I’m so tired of the “why would anyone choose to be gay when it makes their lives so much harder” argument.
It’s not that I don’t think that line of thinking hasn’t done the LGBTQ community good, because I think it has definitely contributed to positive changes in both the opinions of individuals and the rhetoric of social, political, and ideological discussion. I know people myself who were once quite convinced that “alternative” sexualities were a choice, and whose opinions have since been changed at least partially in response to this argument. And when you look at it in strictly logical terms, it makes sense. Why would anyone shopping around for characteristics that they think might make them trendier or more popular or interesting pick homosexuality?
Imagine you walk into a clothing store to try on a pair of pants. And when you walk out of the dressing room to ask the attendant how they look, a lot of people are staring. About half the store gives you dirty looks, at least two people claim those pants are the work of the devil, a kindly looking old woman tells you the pants are fine but you really shouldn’t go parading them around in public, some guy spits out an incredibly offensive word for pants-wearing people as he pulls his girlfriend out the door, and of the people who don’t seem to have a problem with it, at least a few are way too into these pants and won’t stop making comments about them and how brave and interesting and wonderful you are to be wearing these pants and how they have wanted a friend who wears pants like these for like, their entire lives. It’s not a super great experience. Frankly, these pants make you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or exasperated depending on who’s around. And then you choose to take these pants home and wear them every day for the rest of your life.
So that’s a pretty drawn-out and questionable analogy, but you get the idea. The “no one would choose this” argument does make sense on some level.
But of course I would never bother creating such a lengthy, possibly inapplicable analogy if I weren’t eventually going to contradict the entire thing and come to (what I hope to be) a thought-provoking point. Starting with this:
Isn’t there something deeply troubling and truly heartbreaking about turning to your brother, aunt, friend, coworker, daughter, teacher, son, and asking them: “Why on earth would anyone choose to be like you?”
What’s so terrible about me? I’m a good friend and an honest person. I think I am reasonably good looking and an excellent listener. I bake one hell of a peach strawberry cobbler! What exactly is it about me that is so detestable that you would ask that?
Now, I certainly don’t think anyone is trying to be offensive when they ask this. In fact, I’m fairly sure that they are trying to support me. But you know what they say. The road to homophobia is paved with good intentions.*
Yes, my sexuality has made my life more difficult in many ways. Hiding who you are from people you love for fear they might reject you is awful, and rejecting yourself for the majority of your life is even worse. For me, there was nothing more nerve racking than coming out to my parents. Nothing more uncomfortable than evading questions about girlfriends, and nothing more terrifying than a group of men screaming violent slurs from passing car windows. I could still be fired in 29 American states for my sexuality. LGBTQ young people are more likely to suffer from depression and homelessness, and up to four times as likely to attempt suicide as our heterosexual peers.
That’s tough stuff. You might wonder who would ever choose that. But you know who else has life harder than others? Women. 1 in 6 American women will experience rape in her lifetime. Who else? People of color. In 2006, 1 in 14 black men were imprisoned, as opposed to 1 in 106 white men. Those statistics sound difficult. But when was the last time you went up to an African American and asked, “Now why would anyone choose to be black?”
You wouldn’t do that because it’s offensive and ignorant. It’s assuming that because an integral part of someone’s identity makes their life more difficult, no one would ever want to share that with them. It implies that there is something wrong with the way they are. No person of color chose their ancestry. No woman chose her chromosomes. And just because this part of them makes certain aspects of their life more difficult does not mean they wish they were any other way. It does not mean that they are not proud of who they are.
In my female friends, there is a righteous anger for the struggle of women that I will never be able to fully tap in to. That nod between two black strangers at a predominantly white party is heavy with historical implications that I could never wholly appreciate. There is a strength and a unity in all marginalized groups that those in the powerful majority—no matter how much more likely to get high-paying jobs or be taken seriously in our society—will never be able to experience. And that push to thrive in adversity makes them stronger.
Race, gender, and sexuality are not a pair of pants that we can change at will. We are who we are and maybe that means life is harder. But I know that my experiences as a gay man have strengthened me in unique ways, and I am better able to empathize with other minority movements spurred by strong individuals tired of their weak position in this world. The constant fight for equality is a fight I am glad to be a part of, and as a white (well, sort of white), middle-class male I don’t think I would have ever known what that was like if I were not part of a discriminated-against group.
I used to wish I were a woman-loving, lady-charming heterosexual. I used to wish I was someone other than who I am. And even after I learned to love myself, I used to calmly explain to others, “Why would I have chosen this? Who would choose something that makes their life so much more difficult?” But I have since realized that there is nothing wrong with being thankful for the hand you were dealt, even if that means the rules aren’t in your favor. And I’m glad that who I am gives me the opportunity to push back when I am pushed down.
I didn’t choose to be gay. But if I could have, I would have.
(*No one says this but I am seriously considering needle pointing it on a tasteful throw pillow.)