t experience such rejection when they came out, and we say good for them. The younger generations do seem to be more accepting, and that includes many of the younger generations of parents as well.
This is progress and a very good thing, but we contend that all is still not perfect and that even our youth will eventually run into some form of discrimination, whether social or professional, because our society is a long way from merely accepting folks for their personal value and contribution instead of for whom they love.
Proof of this is evidenced by the ongoing research into the nature vs. nurture argument that asks, “Are we born lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender? Or do we decide that we really enjoy being maligned just because mom or dad didn’t love us enough, thus developing relationships that bring vile hostility raining down upon us?”
It can probably be assumed that almost any ostracized individual or group of individuals will attempt to find arguments to justify their existence and bring some sense of comfort in belonging, so it only makes sense that the nature-vs.-nurture debate could offer some solace. A convenient catch phrase for the roles that heredity and environment play in human development, nature vs. nurture attempts to explain not only physical traits such as eye and hair color but behavioral and personality tendencies as well.
Some scientists believe that behavior is a result of genetic predisposition or even “animal instincts” and thus a product of nature, while others argue that behavior is a result of environment and patterning. Research into the human genome has established that both sides of this issue are partly correct, in that nature endows us with innate abilities and nurturing molds these genetic tendencies as we develop.
But the discussion continues on as scientists disagree on the degree to which genetic predisposition is influenced by culture and vice versa. It has long been established that physical attributes are encoded in each human cell, but the nature theory goes a step further in saying that more abstract traits such as sexual orientation, personality and aggression are encoded in one’s DNA as well.
Many fear that just as social scientists have used environmental arguments to justify and/or excuse criminal or antisocial behavior, the same arguments may now be applied by geneticists to understand and accept or reject homosexuality.
We note that the emphasis in these studies is almost always on the negative. Why not review all of the beautiful and more positive aspects of our culture and discuss them in terms of genetics and environment? What determines an artist, a musician, a positive social reformer, a caring teacher, a doctor or a nurse? Does anyone worry about these folks?
Only if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and then the origin of their sexual orientation becomes more important than their contributions to society.
Up until 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, the predominant thought was that homosexuality was a byproduct of one’s upbringing, social influences or abuse.
Freud, of course, tended to blame overbearing mothers and weak fathers (and apparently the former was more detrimental than the latter in his thinking) for offspring who would shun either the same or the opposite sex, dependent upon their level of resentment toward mom – sort out this rationale please!!
And now we have scientists focusing on a “gay gene.” Is there a specific gene that makes us homosexual, and if so, will we once again introduce eugenics into society and eliminate the birth of lesbian and gay babies (a very real possibility)? Wouldn’t this perhaps be government-sanctioned abortion, and would it be acceptable if the “big brains” make such a decision that certainly can’t be left up to individual women?
Is there no end to the questions about homosexuality and self determination? Seemingly not, and the nature-vs.-nurture debate doesn’t conveniently resolve our existence either. After all, if we are born “this way” we are not responsible and should be accepted, right?
This feels wrong to us because it is a negative rationale in that we are still flawed, but we can’t help it, so folks should love us anyway. Well, we don’t feel flawed, and it’s as simple as that.
This debate has been going on since the publication of a novel entitled Silence in 13th-century France (Wow! We’ve been around for a long time!) about a young woman who lived as a man in order to join a monastery.
With a common plot in medieval literature, this particular novel drew controversy about the very same nature-vs.-nurture argument that we are still discussing eight centuries later, which certainly is a testament to the rapid pace at which we humans accept and resolve the realities of our existence.
Needless to say, we have grown weary and impatient with the need for justification of our lives, and as important as genomic studies is for a better understanding of who we are in general and is most significant in the areas of health and welfare, we must not use our discoveries as a justification for discrimination and harm.
We already live in a culture that presents medals for government sanctioned murder and punishes those for loving. We should do no more harm.
Helen Harrell and Carol Fischer can be reached at and .