Sexual orientations are a complex subject that keeps getting more complex with time. Gone are the days of surprise on hearing someone is gay or lesbian or the word homosexual in a country where “s-e-x” being said openly was frowned on. Then we heard of bisexuality. From there to LGBT was almost instantaneous with many Indians suddenly discovering that the much frowned on “hijras” are now part of a hep label “Transgender”. And they are people too!
Then the more enlightened of us discovered that the alphabet train didn’t stop with LGBT and went on with Queer, Intersex, Asexual and finally a fatigued + to make LGBTQIA+ to sort of accommodate whatever came next.
Even as the more modern society not just adapted to the recognition of sexual orientations being more than girl met boy and fell in love, and indeed pride themselves on being aware and sensitive to nuances, our society as a whole is still a quagmire with the cosmos itself seeming to unite to defend heterosexuality.
I identify as androgynous half the time and occasionally as a woman and this has always been normal for me. So for me, sexual orientations really seemed like a lot of labels and I confess I have not always been in touch with what the political correct language is. Frankly, it seemed like too much trouble. I simply address and understand them as they present themselves and it works. Why fix what ain’t broke?
With time, I developed my own working hypothesis based on my own life experiences and insights with people, that doesn’t really recognize sexual orientations at all. The way I see it, attraction and a sexual or emotional interest are complex things. One factor definitely is the biological and hormones and such, which would influence toward heterosexual relationships. Social structuring around procreation and families and the emotional stability of it also pushes toward heterosexual relationships.
At the same time, as mankind evolves, the circumstances around forming relationships have changed dramatically. Modern conveniences have reduced much of the utilitarian labour in life overall and encouraged an appreciation for nuance. Two tired people in a physically taxing life tend to have less emotional nuance. Most modern couples, even heterosexual ones are discovering preferences and dislikes in their relationships our parents or grandparents never considered.
It is no longer simply enough to mate with one person for life and make do with it with a view toward the larger picture, which often included offspring, shared property, fear of being alone in old age and so on. Individuals today chase experiences they know to be possible. Sometimes experiences they believe to be possible due to compelling fiction. Where once the need to belong would be enough incentive to accept less than desired partners, the increasing divorce rates show that people are willing to court loneliness for the possibility of an experience of intimacy with another in the way that they truly want. Add to this the diversity of sexual experiences now possible, from toys to kink, the equipment is routinely used in off-label ways anyway, so to say. There is no particular imperative for many for the equipment to be the part A goes into slot B type.
For me, this is no different from other sexual orientations. It is basically the recognition of what makes us feel intimate with another and seeking that. And with procreation too not being as crucial a goal now, there is an increasing number of people who see no particular need to seek partners only within those of the opposite sex and find that they enjoy being with someone of the same sex better. Others don’t care about the sex of the person they are with and either would do.
And the majority, at least now, do prefer the heterosexual potential. Yet this too, is more nuanced than it has ever been with relationships spilling over into the unconvential with open relationships as well as sexless relationships. The new thinking no longer expects husband and wife to be into the sex and the stigmas around refusing sex, not having kids and so on are rapidly dying out, even if heterosexuality is still the dominant form of relationships. The switch has been rapid. From a public that had to be advised to have only one or two kids, to endless couples who have no interest in having kids has been a matter of one or two generations!
So, on one hand, the biological, social and hormonal compulsions for heterosexual sex are weakening, while on the other, emotional factors are strengthening.
For me, it is all part of the same thing. Attraction or the lack of it (in the case of asexuals) is a complex thing. A simple way to illustrate the point is that heterosexual people are not attracted to everyone of the opposite sex they come across. Also why when I describe my sexual orientation, I tend to say “heterosexual, so far”. I simply have not encountered a woman I wanted to be intimate with, but it does not mean I won’t. I don’t know. I am not at all attracted to most men either.
Other emotional factors can have a bigger influence now. It is no secret that men feel understood with men, while women feel understood with women. Over the ages, mixed societies have been the exception rather than the norm, even in cultures without stigma. Men only clubs, women’s groups, spending time with they guys, girls nights out, and so on. While it is modern to argue about inclusive spaces, gender seggregated spaces also survived as one of the dominant forms society organizes itself, because of similarity of thought and comfort compared with the other gender.
From here, it is really not so hard to understand the establishment of emotional intimacy as well as physical intimacy. Many argue that it has always been present, even if not as blatantly as now. It also makes sense that there would be those that would prefer both men and women for different (or same) reasons. This seems to also be reflected in the results of the latest Gallup survey comprising over 15 thousand interviews that shows an increase in people identifying as LGBT as well as those who would not answer the question. Over half of those identifying as LGBT identified as bisexual – which is surprising, because bisexuals often claim to feel discriminated against by heterosexuals as well as homosexuals for not “committing” to either.
But it does fit in with how I see sexual orientation. I see sexual orientation as an interplay of factors for everyone. For most, heterosexual attraction is compelling and necessary, but increasingly, other factors play a role. Then the surprising number of bisexuals makes sense too, because it isn’t about the sex of the partner, but other factors influencing what is attractive.
Professor Sam Vaknin, author of Malignant self-love: Narcissism revisited and a prolific YouTuber has suggested that the increasing social isolation also plays a part in encouraging homosexuality with people being abstracted into online personnas and an overall decrease in interpersonal interaction. The familiarity of similar thinking is then all set to trump the physical heterosexual attraction.
Of course, there is also a biological aspect to this. I have heard arguments range from natural genetic diversity and chemical alterations to genes altering more rapidly in a more polluted world. Hormonal levels. More. Simply put, the individual evolved in a unique manner not typical to either men or women and their identity as well as preferences are unique to them.
It could be either. I think both happen, which could be why most of the population still appears to prefer heterosexual relationships, even if emotional factors are widespread socially. I know one person who insisted that someone he knew became a lesbian after being raped and she became completely averse to men.
The real issue here is not the why, though it is important to understand. The real issue is that the why is difficult even to explore, because of the strong heteronormative social pressure. There is never much reason to discuss sexual orientation for a person who isn’t visibly breaking the heteronormative stereotypes, but when I describe how I see sexual orientations, I was once immediately asked whether it is possible to then counsel someone and help them have “healthier” relationships. Healthier meaning heterosexual. I am known to be someone who will delve into the psychology of anything and everything that results in significantly interesting behaviour. I guess the perception is that discussing the causal factors of something means that that thing is a disorder! That wasn’t what I was saying at all! What I was saying was that a homosexual or bisexual’s mind is no different from theirs, it just has other priorities leading to other preferences!
Just like a vegetarian is not physically incapable of eating meat, but simply does not want to, there is nothing “wrong” with most homosexuals and they won’t die of allergic reactions from heterosexual relationships. They simply know what they desire and choose it. Just like everyone. It is in fact, an unevolved mind, unaware of its own choices that thinks if they do something, that is the only way of doing it that makes sense. If someone is aware of why they feel attracted to someone, rather than simply going by instinct, it would not be hard at all for them to understand why anyone is attracted to someone.
The common arguments of procreation being possible only between a male and a female don’t quite explain heterosexual relationships given that contraception has always been sexual power. More importantly, with advances in science, artificial insemination and/or surrogacy is easily possible now. Adoption has always been noble for matching children needing parents with parents wanting children. Not to mention that most homosexuals who are otherwise healthy are perfectly capable of having sex to procreate naturally if they wish.
Procreation no longer has heterosexual heft in a society not as fixated on it to begin with and with a lot of options to still have children for those who want.
Some years ago, a gay person I spoke to was adamantly against any psychosocial factors or element of choice as a cause for homosexuality. After much conversation, he did admit that it made sense, but he strongly counseled me to not say it anyway, because it would not be understood in the manner I meant it – that everyone is somewhere on the spectrum. He predicted that it would be interpreted as a mental disorder.
I have to admit, it is true and it prevents insight by making any exploratory conversation also have very high stakes in terms of implications. Both society and the state are homophobic. If there were plausible causes that could be reversed, homosexuals would be at great risk of being “fixed” whether they wanted it or not.
And the strength of the denial convinces me that it is powered by their own shadow – a denial of experiences when they found someone of the same sex attractive – and the need to ensure that that can of worms (from their perspective) remains sealed shut. I say this, because often the people who are vehemently homophobic are also supportive of gender seggregated spaces and such thinking. It is almost like a need to split the company they enjoy into sexual and social and never the twain shall meet. I have no statistics for this, just a general perception from observing people over time.
We also see this homophobia institutionalized and the state is very interested in endorsing heterosexuality. The godawful Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized “unnatural sex” was declared unconstitutional “in so far as it criminalises consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex”, in the landmark unanimous judgment on Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India by no less than a five judge bench. Yet, yesterday, the government sumbitted to the Delhi High Court that it had “legitimate state interest” in preventing recognition of homosexual marriages. What in the world could a state’s legitimate interest be in who married whom? It really stinks of the attitude of “men will be men till they settle down and marry”. The state is clearly saying that they don’t respect homosexual relationships and will not recognize them.
It wasn’t so long ago that the businessman Baba Ramdev had claimed to cure homosexuality with yoga. It wouldn’t be his first absurd claim and he wouldn’t be the first absurd person making such a claim.
In the meanwhile, India’s idea of Transgender Rights – by law – is for people to apply to the District Magistrate for a change of sex and then have surgical procedures to the District Magistrate’s satisfaction – I guess satisfaction as to their sex has really changed. This is problematic on so many counts it is not funny. It is abusive. There would be rage on the streets if either men or women were treated in this manner where their identity would be recognized only on undergoing surgery and convincing a District Magistrate about an extremely intimate procedure – which in itself should not be forced on anyone!
Humiliation and expensive and extensive surgery as a deterrent. It is not a surgery that changes the identity of a person. A person identifies as something they don’t appear to be, and surgery is one way of achieving congruence.
Lack of recognition as a deterrent. Where homosexual marriages are not legally recognized, which deprives them of legal protections and documentations the heterosexuals take for a fact.
But it is hard to have an honest dialogue about these things in a society where there is no interest in understanding and every interest in opposing without understanding. Where hostile and outright criminal behaviour remains a risk.
This is a society and government that is deeply phobic of anything that breaks their heteronormative templates, but too ashamed to admit it. This is a problem. No good can come from unresolved psychological issues having the power to decide the well being of what scares them.