The unknown and the different have always evoked strong reactions from people. Perhaps there is an evolutionary imperative in being wary of all that is alien. Of all the “strange” socio-cultural phenomenons to create waves in the past 30-40 years, nothing matches the gay rights movement in its perseverance and success. Yet, inspite of all the success of the movement across the world, there is perhaps no group so hated and misunderstood. Part of the reason is that in most cultures sex is taboo, and talking about “unnatural”sex is further taboo. Lies mis-conceptions and false information passed on from mouth to mouth end in a grossly misrepresented image or reality.This series will look at the most common objections and misunderstandings about homosexuality.
That homosexuality is “unnatural” and against the “order of nature” is perhaps the most commonly used argument, heard the loudest and so pervasive as to be even in our constitution till this year.
What is Natural?
Any discussion about the unnatural must begin with understanding what natural is. Explanations and definitions abound and for this discussion I choose to define natural as that which adheres to natural laws.Natural laws are laws that govern what we observe in nature; eg. gravity, electromagnetism etc. but as far as we know, there is no universal law of sexuality and even if there was one, the very fact that homoxesulaity defied the law would mean it was not really a law. It’s not that I have chosen a definition to suit my views, taking any other definition, save those that have a religious origin, there is no scientific reason to call homosexuality unnatural.
Take for example the belief that only human beings have homosexual behaviour, and therefore it is a deviation from the natural norms. Contrary to this belief, there are hundreds of species of animals that exhibit homosexual behaviour. Following is a quote from a popular magazine. The science of the article is accurate, if a bit dramatic.
Giraffes have all-male orgies. So do bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, gray whales, and West Indian manatees. Japanese macaques, on the other hand, are ardent lesbians; the females enthusiastically mount each other. Bonobos, one of our closest primate relatives, are similar, except that their lesbian sexual encounters occur every two hours. Male bonobos engage in “penis fencing,” which leads, surprisingly enough, to ejaculation. They also give each other genital massages.
The Moralistic Argument
However, often statements about the unnaturalness of homosexuality stem from religious or moralistic beliefs. Of the world’s dominant religions, all monotheistic religions have clear cut objections to homosexuality and one can find a wide range of personal beliefs about it, from believing homosexuals to be “lost souls” to “perverts going to hell”.
Most religions believe that there is a clear and fixed natural order, a guideline of how nature and people are supposed to behave. The problem with this outlook is that this presumes that religions know all there is to know about nature and its working. But if religions indeed are right about such an order why do their moralistic and natural standards change with time? Natural and unnatural vary across religions and sometimes even across sects within religions, it is unnatural for a man to be clean shaven if he is Amish and unnatural for him to sport a beard if he is a Quaker. Oral sex was deemed unnatural by all Christian sects till just a hundred years ago, yet now many an evangelical preacher is heard supporting it from posh progressive pulpits. So the natural-unnatural divide as proposed by religions is like writing in sand, with no sound and timeless principles behind them about the natural world and therefore cannot be accepted as a valid one.
Reproduction or Evolution Argument
There are many pseudo-scientific arguments hovering around the theory of evolution, usually propounded by religious groups to lend credibility to their moralistic arguments. The typical argument is that sex was evolved for reproduction and since homosexuality does not lead to reproduction, it is unnatural/wrong/evil. To begin with, it is quiet a big assumption to say that the only purpose of sex is reproduction, and if it were true, any sexual behavior that does not directly or indirectly lead to conception should also be deemed unnatural.
Such reductionist thinking does not keep in mind that the evolutionalry scientists themselves are at times not sure about the evolutionary significance of many human traits. One such example is the female orgasm, if the only purpose of sex is reproduction, then (sorry ladies) the female orgasm is rather useless. In fact for a long time it was not even accepted as normal for a woman to have an orgasm.
In conclusion, there is no good scieintific reason to think homosexuality is an abnormal deviation, or unnatural form of sexual preference. Hopefully with advances in science we will know better about the physiology, psychology and genetics involved.
The next part of this series will talk about the medical aspects of homosexuality, adressing questions like “Arent all gay people HIV positive?” And isnt homosexuality a disease?