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Being Gay: A Life Style Choice?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The Religious View

The question of what causes some people to be gay has been a topic of endless debate among the general public and the mental health community. Generally speaking, the religious community of every persuasion views homosexuality as an abhorrent sin against God and nature. Deeply religious groups among Muslims, Christians, Catholics and Jews reject homosexuality as totally unacceptable in the eyes of God. Therefore, most orthodox religious leaders view it as a life style choice thereby condemning the homosexual to eternal hell.

The American Psychiatric Association

The American Psychiatric Association, the organization that writes and publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, with the cooperation of professionals from psychology and social work professions, listed homosexuality as a mental disorder until the 1970’s. Based on increasing amounts of research the APA decided to drop homosexuality as a diagnostic category. They found that as long as gay people adapted well to their sexual orientation and were able to function in society, there was no reason for them to be placed in the category of having a mental illness. Therefore, when gay people seek psychiatric counseling there is no reason to attempt to counsel them to change their sexual orientation. In other words, there is no reason why a gay person should not be considered normal.

However, the question remained as to what causes homosexuality?

The fact is that little is know about why some people become gay and others do not. Here are some of the major areas of study on this issue:

Genetic Research

During the 1990’s evidence was found that a gene could be the root cause of homosexuality. It was thought that the X chromosome, which is passed from the mother to the son, carried the variability that accounted for becoming gay. More recently, both the X and Y chromosomes have been investigated to determine the causes of homosexuality. The Y chromosome is passed from the father to the son and it is this Y chromosome that determined the sex of the baby. All of these studies have been successful to the extent that they have found genetic factors to be the cause of homosexuality in fifty to sixty percent of the populations studied.

Biological Research

Along with the study of genes and chromosomes the environment in the womb of the mother, as well as other prenatal factors, have been studied to understand how it can affect sexual orientation. A very recent study found that mothers who had given birth to several male children are more likely to have a son born who will be gay. It is thought that something happened in the mother’s uterus after she delivered her older children that altered the fetus of the last child in a way that makes him gay. It is speculated that hormonal changes occur in utero resulting in the brains of the individuals who become gay being affected in ways that are as yet unknown.

The Environment

There is a long list of researchers who have speculated for many years that the environment, as represented by the family and the home, are the key determiners of homosexuality. Sigmund Freud wrote that the child, fearful of his father wrath, identifies with his mother and, unconsciously takes his father (or men in general) as the object of their sexual love. This is a variation of his controversial Oedipal Conflict which has largely been rejected in the mental health community.

Other and more recent writers have discussed sexual abuse in the home or neighborhood at the hands of relatives and or friends and neighbors. Then, too, there is the issue of poverty and its impact on human development and adjustment in every key area of functioning.

My Psychotherapeutic Experience

It has been my good fortune to have worked with a few psychologists, social workers and psychiatrists who are gay. These are healthy and well adjusted people who are excellent practitioners in the fields of medicine and mental health. In addition, I have had the experience of treating many gay men during my long years as a psychotherapist. These are people who sought treatment for depression and anxiety and, in a few cases, for personality disorders. In all cases, these were hard working, law-abiding and extremely successful people who were well-adjusted to the fact that they are gay.

Among this sample of men I have known as professional colleagues and as patients in my practice, none ever reported making a choice to live a gay life style. Quite to the contrary, most gay men reported experiencing the usual childhood sexual urgings but towards boys rather than girls. In a few cases, the dawning of awareness of sexual preference did not begin until adolescence. Some of these men made efforts to be heterosexual, dating girls and attempting sexual intercourse with females. In most cases they reported feeling no sense of satisfaction from sexual intercourse and realized they really were gay. In other cases, there was the complete inability to function heterosexually but no difficulty functioning homosexually. However, most of these people liked having women as friends but never made any effort to perform heterosexually because they had no desire to do so.

In all cases, these men reported the fact that they accepted their homosexuality, had many friends, some had permanent intimate partners and had no wish to become heterosexual. However, everyone agreed that it would be a lot easier to live in the world if they were heterosexual beings. The reason for believing it would be easier to be heterosexual is that gay people must cope with a lot of hostility and prejudice.

Conclusion

As a result of everything I have read, learned and experienced as a mental health worker, I long ago concluded that homosexuality is not a matter of choice. Instead, it seems quite clear to me that there is a combination of genetic and biological factors that cause people to become gay. Choice and willfulness have nothing to do with who does and does not become homosexual. Those who are gay have no more choice over their sexual preferences than those who are heterosexual.

Your comments and opinions are welcome.

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