Nature or Nurture?

I watched this programme with John Barrowman last night, which investigated why he is the way he is: gay. Essentially he checked out in a number of scientific ways whether the result was nature, nurture, both or neither. I was very nervous before it started, fearing he’d take overly sensationalistic or easy options in presenting what is a very difficult argument for gay and straight people alike to articulate. So many people believe that being gay is something which is chosen, something which is made to happen through abuse or failures in upbringing, yet most gay people are of the conviction that it is an essential element of who we are. And of course considering the stigma which is still so widely attributed to this sexual orientation, why would anyone choose it? I know I sure didn’t – although I knew I had gay feelings from very early teenage years (or slightly before), I suppressed them. It was a transitory thing, a curiosity thing, something you went through, but not something I actually could be. And I even had two girlfriends, had sex with one, so how on earth could I be gay – how could it be an essential element of who I was?

Having basically put the feelings to one side as far as possible for about 12 years, my subconscious finally broke through and hit me with gay dreams which wouldn’t stop. And I knew that it was because it was what I was really about. My brain wouldn’t tolerate me lying to myself any further, and I didn’t – the choice I made was to end the pretence to myself. Now 14 years on from that I’m married to another man and have no doubts whatsoever about what I am. But why? The science says there’s probably a genetic element, and in my family tree it’s most certainly there, but is that it? A member of my family told me they always knew I was gay – always; does that mean there was no nurture element in play? Could the bullying I endured as a teenager have nonetheless affected my unconscious behavioural patterns forever? It was all from boys though, so why would I then be sexually attracted to them in return? And I recall when they were starting to find girls attractive and interesting, I was completely indifferent, whilst being all-too-aware of what elements of sex ed I was drawn to. So was it parenting? Except my mother wasn’t overbearing; my father not absent.

What I’ve learned, mostly in advance of this show, has been that there are multiple biological and genetic elements in play – mostly genetic predispositions which are likely triggered or not, by biological and environmental triggers. So much for a grand conclusion, except we are extremely complicated organisms, so shouldn’t that be something to be celebrated? And if an element of our sexuality and sexual orientation involves an interpretive factor, I say that’s exciting. I don’t think any reasonable person intends to supplant the Kinsey scale, which suggests essentially that sexuality and sexual orientation are elements which play off one another – the latter being biologically fixed, the former not. Whilst we are inherently one sexual orientation, the reasons for behaviour are fluid. I don’t need to know the ultimate reasons why I’m gay, that I know I am and am comfortable with it is enough. In the last 14 years it has become a vital component of who I am, particularly looking back on an upbringing where to conform was everything.

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