Homosexuality is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to the contemporary era. However, what is relatively new is the prominent belief that homosexuals are a specific category of people, similar to a race or ethnicity. Specifically, I am referring to the identity component of homosexuality, a belief in an innate “orientation” intrinsic to the individual. Social activists have made the case for a many new rights for homosexuals and others using this premise. Indeed, if heterosexual couples can get married, why can’t homosexual couples do the same? Why discriminate?
It’s an understandable cause, but we must recognize that the question itself is based a certain premise: the existence of innate sexual identities and the resultant exclusivity of those identities. A gay person is considered distinct from a straight one, a bisexual is distinct from them, and so on. But the problem here is that human sexuality, itself an extension of human desire, is not so easily defined into such black and white categories. The reality is that an individual may experience one type of sexual desire for decades before losing it and experiencing another one entirely.
Scientists themselves admit to the shaky foundation of sexual identity. The American Psychological Association (the same APA that up until 1973 listed homosexuality among its list of mental disorders) now states the following :
“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”
There was a push in the past to try and find a strong biological cause for sexual orientation, as that would definitively show how it is not a choice and therefore justify the LGBT movement. But this type of genetic evidence is not likely to be found due to twin studies that show that while genetically identical twins may be more likely to share orientation, it still was not predetermined. In other words, we can’t say that people are born gay.
Clearly the actual development of sexual desire has a lot to do with childhood development and external factors, which interact with a person’s more inherent nature and psychology. But such a desire is not inherent to a person’s nature, at least not at birth. It is only after growing up do people sort themselves based on what they happen to end up desiring.
But human desire, the root of sexual desire, is fickle and subject to a plethora of factors that influence it. People aren’t born with the knowledge of their desires, rather desires are born out of experience that brings out certain hidden feelings. In theory, it is possible that certain life triggers become catalysts for the emergence of desires that otherwise would have never existed. Case in point, an individual can’t know if they like hamburgers, if they have never had one in their life.
Generally, people are defined by actions rather than desires. A smoker is someone who smokes. A runner is someone who runs. We don’t call someone a runner if they merely desire to run, so it is peculiar how in the case of sexuality we have constructed an identity based on desire more than particular actions. It is problematic because while desire can often be persistent, we tend to reject the notion of being defined by our desires unless we choose to act on them. People generally prefer to have agency over the things that they feel they would be accountable for – or defined by. In the case of sexual desire, a person simply will never for sure know if tomorrow things will be different.
The comparison to things such as race, skin color, ethnicity, is probably inappropriate for this reason. People’s desires change over time. A gay person may discover himself to be bisexual at some point. Nobody can be sure that won’t happen one day. Any identity tied to sexual desire is potentially variable. The truth is that sexuality is not an essential, unchangeable, and defining characteristic of a person similar to that of a skin color.
Desires are also complicated by the fact that we have partial input into their manifestation. Meaning, our actions have effects on our future desires. Similarly, certain thoughts can cause us to develop desires further. Likewise, suppression of other thoughts can prevent desires from propping up. While rarely do we find anybody claiming perfect control over which desires they experience, we do find that people generally learn to manage desires into those that are socially acceptable and those that are not. It really doesn’t matter how liberal society becomes, at the end of the day all humans must learn to suppress inappropriate desires. It’s part of being a functioning adult.
Just because you desire something at a particular moment, doesn’t justify it. We all know that axiom to be true. However, new standards for sexual identity have caused us to create an exception: sexual desire and love is inherently deserving of expression. This is a premise that as a Muslim I cannot endorse, and neither should others. Sexuality is not a free-for-all, in fact it is only appropriate within certain circumstances, otherwise society will pay the price both physically and spiritually.
If we accept limitations of sexual expression and sexual desires, the question then is, where do we draw the line? At what point do we say one sexual desire is acceptable, and another is not? After all, they all involve expression of desire, which is all fundamentally the same, isn’t it? Do we simply make the claim that all desire that doesn’t harm anybody is acceptable?
This is obviously a pandora’s box of problems, but it is the logical conclusion of the premise we as a society have come to accept with the most recent wave of sexual liberation. People will eventually find that lines they thought could be drawn will disappear before their eyes.
Already, the narrative is shifting towards issues of transgenderism. After all, if sexual orientation is based on desire, why shouldn’t gender itself be the same? If I feel like the opposite gender, with a defined desire to act as one, why should I be denied my ‘inherent’ identity?
The end game of this movement is that gender will essentially cease to mean anything anymore. Gender roles were already being challenged and wiped in the previous couple of generations, and this is just the continuation. Being a man doesn’t mean anything, and being a woman doesn’t mean anything either. Not biologically, not sociologically, not sexually. It is essentially a neutering of sorts, a removal of the most basic form of differentiation.
The irony is that transgenderism is inherently a change away from something as much as it is a change towards another. As such, one could argue that it is not only an affirmation, but a type of self-rejection as well. A person who refuses to be their birth gender could conceivably be thought of as someone who has potentially gone against a portion of their inherent identity! If such a thing is possible, could it not also be retroactively applied to sexual desire, with the classification of certain sexual desires as movements away from naturally occurring desires? Since such a claim can only be evaluated by individuals due to self-reporting, we may never know for sure if it is true in most cases.
Frankly, I have no right to negate a person’s claim to love. It is not my place to judge sincerity on that front. Nor is it my place to claim that a person’s desire ought to change. However, I will still continue to believe in the existence of ethical limitations on the expression of sexual desire. For me, this line is the one I believe God Himself has drawn and told mankind not to cross. This is no different than any other moral guideline in existence, which ultimately all stem from God. If there is anybody that has the authority to tell someone their desires are invalid and ought not be expressed, it would be the Creator of mankind Himself.
So the choice rests upon your worldview, if you choose to believe in religion then you must accept limitations on expression, identity, and desires. If not, then you don’t have to abide by such limitations. However, understand that by making that rejection you have provided justification for a plethora of socially unacceptable practices. But who knows what future political discourse will bring, and what will be considered acceptable by then!