The reality of “Sexual Orientation”

Sexuality touches a part of our humanity as deeply as any part of life can.  This subject is weighty, personal and not nearly as one-dimensional as TV sitcoms would have you believe.

The media does a good job of presenting the portrait of a youth struggling to make sense of his identity and same-sex attractions, until finally “coming out” to the rest of the identify sexual orientationworld.  He feels like he is “oriented” only to men and has been this way all his life.  This is a true portrait of many men and women who identify as gay and feel that their “orientation” is as fixed as their race, age, and gender.

Many cities and institutions have added “sexual orientation” to their list of attributes under which you cannot discriminate.  Good.  Everyone should be given opportunities and employment based on their merits and qualification, not on their “orientation.”

So, what does “sexual orientation” actually mean?  The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia which begins with “The demographics of sexual orientation are difficult to establish for a variety of reasons.”

One set [of studies] examines self-report data of same-sex sexual experiences and attractions while the other set examines self-report data of personal identification as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Fewer research subjects identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual than report having sexual experiences or attraction to a person of the same sex… It must also be understood that just because a person has had bisexual or homosexual thoughts does not mean they have an inclination to being bi- or homosexual, or that they will become bi- or homosexual.[1] However, it must also be understood that sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions. Therefore, a person can be celibate and still identify as being bisexual or homosexual based on romantic proclivities.

This excerpt is long, and of course Wikipedia is not an academic source, but it serves the important purpose of illustrating that “sexual orientation” is at best difficult to define and not in any way like the immutable quality of one’s race, age, gender or nationality.  Someone can experience same-sex attraction without homosexual behavior and identify as gay.  Others can have a homosexual experience and not identify as gay. This defines subjectivity.

I know several people who are gay and who feel they have been that way all their life.  One dear friend feels he was born gay and continues to identify as gay, but is choosing a celibate life.  I also know a woman who had a lesbian encounter during a tumultuous adolescence and used to be gayshe has never considered herself gay.  Another man I know sometime struggles with same-sex urges although he is fully committed, and strongly attracted to, his wife.  He does not consider himself gay.  Another woman lived an exclusively heterosexual life and then, upon meeting her partner, decided to commit to her.  She would not identify as lesbian, but is in a same-sex relationship.   Another woman experienced only heterosexual attraction but has now decided to date a woman.  She identifies as gay.  Another woman was originally married, then considered herself a lesbian for 20 years, and has now renounced that lifestyle and desires to have a husband.   How do you quantify all of the above individuals under one blanket heading? You cannot.

“Sexual orientation” clearly means different things to different people at different times.  It has much more to do with how one chooses to identify him/herself and likely involves “enduring patterns” and “attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.”  The problem in including “sexual orientation” with race, age, nation of origin or gender in non-discrimination clauses, is that it gives sexual orientation an equal status to these other entirely immutable characteristics.

One black man put it this way:

I am personally insulted by the comparison between being black and being homosexual.  The very idea of “coming out” implies that you can “be in” and nobody knows…  I don’t have to come out to let anyone know that I am black.  It is an indelible outward characteristic… and to compare the two is one of the most specious and illogical and irrational comparisons I have ever heard…  this is done for the purpose of manipulating people emotionally to get them to buy into acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage. Because if you don’t do that, “it just like what was done to black people…”  Bishop E.W. Jackson.!

Why does a discussion on sexual orientation matter?  Well, in terms of who we invite into our life, it shouldn’t.  In fact, if you consider yourself a Christ follower, I would say that you will have your Lord to answer to if you are not showing genuine, sacrificial care to your gay neighbors, family and friends.

But when it comes to immutability and an undeniable genetic cause, sexual “orientation” is not in the same category as race, age, and gender.  And this matters because gay marriage supporters liken their cause to the civil rights struggle.  And this matters when you talk with kids about homosexuality in schools.  And this matters because it is imperative for fairness under the law to have concrete, not subjective, terminology in said laws.

The question of what may “cause” same sex attraction is addressed in the post “Aren’t people born gay?”


10 thoughts on “The reality of “Sexual Orientation”

  1. Chinese???
    I like to think of homosexuality not as a biological issue but one like handedness. No gene or influence made you that way, it’s not passed down via nurture. It just is, and as Christians, you’re right it’s ours to love all.
    I enjoyed your post.

    • Thanks for your comments, Sacredstruggler. I appreciate your thoughts.

      When I saw the “Chinese” on that pic I laughed out loud. It was so random, but it fit in with the thrust of this post: that some consider “orientation” to be as immutable as race.

  2. I liked the logic of the article that shows the difference between visual discrimination and that of homosexuality, which is not visual. And that there are so many definitions of sexual orientation. I too have many friends who are gay, and have had some great conversations with them. Good job on the post!

  3. I agree that sexual orientation shouldn’t be listed like race or gender. At the same time I played the “I’m no gay card,” for 21 years. Then I was just bi for sometime, now I’m gay. So after 22 years I relaized it. My point I’m trying ot make is sometimes people are too wishy washy with it. For me, I kinda needed someone to be like “hey you are fine the way you are, if you like boys you like boys, just stop pretending.” But I agree it should be each persons choice.


    • Thanks for the comments, TJ. I’ve had a chance to look over some of your posts. I really appreciate your transparency. Looking forward to hearing more from you!

  4. Hi thebigot, 🙂

    Love the handle. I also like your clarity in writing, care in your choice of words (“immutability and undeniable genetic cause”), and using quotes, citing the source. Also totally agree with your comments about loving people no matter who they are. I’ve a friend who, for the sake of simplicity in speaking at the loss of ontological precision, is gay. When he told his family and friends and people at church, you know what changed? Nothing. We all still love him just as he is.

    I’ll be following you…er, your blog. 🙂

  5. As ever, I’m struck with how thoughtful and well written your posts are.

    I totally agree that sexuality is a personal, powerful and mysterious thing, and as such doesn’t fit well into a checkbox list. In addition, you’ve turned me around on an important issue: Because of you, I now believe that any checkbox list can be made better by adding “Chinese” as an option.

    But here is where, I think, you seriously veered off the rails:

    ” The problem in including “sexual orientation” with race, age, nation of origin or gender in non-discrimination clauses, is that it gives sexual orientation an equal status to these other entirely immutable characteristics. ”

    First, age is — by its very definition — not an immutable characteristic either. Gender, for a few people, is “mutable” too. Race and national origin don’t always neatly fit into checkbox lists. And I noticed you left religion off your list, another mysterious and powerful force which, like sexual orientation, has a certain about of subjectivity to it and can change throughout a person’s life. [Insert story about friend who experimented in paganism as a college student but is now an Episcopalian minister here.]

    Second, you are missing the point of the list of characteristics, It isn’t a menu of people who you can’t discriminate against and everyone else is fair game. It isn’t a matter of “status.” It is a list of the grounds upon which people are most commonly discriminated and so the rule against doing so should be especially explicit.

    Third, sexual orientation can be at the center of a civil rights struggle even if it isn’t immutable. The self-identification and public perception involved is enough. NPR recently had a story of a female college coach who never talked about her personal life at work but one day posted on Facebook about a date she went on with a woman. Is she a life-long lesbian? Bi? Was she just experimenting? I have absolutely no idea, but the the coach was fired because of what she wrote. It is objectively clear that she was discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation even as her personal orientation might be subjective and uncheckboxable. Stories like these — and there are shockingly many — are why equality regardless of sexual orientation is a civil rights issue.

    Fourth, I can make the civil rights case for marriage equality without referring to sexual orientation. Requiring me (a man) to marry a woman is discriminatory on the grounds of gender. In EXACTLY the same way that requiring me (a caucasian) to marry a caucasian is discriminatory on the grounds of race. Every adult should have the right to marry any other single, consenting adult of their choice without government interference.

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