SHADES OF SEXUALITY: Hetero and Other

Posted Feb 8, 2008
Last Updated Apr 6, 2008

    This won't be about "gay marriage" or "gay rights," or legislation at all.  It will look at what sexual orientation is, and what it is not.  And it will treat that orientation as not "genetically pre-set," but simply as intrinsic to the individual, dating from very early in life.  It can express itself in very young children, children with no conscious awareness of sexuality..
    Wait a minute.  Wait a minute, John!  Sexuality is genetically hardwired.  It's a basic part of vertebrate life.
    You're right in one respect: the urge is genetically hard-wired.  But that urge is not particularly fine-tuned: there are butterflies that try to copulate with flowers resembling their species, dogs that will try to copulate with your trouser leg, etc.  Beyond having an urge, the choice of targets is not genetically wired.  It's a matter of what attracts you.
    By sexual orientation I mean what excites you sexually.  Persons of the other sex?  Persons of your own sex?  Persons of both sexes?  No one at all?  (I'm not including strange hankerings for ducks, sheep, small children etc.  Each of those has its advocates, but I'll leave them out of this discussion.) 
    And body type, which is genetically hardwired, and can influence, though not control, sexual orientation.
    (This is a good place to point out that I am not a specialist in sexual psychology or pathology, or a psychologist at all.  I'm simply someone who pays attention, and tries to understand what he sees.  And I have, alas, been known to err.)
    The core of what I'm writing about here is intrinsic personal sexual orientation.  Which I don't consider to include "strange hankerings."  For me, discussion of intrinsic sexual orientations should allow for their modification by culture, personal experience, trauma if any, and other influences that can overlay, and interact with, that intrinsic orientation.  "Strange hankerings" I think of as the expression of deeper psychological difficulties that can be relatively trivial or do serious harm.
    Sexual behaviors form a spectrum, ranging from unvarying fixation on to little more than a tendency toward one or another mode — straight, gay, or indiscriminating as to gender.  Or even disinterested.  Where do you fit there?  You probably know. 
    My own observations suggest that most biological life forms of reproductive age feel some urge to reproduce.  This includes humans.  But the choice of targets is a matter of "what turns you on."  If guys turn you on and women don't, and you're male, you're homosexual.  And if women turn you on, and you're a woman, you're homosexual.  By definition.  And in some cultures, if your homosexual proclivities become known, you're faced with a problem: voices shouting "Stone him!  Stone him!"  Or her, as the case may be.  Unless, of course, you're dealing with actual Christians, I mean actual Christians, dedicated to the teachings of that dreadful heretic who dared to preach "love your neighbor as yourself," and "love your enemies" (no exceptions mentioned).  Even if that neighbor (gasp!) wears garments made with two kinds of fabric!  Or eats clams!  (Check out — was it "Deuteronomy?")  Or...
    There still are cultures that prescribe the death penalty for homosexuals.  And other cultures less rich in hatred that would simply shun you — or shame you — if they knew; thus the homosexual closet.  Ah self-righteous indignation!  (Is there a redundancy there?)  We all display it at times, in different guises.  Thou and me!, as well as the late Jerry Falwell, who was doing the best he could.  It seems to be part of the human condition. 
    As a kid whose dad had died (that's another story), I had a mentor, an uncle who became my guardian and surrogate father.  In our little town (population 700+) a local  housewife ran off with a widower, leaving her husband, a grown daughter, and a son, a friend of mine about 12 or 13.  So I was waxing indignant to Uncle Al.  His reply was, "don't judge her, Jerry.  You haven't had to live her life."
    That startled me, really felt right to me — and cooled me right down.  After 70 years I still remember it.  I don't always remember to act on it, but it tends to blunt my edge.  I don't, for example, know what life is like for homosexuals, not really, nor for Jerry Falwell.  In fact, I don't really know what life is like for anyone but myself.
    But I do know, or have known, a number of "gays" whom I like and respect.  Two of  them are excellent novelists.  One wrote a novel about a gay, a novel that gave me a considerable sense of what life might be like as a gay.  I am not tempted.
    I've been assured by a psychologist that nascent homosexuality expresses itself by age three.  And that it's expression can be modified, but not the basic orientation.  I  don't know how you'd prove that, but I accept it as a working premise.  Meanwhile, being homosexual can certainly complicate life.

    How common is homosexuality?  According to the Kinsey Reports, first on American males (1948), then on females (1953), as summarized in Wikipedia (the italics below are mine):

    [N]early 46% of the male subjects had "reacted" sexually to persons of both sexes in the course of their adult lives, and 37% had at least one homosexual experience.

It's difficult to say what that means.  "Reacted?"  Would having an erection qualify?  Once in the course of an adult life?  And "at least one homosexual experience"?  Horny kids in their teens may very well experiment, then lose interest.  And that hardly qualifies you as homosexual in any meaningful way.

11.6% of white males (ages 20-35) were given a rating of 3 (about equal heterosexual and homosexual experience/response) throughout their adult lives.

That's easier to make something of, and suggests bi-sexuality. 

The study also reported that 10% of American males surveyed were "more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55" (in the 5 to 6 range).

One of the criticisms of the 1948 report was that many of the interviews were of penitentiary prisoners, and thus not a representative  sample.  If that's true, three years in the penitentiary, with essentially no female contact of any sort, could have had quite an effect on the data.
 
7% of single females (ages 20-35) and 4% of previously married females (ages 20-35) were given a rating of 3 (about equal heterosexual and homosexual experience/response) on the 8-point [for females] Kinsey Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale for this period of their lives. 2 to 6% of females, aged 20-35, were more or less exclusively homosexual in experience/response, and 1 to 3% of unmarried females aged 20-35 were exclusively homosexual in experience/response.

    Okay, but there's more to homosexual differences than sexual expression.  I've heard it said that "Gays are promiscuous."  "Gays are snide and disagreeable."  "Gays smell."  "Gays are clannish; they keep to themselves."  And "have you ever been in a gay bar?  Sheesh!  Disgusting!"
    Nope, never been in a gay bar. Have you ever been in a logger bar?  Or a seamen's bar?  I don't know how many exist anymore, but there are people who'd consider them unsavory.  As for smelly?  Loggers often had body odor, and in winter their clothes reeked of wood smoke from their less than tight wood-burning stoves.  Those who lived in camps rarely had the luxury of showers.  Baths, if any, were taken using a wash basin and wash cloth.  In fact, even school children generally bathed only once a week, typically on "bath night" — Saturday evening.  If you didn't have plumbing, you generally bathed in the kitchen in a galvanized laundry tub.  I can vouch for it.
    As for snide — snide and disagreeable tend to be a sublimation of the urge to physical violence.  In logger bars and seamen's bars (or more typically out behind the bar) there were fights instead, 90% of them involving probably no more than 5-10% of the denizens!  So it was well not to judge all loggers by the fighting (which  was over-rated anyway).  Or all gays by the snide or argumentative ones.
    Also, in seafarers' bars, the women (admittedly there weren't many of them) were not of, uh, high moral character.  While in logger bars, the loggers sometimes actually danced with each other, though not cheek to cheek.  But promiscuity?  We tended much more toward drunkenness.  It seemed to be a cultural matter.
    Speaking of promiscuity, what about singles bars?  We're talking straights here.  Different clientele, different backgrounds, different life experiences, different behaviors — different eras.  I haven't been in a logger bar for 50 years, or a seafarer's bar since 1953.  They were mostly good people there.  There are so few loggers anymore, that bars whose clientele are primarily loggers are rare now, I suspect.  Loggers probably drink in bars with mostly other good folks.  As for gay bars — I suspect they've been thinned drastically by their old clientele going to straight bars — and by concern over HIV AIDS, because promiscuity, I'm assured, found fertile soil in gay bars. 
    Actually I suspect that many homosexuals in the past didn't much drink in gay bars, either, though I can't vouch for it.  And I suspect that gay bars flourished largely because gays didn't feel comfortable in straight bars, and because gay bars were good places to meet fellow gays. 

    We live in a culture of change.  Not simply in a culture that is changing, but a culture which tends to embrace change, if sometimes awkwardly.  Twenty or  thirty years ago we heard a lot about gays "coming out of the closet."  Some probably hadn't admitted to themselves, before, that they were gay.
    Meanwhile many had married, had children, had even been good husbands and fathers.  So when they came out of the closet, there were repercussions.  Especially if they abandoned their family to live with their gay friend, as commonly happened.  Wives were heartbroken.  Resentful.  Angry!  Or blamed themselves.  Children were bewildered, resentful, and sometimes taunted by other kids.  Tragedies multiplied.  All in all, coming out of the closet was too often a source of much "collateral damage."  In the case of married gays, coming out could be judged self- indulgent.  As in fact it was.  But it was also an attempt to deal truthfully with life. 
    I haven't heard much lately about marriages newly broken by a spouse coming out of the closet.  Today people tend to come to terms with their sexual orientation before marrying.  Also, marriages today often follow a trial period of living together.  And I suspect that when a married partner does come out of the closet, the spouse is less likely to be crushed by the revelation. 
    Conservatism itself has changed.  Some very prominent conservatives: a president, a vice-president, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have come to terms publicly with a beloved offspring who'd gone public regarding their homosexuality. 
    (Geez, Louise!  Mankind is evolving, socially and spiritually!  It's a matter of  compassion.) 

    And with that I'll close.  Thanks for visiting this site.

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David Palter

Apr 5, 2008

I agree with your comments. I would add that intolerance of homosexuality in general is based upon the mistaken belief that if homosexuality is socially tolerated, this will result in a greater incidence of homosexuality, and parents generally would rather that their children be heterosexual. But actually, while intolerance can make homosexuals more secretive and more unhappy (and even, in many cases, drive them to suicide) it does not change their sexual orientation. And although there are those who make a big show of converting people from gay to straight (religion being the usual mechanism for this transformation) that is just a fake. Given sufficient motive, people will lie about this (or about anything). But sexual orientation is not so easily changed. We might imagine as science ficiton fans that there will eventually be some technological means of altering sexual orientation, but by the time such a thing exists, we will probably have come to realize, as a society, that such changes are not necessary.