Questions To Ask a Homophobe

Socrates----Jay Lawrence Westbrook
Socrates arrived at the truth by asking those he was conversing with a series of questions until all was revealed.  Using the Socratic method in my law school classrooms for the last 47 years has been good training for arriving at the same goal: finding the best answer.  But above that, when I was in law school myself, my roommate was the great Jay Lawrence Westbrook, now a Professor of Law at the University of Texas and a world renowned figure in international bankruptcy law.  When I was in my 20s he taught me a fundamental rule of arguments: at the very heart of any dispute is one central fact of disagreement.  One.  Everything else is just noise—static.  Therefore to arrive at the crux of what’s really going on you have to get rid of the many things that are not at issue and find that one thing that is.

Years ago when I was teaching law full time at OSU I gave a noon brown bag talk at the school on the issue of gay marriage.  When I asked for questions, one student (who I knew and liked from my Commercial Law class) raised his hand, and said, “Well, Professor, it all sounds good but you’ll never convince me that gay marriage is right.”  Hmm.  I started using Jay’s process to locate the one basic thing he and I disagreed on.  Was marriage important to society?  Yes, of course, he very much thought so.  Is it in society’s interest to stabilize loving relationships? Yes.  In this manner we explored the very real problems that unmarried couples can have (losing the house to inheritance taxes, for example, no visitation rights in hospitals, being cut off from attending the partner’s funeral, not getting health benefits, legal difficulties arising from the children the couples have), and I realized that the student was getting closer to having to say what was really our real point of disagreement: he didn’t think homosexuals should have the same rights as other people. Why not?  Okay, he “just didn’t like homosexuals,” he finally admitted.   Ah, but why not?  More questions brought us to the  real problem: the thought of gay sex repulsed him. Normally I wouldn’t push a student to such a statement, but in a public discussion of gay marriage where he’d challenged me, I did make him say it aloud. As he did so he was glowering at me, furious, and perhaps I should be sorry I’d forced him to paint himself into that uncomfortable corner. Hmm. At least his admission was now on the table for all to stare at and ponder, and the lecture on gay marriage had revealed the very core of the dispute. For how many lectures is that true?

I did give him one small comfort.  I told him I knew some gay people who were themselves repulsed by the idea of what straights do in bed  (“Eew!  A man touching a woman’s privates!”).  If these heterophobic gays were in the voting majority and thus made the rules, would prohibitions against straight marriages be permissible?  He didn’t comment, our session timed out, and we all went off to other classes.

For two decades I joined the front ranks battling for gay rights in Columbus, Ohio, and those experiences were most informative.  On multiple occasions in the 80’s and 90’s I was on late night call-in radio shows for periods that were sometimes four hours long!  The callers were often supportive of gay rights, but the really interesting calls were from people who loathed homosexuals and were willing to take me on.  Sometimes (rarely) callers were themselves trained in these battles and thus wouldn’t really argue at all.  They’d just mouth slogans, and no interchange, no dialogue, no movement was possible.  But mostly those who called the station were sincere people whose dislike of homosexuals was based on religious training or common social assumptions (“gays molest children”), and if they’d talk with me some progress could be made. 

The same bald assertions and false premises came up over and over.  Here’s the list and how I’ve learned to respond:

1.  Being Gay Is a Choice

Gays all know this one is wrong.  Ask my husband, for example.  He was routinely bullied and beaten up more or less every day in both elementary and high school, being called “faggot” as early as the first grade.  “They didn’t know what it meant and I didn’t know what it meant,” he says, “but we all knew it was something impossibly bad to be.”  Did this gentle, unassuming boy choose such a horrific life?  Are all LGBT people bonkers because they too made such a ludicrous choice?

When people assert this “choice” in our conversations, I smile and say to them, “Oh, yes!  And I’m sure you remember that big day, when you were young, and you thought carefully about whether you should be attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex, and—after much give and take—chose to be straight, right?”  Invariably they look confused or bemused, and shake their head.  There was no such day in their (or anyone’s) memory.

You can choose to act on your sexual orientation or to hide it, but you can’t choose the orientation itself.  As we grow up at some point we look at the people around us, and the ones who attract us sexually aren’t necessarily the ones our parents would vote for.  This is true of straights as well as gays.  Desire cannot be dictated.

2.  Gays Can Change and Become Straight If They Really Want To

On some of those call-in radio shows my callers would claim that they used to be gay but now were straight.  The law professor in me would go to work.  "You used to be gay, but now you're married and having sex only with your wife?"  "Yes," one male caller replied, pride in his voice.  "And you never have homosexual thoughts—and before you answer, be aware that if you lie even slightly about this, you will deceive hundreds of men in your position who are desperate to change and depend on you to say—if it's true—that you never ever even slightly think about gay sex."  Long pause.  "Well, yes, I guess I still think about it sometimes."  "And sometimes masturbate thinking those thoughts?"  Another pause.  "Sometimes."  "Well, if it's still that important to your pleasure, how do you satisfy yourself with your wife?"  At this point one of the callers frankly confessed, "I pretend she's a man."

I also ask straights who assert gays can change "What would you do if you were a homosexual?"  "I wouldn't be a homosexual," is the usual response.  "How would you avoid it if you discovered that in spite of your upbringing, in spite of your religion, in spite of your strongest desire to change, you were a homosexual like it or not?"  "I'd get help from my pastor or a doctor."  When told that this supposed help doesn't work (with offers of books and websites to prove it), the person I'm talking to changes the subject.  I just have to be wrong.  I just have to be.  The bible commands that I be wrong.  Surely religion or medicine or something can produce the magic pill to be taken twice a day until heterosexuality occurs.  Surely.  Because if I'm right and change isn't possible, then whomever I'm talking to has to rethink their position, and most people would rather slaughter hogs than do that.

As I've mentioned before on this blog [see Related Posts below] I have a standing offer of $5000 to be donated to the charity of choice of any offeree who can produce five men who used to be gay but by the efforts of whatever organization or process can now be tested and found to be totally heterosexual.  After decades of the Ex-Gay movement and the steady efforts of many “reparative therapy” psychologists you'd think there would be thousands of men who would so qualify, but so far not a single effort has been made to collect my $5000.  The reason is clear: you can't change gay people into straight people, and these efforts always fail.  Always. 

All the science, all the experience, all the history, shows that trying to change gays to straights has no more success than would trying to change straights into gays.  It’s a matter of genetics and that’s that.  Exodus International, which for 37 years was a Christian organization that purported to cure gays, closed its doors in 2013, apologizing to all those who had trusted it during its existence, and acknowledging that no one’s sexual orientation was ever altered by its attempts, of which there were thousands.  Ex-gay conversion doesn’t work, and even leading psychiatrists like Robert Spitzer, who once championed reparative therapy, have quit and themselves apologized for a practice that is now condemned by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.

If you, reader, are a straight person who has never had any homosexual urges or experiences, ask yourself this: do you believe that there is—out there somewhere—a process or treatment that you could undergo that would successfully strip you of your interest in the opposite sex and replace it with a carnal desire only for your own sex?  When I recently asked a very straight male friend this question, he laughed.  “Hell, no!” he said.  “It’s women all the way!”

3.  Being Gay Is Evil

One of the happy things about the success of gay rights in this country is that this veniality idea is dying out.  Yes, there are religions whose books say gays are evil, but we don’t run this country based on religious prejudices.  Those same books condemn all sorts of things we find perfectly acceptable.  Before we prohibit some lifestyle in the United States it has to produce major unacceptable behavior. 

But when gays get married, nothing happens to the rest of the country except there are more weddings and married couples who behave more or less like married couples always have.  Lots of straights go to gay weddings these days, and the economic boom from this is great.  When gays no longer get fired from their jobs because of gayness the result is that more people are concentrating on their work and not on private bedroom behavior.  If gays now can serve in the military, well, so what?  They are just soldiers/sailors/pilots like everyone else.  When I stand in front of my classroom and teach Commercial Law, the students all know I’m gay (my husband and I routinely throw a party for the entire class), but that has nothing to do with the importance of the Uniform Commercial Code and the grade they will get by understanding that marvelous statute.

Study hard---it's heavily tested on the bar exam.

Granting gays the same rights as straights hasn’t produced chaos.  The result has been . . . boring.  How very distressing this obvious fact must be to homophobes!  As they more and more lose this battle, it must be more and more embarrassing for anyone to be (publicly) homophobic.  Friends don’t let friends be so “last century.”  Pat them on the shoulder and say, “There, there . . . keep it to yourself.”

“Gay rights” is a nonstarter as a problem.  Let’s just drop the whole non-issue and move on to something really worth worrying about like [fill in the blank yourself:] _______________. 

There are real problems in this world.  Let’s try solving those.

Related Posts:

“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013;  

“How To Change Gay People Into Straight People,” September 20, 2010;

"Choose To Be Gay, Choose To Be Straight," January 25, 2011;

"Going Undercover at an Ex-Gay Meeting," September 19, 2011,

“Disowning Your Gay Children,” October 9, 2013; 

How To Cure Homophobia,” July 30, 2015; 

“A Homophobic Organization Throws in the Towel: Goodbye to Exodus International,” June 21, 2013;


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