Monday, August 28, 2006

Choice of words

In a previous post I wrote: “More recently, ex-gays have tried to respond to the criticism that their definition of ‘gay’ is quickly being relegated to the Stone Age Edition of the Webster’s Dictionary. So quite often you see testimonies of people who make it very clear they never chose to be homosexual.”

One reader has commented that this sounds confusing. When ex-gays are willing to concede that they didn’t choose to be homosexual, it sounds like they are acknowledging that they have a fixed homosexual orientation, but then why do they also claim that they can change their sexual orientation (or make perpetual progress toward that goal)? When they say homosexuality is “not a choice,” are they equivocating on the word "choice"?

I’d say so. Maybe I should add "not a choice" to my ex-gay glossary of terms. When people who give ex-gay testimonies say they “didn’t choose to be homosexual,” what they really mean is that at a young age they involuntarily acquired a behavioral disorder that they believe to be reversible through reparative therapy. The phrase “not a choice” no longer means, “I believe my homosexuality to be a part of my fundamental, constitutional make-up as a person” like it used to in the old days. Now ex-gays want to redefine that phrase to mean, “I went astray from my true heterosexual nature through various screwed-up influences during my impressionable years, but I believe it is fixable if I expose myself to the right, healthy influences now.” That’s why in a debate with Christians if you were to say, “But it isn’t a choice,” you will sometimes get the retort, “Maybe it wasn’t a choice then, but you can still make the right choice now.”

For this reason I find myself using the term “choice” less and less. With all the equivocation going on, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the right vocabulary to explain to people what I mean by “homosexual sexual orientation.” I sometimes use the word “constitutional,” even though that word sometimes conjures up a comparison with alcoholism. I’ve been known to accept that comparison when talking with a group of people who are at a particularly basic level of understanding. I mean, if I am struggling just to convince people that homosexuality is not the same as having sex with goats, and someone suddenly grabs onto the idea that maybe it’s as involuntary as having a lifetime problem with alcoholism, I’ll take it. But I don’t think the analogy is completely accurate. More and more I find myself saying that someone who is homosexual has about as much a chance of becoming heterosexual as someone who is heterosexual has of becoming homosexual. It’s a mouthful, but I don’t know how else to get my point across without using terms that could be misunderstood.