Towards the end of the semester of teaching Adolescent Development, I was giving a lecture on sexuality development. As I discussed each theory, I became a bit troubled. For some reason, although these theories were not my own and have been suggested by many others, I felt that I was being irresponsible and careless for I was telling a room full of eager, active learners what researchers have to say about the “cause” of homosexuality.
I suppose that what made me uncomfortable, and the reason I will not cover it in class again, is based on one simple but disturbing revelation: every single one of the theories suggested that something had gone wrong.
Many people would find it deplorable if, after hearing someone is homosexual, an individual would respond with: “Oh my goodness, what happened?” “Did you experience something that made you gay?” Or perhaps if they asked, “Was your father/mother absent from your life?” However, this is exactly what research on this topic does. Theories are placed forth and tested that attempt to answer these very questions and more. Currently, most theories about sexual development suggest that, had things gone accordingly, this person would not be attracted to someone of the same sex/gender. While some of these theories (e.g. the biologically-based theories) do suggest that people are “born gay”, they simultaneously suggests that it would not have been the case had things gone the way they should have gone. Furthermore, theories explaining why people are homosexual are also rife with the assumption and conjecture that, once we figure out why a person is homosexual, we can try to prevent it or, in the very least, test for it.
The crux of present theories is to explain homosexuality as something that went wrong in development and failing to even discuss heterosexuality as a sexual orientation as well. This is problematic because they are explaining homosexuality as an aberration. This is problematic because a good, solid theory would also be able to explain heterosexuality, bisexuality, and any other sexual orientation, not just homosexuality. It is problematic because one simple path never explains anything about humans, as much as we would like that to be the case. It is problematic because they apply scientific methods and resources toward something that is ultimately irrelevant (i.e. why someone is attracted to the same sex/gender), as opposed to using these resources to determine how to foster an environment of acceptance, as opposed to using these resources to determine the best way to support our family and friends who do not identify as heterosexual, and as opposed to using these resources to inform social and public policy around discrimination.
In additions to theorists, many people (family members, parents, friends) may try to find a specific reason that someone is not heterosexual. They examine every aspect of the person’s life in an attempt to make sense of it for themselves, likely for their own selfish reason. Perhaps, in thinking that something has gone wrong, they want to be absolved of any wrongdoing. Perhaps they want to make sure it does not happen to them or their children or their nieces/nephews, as if there is a disease or disorder called “gayness” and that as long as you do x-y-z it will not happen to your or anyone in your life. Perhaps they do not understand and wish to apply their own personal meaning to something that has very little to do with them. They want to be able to say, “Aha! Now I get it!” when in all actuality they do not. When in all actuality they have no more reason to have found the Truth than any other theorists, researchers, and philosophers. They become so fixated on the “why” that it becomes all that they can focus on, much to the neglect of the established relationship that they have with this individual. In the end, it does not matter why someone is homosexual any more than it matters why someone is heterosexual.
The reason it is problematic to try to explain why people are homosexual is because it has no bearing on how this person should be treated, how much this person should be loved, how much this person should be accepted, how equal this person’s rights should be to people in heterosexual relationships, and how much equality and respect this person’s relationships deserve.