Saturday, February 16, 2008

Is sexual identity "chosen"? Personal history makes it an irrelevant question.


Nature or nurture? Immutable or chosen? From my own experience, these are almost meaningless questions. Psychosexual development is what mathematicians would call a non-commutative process. In my case, there was and interlaces sequence of cues and reactions, coupled with biological wiring and events, that added up to my adult personality.

There could be many factors. I was wired with musical groups but with a tendency to shun gratuitous personal emotions usually necessary for heterosexual socialization later in life. Perhaps there is some connection with Asperger’s, too. I had the measles just before my seventh birthday. Many of my problems with physical performance and motor coordination started sometime after that, as did some problems getting along in school – problems that I would eventually “outgrow.”

I recall, at about my twelfth birthday, sensitivity to various visual cues having to do with the adult male, cues that would be normally visible or noticeable and differentiable in a public context (such as secondary sexual characteristics). They mattered and took on a moral or merit-related connotation. It matter that some men seemed more “masculine” than others. In time, the desirable man (perhaps “The Perfect Human” as in the Lars Van Trier film of the 1960s) would be both smart or intelligent (have good grades) and “masculine.” It was important to excel at both.

Of course, I knew how biology works. I knew as a child where babies came from, even though I was an only child. In high school biology, of course, we learn the significance of “sexual reproduction” in nature. Remember those genetics problems on the final exam? Why, then, one asks, didn’t this fascinate me? There is “no reason,” as they say in employment law. It just happened that way. I did not perceive child conception as a “miracle” that related to me personally. I understand, though, that religious training could lead to that perception, as could having responsibility for younger siblings, which I did not have. (At one time, in fact, my parents considered adopting a younger sister, maybe in part to “socialize” me.) There is anecdotal evidence that in general, boys other than the first child may be more likely to be homosexual. (I am the “exception”.) There could be intrauterine autoimmune explanations, or it could be that having younger siblings has an affect on the personal values associated with one’s own future participation in conception and procreation (that sounds more like the Vatican position). This just seems unclear.

I came to think of procreation as “mundane” and an everyday occurrence, something to be taken for granted. Novelist Clive Barker sometimes talks about this attitude toward “fecundity.” The negative social attitudes toward unwed pregnancy and teen heterosexual intercourse, well intended to prevent babies without married and properly educated parents, tended to make heterosexual activity look cheap to the “over-rational” and not fully pruned teenage brain (mine). Of course, the attitude could have been different. It just wasn’t.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had put the pieces together, I knew what it meant. I remember a moment of “epiphany” walking to high school on a warm October Friday night to work behind the Science Honor Society coke stand at the football game. It “made sense” to admire the young men who “had it all.” Why isn’t it a good thing to “admire” the best people? The "cardinal" analogy was relevant: the male cardinal, with his red plumage, attracts visual interest; the female seems duller. Why feel attracted to a being who will become dependent? (until having a biological legacy becomes an important aim of the personality.) That is how the hyper-rational teen brain works. Of course, I didn’t think about the flip side. How does that make me look? (Their “superiority” would rub off on me.) All of this would get to be elaborated with the politics of the time: a preoccupation with who was "worthiest" (the student deferment issue) in a world with apparent enemies and a need to draft young men to fight them. The idea of having my own family some day didn't mean anything; I was still focused on my own needs with school. And I could elaborate my values with a lot of fantasy, with no vulnerability to "the tender trap" or to "confusion" (as from illicit pictures or illicit intimacy), as my father would have called it. The collective emotions expected in the adult world of marriage meant nothing to me then, nor did the idea that as an only child I might have extra "responsibility." Given the challenges that I faced in "making it" in the ordinary young adult world, I was not willing to develop an emotional rapport with those who would actually depend on me in some complementary, custodial or developmental fashion , not enough to find the prospect of fatherhood sexually "interesting."

I would, after all, have my own world of emotion, a lot of it tied to music. I would shun the gratuitous pampering of “girls” (that is, future “mothers”) that I knew was expected in the “normal” heterosexual world. I didn’t need it. Of course, however, others would believe that they “needed it” from me and, at least as a matter of karma, had a right to expect it. But my homosexuality developed as an evolution of events in a particular sequence; it was not, as I know some people believe, a repudiation of my own "blood."

This brings me to the time of William and Mary, and all the history I have covered before (the Nov. 28, 2006 entry in my main blog). Starting in the mid 1960s with the Civil Rights movement and the breakdown of the credibility of government and the social order with the Vietnam war and Watergate, society would become much more “individualistic.” That worked perfectly for me. Radical individualism would solve many problems (it would remove the incentives for group or tribal-thinking-based racial and gender-issue discrimination), but it could also leave a lot of more dependent people stranded, and strain many families to rupture. So, the culture wars continue, and in the post 9/11 world, intensify.

The practical reality today seems to be that we are re-entering a world where social interdependence, which used to center around the extended nuclear family (itself predicated on socially ritualized marital sexual intercourse) becomes more important, and where those of use who are “different” are once again expected to “fit in”, show respect for the social practices that rear children and even be able to participate in rearing them, and, especially, take up the burden of eldercare. Partly because of the increase in "collective need" in family and community, some of us, who never expected to need to give and demand personal respect in the context of family needs (partly because we never voluntarily took on the responsibilities of procreation), are finding again that we must do so.

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