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Article No. 153

Just a kind of arrested development?

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Over previous decades, since gay people generally have refused to stay incognito in the closet, there have been all sorts of attempts to explain what homosexuality is and how it is caused. Explanations have been from friend and foe alike - and always gay people have tried to convey to heterosexual people that their sexuality is something that they feel is deep inside them, not something that has been adopted by them.

The reason some wanted to maintain that homosexuality is a choice made by a person is of course that if it is a choice then theoretically anyone could attempt to resist its clutches - in other words: homosexuality is simply one option that one chooses. And therefore, on a moral basis, participating in homosexual action is, according to some, a sin.

In addition it was also seen as several other things as well! It was seen by some as a kind of sickness - one that afflicted young men especially. Then some people saw it as a result of an over protective mother - a mother who smothered. Then it was seen as a result of an absent father - absent physically or emotionally.

If it was a sickness then it could be cured - that was (and still is for some) the bottom line of this explanation of homosexuality. All we had to do was find the best way to treat it and then gay people could become good heterosexuals again and cease troubling society with their deviation.

Despite all these attempts to explain away homosexuality, the medical profession, after much thought and experience of homosexuals as patients, came to the conclusion that homosexuality was neither a sickness nor was it anything that required medical attention. Naturally, if being gay deeply troubled a person who was gay, then they might seek treatment (in the form perhaps of counselling) by medically trained people who could help them deal with their anxiety.

The most recent consensus of opinion is that the causes of homosexuality are probably genetic, hormonal or environmental (the way the child is brought up) - or all three - though as yet there is no proof along any of these lines.

Some gay people were glad when the outcome of opinion (at least, for the time being!) is that the cause is genetic, hormonal or upbringing. This meant that it was not a matter of choice. And as a consequence it was not a moral business at all - a gay person could validly say that he was gay because he was gay - nothing to do with his own choice.

That conclusion tallied exactly with the experience of gay people. They did not experience their sexuality as a choice. Many of them have felt gay since an early age. Many of them had fought against the idea - society being biased towards heterosexuality meant that anyone who felt that they had homosexual urges felt that they were either immoral or odd in some way. Many tried every desperate measure available to rid themselves of homosexuality - especially those who were of a religious turn, for their churches, in the main, condemned it as a grievous sin.

An ex-gay movement sprang up - largely encouraged and supported by the churches - a movement where they attempted to get the homosexuality out of those who came for help. Courses, exorcism and counselling were all tried. And some people seemed to escape from their homosexuality that they so much disliked. But the evidence points to the fact that they may have changed their behaviour but that underneath they still have their gay bias - and that their gay behaviour could break out again at any time.

In January 2008 Desmond Morris, of the Naked Ape fame, will publish his new book ‘The naked man: a study of the male body’ in which he provides his own explanation of why some people are homosexual. I look forward to reading it, but meanwhile the Times has published two extracts and it is on these that I base my comments below.

Basically, Desmond Morris is saying that the reason some men are gay is that they fail to pass through an early phase in their development. In effect he is suggesting that they get stuck or arrested at a particular point. Whereas other men - the majority - do move on at puberty and lose the ‘playfulness’ of the earlier stage of their growth, gay men don’t move on into the next phase where girls become attractive to them.

Well - we have heard this before! There have always been those who tried to explain homosexuality by saying that they get stuck in their early teens or whenever, and so never progress to the stage of being attracted to the opposite sex. In fact, that might almost be a simple statement of what homosexuality is - men who have remained attracted emotionally and physically to their own sex rather than progressing to being attracted to the other sex. The articles do not mention women’s development nor account for lesbians - we must await January for that aspect!

Desmond Morris takes this idea a little further. He explains that boys go through a ‘playful’ stage where they are absorbed only with other boys - and want nothing to do with girls. This stage is roughly from age five to fifteen. In this phase they are totally focussed on others of their own sex and age group. He calls this the playful stage. At puberty they develop out of that stage and switch their interest from their own sex to the other sex.

This early playful stage for humans is longer than it is for other animals. He is suggesting that gay men do not grow out of their playful stage and, therefore, carry the same attitudes and openness into their manhood. This playful state is a very creative and fruitful state and accounts for the fact that gay men contribute to society at a well above average rate. Desmond Morris obviously sees this as evidence for what he is asserting happens to the gay male at puberty - how he remains fixed on male bonding rather than switching to female as the heterosexual does at puberty.

He also shows that the gay man is incapable of changing his gayness - once he has gone past the point of transition at puberty and remains focussed on the same sex without changing, then he will remain in that state. They develop into maturity as gay men.

So let me summarise the argument of Desmond Morris insofar as I have understood it from the extracts of his book that I have seen.

He is saying that all males go through a ’playful’ stage (roughly, aged 5 - 15) in which they are focussed on others of their own sex. When the time for a switch to interest in the other sex arrives at puberty, a proportion of the males fail to make the switch and therefore stay attached to other males. As they grow to maturity they blossom into full homosexuality. In support he adduces the fact that gay men, in the stage of playfulness that characterises the pre-puberty boy, will contribute above average to society in all sorts of creative ways.

Several key questions occur to me, the main two of which are: what makes some males stay in the playful stage and fail to make the transition into heterosexuality? And what makes some women into lesbians?

His answer to the first question opens up an interesting aspect of homosexuality. Basically, as I understand him, Desmond Morris is saying that there may be any of several reasons why some males never progress into liking girls in a heterosexual way. One possibility is that they have previously experienced some bad incident or trauma in relation to females which affects them so that, when the time for a switch of interest comes, they stay attached to their own sex. Another reason may be some particularly close male bonding.

If it is a past bad experience that influences a boy to refuse to switch to liking girls, does that mean that he is ‘deficient’ or ’underdeveloped’? Are we saying that to be gay for this reason means that one has been deprived of a full experience of life? Is being gay therefore due to lack of a ‘proper’ development? Could such a state of affairs be influenced with proper treatment at a later date so that the deprivation could rectified? Could he then become heterosexual?

We all need to read the book to get the full flavour of what Desmond Morris is saying. No doubt the book will attract comment by various experts once it is published. These will be awaited with interest.

Turning now to another aspect of all of this - can we not now say that we need all these varied explanations of why some men are gay? Any one explanation of the gay scene seems to me to be much too restricted - life is much more diverse than to permit just one explanation. So what are the various reasons given for homosexuality?

Firstly we have to accept that there is surely some truth in the idea that there are genetic, hormonal and upbringing factors that can be involved in the determination of sexuality. All of these are powerful and any might influence a person down the homosexual route. They might fight their inherent tendencies because the society in which they grow up has a negative attitude towards homosexuality - and they might to some extent be successful (e.g. the repressed homosexual) - but these three causes of their sexuality are surely valid and must also be accepted as possible causes of some people being gay.

Secondly, there is the Desmond Morris explanation - bad experiences with females (as one example) putting the growing boy off the idea of fraternizing girls so that he opts to stay in the playful state at puberty - and grows into a gay man. According to Morris he is not available for ‘cure’ - because his sexuality soon ‘solidifies’ and he becomes the gay man. He remains a gay man even if he pretends otherwise - his sexuality is fixed.

Thirdly, there is of course the reason of plain old choice. There must be some heterosexual men (and women) who decide they want to try out what being gay is like. Put it down to curiosity - or perhaps to sin, if you are religious. They may or may not get a taste for it. Presumably there is a ‘cure’ for these people - they need to be motivated to stop exploring what some Christians would call ‘forbidden ground’. Basically they are heterosexual.

What do I think about all these variations? I think that life is diverse in the extreme. This is one of the glories of God’s creation. I therefore think that across the gay scene you have all these types of people - and others not described here. Some are heterosexual but are in it for curiosity or bravado. Some are in it because they are attracted to rebellion and doing what others consider ‘wrong’. Some are in it because they were put off women for one reason or another at some early stage of their life and so they have never moved into heterosexuality. Some are influenced genetically. Some are influenced hormonally. And some are influenced by their upbringing. And, of course, some if not all of gay people are as they are because of a combination of some or all of these factors, plus other factors not yet fully understood. And the figure may be a great deal higher than the ten per cent talked of sometimes.

So across the nations you have all sorts. And it seems to me that the point to draw from all this is that it is not necessarily immediately obvious to the person concerned (except perhaps for the person opting to go against conventional morality) which is the cause of their sexuality. Nor necessarily to anyone else either. Bearing in mind that there will be many of each of these types - and others not yet discussed - it is singularly inappropriate to make judgements.

There is the additional point that if Kinsey was right - and there is no evidence as far as I know to disprove his ideas - then we are all on a sliding scale between complete heterosexuality and complete homosexuality - with the majority being away from either extreme. To think of heterosexual and homosexual in two watertight compartments strikes me as singularly inappropriate.

So what should be the attitude of society to gay people? It should go on accepting them just as they are. The sexuality of human beings is wonderfully diverse and we don’t yet understand the half.

And what should be that attitude of the Christian Churches towards gay people? They should accept them in an inclusive way - leaving it to the Holy Spirit to convict any true followers of Jesus of sin. We can trust the Holy Spirit to lead and guide every Christian in the way that he should go. The attitude of acceptance towards the homosexual should be exactly the same as for the heterosexual. The guidance of the churches on sex generally should be made plain (and the churches differ somewhat on this!) and it should then be left to the individual to listen to God and to amend his life according to what the Spirit makes plain to him.

What churches should not do is have any form of witch hunt, or try to impose bars and barriers. To single out homosexuality for such treatment betrays a traditional and outdated attitude to sex. For the church to oppress gay people is comparable, in my opinion, to the persecution the church meted out to Galileo. Many people already see the attitudes of the churches as oppressive. And I think it will be clearly seen by society generally to be oppressive before many decades have passed. What the church should not do is condemn gay people for being made the way they are.

There will have to be a Part Two to this article - once the book is published and, hopefully, experts have analysed and responded - meanwhile, this Christmastide let the love of God fill your hearts with love for all and with the joy and peace of Jesus. And rejoice! That is your calling.

Tony Cross

December 2007

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