As all the corporate brands won’t let us forget (now that such a thing is no longer a fiscally imprudent thing to do), Pride Month is underway. The visibility of it is a testament to how far into mainstream discourse GLBT issues have traveled. It’s so ubiquitous, in fact, that it’s become easy to miss the murmurs in the crowd.
There’s a theory long-held among the socially conservative, particularly the “alternative right,” concerning why some people are homosexual or bisexual. It ties in to the perception that homosexuality goes hand-in-hand with pedophilia, and that gays are over-represented in sex offenses against children.
Homosexuality, they claim, isn’t a choice, but people aren’t born gay either: Gays “reproduce though molestation.” Being sexually abused by a person of the same sex somehow warps the psyche of a child to the point they feel sexually attracted to those of their own gender.
When the typical person first hears of this, their first reaction is usually to recoil in disgust and refuse to hear any more of it. While this is acceptable behavior for the general populace, dismissing the line of thinking as toxic and declining to engage in open debate won’t change the opinion of anyone else. The standard “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response” response may be cathartic and provide self-affirmation of one’s values, but it will not prove wrong anyone seeking a response.
If the mindset behind this theory is to be changed, someone will need to strap on some hip waders and volunteer to deal with the claims head on. I figured I’d take a crack at it.
There are times at which it’s almost easy to see where claimants of this theory are coming from. Tales of sexual offense committed by gay members of the Hollywood elite seem to suggest that gays should be considered the usual suspects when it comes to sexual abuse of minors. There have even been stories of an eleven-year-old boy dancing in drag in a gay club, and those who objected to the event have been accused of homophobia. (Do these people honestly believe that if it had been a provocatively dressed preteen girl dancing in front of a crowd of straight men throwing money at her, everyone would have been just fine with it?)
But these are just outlying incidents. To judge this issue responsibly, we must disregard anecdotal evidence and evaluate claims about the gay community as a whole. Let’s take a look at the claims of this theory’s proponents one by one.
Claim: A highly disproportionate number of child molestation offenses are committed by homosexuals.
Truly alarming, and a statistic that would give pause to even the staunchest supporter of gay rights… if it existed. I for one have never seen such a conclusion explicitly drawn from any study of which I’m aware.
Ah, but wait! There is the fact that in child sex abuse cases, it’s common for the offender to be of the same sex as the victim — a far greater percentage than that of the population that is gay. Not much wrong with the assertion that child molestation is rampant in the gay community given that statistic. Well, except pretty much everything.
At the crux of this drawn conclusion is the assumption that pedophilia is an extension of one’s normal sexual desires, rather than an unnatural paraphilia. The sexual and romantic relationships one has, and the sexual identity one maintains, may be wholly unrelated.
To think of it another way: Suppose a man was convicted of engaging in unnatural acts with animals at a wallaby farm. Could the man’s sexual orientation be extrapolated by the sex of the wallabies in question? Could it safely be concluded that he is straight if the wallabies were female or gay if the wallabies were male?
There is little evidence that many child predators prioritize gender as a factor when selecting their victims. If there are an abundance of cases where the victim and perpetrator are of the same sex, it is likely that the offender chose such a target because it would be easier to groom them and avoid conviction, for multiple reasons.
Given the expectations of society, one would be more likely to evade suspicion by grooming a child of their own gender. A man going on a camping trip with a young boy, for example, would raise fewer eyebrows than a man doing the same with a young girl. And given the difference in children’s behavior and societal expectations of them between the genders, there may be reasons to target children of a certain sex from a pragmatic standpoint. (Ever watch the movie Spotlight?)
Even if a predator preferred to target children of a specific gender for no reason other than their sexual desire, such a preference may not be at all connected to their sexual orientation. To declare a broad swath of child molesters gay as evidenced solely by their victims demonstrates a critical lack of understanding surrounding the issue.
Claim: A large number of the GLBT community report being molested in their youth.
Many homosexuals themselves admit being sexually abused as children. There was even a study on the matter. This correlation surely suggests that homosexuality is caused by sexual abuse…
…Unless, of course, the cause and effect have been flipped. Perhaps this correlation does not exist because being molested causes young people to become gay. Perhaps it is because people seeking youth of their own sex to molest (see above) select gay youth as targets, as they for obvious reasons would be more susceptible to their attempts at grooming. (Again, see Spotlight.)
Claim: A large number of homosexuals admit to sex with youth.
According to many adherents to the molestation-causes-homosexuality theory, there are a vast number of GLBT adults who admit to engaging in sexual activity people younger than eighteen, while they themselves were far older. Let us assume that this goes beyond anecdotal evidence, and this is true of a statistically significant number of GLBT adults. Let us also assume that in the relevant cases, the youth in question was below the legal age of consent in their jurisdiction.
There are some important things to remember. GLBT culture reaches far beyond the sexual characteristics of a person to whom one is sexually attracted. It is a lifestyle all its own, and it was not formed in a vacuum. It had outside influences, most notably the historical attitudes towards the GLBT community.
As gay people are a minority, they often feel alienated from their peers, and without people they can confide in, especially in homophobic communities. When they reach the point in puberty that they desire sexual intercourse (which almost always occurs before people turn eighteen), they may find there are very few people of their age and gender who are also gay. These factors may make them vulnerable to grooming by gay adults. This is undeniably illegal and unethical behavior by the adults in question, but the question remains whether heterosexual youth would be taken advantage of by heterosexual adults at similar rates, had they been similarly alienated.
And ironically, anti-GLBT attitudes and legislation may have been an exacerbating factor in statutory rape among gay people. If a gay person lives in a community with prevalent homophobia and anti-sodomy laws, they may come to internally justify their actions: “If I were to get caught sleeping with anyone to whom I’m attracted, I’d still be ostracized and thrown in prison. Why put effort into making sure they’re of legal age?” Laws and prejudices crafted under the impression that gays are sexually deviant may have been self-fulfilling prophecies.
I’m not suggesting that GLBT people shouldn’t be condemned for committing statutory rape. But if there really is an epidemic of such crime in the GLBT community, the roots of the problem need to be examined before wild conclusions can be drawn.
Is it conceivable that being sexually abused as a juvenile can alter one’s sexual orientation? One must never rule out the possibility of a falsifiable claim because of their personal ideals, as that signals that they allow their own ideologies to color their beliefs, and therefore are not an unbiased arbiter who can be trusted to issue verdicts on these matters. For the sake of maintaining neutrality, we must allow that this claim is at least theoretically possible.
But extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The claim that one’s most basic and innermost desires, that have evolved since the advent of sexual reproduction, can be permanently altered by a traumatic experience is quite extraordinary indeed. And the purported proof is meager at best.
So the question remains: What evidence would lend credence to this claim? Maybe a peer-reviewed study showing that in a highly disproportionate number of cases of sexual abuse of minors, the offender or offenders identified as GLBT or had a history of choosing adult intimate partners that were of their own sex. Or a study showing that a statistically significant number of GLBT individuals, considerably more so than the general population, were sexually abused before they were aware of their own sexual identity. Or studies of the human brain suggesting that sexual trauma can permanently affect sexual desire.
Any of these might warrant further investigation into this claim in question. But until such studies are published, it can be assumed that sexual orientation is determined genetically or in utero (a theory that actually does have studies to support it).
Also, the GLBT community regardless should probably bring a halt to underage boys dancing in drag in gay clubs. They’re not doing themselves any favors.