After over a year of looking at the variety in gay Mormon blogs, one thing sticks out: “gay” can mean a lot of things. Some experience their orientation as merely a defective response to physical cues, some see it as a psychological scar from bad parenting, and some, of course, don’t care from whence love springs :-). I’ve posted on how important these differences are (here). But I think I missed one and am having a sort of epiphany (bear with me; sometimes my epiphanies just fizzle out). There seems to be an ingrained moral component to only some people’s experience of being “gay.”
A long while ago I posted on research that has begun to tease apart the mechanics of our moral reasoning (here and here). To sum up and simplify, the research basically seems to show two main moral reasoning centers in the human mind: a so-called emotional moral processor and a more logical moral processor. For example, when people are given the option of killing one man to save five the emotional center only knows to shout “Don’t kill him” while the other does the math and says “5-1=4. Kill him!” (Read more in this post). Furthermore, if you physically damage the emotional moral processor, people begin to make very different moral decisions (Read more in this post).
Okay, now add to that a fact I just posted as a bit of a joke (at the end of this post): there seems to be a significant genetic component to homophobia. Looking back at those posts in the light of this idea of a moral component to sexual orientation, I’m struck by a couple things.
When I was coming out, homophobia was something to which I paid great attention. Some of my friends were simply not bothered at all by my being gay. My best friend, a very manly, 100% heterosexual guy, had and has no problems seeing Rob and I be affectionate. He should have a problem, by stereotypes: a guy from South Carolina with a conservative Baptist background in a hyper-masculine profession (firefighter). I know by experience, though, many straight men do reflexively gag at the idea of two men kissing. While all my friends were great, I did have some, even among the more liberal of them, who had a visceral negative response to homosexuality, and they basically learned to stifle this response when it came to Rob and me. I don't care a bit about such homophobia and greatly respect them for muting it. For themselves, though, I’m sure they never could.
So, I’m beginning to wonder if such gut reaction homophobia may be an inherited part of the emotional moral reasoning center of some human minds? 28% hereditable, in fact :-)? To me, that could make sense and would explain a couple things.
It would make sense in that we need to be preprogrammed to develop wills to do stuff like eat, keep warm and so on. While there may be a benefit to there being a small portion of homosexuality in a species, in humans (though certainly not in some other species), it’s most efficient for the majority to be oriented towards producing new offspring. Just as we’re programmed to not find, say, rocks attractive and suitable for pair bonding (well, most of them ;-)), and because the male and female human can be somewhat similar, perhaps some come programmed with a strong “no homosexuality” gut reaction in that particular moral reasoning region and some do not.
This would explain the difference I’ve experienced in homophobia in straight men. Though, logically, two straight men may have no moral problem with homosexuality, one may have this gut aversion and the other will not.
Such a preprogrammed gut aversion could explain the persistence of homophobia. It’s too easy to mistake disgust with moral disgust, and even easier to call something “immoral for everybody” when your gut moral reaction is “immoral for me.” It is clear why many organizations haven’t been fans of homosexuality; it hurt group numbers and when groups fight, physically or ideologically, numbers matter a lot. Today, some of that is certainly still a reason to pose homosexuality as immoral, but I think this gut personal reaction in some heterosexuals regarding a gay relationship may be a comparable player.
Finally, this would explain the differences I see in the gay men around here. Personally, when I think of heterosexual sex and intimacy, I feel a gut reaction of being repelled. I don’t want to say disgust, as I’m so used to seeing it in media and in my life that I’m effectively comfortable with seeing heterosexual behavior in others, but, for me, it strikes me as wrong to the core. I’m supposed to pair up with a man (Well, one in particular ;-)), and, as odd as it may sound to some, to think of doing the same with a woman strikes me as deviant, against some law of life. It's as though that logical part of my moral processor knows there’s nothing wrong with it, and in fact knows it’s a great thing for many, but there’s still this emotional moral sense in me that says it’s somehow wrong. I fear, if raised in gay bizzarro world, where I wasn’t conditioned to accept heterosexual behavior, I may have became a heterophobe :-). In all seriousness, I regret that I can see that potential in myself, as a one-time fan of conservative orthodoxy, and I fear, if I were a straight male in this culture and had the same gut aversion to relations with a man for myself as I do now for relations with a woman, I’d tend to homophobia. I can understand why some so easily become homophobic with little cultural prodding (thanks goodness I’m gay :-)).
Nevertheless, it seems some gay men may be oriented towards men in many ways, but not similarly morally oriented (away from women or towards men). This could be the same as the difference between the straight guy who can watch two men kiss without squirming and one who cannot, though both may be great allies to the gay community. This could also explain why so often it seems people around here may be talking about what it means to be “gay” or “ssa” or whatever, and totally miss the mark in the eyes of others.
I have to admit, though I knew there was much diversity, I came here more so thinking that my “gay” was what being gay means, particularly in this regards. I was wrong and there are clearly many aspects to orientation. Among them, the moral orientation may be amongst the most important factor for LDS gays, above the physical and emotional. As I guess, again, I already knew :-).
Anyway, I’d love to see the results of similar research on gay and straight men when shown images of various couples or asked about sexual hypotheticals, not to mention how those with the VMPC lesions in their emotional moral processor respond and how they express homophobia. If only I went into that area of study; too late now :-).