Archived Sections, Commentary

One more response to Merton Strommen

Merton Strommen objects to the argument that gay and lesbian persons might be “born that way.” He ignores the larger picture. There is a complex interaction that occurs between heredity and environment as humans develop. Researcher Alfred Kinsey used a continuum scale of one to six to chart variations in sexual orientation. One represented “exclusively heterosexual” and six was “exclusively homosexual.” Many folks no doubt are around three on this type of scale. Freud felt that all people are essentially bisexual. This continuum, which recognizes varying degrees of bisexuality, accounts for the fact that the percentage of gay or other sexual minority people differs from time to time and place to place.
Environmental (social) approval or disapproval may be affecting not sexual orientation as such but only the number of people able or willing to act on their truest sexual desires. A Kinsey-type scale reminds us that sexuality is not cast in concrete. As the world becomes more populated, more complex, and more attentive to the issue of sexual orientation, it is not surprising that debate flourishes.
Strommen’s hang-up ab out the “born that way” issue is really about his objection to any notion that homosexual orientation is natural and therefore acceptable. I have yet to see Strommen state clearly that he celebrates the sexuality of healthy, productive, self-esteeming gay people. His eagerness to help people avoid homosexuality remains, as I see it, a genocidal bias. He knocks the emotionality of gay activists, but how emotional would he become if he and his family were being bombarded constantly with a soul-crushing mantra that heterosexuality is sick and evil.
The “re-orientation” issue is worth debating. The reliability of studies is an important question. What I would challenge most is the notion that there is any success (or need for success) in re-orienting those who are high on the homosexuality end of the Kinsey-type scale! In this overpopulated world, what harm is done if fewer people take up heterosexual reproduction? What is Strommen so afraid of?
If some folks are so negatively affected by social disapproval of homosexuality that they wish to avoid it at all costs, then perhaps they should be viewed with the kind of paternalistic sympathy that healthy and happy gay people have endured for far too long.
Permit me a few quick observations:
1. Of course, some form of “politics” is inevitable in decisions like that of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), but Evelyn Hooker’s (most reliable!) “experimental and control group” study was likely the major factor in the APA conclusion that gay people are not sick.
2. Strommen’s blithe acceptance of the highly debatable notion that “all the males in Sodom were given to homosexuality” shows him, for all his erudition, to be naive and even somewhat paranoid about the fragility of heterosexuality.
3. Isn’t there an embarrassing sexism in his stated primary concern for boys rather than for girls? I am also intrigued by his bald assertion that all adolescent boys have homosexual drives!
Carl L. Jech
San Francisco, California
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Dr. Strommen was invited to respond to this commentary, but chose not to do so.