The War Between Identity and Behavior
November 23, 2015
There is a war being waged within our culture today, two opposing worldviews about sexuality, both of which offer different visions of right and wrong. One of these worldviews is compatible with the moral beliefs of my religion, the LDS Church, and other religions that share those moral beliefs. The other worldview fights against us.
The Identity View
Let's discuss the latter first, for this is the worldview that holds sway in the world today. This is the worldview used by the media as they report the news. This is the worldview used by celebrities, politicians, and other elite. This is the worldview used by judges as they twist the law into unrecognizable shapes. The worldview I'm speaking of is the Identity View.
According to the Identity View, people are defined by their attractions, with humanity divided into what are essentially three separate subspecies: gay, straight, and bisexual. Imagine three gigantic buckets with everyone assigned to a specific bucket, the buckets' walls reaching high into the sky, consigning us to our predetermined fate. You were born in a bucket, and you will die in that same bucket. No escape. No possibility of change.
The Identity View claims that people are their attractions. You cannot separate the two. If you prohibit someone from acting on their attractions, or if you even discourage it, then you are denying them the right to be themselves, which means you are denying them the right to be happy.
In effect, the Identity View demands that morality should be defined based on the capabilities of each of the three buckets, with moral standards fitting within the constraints it claims each subspecies of human is capable of. If one is gay, the Identity View says, then one feels same-sex attraction and doesn't feel any opposite-sex attraction; therefore, it wouldn't be fair to expect someone like that to reject same-sex sexuality because each and every one of the tens of millions who call themselves gay are completely incapable of anything else.
It is the Identity View that has been used to impose the recognition of same-sex marriage upon our nation. It is the Identity View that shuns any preaching, or even belief, against same-sex sexuality. It is the Identity View that threatens further erosion of religious freedom.
The Behavior View
But there is an alternative view, a view completely ignored by the media and society in general. This is the view that defends morality despite social pressure against it. This is the view that believes that morality actually matters. I am speaking of the Behavior View.
The Behavior View focuses on choice. It focuses on the fact that, while we might not choose our attractions, we certainly choose our behaviors, and some behaviors, such as same-sex sexuality, are morally wrong; and because they are wrong, they should be rejected. According to the Behavior View, same-sex sexuality is just one sin among many other sins, and same-sex attraction is nothing more than the desire to commit that sin. There is nothing special about them. They don't warrant the attention they've received in recent years. The behavior is wrong, so we shouldn't do it. Why all the fuss?
According to the Behavior View, people are not gay, straight, or bisexual—because those words imply behavior, and behavior is a choice, not something that you are. People are simply people, not separate subspecies, and all people are expected to live according to the same moral standards. Yes, attractions are felt in varying degrees by each of us, but those attractions don't define us. The Behavior View considers same-sex attraction and opposite-sex attraction separately. To feel same-sex attraction means you feel the desire to engage in same-sex sexuality. This is an improper desire, and just like all other improper desires, it should always be rejected. To not feel opposite-sex attraction is certainly a hardship, but that hardship is not unique to those who call themselves gay, nor is it greater than many hardships that others face within their lives.
The Behavior View treats the presence of same-sex attraction and the absence of opposite-sex attraction as two separate challenges. Put simply: A lack of desire to do right does not justify doing wrong. We all know that simple truth, yet those who follow the Behavior View recognize it applies to sexuality just as much as anything else.
In our society today, the Identity View is demanding that moral standards be abandoned when it claims those standards interfere with some people's happiness, but the Behavior View dismisses that claim as blatant manipulation. Behaviors are right or wrong, and each and every one of us are expected to live according to the same moral standards. Some standards will be easier for some, some standards will be easier for others, but all standards apply to everyone, and it is always possible to find happiness in doing right.
The Identity View Conflicts with Reality
Why do so many in our society accept the Identity View? That is a good question given how obviously the Identity View conflicts with reality. It claims that each and every one of us are assigned into a bucket at birth from which we can never leave. It claims that society doesn't impact our sexuality, that society can change in countless ways and people will continue being assigned into the same bucket regardless of the world around them.
But what about those, including myself, who are aware that our lives could be very different? What about those who know that, in other circumstances, we might be in a different bucket than we are today? An adherent to the Identity View might try to claim we are part of the "bisexual" bucket, but that's not quite right because I'm not talking about where we are, I'm talking about where we know we could be. It's potential I'm talking about, the potential to be swayed one way or the other; and potential is deadly to the Identity View because if people have potential, then perhaps those buckets don't exist at all, perhaps humanity is one single race rather than three separate subspecies. According to the Identity View, people such as us shouldn't exist. Yet we do.
And what of the changes we see happening in the lives of our youth? We are seeing reports of an increased openness about sexuality, an increased flexibility in how youth view themselves. How can this be if the Identity View is correct? People are supposed to continue being assigned to their predetermined buckets regardless of cultural changes. According to the Identity View, these changes shouldn't be happening. Yet they are.
And what of the past cultures where sexuality was very different? These cultures cannot be explained according to the Identity View. They cannot be explained without recognizing the profound influence culture can have on an individual's sexuality. But the Identity View claims that no such influence is possible. The Identity View claims that our sexuality is predetermined, that it is incapable of change. According to the Identity View, these past cultures shouldn't have existed. Yet they did.
The Identity View Is Misleading and Inaccurate
To believe in the Identity View, one must believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that everyone's sexuality is completely immutable. Flexibility is catastrophic to the Identity View, for if someone who is gay is not actually locked in that position, why would our society waste time accommodating it? This is true even if flexibility decreases with time and experience. If youth aren't actually preassigned into a specific bucket, why would we place them in one? Why would we subject them to the effects of a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than allow them to reach their actual potential?
Yet, because of how damaging the idea of flexibility is to the Identity View, its adherents have been conditioned to immediately dismiss the idea without thought. The bucket walls are too high. The very idea of change is considered ridiculous. Pavlov taught dogs to drool at the sound of a bell. Are your hackles raised at the suggestion that our sexuality isn't locked in place? If so, like Pavlov's dogs, you've been well trained.
But here is a crucial point: Even if, despite all evidence to the contrary, people actually aren't flexible, the Identity View is still wrong. Even in the complete absence of flexibility, the Behavior View is still a better way to look at sexuality. Why? Because, even if people cannot change in the slightest, the Identity View is still misleading and inaccurate.
The Identity View divides us all into three buckets, and with that division comes a significant assumption: Those who are gay feel only same-sex attraction, and those who are straight feel only opposite-sex attraction, and those who are bisexual feel both attractions equally. Can you see the assumption that is being made? Where are the degrees of gray? According to the Identity View, that gray does not exist. The Identity View claims there are only three settings to humanity, so if you feel same-sex attraction, then you either feel it completely or you feel it exactly equal to your opposite-sex attraction. Consider the vast amount of middle ground the Identity View completely ignores.
Think of it like a scale. For simplicity's sake, we'll make the scale from 1 to 7, but it could just as easily have been from 1 to 100 or any other range that allows the gray to be seen. In our scale of 1 to 7, let's say that a 1 indicates someone only feels opposite-sex attraction, a 7 indicates someone only feels same-sex attraction, a 4 indicates they feel both equally, and 2-3 and 5-6 represent degrees of gray in-between:
1: Only opposite-sex attraction
2: Mainly opposite-sex attraction but some same-sex attraction
3: Opposite-sex attraction is greater but same-sex attraction is significant
4: Equal opposite-sex attraction and same-sex attraction
5: Same-sex attraction is greater but opposite-sex attraction is significant
6: Mainly same-sex attraction but some opposite-sex attraction
7: Only same-sex attraction
When following the Identity View, if someone calls themselves gay, we automatically assume they are a 7. Consider the inaccuracy. Theoretically, that person could be a 2, yet because they call themselves gay, we would treat them like a 7, the same as someone who feels only same-sex attraction. Consider the vast potential the Identity View has hidden within that person's life.
More realistically, think about those 5s and 6s on the scale. These are people who feel more same-sex attraction than opposite-sex attraction, but the opposite-sex attraction is still there. These are people who, while certainly more predisposed to a same-sex relationship, would be capable of an opposite-sex relationship as well, yet we deny them the possibility because we allow the Identity View to hide the potential that actually exists within themselves.
And how do people decide they are gay? Is there a blood test? Is there some other objective measurement that says: "You're a 7," or "You're a 5." No, there's not. People are gay because they say they are gay. Tens of millions of people, applying tens of millions of different personal judgments, all using the exact same label, and as soon as they apply that label the Identity View claims that each and every one of those tens of millions of people are all identical in potential.
And there's no way for us to actually know each other's potential. No objective test can exist, leaving us with self-reporting, where it is often in someone's self-interest to be less than candid. If someone wants you to accept their same-sex sexuality, then they have a motivation to hide any opposite-sex attraction they might feel. If someone is deeply uncomfortably with same-sex sexuality, then they have a motivation to hide any same-sex attraction they might feel. And in many cases the person simply might not know. Consider what I said in "What If That 'When' Had Never Happened?" As mentioned in that short essay, many people describe a moment of "realization," where they "discovered" their past assumptions about themselves were untrue. In that case, which of their self-reports is the accurate one, the pre-realization report or the post-realization report? And, when you receive a self-report, how can you know it's not a pre-realization report? How can you know that person won't later "realize" something very different about themselves than they are claiming today? You can't.
Furthermore, those who subscribe to the Identity View will be predisposed to exaggerate their position to one end of the scale or the other. It's hard to admit you are a 5 on the scale (meaning you feel a decent amount of opposite-sex attraction) and simultaneously demand that the world treat you as if you were a 7. If someone wants to do something (same-sex sexuality), it is likely they will describe their situation in a way that will encourage others to permit them to do it (the inability to do the alternative).
And remember we've been ignoring the possibility of change during this explanation. If 7s are capable of becoming 6s or 5s, and 1s are capable of becoming 2s or 3s, then the Identity View is even more wrong, but even if that change isn't possible, the Identity View is still wrong because it always views people at the extremes, ignoring the possibility toward the middle, resulting in claims such as this: "A gay man has only two choices: either a same-sex relationship or lifelong loneliness." Really? What if that "gay" man is actually a 5 on the scale rather than a 7?
Can't you see? The Identity View purposefully hides the potential that exists for so many of us toward the middle. It artificially limits choices to its desired options. The Identity View is misleading, inaccurate, and manipulative.
The Identity View Is Manipulative
Let me repeat that: The Identity View is manipulative. It artificially limits choices to its desired options—the options that will help it achieve its goal. And what is its goal? Its goal is to destroy a moral standard, in this case the moral standard against same-sex sexuality. The Identity View is a weapon, an anti-moral weapon, and it could be used against any moral standard.
All the attention our society has given same-sex sexuality in recent years might lead one to believe that it's something unique, but it's actually not. Under all the controversy, under all the politics, under all the parades, the speeches, the slogans, under all of that is just a simple, common desire: The want to do something, and the want to have others agree that doing it is okay.
Although the Identity View is currently being used to destroy the moral standard against same-sex sexuality, it could be used to destroy any moral standard. I demonstrated this in my satire "The Honor Code on Trial", where BYU is called before an accreditation committee to answer charges that its honor code discriminates against some students. What part of its honor code is discriminating against students? The part that prohibits lying. According to the Behavior View, lying is a behavior that is wrong and BYU is therefore justified in prohibiting it, but the accreditation committee in my story follows the Identity View, which claims that when you prohibit lying, you are discriminating against the must-lies—those who must lie. As I said, the Identity View could be used to destroy any moral standard. Consider the logic:
I want to lie.
I don't want to tell the truth.
I'm only happy if I lie. If you love me and want me to be happy, then you'll accept my lying.
Sound familiar? It should because that's the exact same way that same-sex sexuality is being justified by the Identity View:
I feel same-sex attraction.
I don't feel opposite-sex attraction.
I'm only happy if I engage in same-sex sexuality. If you love me and want me to be happy, then you'll accept my same-sex sexuality.
It's the same trick, the same weapon, and it can be used against any moral standard:
I want to do wrong.
I don't want to do right.
I'm only happy if I do wrong. If you love me and want me to be happy, then you'll accept my doing wrong.
Can't you see? Same-sex sexuality isn't special. It's just like any other sin. Same-sex attraction isn't special. It's just like any other desire to commit sin. The Identity View could be used against any moral standard. It's a weapon, nothing more, an anti-moral weapon used to destroy a moral standard.
I hope you understand the different worldviews about sexuality, and I hope you see how false and harmful the Identity View is. Our society continues to describe this conflict according to that false worldview. "Marriage equality", "gay rights", "LGBT", "anti-gay", all these concepts we've been swimming in, all these concepts we've been drowning in, all of them come from the Identity View, a worldview that conflicts with reality, a worldview that is misleading, inaccurate, and manipulative, a worldview that is designed to destroy a moral standard.
Don't let it. You don't have to accept the Identity View. Reject it. Don't even respond to it. It is false. It is manipulative. Embrace the Behavior View instead, and encourage others to do so as well.
Attraction is something that you feel, not something that you are; and behavior is always a choice. Let us encourage good choices, and let us reject false ideologies like the Identity View that would lead us astray.
• Identity Shells and How They Are Used Against You
• How Anti-Discrimination Laws Are Used to Discriminate Against Religion
• I Am the Absence of Homophobia