'I Was Born This Way'

One of the more effective arguments used by those arguing for same-sex marriage and sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws is that homosexuals have no choice in the matter -- that sexual orientation is something that you are born with, and you can't change it.  The claim is that this is a natural part of human variability, no different from skin color or hair color or how tall you are.  As an acquaintance -- a generally conservative, gay high power rifle shooter (talk about being a member of the world's smallest cross-section of identity groups) told me once, "Why would anyone choose to be gay?"

There is pretty persuasive evidence that what determines sexual orientation, at least for some homosexuals, is environmental.  At a minimum, the evidence of a connection between being sexually abused as a child and homosexual or bisexual orientation as an adult is so widespread that the refusal of the scientific community to seriously consider a causal connection suggests a willful blindness.

The paper "Sexual Abuse, Sexual Orientation, and Obesity in Women," published in the Journal of Women's Health, examined the relationship between obesity and lesbianism -- a relationship that has long been recognized but never systematically explored.  What the researchers found was that lesbians in their sample of women over 35 were more likely than the heterosexual women to have a "previous mental health diagnosis" and to be well-educated, and significantly more likely to be obese (40.2% compared to 30.4%).  Most importantly, lesbians were almost twice as likely as matched heterosexual women to be have been victims of "intrafamilial" child sexual abuse (CSA), and more than twice as likely to be victims of extrafamilial CSA.  Suddenly, the wall of fat that is one stereotype of lesbianism makes a lot of sense -- something to drive away men, and make them stop seeing the lesbian as a sexual object.

This is not just a problem for women who were CSA victims.  Here's a study of the among between sexual orientation, CSA, and suicidal behavior among college students in Turkey. The study found that "[s]elf-reported childhood sexual abuse was associated with same-sex sexual behavior. ... Being sexually abused by someone of one's own sex was related to same-sex sexual orientation in male participants but not in female participants. Childhood sexual abuse was found to be an independent predictor of both suicidal ideation and attempts during the past 12 months."  So why are suicide rates among homosexuals so high?  Is it really a homophobic society?  Or is it possible that CSA leads both to high suicide rates and to homosexuality?

The Journal of the American Medical Association published a review of 166 studies of the sexual abuse of boys, and while, unsurprisingly, it did its best to avoid suggesting a connection between CSA and adult sexual orientation, it does not take much reading to see some obvious connections.  This description of clinical outcomes of these boys is terribly depressing:

[I]ncreased rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, paranoia, dissociation, somatization, bulimia, anger, aggressive behavior, poor self-image, poor school performance, running away from home, and legal trouble. ... The rates among sexually abused compared with nonabused males were 4-fold for major depression (P<.001); 3-fold for bulimia (P<.05); and at least 2-fold for antisocial personality disorder (P = .002), behavior problems (P = .03), low self-image (P = .04), runaway behavior (P<.001), and legal problems (P = .001). ... The rate of attempted suicide was 1.5 to 14 times higher among sexually abused compared with nonabused males.

And the high suicide rate among gay young people is supposed to be because of our homophobic society?  Maybe there is another cause -- one that causes high suicide rates among young straight CSA victims, too?

There is a well-known connection between CSA and later substance abuse.  There is also a well-known and thoroughly studied connection between homosexuality and substance abuse.

Here's a study from the American Journal of Public Health exploring sexual orientation, CSA, and "HIV-Risk Behaviors" among adolescent kids in the Pacific Northwest.  This study found what others have found -- "gay/lesbian and bisexual adolescents are at increased risk for sexual victimization."  But which causes which?  That Journal of the AMA review described the average age of CSA victims this way: "Reported mean age of first abuse was 5.3 to 8.5 years in studies of children.  In a study of adolescents, the mean age of reported abuse onset was older (10 years for those abused by males and 11.9 years for those abused by females).  A study of adults recalling their abuse histories noted a similar age of onset of 9.8 years."  Which came first?  The sexual abuse or the confused sexual identity?

There may not be a single cause of homosexuality.  One of the reasons why the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual was only partly the continual picketing by gay activists and the actions of closeted psychiatrists in leadership positions of the APA.  The psychiatric profession had attempted to explain homosexuality as a result of many different causes, none of which turned out to be generally correct -- and, of course, none of which led to a cure.  Perhaps the AMA would have been better off asking if there is more than one cause before deciding that because they did not understand the problem, it was not a problem at all.

If CSA explains homosexuality, it should be grounds for sympathy.  Sexuality is to some extent a learned behavior.  What we enjoy sexually can be reinforced, and part of what makes early sexualization of children so destructive is their inability to process the mixture of shame, confusion, and pleasure (as sometimes happens).

If behavior is learned, can it be unlearned?  This study describes how female sexuality is more malleable than male sexuality -- what the paper describes as "female erotic plasticity."  I know people who have successfully walked away from homosexuality, and are perfectly happy, decades later, as straight people.

It is conceivable that many whose sexual orientation has been warped by CSA are so badly broken by it that they may be stuck where they are.  Still, the insistence that this is something that one is born with overlooks too much evidence, seeming more like an attempt to preserve an identity group for political reasons than an accurate description of the way things are.

There are simply too many surveys that show homosexuals and bisexuals as disproportionately CSA victims to consider this a coincidence.  The overlap between the symptoms of CSA (substance abuse, sexual confusion, suicide, emotional immaturity, obesity, hypersexuality, or asexuality) and behaviors that are very common in the gay community should be causing some serious questions to be asked.  Yet "I was born this way" has now become dogma.  The progressive movement has made this into a cause -- and the facts do not much matter anymore.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at College of Western Idaho.  His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012).

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