Sunday 21 October, 9.30am until 10.15am, Frobisher Auditorium 2
When former Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon suggested in an interview that she had chosen to be a lesbian, it generated an outcry from many gay-rights campaigners. For many, the idea that being gay is not a choice is key to the fight for equal rights. Instances of homosexual behaviour in animals are used as evidence of the naturalness of being gay. Differences in brain structure between gays and straights are employed to further reinforce the idea that sexuality is innate. While evidence of a gay gene is highly contested, Mayor Boris Johnson’s decision to ban adverts for gay-conversion therapy on London buses seemed to confirm a mainstream view that it was unacceptable to treat sexuality as a lifestyle choice which could be altered.
Yet early gay-rights activists used to rail against the idea of homosexuality being a sickness in need of a cure, precisely on the basis that it was a choice made by rational adults in a free society. In this view, radical campaigners’ claim that some are simply ‘born this way’ is an equally conservative argument, expressing a hostility towards experimentation and a narrow view of human relationships. Many have scoffed at Chris Birch’s claims in a BBC documentary I Woke Up Gay that a stroke turned him from engaged rugby player to flamboyant gay hairdresser, but Nixon’s self-proclaimed ‘choice’ to make a similar change provoked equal amounts of discomfort. An ever-growing list of possible sexualities seems to render the more popularly-understood category of ‘LGBT’ increasingly archaic, with debates over transgenderism and transsexuality often blurring the lines and confusing the mainstream discussion over what is natural and what is chosen.
So what happened to the idea of choice in sexuality? Can gay rights only be secure if homosexuality is proven to be innate? Is ‘Born This Way’ simply a modern spin on the old slogan ‘I Am What I Am’, or does it contradict the libertarian idea of self-creation? Can sexuality be found in the brain, or do we have to look beyond our heads for the answer?
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|Dr Ceri Parsons|
senior lecturer in psychology, Staffordshire University; research interests include gender identity and sexuality
|Dr Qazi Rahman|
lecturer in psychological sciences and director of Psychology Programmes, Queen Mary University; co-director, Centre for Mind in Society; co-author, Born Gay
head of education, Stonewall; former president, NUS
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; university finance and accommodation officer
One of the commonest questions I get is this: If being gay is genetic, and gay sex doesn't produce children, why don't those genes die out?Simon LeVay, Huffington Post, 1 October 2012
Gay rights activists have denounced the Sex and the City star'sCraig Fairnington, DIVA, 25 January 2012
Cordelia Fine’s new book skewers the trendy idea that men and women act differently because we are ‘born that way’.Derbyshire and Powell, spiked review of books, 3 October 2011
After 40 years of gains on homophobic law repeal, is there any more need for a separate identity?Peter Tatchell, Guardian, 2 July 2010
What causes homosexuality? Can sexual orientation be changed? And are the brains of gay people different from those of straight peopleAdrian Tippetts, PinkNews, 1 December 2009
New research claiming gayness is biologically determined does not add up. Something as complex as human sexual life is bound to evolve from a multiplicity of factors.Peter Tatchell, Guardian, 28 June 2006