The name Chris Birch is now familiar across the English-speaking world. A documentary crisply titled “I Woke up Gay,” examined how Birch’s personality changed abruptly following a stroke in 2011. Now 27, the former Welsh bank employee, who once weighed in at 19 stone and enjoyed sinking a good few pints with his mates, is a hairdresser with black ‘n blonde dyed hair and a male fiancé who answers to "Jak".
So dramatic a change in sexual orientation inevitably raises the question: what makes us gay? Is there a generalisation that works for all of us? Here we attempt to answer just that question by knocking a few myths on the head.
Myth 1. “Gay is a feature of modern lifestyles.”
Psychopathia Sexualis, published in 1869, coined the term homosexuality. In that sense only are same-sex relationships “modern”. Almost all ancient civilisations have artefacts that reveal the existence of gay sexual behaviour. It wasn’t just the Ancient Greeks. Even Zeus, boss of the Greek Gods, fell in love with cute shepherd boy, Gannymede, and took him back to mount Olympus for many a night of fun and games.
Myth 2. “It’s a curable disease rooted in early childhood experiences.”
We all know it’s just the way we are. But extremists of many religions cling obstinately to the belief that we’re victims of a disease. Aversion therapy, castration and hormonal treatments have taken a terrible toll on those so treated. Alan Turing, heroic Enigma codebreaker and genius, was driven to suicide by the electric shocks and hormone injections inflicted on him.
Boot camps in Malaysia, the Bachmann Clinic in Minnesota, the ramblings of the likes of Aryeh Ralbag, chief rabbi of Amsterdam, Lord Carey, ex-Archbishop of Canterbury, Anne Widecombe, ex-Tory MP and countless African Anglican or globally Catholic prelates, all prove that the disease stigma remains a weapon of oppression free of an iota of supporting evidence.
Myth 3. “It’s all in the genes. Yes, mummy is still to blame.”
1993 saw a paper published that associated a specific gene on the X chromosome, that in men comes from the mother, with male homosexuality. It may indeed that be that we are “born this way”. But research has yet to show definitively that this can explain all cases of gayness in men, let alone women. Lady Gaga is an advocate. Justin Beiber isn’t. Data that attributes gayness to the number of older brothers a youth has is just another example of conflict with the theory.
Myth 4. “Now we know it’s the naughty neurons!”
The arrival in our lives of high resolution magnetic scanners enabled researchers to identify a link between the brain’s neurological structures and sexuality. Straight women and gay men apparently share common structures, as do lesbians and straight men. What, however, can be going on in the brains of bisexuals? Are their structures constantly in a state of flux? It must be very confusing!
Sexuality is a complex subject with a hugely diverse character. Maybe Chris Birch’s stroke did make him gay. Maybe, for me, it was the still memorable vision of boyish loveliness on a wall at a Devon beach, resplendent in white swimwear, that activated my gay impulse. I was eleven at the time. Maybe my brother’s open-mouthed expression on seeing David Bowie in a clinging snakeskin suit on the Old Grey Whistle test betrays the moment of his own epiphany. The variety of characters featured on our cover picture and the many hundreds to be found in the pages of Lustralboy are, surely, unlikely to be united by a single explanation.
And, for those of us in the developed world with its ever-growing tolerance, it probably doesn’t matter. But if you’re gay and in Uganda, St. Petersburg, Kuala Lumpur or Minnesota, it is going to be a while before the same is true. In the meantime, if you encounter prejudice rooted in ignorance we continue to recommend the pithy Stonewall slogan.
Keep it to hand.
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