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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Legitimacy of Choice

Determinism is everywhere. Whether it be in the scientific world or the social world we live in, much of our focus as a people is on things that happen to us. The economy is falling apart - out of our control. Politics are a mess and the government is even messier - out of our control. Can't pay my bills, health is declining, relationship is ending -- the list goes on and on.

There seems to be an unspoken understanding about the determined events in our lives. If they are out of our control, and unchangeable, then they are real, legitimate, and we deserve help or adjustment in dealing with it. If someone loses their house because they were laid off, we have sympathy for them. But for many the image of a homeless man on the street does not evoke enough sympathy to provoke us to action. The assumption is that his situation is his own fault. He chose it. And because it was not involuntarily inflicted upon him, his suffering doesn't gain the same sympathy as the man who lost his house. It's almost as if society doesn't even see his situation as legitimate, and thus unworthy of help.

A professor of mine was discussing the idea of determinism vs agency in class yesterday. He raised the question: "How many of you would say that everything you are, your personality, your likes, dislikes, everything that you are is determined by your genetics and your environment?" There were a few hands.

"How many of you," he continued, "would say that your own choices have made you who you are?" Many more hands went up. The professor grinned. "You're an unusual sample. In any of the other universities I taught in most the students would have agreed with determinism."

That stuck with me, and I thought about how this applies to the modern social issue of homosexuality. Much of the battle today, whether politically, socially, or individually, focuses on the why of being gay. The nature vs nurture debate is still raging, with neither side conceding. Thinking of my own discussions with my parents, much of the argument was simply over whether or not I was actually gay. There is this pervasive underlying belief that if I had no choice, if my genes made me this way, or if it is unchangeable, then it should be seen as a legitimate state of human sexuality, should receive social recognition, as well as state recognition as official familial unions.

But what about choice?

My first thought was, no, I didn't choose these feelings, but I have chosen how to respond to them, how to express them, and how much I allow them to direct my life. And so, yes, whether we like it or not, choice is involved.

But why do we as a society lean away from the agency side of things in favor of the deterministic position? Well, first of all it's easy. It removes the responsibility from our shoulders, should anything go wrong. It takes accountability out of our hands. If I can't control it, I can't be blamed. It takes away the risk that is inherently involved in choice. And we hate risk, because risk is uncertain. And uncertainty scares the hell out of us.

But what would an argument for homosexuality based on choice look like?

Let's imagine that in ten years I am married, with a husband and a couple kids. Rather than saying, I lived this life because that's what I was dealt, I can say I lived this life because I chose it, based on the knowledge I have, and based on my beliefs of what would make me happy. Maybe I could have made a marriage work with a woman, but I chose this, and thus put my energy and focus into making this marriage and this family work. My success and my happiness is of my own doing, not some freak accident. Yes, my sorrow was mine as well, but mistakes and disappointments don't change my worth as a human being, or the legitimacy of my choice.

In this marriage and family, I deserve rights not because mother nature made me this way, but because I have lived my life cultivating virtuous qualities into my life and contributing to society. I deserve to have the law fight for me, because I fight for me, and a fight for me is a fight for others' rights as well. My husband and I deserve to be married and share healthcare plans because we've made the sacrifices to build a strong and faithful relationship. We've chosen the commitment that requires all the work we've put into it, and we have chosen the love that qualifies us to be joined together. Our choice makes us legitimate, not our DNA.

And what of a spiritual view?

Yes, I have chosen to enter a relationship, and to commit myself heart mind and body to a man that I love. I have done so, believing that God honors that commitment and approves of the love we share. I have made a choice and committed to it, using every opportunity within that choice to better myself, my spouse, and to spread the light of God abroad. I have chosen that.

But what if I'm wrong? What if at the last day, I placed my bet on the wrong horse? Rather than claiming the part of a victim, which determinism will allow us to do, I can claim my choice, knowing full well that I did so with the highest of intentions, working to bring myself and those around me closer to God. Because I chose it, I can be satisfied that I did all I could. And even if that is not enough in the final count, it will count in the final self-evaluation.

I find it hard to believe, however, that even were I to chose incorrectly that it would not make a difference, had I dedicated my heart and soul. Would not my husband and I, who worked and sacrificed to raise a righteous family, be seen in a different light than the straight couple who neglected one another emotionally, and were less than diligent in loving and caring for their children? Even if I had chosen incorrectly, I could claim the success and joys of my life as my own.

And even the sorrows make a difference, if I were to choose the things that led there. Because if I can own them, they can mold me and shape me. If I am a victim, they can only maim and torment, a perpetual thorn in my side that I have no power to remove. Owning the sorrows makes them ours. And that changes us.

Ultimately, the whole issue comes down to this: What matters more, what is more real? That I am made this way and thus am stuck here? Or that I chose the life I personally felt was best, based on my thoughts, my knowledge, my heart? Which of these deserves respect? Which deserves recognition? Which enables us to move and grow? Which empowers us to be in control of our lives?

I am finished trying to prove my existence. I am done debating nurture vs nature. Attempting to prove my sexuality, my identity, and my feelings through deterministic means gets no where, and leaves me feeling lost and empty. I am making the choices that I see fit to make. I have listened and examined, studied and learned, prayed and secretly searched. And I am doing what I believe to be the best decision for me.

I am open to change. A willingness to reexamine and reevaluate is vital to a life of choice. But this is where I am now. I have chosen the path that has led me here. And both the heartache and the brilliant joy are mine, because I chose them.


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