OMG, I hope my son doesn’t grow up to be queer!

Over the years I’ve heard stated many-a-time the concerns of parents in regard to fear that a son would grow up homosexual. I may have even expressed that fear myself in one way or another, or at one time or another, but have since forgotten. And I have since then become unfearful of such a developmental outcome for my son or anyone else.

Nevertheless, I don’t recall ever hearing any parent discuss the causal factors involved in the development of sexual orientation. I mean, I may have heard a parent or two express concerns that the child might possibly be influenced by interaction with homosexual peers or by movies portraying homosexuality in a way to make the lifestyle seem socially acceptable. But I never recall anyone discussing scientific papers or research investigating factors suspected or proven to be involved in sexual orientation. More myth than actual knowledge surrounds common beliefs concerning orientation development.

From the scientific perspective (methodological naturalism), the individual is who he is as a consequence of the particular structure and state of his brain. No one chooses the particular structure and state of the brain existing within his skull. When you hear of a person “choosing” to place a gun against his head and pull the trigger {to disrupt the existing brain pattern or whatever), the choice was made by a brain that the individual himself did not choose to have. And when a person “chooses” to change the way he thinks in regard to any specific matter then the brain within his skull has already been subjected to factors (beyond conscious control) that cause the thought to arise. Saying that a person could choose his sexual orientation is as meaningless as a cat chasing its tail.

Sexual orientation doesn’t start when the hormones are at their peak. It doesn’t start when the child begins undergoing an onslaught of high hormonal levels never experienced before. Sexual orientation starts when the eyes are first opened to the world.

For example, the child subjected to circumcision generally experiences quite a bit of pain as a result. That pain can act as a negative reinforcer, resulting in associations made below the level of consciousness. Should the face of a nurse happen to be one of the associations, then that face could evoke withdrawal in the future should counter associations not be made to overcome the initial reinforcer.

To super-simplify the process involved we can use the analogy of a balance-beam scale. The scale of the beam would read homosexual on one side and heterosexual on the other, with bisexual/nonsexual in the middle. Every reinforcer would add weight on one side of the scale or the other, according to the associations made at the time of the pleasure/pain reinforcement. Whatever the scale reads after sufficient time would be the sexual orientation of the individual. However, this simplification doesn’t take into consideration the fact that the human is a social animal. The scale could read “homosexual” but the individual’s conformity instinct may result in him playing the part of a heterosexual. Also, the chemical levels in the brain could influence which way the scale tilts.

Some folk may react by saying that an infant is too young to make associations. However, the reason for my analogy is to point out that conscious awareness is not necessary for associations to develop. In fact, brain development starts in the womb but goes into high-gear once the senses have been exposed to the world outside the womb. And conscious awareness may run a good race trying to catch-up and take control from nonconscious processes and developmental factors, but awareness will always remain at least one step behind. Here’s why:

The conscious mind is the result of physical processes in the brain. The physical processes must exist prior to conscious awareness developing. This means it would be logically impossible for consciousness to control the system from which it arises. We could say that processes of which the individual is totally unaware are somewhat controlled by feedback from the conscious mind, but that would merely be saying that the physical processes have a built-in feedback system. There is no ghost in the machine: just a biological machine doing what it must necessarily do.

Free wheeling and free willing ghosts in the machines are simply illusions.

I was discussing the issue of free will once with an older gentleman. In an attempt to prove free will, he gave the example of a man who had never had sexual feeling for any but the opposite sex. Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the hypothetical man is overwhelmed by feelings for young men–very young men. I was dumbfounded because the example the gentleman gave seemed to me to prove the will is not free, since one doesn’t choose the feelings being experienced. I was also a little bit dumbfounded because I couldn’t help but wonder if the old gentleman was being so adamant because the feeling he was talking abut were feeling he was personally experiencing.

I mentioned this instance in order to convey the fact that sexual orientation is a lifelong process. The scale may tilt one way at one time in one’s life, then gradually tilt the other. But at no time is an imaginary uncaused thing (commonly called, free will) responsible for changes in the tilt.

You can choose to be homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual. But your choice would merely be a rhetorical excuse for the way factors beyond conscious control already has the scale tilted. And factors contributing to the tilt of the scale don’t quit contributing merely because a choice to never change is made.

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