The Truth, Mainly - 06/01/1998

On being straight, gay or bisexual: When do we make the choice?
by Leon Satterfield

Interesting story from The Chronicle of Higher Education a couple of weeks ago. The University of Southern Colorado decided to rehire two women's basketball coaches.

What's so interesting about that?

This: In April, several disgruntled players quit the team. The Chronicle reported the players "charged that the coach and an assistant tried to coerce them into becoming lesbians."

That's such an implausible charge it makes you wonder if the Chronicle got it right. Or if the players live in the same universe the rest of us do.

Anyway, college administrators said they'd look into the matter. They looked for a month, then two weeks ago announced that the coaches would be rehired and that "we need to put this issue behind us and look to the future."

That's administratorese for saying they didn't find the charges very plausible either.

Most of the nation could have reached that decision in less time than a month. Like, say, 10 seconds.

Because if there are any self-evident truths left in America today, one of them must be that nobody—not even a really hardline coach—believes you can coerce a straight person into becoming a gay person.

Try it. Walk up to someone you know to be enthusiastically heterosexual. Ask them if you might coerce them into becoming gay,

It wouldn't be much of a debate.

That's not to say that we straights might pretend we'd been coerced into being gay—if there was any advantage to it. But there isn't. The advantage is all in the opposite direction. Being gay in a predominately straight universe means you get ridiculed, beat up, fired, and evicted. It means you break your parents' hearts.

The only place there might be an advantage would be in an alternate universe where gays are in a majority of, say, 10-1. Then they'd control the jobs, the media, the schools, the churches, the government. They'd have divinely inspired heterophobic Holy Writ.

But if you want to get your coaches fired in this universe, you've got to come up with a more plausible reason than that they tried to coerce you into being gay.

I suppose we shouldn't be too hard on the players. They probably have heard of gays who claim to have been made straight by some kind of religious experience.

And, they might figure, if gays can be made straight by God's goodness, then surely straights can be made gay by Satan's wickedness. Their coaches, they may have figured, weren't quite Satanic, but they were close.

And maybe that's the way the story got started.

Because while almost nobody in his right mind believes you can coerce a straight into becoming gay, lots of good people out there believe you can coerce a gay into becoming straight.

My guess is that, despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, one kind of conversion is about as unlikely as the other. People who make careers studying such matters are divided about the cause of our sexual proclivities. Some say nurture. More and more are saying nature—that we're genetically programmed to be gay or straight.

But no serious researcher I know of argues that we're gay or straight simply because we choose to be. Unless we're bisexual, and we probably didn't choose to be bisexual, even though, as Woody Allen says, it doubles our chances of getting a date.

To those who insist that our sexual orientation is our choice, I pose a question: When did you choose? Can't remember? Neither can I. Chances are that nature and/or nurture made the choice for us.

I know. That runs contrary to powerful forces in our universe that say homosexuality is a sin. But if we have no more choice in our sexual nature than we do in the color of our eyes, that argument has a problem: "Come on, you can change them to blue if you just try hard enough."

As a way out, we might consider the words of Paul Cernin.

He's a 22-year-old new graduate of William Jewell College, a Baptist school in Missouri. He's the winner of the school's highest academic honor, the Faculty Award, and he's a Fulbright scholar. He's also openly gay and he's been trying to get William Jewell to do what Nebraska Wesleyan did this spring: give official recognition to its homosexual students.

"This is what we are," Paul Cernin says. "We might as well live pleasantly together."

Might as well. It's a notion that might even help the Southern Colorado women's basketball team improve its 11-16 record.


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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