On Choosing a Homosexual Lifestyle
by Frank R. Aqueno
In the late 60's I was living with a married couple and their two children. Kevin, the older child, was about 4 years old at the time. I remember one occasion on a warm by summer afternoon when Kevin, who had just earned 25 cents for some chore, announced that he was going to the store to get candy. I remember this vividly because up to this point in my relationship with Kevin and his parents he had always asked either one of them, or me, to take him to the store because it was assumed by all that Kevin was not capable of doing this by himself. In fact, I was the only one who noticed the difference between Kevin's statement and his previous requests for assistance. Susan, Kevin's mother, was involved with putting on her makeup in the bathroom nearby and responded, "I don't have time to take you to the store now." I remember watching Kevin closely for his response. He looked at me and looked toward the bathroom. "I'm going to the store to get candy," he repeated. Susan came out of the bathroom fixing her hair and repeated with a little more volume, "Kevin, I don't have time to take you to the store right now. Maybe if you ask Frank he'll go with you." Kevin looked at me, stood his ground and repeated, "I'm going to the store to get candy."
Since Susan had involved me, I responded to her. "I don't want to go to the store with Kevin," I said. "Well, Kevin," she said, "you're just going to have to wait till later," and returned to the bathroom and her routine. Kevin now moved toward the front door, hesitantly, glancing back towards me only when he began to push the screen door open. "I'm going to the store to get candy," he said again, this time directly to me.
I remember several things at this point. First, I was aware that Kevin had decided that he wanted to go to the store and that he had also decided that he could do this, or wanted to attempt to do this, on his own. In any case, he was not asking for anyone's assistance. Second, I was aware that Susan, busy with her own activity, had not heard Kevin correctly. What she heard was what she had always heard in the past a request for assistance when clearly there was no such request. And third, I remember feeling that since Susan was at home it was really her decision to allow Kevin this newly requested freedom. I knew what I would have done had I been alone with Kevin but I was not.
I asked Kevin to wait. "Susan, he isn't asking anyone to go to the store with him. He wants to go by himself."
Susan bolted out of the bathroom. I can still remember the look on her face, a mixture of disbelief and a pinch of panic. She looked at Kevin standing at the front door with the screen pushed halfway open and the disbelief faded while the look of panic increased. "Kevin! - just what do you think you're doing!"
Somewhat intimidated but still persistent he said, "I want to go to the store to get candy."
"You can't go to the store by yourself."
"Because I said so!"
I remember wanting to slap her. Instead, I got up from the chair and went into the kitchen and got a glass of water or something. When I returned the discussion was much louder and in a repetitive loop: "Why," Kevin would ask, followed by Susan's "because I said so."
I sided with Kevin. "He thinks he can do it," I said to Susan.
"No. He cannot go by himself."
"He's not old enough."
"What does that mean? Do you understand that he thinks he can do it?"
"I don't care what he thinks he can do. He is not old enough to go to the store by himself."
I liked Susan alot. But I had seen this aspect of her personality before and it was both understandable and worthy of my hatred. She was again living in a fixed and rigid world where no one made demands on her to alter or change, especially a 4 year old. Rules were rules. Kevin did not go to the store by himself. If she had envisioned a day when he would it was certainly not that day. She would decide when he was ready. She would make the choice.
I suggested that we sit down and discuss this and that we include Kevin in the discussion. While Susan always held on tightly to what she already knew in these moments, she was almost always open to my input and respected my opinion. By questioning Kevin it became clear that he knew how to get to the store and how to get home and that he shouldn't talk to or take anything from strangers. Susan took into account the fact that the store was a block away and that there were no streets to cross and reluctantly gave Kevin her permission. At this date Kevin is 21 and will soon be going out the door for good.
It may, at first, seem like a long way from a small boy wanting to go to the store by himself to the question of choosing a homosexual lifestyle, but in order to understand more about choices and choosing it is helpful to go back to a point where we began to make choices; where we began to choose. I know that Susan remembers the above incident because we have talked about it on several occasions, but I doubt that Kevin remembers anything about it.
Webster defines the verb "to choose" as "to select freely after consideration." If we accept this definition, and I do, it therefore follows that in order to make a choice we must be free to do so and that "consideration" must be a part of the process of selection.
When we are young our choices and our ability to make choices are very limited and are subject not only to physical limitations (i.e., a baby cannot simply choose to walk but must acquire the skills involved) but also to the limitations placed on us by our environment and the people in it. When Kevin made a choice to go to the store to get candy he ran into his mother's resistance to his choice. In fact, until this resistance was overcome, he had no choice. Of course, it is conceivable that he could have gone to the store without his mother's permission but he would have also had to return. It is clear that when he returned he would have faced certain punishment.
In the above story, it is clear that Kevin made his choice to go to the store after some consideration, since in the past he had always asked someone to go with him. I assume that he thought about this and decided it wasn't necessary or, at least, that he would like to try to go to the store on his own. However, while we can say that he considered the alternatives, we cannot say that the considerations enabled him to make a free choice because he still needed permission to carry out his choice. Kevin knew this. It is why he stood waiting at the door with it pushed halfway open. For while Kevin obviously believed that he could accomplish this trip he was also aware that in some way the choice was not fully his to make.
Good parents establish parameters for their children to protect them not only from physical dangers but also from emotional stresses and strains. As children develop more skill and knowledge they outgrow the need for these parameters and good parents realize this and allow their children more choices.
While our choices and ability to make them were very limited when we were children, we did, however, make many choices and many of these choices had a significant effect on the person we later came to be. Many of these significant choices were made unconsciously and were based upon experience and information that we were unable or unwilling to verbalize. These particular choices are often beyond our memory and we most often have no recollection of having made them at all. In some instances we simply lacked the vocabulary skills to translate experience and information into verbal form. In other cases we became quickly aware of what could and could not be said.
I remember when I was about 7 or 8 being with my father and a group of other men at a firehouse. I was the only child present. One of the men used the word "fuck" in the course of whatever he was saying and I remember my father indicating, without saying anything to the other man, that he should not use that word with me around. I don't recall if I had heard that word before or not but I was immediately aware, and not for the first time, that there were limits on what I could say and/or hear. This kind of secrecy always aroused my curiosity and I can also remember shortly after this incident looking up the word "fuck" in a dictionary and becoming even more curious when I couldn't find it there. Now, not only was my father hiding something but others were involved in the plot to keep me from certain information.
The image that lingers from the experience with Kevin is that of him standing at the door, screen pushed open, one foot outside, one inside, wanting to go to the store and yet waiting for someone to grant permission for him to do so. This was a wise move on Kevin's part. Had he gone to the store without this permission he would have returned to certain punishment.
However, the image lingers because for much of my life I stood at the door waiting for someone's permission to proceed; some approval to explore my homosexual potential. And it is only now, many years later, that I can look back and trace my steps forward to this point in time where that choice seems so clear and so rightfully mine to make. This then is the question: How is it that my ability to choose a homosexual lifestyle was seen for so much of my life not as a choice, but as something beyond my control?
Much of the answer to this question is beyond my memory. I do not remember many experiences before age 7 or 8 and my most vivid memories are those which took place around puberty. However, I do recall some early experiences which give me insight into how I made choices at this early age. I remember wanting to be a teacher very early in my life, perhaps age 5. I don't remember choosing to do this but I do recall many occasions where I acted this out with other children my age. And it is clear to me now that this choice to teach developed in relationship to my experience with my father.
In "Interview with Paul Rosenfels" by Jurgen Schmitt and Tony Rostron, published in the Ninth Street Center Journal, Winter 1985, Paul was asked about the development of an inner identity:
. . . The dynamic of the development starts very early. I don't know where -- somewhere between three and five years of age perhaps -- where the son, encouraged really by both the mother and father because they intuitively pick these things up from the civilization, but also out of his own needs, begins to differentiate his personality from his father's, because he specifically does not want to compete with the father. He doesn't want to identify with the father and try and be like the father because this does not leave him sufficient room for individuality and identity. It's much better for him if he can love the father if he's psychologically developing a feminine personality, or dominate the father if he's developing a psychologically masculine personality. Let's put it in terms of the father. If he sees that the father is really coming on to him with love, that this is a primary thing in the father, he'll respond with power. If the father is really coming on with a lot of power, the boy will respond with love. So he polarizes to the father. It's an easier way to deal with the father.
We begin at a very early age to make significant choices. That these choices are adaptive in nature is irrelevant to their psychological import. I did not sit down at age 3 or 5 and say to myself, "My father is a powerful personality so I'll choose not to compete and will instead develop a loving, submissive personality." I did, however, make choices in relationship to my father which were based on my needs at the time.
Homosexuality is a part of human nature. The potential for exploring this aspect of the personality exists in all civilized societies. It is ironic that at this time it is the Christian fundamentalists who realize this basic truth about homosexuality while most homosexuals and especially those homosexuals in the political realm deny any choice and insist that homosexuals are just like any other minority in that they have no choice; i.e., we're either born homosexual or made homosexual by something outside of our control. The Christian fundamentalist, although aware of this truth regarding homosexuality as a part of the human condition, insists that to choose this path is sinful, evil and opposed to the laws of nature and of God. According to Christian fundamentalists homosexuality is a choice only sinners make. The political homosexual is like any other politician in that his or her world is defined by practicality and expediency. The focus is not on what is true or right, but rather on what is acceptable to the majority. If we say we have no choice of lifestyle then we are like any other minority group and that position gains for us a more broad-based support in the political realm. If, however, we say that we have a choice of lifestyle, that is a direct threat to many of the basic assumptions upon which our society rests.
I grew up in a world that was homophobic and learned quickly that to discuss this part of my personality was to invite rejection. One could make jokes about the subject but one could never discuss it seriously or with respect. For this reason, most homosexuals grow up thinking that something is wrong with them and often that they are the only one who has such feelings and questions. In short, we learn quickly that homosexuality is something to fear and something to hide.
It speaks to either our courage or honesty that we did not give in to this fear; that despite all of this pressure coming from without we chose to explore this aspect of our personality. In addition, since homosexuality is a part of human nature, it tells us a great deal about the world we live in when we realize that most people do not choose to explore this aspect of their personality, but decide to deny or hide it.
Most homosexuals view their "coming out" as a time when they resigned themselves to their inability to choose and "accepted" themselves. While this acceptance of self is superior to living a closeted life it is still psychologically damaging in that it ignores all the choices we made that brought us to the point of "coming out". This is understandable. If we lived in a healthy world where concepts like love and power were not restricted by conventional gender roles we would be able to see the choices that we made with clarity. However, we were born into and live in a world that is ignorant and immoral. We do not see choices in this area because we have been taught that there are none.
Choosing a homosexual lifestyle is a rejection of unhealthy heterosexual lifestyle models and represents a clear and direct threat to those heterosexuals and homosexuals who never considered choosing any lifestyle at all. To begin to understand psychological choice requires a dedication to the growth process and the same honesty or courage that enabled us to come to a position of accepting ourselves. The work before us is not "I Am What I Am" but, rather, "I Am What I Choose To Be." Onward.
-- reprinted from The Ninth Street Center Journal 6, Autumn 1986
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