Imagine that a young man walked to the front of your church congregation and announced, "I'm gay!" Suppose this is a church where same-sex sex is considered to be morally wrong. This young man has just declared, "I'm gay!" But what does he mean? You know this boy. You care about him and want what is best for him. So what does he mean? Obviously he is saying that he feels same-sex attraction, but is that all he is saying? Remember, this is a church that preaches that same-sex sex is morally wrong. When he calls himself gay, what is he saying about his choices? Is he saying that he believes the teachings of the church and will therefore resist his same-sex attraction in the same way that others in the congregation, each and every one of them, are expected to resist their desires to do wrong? Or is he saying that he has embraced his same-sex attraction, that he has adopted it as his core identity, that he will live that lifestyle, that he will seek out same-sex partners, that he will engage in same-sex sex?
What exactly is he saying to the congregation? What exactly is he asking of them? Does he want support through his trials? If that is what he wants, then he will get it. But is that what he is really asking, or is he asking them to change their doctrine? Is he asking them to alter their concept of sin in order to accommodate his personal desires? What is he really saying? We don't know. We don't know because the words don't tell us. They're ambiguous, and the ambiguity is tearing morality apart. We need better words, more accurate words.
The Trojan Horse
What does it mean to be gay? It is claimed that being gay is not a choice; yet if this is true, then being gay cannot include any actions or behaviors because actions and behaviors are most definitely choices—we are humans not machines and we choose what we do. Therefore, the claim that being gay is not a choice is only true if being gay only means that one feels same-sex attraction, nothing more. Yet we all know that is not what people mean when they identify themselves as gay, and that is not what they mean when they talk about gay marriage or gay rights*. They are not just talking about an attraction; they are talking about an action, a behavior, a lifestyle—they are talking about a choice. The term "gay" then is simultaneously both a choice yet also not a choice. It's a Trojan horse. We feel sympathetic to the claim that people do not choose their desires, so we let the Trojan horse through our gates; but then, once safely past our defenses, the hidden truth of action emerges and the moral standards of our society are compromised.
The Boy Scouts of America**
Let's turn our attention now to the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and their change to allow "gay" youth but not "gay" leaders. I'm a Mormon, and my church was in the news when they announced approval of this policy, but how many realize that for Mormon troops this didn't represent a change at all? Again, what does it mean to be gay? Does it just mean to feel same-sex attraction? If so, why would a troop ever exclude a boy for feelings he did not choose to feel? And actions? Remember, we're not talking about secular-sponsored troops, where moral standards might not be clearly defined; we're talking about Mormon troops, where moral standards are clear and not changing. The Mormon church teaches that same-sex sex is morally wrong, and all scouts within Mormon troops will be expected to live up to that standard. Consider the direction the world will push a boy who feels same-sex attraction. Why would we not want him to be part of an organization that encourages him to embrace his full potential rather than to settle for how the world declares he must choose to live?
But what about the leaders? Should a man be allowed to be a scout leader if he is "gay"? Let me repeat my earlier question: What does it mean to be gay? Should a man who feels same-sex attraction yet completely rejects it be allowed to serve as a BSA leader? I certainly think so—because that man is not gay. But what about a man who identifies as gay, who embraces the attraction as a lifestyle, who chooses to seek same-sex partners, who chooses to engage in same-sex sex? Should that man be allowed to serve as a BSA leader? Of course not. As an organization dedicated to instilling morality in boys, the BSA has a right to decide what moral standards they will stand for. Same-sex sex is an action. Some consider that action to be morally right, but the members of the BSA consider that action to be morally wrong. Those who are allowed to be scout leaders should be expected to serve as moral examples for the youth within their organization, and someone who chooses to engage in same-sex sex cannot serve as a moral example in an organization that considers same-sex sex to be wrong.
I don't know the official wording of the BSA policy, but if they don't explicitly separate attraction from action, then they are shooting themselves in the foot. Yet this is an example of the confusion caused by the word "gay". When you read in the media that the BSA prohibits "gay" leaders, what do you think that means? We need better words.
At the time I write this, there is a proposal underway in California to bar judges from membership in the BSA. Yes, you read that correctly. If the proposal is enacted, membership in the BSA could result in a judge being removed from the bench. Consider that for a moment. How did we get to this point? How did the world get turned upside down? You can thank the Trojan horse. We need better words, more accurate words.
Should this proposal in California be enacted, it will be a restriction of religious belief. What is at question is not what someone is but what someone does. Is same-sex sex morally wrong or is it morally right? That is a religious question, and California is considering taking an official stance on that religious question.
If you are upset by the direction our society is going, the remedy is clear: Destroy the Trojan horse. Reject the combination of attraction and action. Force the two to separate. When someone uses words like "gay" or "homosexual", ask them what they actually mean. Ambiguity about this topic is harmful. Make them be specific. Are they talking about attraction only, or are they talking about action? Because if they are talking about action, remember that action is a choice. We might not choose our attractions, but we most definitely choose our choices. Don't allow the ambiguity to damage moral standards any further. Is same-sex sex a sin? That is a religious question. Strip off the mask of civil rights worn by the gay rights movement* and reveal the religious tyrant hiding underneath.
The Civil Rights Mask
And, yes, it's only a mask and an undeserved one at that. Those who advocate gay rights* often try to equate opposing same-sex sex with being racist, but that makes no sense. Being against the act of same-sex sex is the same as being against a black man for … for what? … for breathing? Same-sex sex is an action. Skin color is not an action. We don't choose what we look like, but we most certainly do choose our actions, and our choices are subject to judgment and correction.
Imagine two separate men who both feel same-sex attraction. One of these men has chosen to reject his same-sex attraction while the other has chosen to embrace and indulge it. What a profound difference these choices would make in the lives of these men. Yet, despite the drastically different choices and lives, both of these men might be called gay. Consider the confusion this causes. Why is it that we have a word to describe the attraction but lack a word to describe the choice? What a mixed up state of affairs. We need better words. Attraction doesn't matter. Choices are what matter. We need words that describe our choices.
Where Should the Separation Lie?
Labels create separation, which is sometimes necessary; but consider the separation caused by labels like "gay" and "homosexual". When it comes to same-sex attraction, there are three relevant groups of people: those who feel no same-sex attraction and therefore choose to reject same-sex sex, those who feel same-sex attraction yet still choose to reject same-sex sex, and those who both feel same-sex attraction and also choose to engage in same-sex sex. Now, consider where the word "gay" separates those three groups. That word insists that those who feel the attraction but reject the action have more in common with those who choose the action than with those who reject the action. Why do we separate people in that manner? If there must be a separation, let the separation fall based on choice, not based on desire.
Imagine if the label "adulterer" were applied both to those who committed adultery as well as those who were simply tempted to commit adultery. In that world you'd be an adulterer whether you chose to commit adultery or not. In that world being an adulterer would simultaneously be a choice (because you choose your actions) yet also not a choice (because you don't choose your temptations). Can't you see the problems that would cause? Can't you see the mischief that could be played against morality? To be an adulterer (in that world) could be said to not be a choice (because temptations are not chosen) and therefore one who preaches against adultery (meaning the action) would be accused of bigotry for preaching against people when they are actually preaching against an action. But one is not an adulterer unless one chooses to commit adultery—the temptation is completely beside the point. Therefore, one cannot be gay—a label which is generally interpreted to include action and behavior—unless one chooses to be gay; the attraction is completely beside the point. To be clear, if you feel same-sex attraction yet choose to reject it, then you are not gay.
How could it be otherwise? Trying to label people based on their attractions is inevitably inaccurate. Are we mind readers? How many who call themselves straight actually feel some degree of same-sex attraction? How many who call themselves gay actually feel some degree of normal attraction? We aren't mind readers so we don't know. The labels based on sexual attraction therefore don't indicate what one is; they only indicate what one claims to be. But to be what? To be one who feels same-sex attraction? To be one who chooses to have same-sex sex? What are we actually saying we are? We need better words, more accurate words.
The claim might be made that being gay consists not only of feeling same-sex attraction but also of not feeling normal attraction. However, once again, we aren't mind readers. Are we really sure that all those who call themselves gay do not—yesterday, today, or tomorrow—feel any degree of normal attraction? We don't know that. We can't know that.
Of course, if it is you, the reader, who is in this situation, then that is a different matter. You know what you feel and what you don't feel, and you might claim to not feel normal attraction. Okay, you don't feel any today, but how can you be sure you will never feel normal attraction for someone in the future? Might not the way you think of yourself have an impact on the potential you allow yourself to reach? The mind is a powerful tool. Why would you turn yours against yourself? Why would you confine yourself in a small box through a self-imposed label rather than stand out in the open where you might experience that which you can't imagine today?
But a useful perspective for this scenario is a topic for another day, so I will end this digression.
The Situation Made Simple
This has been written from the point of view that same-sex sex is morally wrong, but perhaps you disagree. Perhaps you see little wrong with adultery as well, causing my earlier example to be ineffective. In that case, let's break this topic down into simple terms to make the situation clear whether you consider same-sex sex to be morally wrong or not.
Think of an action you believe is morally wrong. Then consider this: Wrong or not, some people still want to commit that action, don't they? They feel a desire, an attraction toward it. Are you with me so far? Everyone agrees that some actions are wrong. We might disagree about which actions are right and which actions are wrong, but the existence of right and wrong should be a point of common agreement, as should the fact that some people desire to choose wrong.
Now, we have a wrong action and we have a desire to commit it. There are some people who feel the desire to commit the wrong action, and there are other people who both feel that desire and also make the choice to commit the wrong action. How do we talk about these people?
In one approach, we could have a label for those who choose the action but no label for those who only desire it. As previously mentioned, an example of this is adultery. The act of adultery is wrong, and those who choose to commit adultery are referred to as adulterers. But what about those who desire to commit adultery? We don't label them. Some people are tempted by adultery and some people are not, but the action is wrong in all cases. By not labeling those who are only tempted, we don't cause them to think differently about themselves. We are all the same, and we are all expected to not do that which is wrong, whether we desire it or not.
Another approach would be to have one label for those who desire to commit the wrong action and one label for those who choose to commit it. This approach is not ideal because it creates a wall of separation between those who feel the desire and those who do not, which will inevitably cause more to succumb to the desire than would if they were thought of just like everyone else. It's not a horrible approach, however, since it still makes a clear distinction between those who are tempted and those who choose to give in.
Now let's turn to the last approach. In this approach, the same label is used for those who desire to do wrong as for those who make the choice to do wrong. As a consequence, people who are attracted to the immoral action are under the incorrect assumption that they can't choose to not commit it. Their humanity is stripped away from them. And those of us who disagree with the action are vilified for speaking against it because people claim it is who they are. "I didn't choose to be like this," they say. And they are right; except, they are also wrong. The desire is not a choice, but the choice is a choice. This approach, the approach our society currently uses for same-sex sex, is a source of confusion. It's a Trojan horse. It is contributing to the moral failure of society and is being used to demolish all meaning out of marriage. We need better words, more accurate words.
Some might try to bring emotions into the mix, claiming that being gay is about more than just same-sex attraction; but that is beside the point. There is no emotional appeal, no matter how deeply felt, that can justify the act of adultery between a married man and his co-worker; and that standard applies equally to same-sex sex. Moral is moral and immoral is immoral.
"But love trumps all!" too many might claim, foolishly refusing to realize that any argument they use in favor of same-sex sex can be applied to any other action, even actions that they themselves consider to be morally wrong. How long will we live comfortably in this unstable society we are creating for ourselves?
But enough with this digression.
The Audience Includes Me
I have now written multiple posts where I encourage readers to not identify people based on same-sex attraction, where I encourage them to think of people as simply men and women and to not call them gay or straight. I mentioned this in my post about identity, in my post about intellectualism, and in my post about perspective. Yet in casual conversations with family or friends, when the topic is obviously about one who has chosen to live their life in a particular way, I too will sometimes use the words "gay" or "lesbian". The context should be clear. It should be obvious that I am talking about choices, not simply about attractions. But how can I be sure of that? How can I be sure that others understand what I'm saying when I choose to use ambiguous words?
The audience of my writing includes me. I need to constantly refocus on my primary stewardships. I need to strive to always keep my perspective a useful one. And I need to do a better job in how I talk about this topic. But what is frustrating is that there is no good way to talk about it. Accurate words simply don't exist. We need to invent them.
(Even the action itself lacks a good term. The term "same-sex sex" is the best way to describe it that I am aware of. It would be nice to have a better one.)
What We Need
We need words that describe choices, not attractions. It doesn't matter if you feel same-sex attraction, just as it doesn't matter if a teen feels the desire to look at porn, just as it doesn't matter if a married man finds the flirty waitress sexy, just as it doesn't matter if a girlfriend would really, really like to go further with her boyfriend. None of those desires matter; the choices are what matter. Does the teen choose to not look? Does the man choose to be loyal to his wife? Does the girlfriend choose to reserve what she should until marriage? The choices are what matter. When it comes to same-sex attraction, we need words that distinguish between those who choose to reject the attraction and those who choose to embrace it.
Words like "gay" and "homosexual" are useless. When people say them, we don't know what they actually mean. Those words are used to pretend that action isn't a choice and that opposition to an act is the same as opposition to a person. We need better words, more accurate words.
Those who have chosen to reject their same-sex attraction do not need to change. We don't need a word to describe them. What we need are words to describe the people who have chosen to embrace their same-sex attraction, who have chosen to live that lifestyle, a lifestyle where they seek out same-sex partners with whom they will have same-sex sex, an action that is morally wrong. We don't need demeaning words; we need describing words, words that describe people who are making choices we disagree with—because those are the people we want to persuade to change.
We need better words.
* Update: Even when writing about problematic terms I found myself using one. Were I writing this today, I would not use the term "gay rights" but would instead use terms such as "same-sex movement", "same-sex activism", or "same-sex advocacy". The term "gay rights" is misleading, and I strongly discourage its use. It does not accurately describe what the conflict is actually about. [May 16, 2015]
** Update: To permit youth who struggle with moral issues into an organization that encourages moral behavior makes perfect sense. "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick". However, that saying assumes the physician is capable of helping the sick become whole, and unfortunately the Boy Scouts of America can no longer make that claim. In July 2015, the BSA decided that adults who choose to engage in same-sex sexuality can serve as BSA leaders, including direct leaders of young boys. Leaders are examples. Leaders are role models. The BSA cannot stand for morals they do not expect from their leaders; and any organization that claims to teach morality yet refuses to take a stand on such a basic part of sexual morality is counterproductive. The situation is incredibly disappointing. The BSA has become one more example of the truth: Everything man-made rots eventually. [August 4, 2015]
topic: sexual identity