Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Born This Way: Born Bad

For decades activists have worked tirelessly to spread the message that sexual orientation is not a choice—a fight that Lady Gaga took to pulsing heights in 2011 with her hit anthem “Born This Way.” And over time, the message has begun to take hold. While in 1985 only about 20% of Americans believed that people are born gay, that figure more than doubled to around 47% in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.

But what if teaching that gay people are “born that way” isn’t the most effective way to erase homophobia? A new study reveals that even those who believe sexual orientation is not a choice can be homophobic—just as those who know race is not a choice can be racist. Do activists, community leaders, and even parents need to tweak their message?

For the study, published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, researchers from the University of Tennessee and University of Missouri-Colombia recruited 645 college students to answer questions about their beliefs involving sexual orientation. Respondents were presented with statements such as “It is impossible to truly change one’s sexual orientation,” then asked to rate each statement’s validity on a scale of one to five, with one being “strongly disagree” and five being “strongly agree.” Others statements included:

  • “Sexual orientation is a category with distinct boundaries: A person is either gay/lesbian or heterosexual.”
  • “People who share the same sexual orientation pursue common goals.”
  • “It’s useful to group people according to their sexual orientation.”
Based on their answers, participants were given scores in the four categories below. The higher the score in a category, the more the person endorsed that particular belief:

  1. Discreteness: Sexual orientation groups are clear and have and non-overlapping boundaries. Thus being gay makes you completely different than being bi or being straight.
  2. Homogeneity: Believing that members of a certain sexual orientation are all similar to one another.
  3. Naturalness: Belief that someone did not choose their sexual orientation, but rather they are born that way.
  4. Informativeness: By knowing someone’s sexual orientation (SO) you can glean other information about them. In other words, their identity is tied to their SO.
The researchers discovered that many participants scored very high on the naturalness scale—meaning they endorsed the idea that being gay is not a choice. However, many simultaneously scored high in the other categories, which measured “homonegative” beliefs.

So what does this reveal? People may be fine saying, “sure, they’re born that way”—but they may also hold beliefs that suggest that being gay makes someone fundamentally different as a human, and thus opens the door for prejudice and discrimination..

“We found that most of respondents believe that sexual minorities are ‘born that way,’ and that sexual orientation is not changeable,” Patrick Grzanka, a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee and the study’s co-author, told me over e-mail. However, he continued, “We found that people who are high in all four of these beliefs were more likely to be straight, and that people high in all four of these beliefs were more likely to be homophobic.” ...


It's also a great example of people picking a belief that they find the easiest to live with.

No-one really has a clue what makes us gay.


  1. It looks as if a lot of sloganeers thought "I was born this way" was the full and total answer to anyone who's sniffy about gay rights, etc.

    Which is silly, because there is no inconsistency in saying, "OK, you were born that way, but so what?--It's still an objectively evil/sin-disposing/whatever disposition."

    On GSN I got accused of saying-what-the-homophobes say because I pointed out, in a reductio ad absurdum, that if "I was born this way" was supposed to be the total justification for gay rights, etc, it could equally justify paedophilia, violent tendencies, whatever.

    That's not to say it may not have a point in certain contexts against certain opponents.

  2. The inference of the "I was born this way" argument is that if you had a choice in the matter you would choose to be straight. It's a slippery position to take if, in the future, sexuality did become a matter of choice, either by the parents of unborn children or the person in question. If all gay rights is predicated on the assumption that it isn't a choice therefore personal objections are moot, once it becomes a choice all objections become decisive, if you see what I mean.

    Choice shouldn't even be considered. The clearest and most logical basis for the gay rights movement is that no single objection to homosexuality has any intellectual, moral or physical merit. Therefore, if it were a choice, there would be no sound reason not to choose being a bumdalar.

  3. "The inference of the "I was born this way" argument is that if you had a choice in the matter you would choose to be straight."

    Sometimes, maybe.

    But I think it can be effective against puzzled people who think one chooses to be gay in a thoughtless moment (like choosing to have a tattoo one might later regret); people who have the strange idea that one makes a choice like ticking one's choice for lunch on the hospital menu form.

  4. I collected 500 people at random and asked them to fill in the following form:

    Do you, and if so do, ray fa so LA ti do, like the songs of Abba played including incessantly, or prefer slipknot, and would you like a drink ?

    388 replied that they had no idea what I was talking about, but AC/DC and a pint of mild. The other 2 said I was a bloody freak and to keep away but started to come round after I was nice to their wife.

    My conclusion after a night of intensive study is that they should definitely stock alka seltzer behind the bar.