Julie Bindel and Paul Burston discuss whether sexual preference is pre-determined, and whether the debate affects homophobia
Julie Bindel: 'No, we should say we like being gay'
Saying "I was born gay" is an odd claim to make. Few of us have any memory before the age of two, and babies are not sexual beings. We tend not to fancy the midwife or nursery assistant.
And despite the obsession of some scientists to find a "cause" for our "condition", there remains no real evidence that sexual preference is pre-determined by genetics. Why then do so many within the gay community seem to be determined to argue for a gay gene? More to the point, why do they become nervous and even angry when some of us speak of being gay as a positive alternative to heterosexuality?
Take the kerfuffle caused by Cynthia Nixon, the actor from Sex and the City who said: "A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it's a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn't matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here."
Journalist Patrick Strudwick, who admirably exposed the hate-filled bigots that attempt to "convert" gay people to straight through cod therapy by going undercover as an unhappy gay man, hit out at Nixon and accused her of playing right into the hands of the homophobes by leading them to believe we are responsible for our sexuality rather than it being imposed on us.
We can be against homophobic aversion therapy and STILL argue against a gay gene. The more we break down the taboos of same-sex relationships, the more people are opting for it, especially in later life as Nixon did.
So when people say "If being gay was a choice then why would we choose to live a life where oppression, violence and discrimination are inevitabilities?", I say to them so is being a feminist in countries where sexism exists, but they still exist and persevere. It is about wanting to be part of creating a better world.
Some gay people might feel that finding a gay gene might diminish prevalent homophobia, but this is naive. Racism has not diminished because we know that blackness or whiteness is genetic.
Many gay people want to believe we were "born that way" to provoke sympathy and understanding. We should say we like being gay and campaign not to get married in church but for gay conversion therapy to be illegal. Then we will have nothing to fear and the homophobes will have nothing to prove.
• Julie Bindel is a freelance journalist and political activist
Paul Burston: 'Yes, I was born gay'
My mother didn't make me a homosexual. Nor did my father. My parents raised me to be many things, but being gay wasn't one of them. It wasn't nurture that made me the way I am. It was in my nature.
I believe that I was born gay. Some of my earliest memories are of crushes on other boys. When I reached puberty, and these crushes evolved into sexual fantasies, I was terrified. Being gay was the last thing I wanted to be. Like many gay teenagers, I tried to repress my feelings. I lied to myself and to my family. Coming to terms with my homosexuality took time. It was something I learned to accept. It wasn't something I chose.
Maybe it's different for women. I've met lesbians who say that their sexuality is a choice – a political rejection of heterosexual norms. I've yet to meet a gay man who put his politics before his penis. For them, gay desire came first. Gay politics came later – if at all.
Gay men have every reason to be political about our sexuality. Historically, laws prohibiting homosexuality tend to focus on men. Most queer-bashers and their victims are male. Women, it seems, are far less hung up about same-sex desire than men. Female friends who identify as heterosexual often confide in me about sexual experiences with other women. Far fewer straight male friends share similar stories.
I don't think we choose our sexual desires. But we can choose whether or not to act on them. What concerns me is that, all too often, people who claim that homosexuality is a choice are the same people who stand in the way of lesbian and gay equality. If it's a choice, they argue, then we only have ourselves to blame.
When I say that I was born gay, it's not because I want sympathy. I'm happy to be homosexual. I don't think that being gay makes me better or worse than anyone else. All I want is to be treated equally.
Of course it's naive to assume that saying we were born that way will make homophobia go away. But whether one believes that sexuality is a choice, or something as natural as the colour of your eyes, we can still stand together in the fight for equality. Just as we have done for decades.
• Paul Burston is a journalist and author of the novel The Gay Divorcee
• Julie Bindel is debating the subject of sexuality and genetics on Radio 3 on 20 November