Heterosexuality isn’t ‘a choice’, neither is Homosexuality
A concerned therapist’s response to Meridian article “Can we teach our children to choose heterosexuality?”
As a mental health therapist, a wife, mother, a niece, and aunt, a daughter, a friend, a neighbor, and sister in the Gospel I felt a responsibility to respond to the article published yesterday in Meridian Magazine titled written by JeaNette Goates Smith, “Can we teach our children to choose heterosexuality?” Thankfully, Meridian has removed this article from their website. The title of the article, in and of itself, is extremely problematic because it implies that sexual orientation is a choice. Even LDS Church leaders have acknowledged that it is not a choice.
I don’t ever remember choosing to be heterosexual, although I do remember having serious crushes on boys by the time I was five. The belief that attraction is a choice has contributed to a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, and high suicide rates among LGBT church members. Perpetuating this belief is very harmful not only to LGBT individuals who are once again receiving a message that they are “less than,” that they are a “mistake”, but also to their family members who may, through the article, believe that they can help their gay child choose heterosexuality by modeling a happy heterosexual marriage, by telling boys fairy tales so they look forward to fatherhood, by helping them understand that by living a gay lifestyle they will be giving up an eternal family.
[Author’s note added 10/1/15 9:15am– I want acknowledge that Meridian Magazine and JeaNette Smith have only positive intentions and are motivated by a desire to help Latter-day Saints and their families. I hold no ill-will or contempt for either party. My response was written only to address some of the article’s content that may further contribute to a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, shame, and blame among of LGBT church members and their families. I hope to open up a dialogue that acknowledges how little we know, how complex this issue is, and how painful it is, and how sexual attraction can’t be reduced simply to “a choice.”]
There are a couple of parts of the article that I do agree with—for example, the point that shame is damaging. However, I have selected excerpts from the Meridian article in block quotes that I think are especially damaging and have provided my responses below.
Today most members of society treat homosexuals with courtesy, whether or not we agree with their lifestyle. However, being treated well by society does not necessarily mean that all the drawbacks of homosexuality will go away.
In the paragraph above and in the entire article the author makes it sound like gays and lesbians are “those people.” This serves to further alienate our LGBT brothers and sisters. Gay and lesbian individuals are our children, our aunts and uncles, our parents, our neighbors—not “those people over there with that lifestyle.” They are of equal value and worth and they are not separate from us. They are a part of us.
A husband and wife who bear children together can look at their progeny and exclaim, “She has your nose, and my mouth,” or “Our daughter got her musical talent from her mom and her sense of humor from her dad,” or “Look at this gorgeous child. She’s the best of both of us.” A husband and wife can celebrate posterity that will last through the eternities. Their union, sanctioned not just by the government, but by God Almighty, can last forever.
In my twenty years of clinical practice I have worked with dozens of heterosexual couples who struggle with infertility and who aren’t able to have biological children. Does that mean that their families are not as valid as couples with biological children because their child doesn’t resemble them? Anyone who chooses to adopt will not be able to see a genetic resemblance. Does that devalue the parent/child relationship? No, it does not. Using that reasoning is not only harmful to gay and lesbian families but also to all adoptive families.
We can be kind to gays, and we can grant them legal privileges, but we can’t combine their genetics and create a human being. Therefore, an individual who finds themselves attracted to members of the same sex must make a choice. “Will I choose this lifestyle that the world has made possible for me, the lifestyle that feels good, the lifestyle I feel I have a right to choose, even though I will be sacrificing an eternal family?”
You say, “the lifestyle I feel I have a right to choose (italics added)” but they actually do have a right to choose. I think it is extremely important for our LGBT brothers and sisters to know that they do have a choice in how they live their lives, and that it is a valid choice. And do we know for certain how things will end in the afterlife? Do we know how God will judge each individual? Can we know for certainty that they will be sacrificing an eternal family? I don’t know that. I can’t know the mind and will of God and His plan for His individual children.
When a young person understands (as well as is possible with their limited experience) the ramifications of choosing to live a homosexual lifestyle over a heterosexual lifestyle, one would imagine he would pause long and hard before choosing to give up an eternal family.
I know of many LGBT individuals, personally and professionally, that have attempted to have and maintain heterosexual relationships in order to have an “eternal family.” And as far as I know they have all failed, and have hurt many more people in the process of trying to live a “heterosexual lifestyle.” I would never suggest to an LDS client or to one of my children that they should enter into a marriage with someone that they weren’t attracted to and didn’t love just so they can have the possibility of an eternal family. That suggestion is archaic and unfounded. This hearkens back to the era of leaders counseling gay men just find themselves an attractive woman and everything will work itself out.
Sex is a privilege not an inalienable right. It is a privilege God has reserved for husbands and wives within the bonds of marriage.
Sex is a biological drive and considered by most psychologists to be a fundamental aspect of an healthy functioning adult. Sex is a privilege and a right. The plan of salvation hinges on agency and we all have the right to choose how to live our lives.
The biggest obstacle to those with same-sex attraction who wish they were heterosexual is the belief that they can’t change.
Can they change? Show me research, statistics, etc. where a gay or lesbian individual who wished they were heterosexual has successfully transitioned to become heterosexual. All of the mental health professions have denounced reparative therapy because it is so damaging.
Once they become convinced they are “born this way” they accept their situation and try to persuade everybody else to accept it too.
Most heterosexuals would assert that they were “born this way.” Your entire article is about trying to persuade everyone to be heterosexual and to help his or her children choose to be heterosexual. Ironically, the sentence can be equally applied to heterosexuals. Once the heterosexual becomes convinced they are “born this way” they accept their situation and try to persuade everybody else to accept it too.
[Author note added 10/1/15 9:00am–My understanding is that sexual development is generally a complex process and can’t be reduced to one single factor. At this point in my understanding of sexuality I think it is accurate to say “I developed that way.” My personal experience is that from a very early age I have been attracted to males an by age 12 was sexually attracted to males. What struck me about the above sentence was not that I think everyone is born with their sexuality fully developed but that the sentence was ironic, given the theme of the article.]
For youth who do not have a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, but choose homosexuality for other reasons, we can help them choose heterosexuality if we simply make heterosexuality more appealing to them…When the only heterosexual relationships available for an adolescent to model are miserable, a child or an adolescent may decide they want “anything but” that type of relationship…. As homosexuality is currently in vogue, particularly among adolescents, he or she may decide to experiment with this type of relationship. If a child is to choose heterosexuality, it is very helpful for him to have happy, loving heterosexual role models.
Who are these youth who do not have a genetic predisposition? How can we know? And for what other reasons are they “choosing” homosexuality? Because it’s vogue with those teenagers? Really? So, choosing homosexuality is a like hairstyle or a fashion fad? I give our youth a lot more credit than that. Additionally, the assertion that if we make our marriages seem happier we can persuade gay kids to choose heterosexuality is preposterous! So you are suggesting that bad and unhappy marriages are leading or causing some children to “choose” homosexuality? I. Am. Speechless.
Boys are afforded fewer opportunities to visualize their bright futures as fathers. I’ve seen little boys put a doll to their chest, as if to nurse the baby, only to have a parent snatch the doll away as if the action were evil. Boys can be as tender and loving as girls if we will let them. Why don’t we help our boys look forward to becoming fathers just like we help our girls look forward to becoming mothers?
I know a woman who would tell her sons a bedtime story about themselves every night. “One day you will grow up, and fall in love with a beautiful young woman whom you will take to the temple, and you will be married forever and ever and you will have children that climb on your back and ride on your shoulders and they will adore you and you will be so happy.” The story began as a fairy tale for a small boy, but the little boys believed in the fairy tale and made it come true.
I’m all for encouraging boys to engage in nurturing play and encouraging them to become nurturing fathers…so they can become nurturing adults, not to help them “choose heterosexuality.” And what on earth does telling boys bedtime stories about beautiful young women, temple marriage, and kids climbing on you and adoring you have to do with sexual orientation? I think that has the possibility of further shaming a young boy who is attracted to boys because he doesn’t live up to his mother’s fairy tales.
There is so much we don’t know about sexuality and about God. Please stop trying to pretend we know how to encourage our youth to “choose” heterosexuality. What I do know is that: 1) sexual attraction isn’t a choice and 2) that God is all-knowing and all-powerful and more merciful than we can imagine.
As the mother of four children my goal is to help them to become who they want to become. Several months ago I asked one of my kids if they “liked” or had a crush on anyone at school. They replied with a sheepish grin, “Yes.” To which I asked without thinking, “Boy or girl?” I want my children to be honest with me, open with me, and know that I love them no matter what. My kids already know my spiritual beliefs and my life choices. My job isn’t to mold them into a mini-me, but to help them become more of who they are and to create the life that they want.
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.