“What turns a person gay?”

That got your attention…

My friend is disturbed because her daughter-in-law refers to her son (my friend’s grandson) as “beautiful.” My friend is clearly worried that somehow an adjective like that will confuse the kid about his sexuality, maybe turn him gay. As I listened, I chose not to answer. She didn’t say that straight out, but it was what she was thinking. I steered the conversation elsewhere because…

I don’t enter the discussion about the pronouns, either, or the discussion about the difference between sex and gender. Not interested in those things. They’re — to me — as superficial as the “person” vs. “woman” thing from the 70s and 80s. This is really about the private natures of individual people, in my opinion. 

I went to an all woman’s college. What’s sometimes said about all women colleges was true; a lot of my schoolmates were lesbians. I’m not. Why not? I’m not just not and THAT folks is the bottom line of this whole discussion. Calling a boy “beautiful” won’t change him. Sleeping on the breast of the most beautiful girl (a ballerina!) in my college on the long drive back to Denver from Omaha after an art trip didn’t turn me lesbian — if anything would, it would be that, Marbie Ingles was wow, a Botticelli Venus, intelligent, talented — and a lesbian. When I woke up somewhere around McCook, Nebraska, she was gently stroking my hair. I just felt complimented. Then there was another attempt on the part of talented pianist at my school, but no. Then there was the time I was caught sleeping in the same bed as another girl, but that was because her roommate locked her out of their room not because we were lesbians. We were friends, so she came to my room. Still rumors abounded. Do I have a problem with this? None. Love isn’t easy to find and finding it? Luck? Maybe, but definitely a tremendous gift. 

My mostly gay but somewhat bisexual boyfriend, Peter, said it best. “I’m gay, but I hope that’s not ALL I am.” I was a huge confusion in his life — and he in mine. But I cherish every memory of our time together. It was great, intense, inscrutable, interesting — an adventure; he was brilliant, well-traveled, had graduated with highest honors from Harvard after winning a scholarship that had once been awarded to Thoreau. He was beautiful (yes) to look at, fascinating to talk to, irreverently witty, and we were eminently compatible.

From Peter I understood even more deeply that no one “turns” anyone anything. “Would I choose this?” he said one evening, tears streaming down his face during the time he was trying to figure out if he COULD marry me, “and be shut out of every normal human thing? The most basic human thing? A family and a home?” The first serious writing I did was about our time together. He read it and liked it. His words — in a letter — are in a frame in my studio along with other words that are precious to me. Among his words are, “I like it. It has energy. Keep writing!” He was one of my life’s great loves.

As for whether a gay guy can be attracted to a woman? Yes. Some yes, others no. There is no “one size fits all.” I believe that, fundamentally, we love a PERSON.

From these and other experiences I realized that human sexuality may be indefinable. I doubt that the range of possible human desires can even be charted. 

And… I didn’t even mention to my friend that many other languages don’t have two words for male and female beauty. In Italian a handsome man is a “bell’uomo” a beautiful man. Sometimes silence is the better part of valor. 

So, the president signed legislation that, if we were better, kinder, more imaginative and compassionate people, would never need to be codified. 

I posted this, and deleted it. A reader sent it to me because he gets my posts in his email. I’m grateful to him and resolve to be braver.

22 thoughts on ““What turns a person gay?”

  1. Very nicely written. I’ve not had any intimate experience with either lesbians or gay guys, but you have expressed my basic attitudes well. I have always felt that what goes on in another person’s bedroom is none of my business, and should not be governed by a group of elected officials. I basically agree with the President’s words, with respect to both gender identity and abortion, which should only be between a woman, her partner (the father), and the doctor.

  2. If it were so easy to “turn” someone from one sexual orientation to another it would be an even more confused world. We are who we are and we love who we love. That should be enough!

  3. I agree with you here, and when people have fears that someone will ‘turn gay’ due to circumstances and exposure, I just have to sigh and roll my eyes.

  4. MAK, I always appreciate your words and wisdom. What a beautiful relationship with a beautiful man. I grew up on a softball field; almost literally considering how much time I was there. By high school and Junior Olympic years others thought surely I was gay? Most on my team were. I wore a hat. Always. Boots. Athletic wear. Literally the mentality was based on apparel. I have to laugh. Through broken relationships, and the fact that I’m single and I have lesbian friends, would make some still wonder. I’m not gay. But I don’t believe it’s my place to judge. I’m to love others. Period. Humans are complex. Like you stated, it’s a personal. What I find the most fascinating ~is the physical act of sex has very little to do with what I believe a human ultimately craves and desires in their deepest soul. That’s why I struggle in surface relationships or those who only wanted sex. Personally, that’s why I find my deep intimate relationship with God to be the most satisfying in my life. When I find those deep connections with others, no matter gender or sexual orientation, it’s so rewarding! Finn and I send love and hugs! 💙❄️🐾🐾

    • I have no idea about this stuff. I don’t know what the sex act should be other than NOT exploitative, manipulative, or cruel and what humans crave in connection? That might be as varied as their sexual preferences. It’s — I think — so incredibly personal and individual. I remember once just telling “the man” that all I really wanted us to do was take a hike. 🤣❤️🏔️

  5. [Since you reconstituted the post, I’ll try to reconstitute the comment that was rejected because the post came down.] Yes, you got my attention – and scared me for a moment. I knew a boy who wore dresses to preschool. When someone asked him, “Why are you wearing that dress?”, he answered, “because my favorite one is in the wash.” It didn’t occur to him that the question was “Why are you wearing A dress?” Did it “turn him gay”? Nope. And one day he decided to stop wearing dresses. On the other hand, his younger sister is a Lesbian. Did her big brother wearing dresses confuse her? Probably not, as young as she was. And guess what? One can identify as gay and not have sex, just as one can identify as straight and not have sex. That seems pretty obvious, but blows some people away.

    • For me it boils down to minding one’s own business. My mom was always nervous when my little brother was around my cousin. She didn’t know that my little brother drove my cousin crazy, and he didn’t like Kirk. That cousin was gay, and he and I were very close growing up and shared a sympathy based on literature and aesthetics throughout our lives. My mom just didn’t fucking get it. My dad did, but my mom didn’t. My cousin and his parents suffered a lot for many years because my aunt and uncle didn’t get it and my cousin couldn’t explain it. IF my aunt and uncle had been able to step back (they finally did) and just say, “Well, that’s XXX” it would’ve been better for everyone.

  6. A fascinating read, Martha, and you’re absolutely right. No-one can turn anyone into any orientation. We are what we are and that’s that. I think this truth applies just as much as the fact that you can’t turn anyone with blue eyes into a brown-eyed person. It’s just what’s in our basic individual, wonderfully complex human make-up. My daughter has, in the last couple of years, realised she’s something called ‘aroace’, which means she’s not orientated any way and she wants nothing at all to do with romance or sex. The whole idea makes her feel ill. And why not? I’m very proud of her, just as she is. As long as we don’t hurt anyone, we should all celebrate who we are, that’s what I say. 🙂 ❤

    • I totally agree. I had to look up “aroace” — interesting. I think it describes many people, “Yeah, well, that’s great and all but I’d rather…” Of course, the response to that has always been, “Wait until you meet the right person,” because if we’re NOT mating and spawning something’s clearly WRONG with us. It’s amazing to me how many people feel the need to defend this basic, instinctive act of every species as if it were threatened by the very few people who don’t participate. Says something, maybe…

      Freud said this was “sublimating” but I don’t think that’s it. OH well… If we were at one of our kitchen tables (metaphorical in my case) we could have an interesting talk about this. 🙂 With mead.

      • Wonderful idea, Martha. I’d love to sit at one of our kitchen tables and chew it all over – especially with mead! 😀 Funny you should say about people’s judgement with aroace folk, poor Maddie has had to put up with exactly those comments every time she’s let slip her lack of orientation – so much so she tends to avoid the conversations now. She finds it all really patronising. I find people’s reactions hard to understand, as there’s nothing wrong with her at all, she’s just not interested in that side of life. Oh for that kitchen table and a goblet of Sticky Rogers! 😀

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