Human Sexuality is a Continuum
Recently over at the blog of America Magazine, there was a rich variety of comments on a post by Fr. Jim Martin about how gay and lesbian Catholics are to live their lives. Much of the comment from the right was what you might expect: a determined insistence to see the world in black and white, us v. them.
However, the lived experience of humanity demonstrates that there is not just gay and straight, but a spectrum of sexuality between the two, and we all fall somewhere along this spectrum. This is the same as in every aspect of human experience: there is not just A and Z as polar opposites, but A, B, C, D, E, F and so on through Z.
The following chart contrasts the black-and-white fundamentalist view of sexuality to how the spectrum of human sexuality is actually lived (to an approximate degree, because I do not pretend to assign actual percentages to the bell curve).
Certainly this graph is nothing new to anyone who has taken human biology in college. Kinsey explained it all back in the 1950s. But my point in presenting it in a blog on religion is to call your attention to the small slice which I have called the “Crisis Zone.”
Here’s my theory: The Crisis Zone represents those who are predominately heterosexual, but who may have experienced some episode where they realized they had some slight attraction to the same sex. And I propose that it is the people in this Crisis Zone who have made our public and ecclesiastical discourse on homosexuality so divisive and polarized.
Why? Because these are the people who insist–beyond all lived experience of gays and lesbians and all scientific studies to date–that homosexuality is a choice. They maintain the fundamentalist choice theory because they actually believe, based on a high school crush, a glance, a visit to some website, that the terror they felt at experiencing some fleeting same-sex attraction was a “choice” to be heterosexual.
So they are convinced that those on the other end of the spectrum have “made” the same “choice,” and those who are predominately homosexual merely do not have the same “strength of will” they believe they demonstrated in this momentary panic. They become vocal advocates of “change therapy” because they think that if they resisted the charms of Bobby Jones amid the churning adolescent hormones of their sophomore year of high school and are now happily married, then gays need only do the same thing. What they do not take into account is that emotional and sexual attachment to the same sex increases as you progress to the left of the spectrum. Their momentary crisis, which looms so large in their psyche, was an entirely normal, insignificant phenomenon. But to them it takes on epic proportions.
Naturally, the Crisis Zone obsessives would never admit this, because they are so ashamed of such a momentary experience that they could not say it out loud. By nature, they are not prone to sharing intimate feelings.
Of course, those to the right of the Crisis Zone are well-adjusted heterosexuals who, if they ever had some fleeting attraction at some point, make no big deal about it. They think, “Hmmm…,” or “Wow, that was kind of weird,” or they joke about it and move on. They are confident in their sexuality in a way the Crisis Zone people can never be. So those on the right of the spectrum typically are at ease with gay people, have gay friends and support equal rights for gays, because they don’t feel threatened. Their fleeting experience, if they even had any at all, does not traumatize them as it does the Crisis Zone people. My boss, for example, recently got a new haircut. He proudly announced that a “gay guy” had “checked him out” at the store. He is happily married, secure in his sexuality, and merely took it as compliment and went on about his day. He did not feel a need to beat the gay guy with a baseball bat.
Some of those who fall to the right of the Crisis Zone may also intellectually accept the idea of choice in sexuality, but they do not exhibit the same obsessive preoccupation with the theory as those who are in the Crisis Zone; they simply do not have the same personal investment. They may agree with the Crisis Zone fanatics, but they don’t fixate on the issue.
The Crisis Zone people are the gay-bashers, those who invoke the “gay panic” defense in criminal trials, and who exhibit an unhealthy and vicious obsession with the supposed threats of gay people in society. By attacking gay people, they think they are deflecting any suspicion that they may be gay, a suspicion only they feel towards themselves. They overcompensate, for example, by tattooing passages from the Book of Leviticus on their bodies (ignoring the fact that Leviticus also prohibits tattoos).
It’s tragic, really. Just because as a teenager they realized the high-school quarterback was kind of handsome they have tortured themselves for years and become obsessed with gay people, adopting homophobia as a defense against their darkest fears. And it’s a shame, because they are predominately heterosexual.
But they can never forget that moment of terror, and the rest of their lives is spent in proving their heterosexuality, even if they must tear society apart to do so.