The following are taken from Is it a Choice?: Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gays and Lesbians, by Eric Marcus.

Why do some gay people want to be called "queer"?

Plenty of gay and lesbian people are puzzled by this one as well. Some gay and lesbian people have chosen the word queerbecause they feel it is more inclusive than gay and lesbian. And because they feel that by "reclaiming" a word that has been used by those who hate gay people, they have stripped it of its original hurtful intent and transformed it into something positive.

According to one woman in her mid-twenties, "While some people find this word offensive, many of us find it liberating because it is a word that embraces us all. We use it as a word of pride, of inclusion, and of community. The word reflects the painful reality that regardless of how we identify ourselves, we are all outside the heterosexual majority, and we all suffer prejudice, discrimination, hatred, and ignorance from the majority population."

Why do some gay and lesbian people call themselves "fags" and "dykes"?

Like other minority groups, some gay and lesbian people playfully use words that are used by the larger population to put them down. Some say it's a way of taking the sting out of these words.

Warning: You can only use these words playfully if you yourself are gay or lesbian. And bear in mind that plenty of gay and lesbian people do not like the words fag or dyke no matter the sexual orientation of the person using them.

What is a gay person?

Gay is a synonym for homosexual:. Since the late 1960's, the word gay has been publicly adopted by homosexual men and women as a positive alternative to the clinical-sounding homosexual. Gay was used as slang in place of homosexual as far back as the 1920s, almost exclusively within the homosexual subculture.

Not all homosexual people like the word gay; some prefer the word homosexual to gay. And since gay has come to be used primarily in association with male homosexuals, many, if not most, homosexual women prefer to be called lesbians.

What is a lesbian?

A lesbian is a homosexual woman. The word derives from the Greek island of Lesbos, where Saphho, a teacher known for her poetry celebrating love between women, established a school for young women in the sixth century B.C. Over time, the word lesbian, which once simply meant someone who lived on Lesbos, came to mean a woman who, like Sappho and her followers, loved other women.

Are you born gay?

This debate dates back to the late 1800s, when Magnus Hirschfeld, founder of the first gay rights movement in Germany, stated his belief that homosexuality had biological origins. Now, after a few generations of accepting the psychiatric model for the origins of homosexuality, scientists are once again focusing on the biological/genetic origins of human sexuality. Though no studies have yet concluded unequivocally that sexual orientation is biologically and/or genetically based, the evidence points in that direction.

According to Chandler Burr, a journalist who is writing a book on the subject of biology and homosexuality, "The evidence, although preliminary, strongly indicates a genetic and biological basis for all sexual orientation. We see this in the work of Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard, who have done studies on twins and gay and lesbian siblings. For example, they found that with identical twins, where one twin is gay, the other twin has an approximately 50 percent chance of being gay. In fraternal twins [separate eggs], if one sibling is gay, there is a 16 percent chance the other sibling will be gay. And in non-genetically related adopted brothers and sisters, where one sibling is gay or lesbian, there is a 9 percent chance that the other sibling will be homosexual, which is approximately the normal statistical incidence in the general population. These results, which indicate that sexual orientation is governed primarily by genetics, have been confirmed dramatically in other laboratories in the United States."

Chandler adds that there are other factors that contribute to sexual orientation, "which may be either biological factors‹other than genetics‹or 'environmental factors.'" Environmental factors, he explains, "is a term that has recently gone through a major metamorphosis in meaning. It once meant large, discrete, identifiable experiences, such as coming into contact with a gay person as a child. We now understand the 'environment' to be quite simply any and all sensory stimulation, which all people receive be virtue of being alive and living in society."

Chandler concludes, "Sexual orientation's a biological component is effectively determined at birth. And we know conclusively that sexual orientation is neither changeable nor a matter of choice."

Is it a choice?

Just as heterosexual people don't choose their feelings of sexual attraction, gay and lesbian people don't choose theirs. All of us become aware of our feelings of sexual attraction as we grow, whether these feelings are for someone of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both sexes. For gay and lesbian people, the only real choice is between suppressing these feelings of same-sex attraction - and pretending to be asexual or heterosexual - and living the full emotional and physical life of a gay man or lesbian.

I like what one of my friends says whenever he's asked this question or hears someone voice the opinion that gay people make a conscious choice to be gay: "Why would I choose to be something that horrifies my parents, that could ruin my career, that my religion condemns, and that could cost me my life if I dared to walk down the street holding hands with my boyfriend?"

Isn't homosexuality unnatural?

Gay and lesbian people who are comfortable with their sexuality will tell you that their experience of being with someone of the same sex feels perfectly natural, whereas being with someone of the opposite sex feels unnatural. But often the underlying assumption of those who argue that homosexuality is unnatural is that penile-vaginal intercourse is the only natural way to be sexually active, and obviously a gay male couple or a lesbian couple can't have penile-vaginal intercourse.

Ann Northrop, an educator or homosexuality and AIDS, has been invited to speak to high school classes across the New York area and is often asked this question by students about whether or not homosexuality is normal. According to Ann, "I try to expand their definition of sex and ask them whether penile-vaginal intercourse is really the only way to have sex. But there are people who are fixated on the idea that naturalness is male-female intercourse and anything else is unnatural. That can be a tough thing to argue. Frankly, I've had a sixteen year relationship with a woman that's monogamous and pretty happy compared to most I've seen. So I'm not to inclined to concede that I'm unnatural."

Ann said the students may also argue that if the sexual act doesn't involve the possibility of procreation, then it isn't natural. "Then I ask them if couples who are infertile are not supposed to have sex."



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