Interesting documentary on BBC3 last night about a young man who had a stroke and “woke up gay” afterwards. It was both interesting and perplexing. That there has been a huge shift in his character and personality is clear. That he once dated women and now is attracted to men is easily shown. That he once played rugby and now is a hair-dresser is easy to demonstrate.
Oh, but hang on a minute where exactly do actions, ethics, stereotypes and genetic determinism intersect? How much weight to give any of them and how much weight to give his claim that it was the stroke that “made him gay”. After all, there are gay rugby players and straight hairdressers in this world and there are plenty of people who have shown evidence of being attracted to very different people at different times in their lives. There are also plenty of people whose character, appearance, employment choices and family relationships have changed profoundly after coming out.
I don’t really have a problem with the idea that a stroke can change behaviour and character. It can. It doesn’t seem to me to be entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that this might include elements of attraction. What I had a greater problem with in last night’s programme was the entirely unexplained research into “gay” and “straight” people’s brain patterns that was being undertaken at Queen Mary College in London. Here the programme was pretty deficient – as though filling in a few questionnaire questions could determine what you were born with.
I tend to have rather odd views on this. I’m fully aware of the notion that is almost an accepted orthodoxy that gay people are simply born that way – that it is natural, for heavens sake. That accepted orthodoxy suits my politics. However, I don’t quite feel so sure that it is precisely true. It seems to me that it feels as though one was born that way for a lot of people but that doesn’t really prove anything. It is common, that’s for sure, and same-sex activity and relationship exist in diverse societies at, so far as we can tell, all times in history. That seems to me not to be a genetic argument that is worth taking seriously.
What I’m more interested in is whether people have the right to make informed choices about what to do with their affections and I’m interested in building a society in which the choices that have hitherto been available most commonly to opposite-sex couples are available to same-sex couples. I think that is a moral choice. Indeed, I think that to stand in the way of that is an immoral one. I don’t think such a change is that hard to conceive and what’s going on in society at the moment, with huge numbers of straight allies at last coming out in favour of equality seems to show that I’m onto something.
In summary, I’m interested in genetic determinism but suspicious of it. Meanwhile, allowing the ethics of relationship to evolve to a point where those who identity as gay can live upright, moral, public lives that harm no-one is holy business and something I believe in rather a lot.
It does not matter a bean to me what causes it.