The label of “Gay Christian”

An interesting post by Mark Yarhouse reflecting on the language of Wesley Hill.

IdentityObviously, many people do refer to themselves as “gay Christians,” but I get questions about an increasingly visible group of Christians who refer to themselves as “gay Christians” or “celibate gay Christians”; they believe that genital sexual intimacy is reserved for marriage between one man and one woman. In the language of the Gay Christian Network, they are “Side B” gay Christians. (Side A being gay Christians who believe that same-sex behavior and relationships are morally permissible.)

I hadn’t really thought much of this question until last year when I was speaking to a group of Christians in London. It was at that forum that I met Wes Hill, a Wheaton grad who refers to himself often as a “celibate gay Christian”. The audience there seemed a bit uneasy with this designation, and Wes graciously unpacked why he is comfortable with it. Since that time, it seems I have been asked that question quite frequently.

Joshua Gonnerman, in his essay in First Things, offers several points for consideration, among them a contrast between those who see nothing of value in their same-sex sexuality (thus referring to themselves a “struggler” or someone who “contends” against same-sex attractions) and those who do not experience their same-sex sexuality as exclusively a source of temptation. This is the language of many Christian ministries today.

Gonnerman’s observations are in keeping with a friend of mine who shared with me recently that part of the reason same-sex sexuality is not reduced to only a source of temptation is that many sexual minority people have other common experiences that are not simply about impulses or attractions. For example, many experience some degree of gender atypicality by which is meant this: they do not experiences their masculinity or femininity in some of the more common, stereotypical ways others and the culture has defined masculinity/femininity. So we are talking here about interests and games in childhood, as well as other interess that develop in adolescence and beyond. Still others I know would point to their creativity or ability to relate to others in a different way — all as a part of their same-sex sexuality, with little to do with impulses to have sex per se.

This friend has also discussed with me the importance of naming one’s experiences. For some people, describing their experiences (“I experience same-sex attractions”) will be sufficient and actually helpful in terms of safeguarding them from identity in ways that are difficult for them, at least at the present time. So this may be why so many Christian ministries adopt this language. For others, however, descriptive language is not sufficient for naming their reality. So they have preferred “gay Christian” to get at something that is there that is not being fully acknowledged in the more descriptive (or, for them, reductionistic) language of “same-sex attractions.”

Wes HIll, in his book, Washed and Waiting, takes a similar view and describes himself as either a “gay Christian” or a “celibate gay Christian.” As I said, I was with Wes speaking to a group when the question came up about referring to himself in this manner. There was a fair amount of dis-ease among many in the audience who were not comfortable hearing these two words together.

So what did I say when I was asked for my opinion? I said this: “This is not my personal experience (to experience same-sex attractions), so I want to enter into any discussion of pastoral care or pastoral accommodations with a healthy dose of humility. I want to be careful not to place standards, rules, or obligations on people that go beyond what Christians believe Scripture teaches in this area. Keep in mind that we are talking about brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying to live faithfully before God in terms of not entering into same-sex relationship. When they say that using “gay” as an adjective helps them in these specific ways, I want to listen to them, come to a better understanding of their experiences, and support them.”

In many ways, it seems like a reasonable pastoral accommodation and something we would do well to discuss together, especially across groups of individuals who are actually navigating this terrain. Let’s come to a better understanding of why some people prefer to describe their experiences of attraction, while others feel it does not sufficiently name their reality. What other language has been helpful and why? How do our religious backgrounds and denominational differences enter into the discussion and shape it? Is there a process here? A trajectory that for some means certain phrases and language will be helpful early on but not later?

I don’t know that we have a lot of precedent here, and it’s in those moments that we do well to demonstrate more humility and grace, to come alongside rather than criticize.

It’s an interesting argument and I think Wesley has a point. There is a definite experience of “being different” to the heterosexual norm that means that those who grow up gay /same-sex attracted have a different story of social and emotional development then most other people. To use the label “gay” helps to own that experience in some way and it has value in constructing an identity, even an identity in Christ. Gender atypicality stretches beyond homosexuality and it is often an important component both in someone’s historical narrative and in relating that to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

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54 Comments on “The label of “Gay Christian”

  1. My slight problem with this is two fold.

    One that gay describes ‘some degree of gender atypicality by which is meant this: they do not experiences their masculinity or femininity in some of the more common, stereotypical ways others and the culture has defined masculinity/femininity’. To put it bluntly not behaving in gender typical ways that have been defined by our culture is not necessarily ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’. For example I tend to notice women’s shoes or how they’ve styled their hair, this is gender atypical, but it is not ‘gay’. To describe this or even more profound feelings of femininity as denoting homosexuality or a gay identity seems rather to me to conform to a homophobic stereotyping of homosexuality. This is something I suggest we need to get away from.

    Two the term ‘gay’ often tends to suggest an internalisation of a political ideology (and identity) built up over the last 50 years or so that asserts homosexuality is an intrinsic and absolute part of the person, rather than an aspect of of who they happen to be. That homosexuality is developed either genetically or in prenatally, despite the lack of clear scientific evidence, and is therefore immutable. This is also something I humbly suggest we (still) need to be moving away from.

    These two aspects are linked and why many Christians are not comfortable with the term ‘gay Christian’. It may be a succinct way to describe a personal reality, but in its very expression I feel it affirms the kind of self-identifying that just isn’t helpful.

    • I agree with point two. As for point one, I think there is something to be said for finding language to identify the experience of growing up feeling different to the overwhelming majority of your same-sex peers and that difference having something to do with sexual and emotional orientation, regardless of the origin of that orientation. In that sense Wesley’s use of the language of “gay” is helpful. It identifies the dissonance many experience in relation to their sexual identity and that of those around them with the same gender.

      • I know what you mean but I hope without being trite, the problem with that can be summed up in the inappropriate term ‘Bisexual Christian’. ie ‘I’m a Bi Christian’.

        Also your point that ‘the experience of growing up feeling different to the overwhelming majority of your same-sex peers’ I feel perhaps underestimates how different we all feel, (one also thinks specifically of Gareth Thomas) and how young men and boys can feel incredibly un-masculine without it expressing itself in a sexual attraction to the same-sex or more specifically to those aspects of ‘masculinity’ one feels one lacks.

        I sense that too many young men are affirmed in a specifically ‘gay’ identity because they don’t conform or don’t feel they conform to a set parameter of male typical behaviour. I heard one testimony of a man who when at school read books instead of playing sports, a girl came up to him when he was reading during the time most guys were playing sports and during their conversation told him (in a non-derogatory sense) that he was probably gay. That he might be attracted to other boys had not even occurred to him but he (as a now gay affirming man) specifically mentions this in his history as a key turning point in adopting a gay identity, same-sex attraction came later.

        Thinking in pastoral terms one doesn’t need to object to use of the word when someone is self-describing, but I think it shouldn’t be openly affirmed and in due course the reasons for its use need to be deconstructed. I feel even in using the word in a desire to be helpful we are just affirming a kind of thinking without it being needed to affirm the person.

        Having said all that I could of course be entirely wrong :)

    • I would suggest that the definition of “gay” proposed by Dr George Weinberg in “Society and the Healthy Homosexual” just over 40 years ago is the most useful. It is certainly the sense in which I would describe myself as gay, and it is what I mean when I describe anyone else as gay:

      “A homosexual person is gay when he regards himself as happily gifted with whatever capacity he has to see people as romantically beautiful. It is to be free of shame, guilt, regret over the fact that one is homosexual…. To be gay is to view one’s sexuality as the healthy heterosexual views his.”

      In that sense, I see no problem with the description “gay Christian”; indeed, I would say that it affirms the kind of self-identifying that is very helpful.

      The word “gay” does not have to, nor does it in fact, imply any particular belief as to whether homosexuality is developed either genetically or prenatally. People have all sorts of opinions about that, but no-one actually knows the answer. No-one knows whether heterosexuality is developed either genetically or prenatally either. As you rightly say, there is a lack of clear scientific evidence, and this applies both to homosexuality and to heterosexuality (and to every gradation in between). Such scientific evidence as we do have remains for the present inconclusive.

      With regard to immutability, I would certainly agree that the assertion that homosexuality (in the sense of sexual orientation rather than sexual behaviour) is immutable is technically an error, and the same is true of heterosexuality. It is like saying that the National Lottery is unwinnable, which we all know to be untrue.

      • Why do the people who wouldn’t call themselves gay get to decide how helpful it is?

        For the people who use it to describe themselves it simply means same-sex attracted. Only Christians dispute the commonplace meaning of the word.

        • Joe, perhaps not in your understanding. But as a general rule I very much doubt that. Often, if not always ‘gay’ denotes several other inherent (if not always conscious) beliefs about the nature of being gay/homosexual.

          • Ed

            The reasons I disagree with you are:

            1. Many gay people themselves reject associating the word gay with gender atypicality – and agree it is a form of homophobic stereotyping. Gender atypical gay men and women exist but they don’t represent the larger group. For the word to have any meaning for the larger group it must refer to something they all have in common – which is same-sex attraction (and very little else).

            2, When people say things like “I first realised I was gay when I was 13” they do not mean they identified with gay culture or politics at such a young age.

            3. Historical figures are often referred to as gay – even if they lived decades and centuries before any gay identities existed.

            4. “Gay” like “OK” is now a global word. It wouldn’t be used by vastly different homosexual communities if it was closely associated with a Western political ideology/identity.

            • Joe, I essentially agree with point one and partly point two. However point three is where things perhaps start to unravel. Often when historical figures are referred to as gay this is a form of cultural projection back onto figures of the past. Often those referred to as gay are described in that way with no historical evidence. This is done as a way of bolstering the whole concept of a gay identity in the ‘modern west’.

              I do agree that the word gay is often used in the way we use OK, but this in fact is part of what I’m talking about. Gay denotes eroticized same-sex attraction as being intrinsic and immutable. So when people say they first realised they were gay at 13 or 14 they are often buying into a concept of same-sex attraction that asserts it is fixed and is of centrality to the person.

              This is (albeit unconciously) an acceptance of a cultural and political identity. An assertion that carries with it the working assumption that the desire to have sexual intimacy with someone of the same sex is a non-fluid intrinsic aspect of your person or character.

              Men (and also women) like Peter Ould, James Parker and myself are pointing to a different reality which asserts that same-sex attraction is not innate but developmental. That same-sex sexual attraction is at root a compensating desire for something else.

              • ed77, I submit that when people say that they first realised they were gay at 13 or 14, they are simply saying that they realised at that age that most or all of the people to whom they were sexually attracted were people of their own sex. That does not tell us anything at all about whether they are buying into a concept of same-sex attraction that asserts it is fixed and is of centrality to the person. They may or may not be.

                Similarly, when people say that they have always been straight and have known it since they hit puberty, if not before, they may or may not be buying into a concept of other-sex attraction that asserts it is fixed and is of centrality to the person. Does their assertion that they have known themselves to be heterosexual ever since they became fully aware of their sexuality carry with it the working assumption that the desire to have sexual intimacy with someone of the other sex is a non-fluid intrinsic aspect of your person or character? Very possibly, maybe even probably, but not necessarily.

                Some may maintain that same-sex sexual attraction is at root a compensating desire for something else. I do not believe any such thing, because I see no good reason to believe it. It is, of course, quite impossible for me to disprove it, just as it is impossible for me to disprove that theory that same-sex sexual attraction is caused by having been a member of the other sex in a previous life, but in either case there is no burden of disproof resting on me. It is even possible to maintain that other-sex sexual attraction is at root a compensating desire for something else. I need hardly say that I have absolutely no reason to believe that either, although I am equally unable to disprove it.

                • ‘Very possibly, maybe even probably, but not necessarily’ of course but at the risk of being trite, so what?

                  • Well said, ed77. That is precisely my point: that I completely disbelieve the quaint notion that same-sex sexual attraction is at root a compensating desire for something else, NOT because I can prove that it is not true – I can’t, any more than I can prove that you are not a gigantic brain in a large glass tube in some experiment and that your entire life is essentially a dream – but because there is absolutely no reason FOR believing it.

                    • Again more waffle the comparison is absurd. There are reasons for believing it and very powerful ones.

                    • Really, ed77? Well, to start with, even if we can make sense of the proposition that people actually EXPERIENCE a sexual attraction as a compensating desire for something else – which is difficult – why do they keep on experiencing the sexual attraction instead of going after the “something else”, whatever that is? And who are these many people? Where can one meet them? Let me know, that I may meet them also.

                    • Fine. In that case you ought to be able to tell us what the “something else” is alleged to be. You still haven’t.

                    • If you actually cared (which I’m not sure you do) then you’d be perfectly able to discover that for yourself.

                    • Well, ed77, I’ve known that I was gay since my mid-teens (although looking back, I realise that I would have known a bit earlier than that if I’d known and understood more about these things). But since that’s quite some time ago now, and I still haven’t discovered for myself what that elusive “something else” is, perhaps you’d have the grace to enlighten me. I await the momentous revelation with bated breath.

                    • Well, since you either can’t or won’t tell me, and since I am unable to discover it for myself, the most obvious and reasonable conclusion to draw is that the mysterious and undefined “something else” is imaginary. I now fancy a cup of tea. No doubt some clever Dick will be able to tell me that that, too, is a compensating desire for something else.

                    • You are entirely able to discover it for yourself but 1) not in an impersonal semi-anonymous online conversation, and 2) only if you want to. Which you apparently don’t.

                      Incidentally your desire for a cup of tea could be found to be a compensating desire for something else. But that doesn’t mean you don’t desire the tea!

                    • If I am able to discover it for myself, an impersonal semi-anonymous online conversation is of no consequence. As for WANTING to discover it, no, of course I don’t. Life is short – far too short for me to dissipate it in wanting or trying to discover an indeterminate something in whose existence I have no convincing reason to believe in the first place. I am informed that, even in this sophisticated era, there are people who, in all seriousness, go looking for gnomes. I hope that they have a fine day for it, but I have no desire to join them.

                      Yes, my desire for a cup of tea COULD, for all I know, be a compensating desire for something else, even if I still desire the tea. But what of it? I have no need to trouble my head over an untestable theory that someone might dream up about my desire for tea. By the same token I have no need to trouble my head over a similarly untestable theory about same-sex attraction – or about other-sex attraction.

                    • Yes I figured you didn’t. However bit odd that, given your reasoning, you spend time on Peter Ould’s blog (and other online forums) discussing matters related.

                    • Well, ed77, the main reason is that I have long been interested in the psychology of fraud and self-deception, particularly of the religious or quasi-religious variety: I am fascinated to note how people persuade themselves that things which they know aren’t true nonetheless “ought” to be true, and thus argue themselves into “believing” them; how they strive to reinforce their self-deception by converting others; the contortions that they go through to explain away the most glaring adverse evidence; how people who start off sincerely believing in some cult or ideology, and then discover that the whole thing is a hoax, nonetheless feel a mysterious obligation to conceal the fact and to defend the hoax and keep it going; the way that some people who (presumably) would never behave dishonourably in everyday life paradoxically feel honour-bound to do so for the good of the “cause”. I can think of only one other phenomenon which offers such a fertile field for study in these respects, and that is the Spiritualist movement. I find some very striking parallels.

                    • Doesn’t really explain why you spend so much time on Peter’s and other websites. And frankly to use his own website to imply Peter and others are liars is a thoroughly dishonourable and disreputable (not to mention utterly baseless) thing to do. It is frankly pretty clear that the only person who, at worst, is dissembling, and at best avoiding your deepest motives, here is you.

                    • ed77, although I disagree with Peter on a number of matters, and would no doubt disagree with him on quite a few more if they were raised, I have never suggested or implied that he is a liar, and for you to accuse me of doing so is an utterly baseless thing to do. In fact, I greatly respect Peter for not censoring posts just because he disagrees with them.

                      I do think, however, that some of those who have commented on here in favour of the “ex-gay” philosophy are trying to deceive themselves and others into believing things just because they want them to be true and think that they “ought” to be true.

                      I would be absolutely fascinated to know what you think these deepest motives may be that I am at worst dissembling or at best avoiding, so perhaps you will kindly shine a light into my darkness by telling me. Or are those deepest motives – like the imaginary something else for which my “same-sex attraction” is allegedly a compensatory desire – to remain perpetually veiled from me?

                    • So it’s not Peter who defends a

                      ‘psychology of fraud and self-deception, particularly of the religious or quasi-religious variety…. who strive to reinforce their self-deception by converting others; the contortions that they go through to explain away the most glaring adverse evidence’

                      but

                      ‘some of those who have commented on here in favour of the “ex-gay” philosophy’.

                      As for the roots of your same-sex attraction specifically I can’t know what they are, they will remain ‘veiled’ from you as long you wish them to be. Only you can discover what they are, but since you don’t accept even this possibility, they are indeed likely to ‘remain perpetually veiled’.

                      And that is a free choice of yours I would happily defend, as in:

                      “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

                    • No, ed77, you are right; I have not accused Peter of any of those things.

                      As for the “roots” of my “same-sex attraction”, it’s not a matter of wishing them to be veiled from me. Rather, it’s simply that they ARE veiled from me, because neither I nor anyone else knows what they are, or at present has any means of knowing. There is a plethora of unproven theories, of course, and I could adopt one of those, but by doing so I would not be unveiling anything; I would merely be deciding to believe something – which I have no reason to do.

                      That does not matter particularly, however. Heterosexual people don’t know what the “roots” of their “other-sex attraction” are, and I would bet you any money that the vast majority couldn’t care less anyway, and that neither they, nor the scientifically curious minority who feel that it might be interesting to know, find that ignorance of the cause(s) of their sexual orientation presents any impediment whatever to getting on with their lives. By and large, gay people, myself included, are just like our straight confreres in that respect.

                    • No thats mostly twoddle. The continuous referring to same-sex sexual attraction and sexual attraction to the opposite sex as equivalents is self evident rubbish which requires the slightly ridiculous ignoring of human physiology.

                      You do have the means of knowing, you just refuse to concede the point with me which is odd given that this is what Peter has done, and he has spoken about it publicly not least in his 4 thought tv video.

                      Doubly odd when you yourself point out:

                      ‘My point is simply that when we are sexually attracted to a person (of the other or of the same sex, as the case may be), ONE of the essential ingredients of that attraction is precisely his or her “otherness”.’

                      This appears entirely cognitively dissonant with your assertions that the reasons for your same-sex attraction are ‘veiled’ from you and that ‘Heterosexual people don’t know what the “roots” of their “other-sex attraction” are.

                      And yet you say that: ‘ONE of the essential ingredients of that attraction is precisely his or her “otherness”.’

                      Seriously Guglielmo talk about #facepalm !!!

                      ps don’t try that nonsense of pointing out it’s only ‘one’ of the reasons as you point it is ‘essential’!

                    • ed77, “equivalents” is the word used by you. I have purposely avoided using it myself because, as I have already said before, I regard arguments about whether heterosexuality and homosexuality are equivalent as pretty pointless. The literal meaning of the word (< Latin aequus + valere) is “of equal value”. But what is meant by value in this context? If we are talking about reproductive value, then homosexuality is clearly NOT equivalent to heterosexuality since it completely lacks the reproductive potential of the latter. But that is simply a fact of life, over which I shall not lose a millisecond of sleep. What I do maintain is that homosexual attraction is every bit as legitimate as heterosexual attraction. I don’t quite see where the “ignoring of human physiology” comes in: I fully acknowledge the facts of human physiology and I am extremely happy with them.

                      If you really do believe that I have the means of knowing the alleged “roots” of my “same-sex attraction” and am refusing to use them, you are free to bypass my ignorance by enlightening me. If you have some “point” which Peter – or anyone else – has conceded, then that is absolutely fine, but I fail to see anything in the slightest degree odd about my not also conceding it – even if I knew what the point was, which I don’t.

                      I did indeed say that the “otherness” of the person to whom we are sexually attracted is an INGREDIENT in the attraction, and I did say that it was an essential one, and I stand by that statement. You can argue that an ESSENTIAL ingredient must amount to a cause or, as you put it, a root of sexual attraction. But granting for present purposes the validity of that argument, since it applies both to homosexual and to heterosexual attraction – as I explicitly said in the very sentence which you in your wisdom saw fit to quote – it still fails to give us any clue whatever to the “roots” of sexual attraction SPECIFICALLY to people of the same sex (or specifically to people of the other sex).

                  • “So what?” you ask. I take that to mean that, if some or many heterosexual people have a concept of other-sex attraction that asserts it is fixed and is of centrality to the person, and make the working assumption that the desire to have sexual intimacy with someone of the other sex is a non-fluid intrinsic aspect of your person or character, you see nothing to worry about in that. If so, then I entirely agree with you, and I suggest that, if some or many homosexual people have an analogous concept of same-sex attraction and make the same working assumption about the desire for same-sex intimacy, a similar lack of concern is equally appropriate.

                    • Waffle based on a flawed assumption that homosexuality and heterosexuality are equivalents they are not.

                    • Have it your own way. I won’t argue about it. That would be as pointless as arguing about whether blue eyes and brown eyes are equivalents.

                    • ed77, my physiology indicates which sex I belong to – male. It does not indicate the sex of those to whom I am sexually attracted. There is therefore no such thing as the ‘heterosexuality’ of my physiology or of anyone else’s; that is just a queer fantasy of yours.

                    • Guglielmo, that is very close to deceit on your part.The male and female physiology are complementary, that complementarity and the clear function of the genders’ sexual organs are self-evidently and specifically designed for procreative (and thus heterosexual) sex.

                    • ed77, any doctor (or anyone else except an idiot) on examining my physiology would immediately perceive that it is male. S/he might ASSUME that I am heterosexual, purely on the basis that the vast majority of people are, and would have at least a 95% chance of being right (although in this particular instance s/he would be wrong), but s/he would not perceive that I have a heterosexual physiology, because there is no such thing.

                      You say that “The male and female physiology are complementary”. In other words they are different. Believe it or not, I’ve actually been aware of that for a very long time. And yes, they do work superbly well for procreative (and thus heterosexual) sex, and that is a very gratifying state of affairs. But it’s not exactly like a key and a lock, a screw-driver and a screw, or a plug and a socket (or, as the French say, “fiche mâle” and “fiche femelle”) – although I realise that such images will probably appeal to a certain kind of mind. The male physiology does work extremely well for gay sex, and I’m reliably informed that the same is true for female physiology and lesbian sex. As I’ve observed before, it’s rather like a reversible duvet.

              • Surely you find people attractive because they have attractive qualities? Unless you buy into the whole Freudian thing, in which case women’s attraction to men is a compensating desire for a penis (never understood why anyone would want one of those, I prefer to keep my essential anatomical parts on the inside, thank you very much).

                • To your first point yes but one can find all sorts of people attractive for a variety of reasons, but that is different from the reasons people can be sexually attracted to one gender exclusively, or to both, as well as the manner of that sexual attraction. I think the Freudian school of psychoanalysis has moved on a long way from what you describe, even if what you describe is a fair summary of his position, which I’m not sure it is.

                  • That was a bit of a joke! But the question is, are all heterosexual desires ‘healthy’, or are they often compensating for some lack?

                    • The answer to my mind is no, not all ‘heterosexual’ desires are healthy, surprisingly often I think they involve compensation for something else. However I think with ‘homosexual’ desire this is almost always the case which is suggested by such desires being dissonant with our physiology.

      • Gugliemo, there are a number of apparent obfuscations in your comment but leaving those aside the problem with your (or rather Weinber’s) definition of ‘gay’ is that it doesn’t define what homosexuality is. That is a an absolutely fundamental question in any discussion on this, what do we mean when we use the word? For example the Oxford English Dictionary definition would seem to include anyone who is remotely bi-sexual.

        • ed77, if you think that my comment contains any obfuscations, I would be grateful to know what they are; I must confess that I can see none, but I would be pleased to make any necessary clarifications.

          To quote Weinberg once again, “To be homosexual is to have an erotic preference for members of one’s own sex.” I believe that that is how most other people would understand the term, and that the definition is clear. Although the word “gay” is often used as a mere colloquial synonym for “homosexual”, it seems to me that, in addition to indicating a person’s sexual attractions, it also has a definitely positive connotation: it implies that being homosexual is, in itself, a perfectly good thing, just as being heterosexual is. Therefore, while others may disagree, I would find it incongruous to use the word “gay” of a homosexual person who believes that his sexuality is a “disorder” or a form of “sexual brokenness” and something that needs to be “struggled with”.

          Should the term “homosexuality” include anyone who is remotely bi-sexual? Well, it is not clear what you mean by this. If you mean someone whose sexual orientation is predominantly and decidedly homosexual but who is not 100% without experience of heterosexual attraction, then I would say yes. If you mean someone whose sexual orientation is predominantly and decidedly heterosexual but who is not 100% without experience of homosexual attraction, then I would say no.

          • Guglielmo, clearly the definition ‘to have an erotic preference for members of one’s own sex’ raises more difficulties than it resolves. It indicates preference, which implies bi-sexuality ie having sexual attraction to both sexes, but preferring same-sex attraction. This excludes those who experience exclusive same-sex attraction who one could hardly consider not homosexual! Also preference denotes choice and as we’re regularly reminded experiencing same-sex attraction whether exclusively or partially is not really a simple matter of choice or preference.

            • No, to speak of preference in this context does not have to imply bi-sexuality, although it would probably have to include it. Whether I experience sexual attraction EXCLUSIVELY or only MAINLY to people of my own sex, I can correctly be said to have an erotic preference for people of my own sex. Weinberg, as is clear from his book, certainly was not using the term “preference” to exclude those who experience exclusive same-sex attraction; if anything, he was using it so as NOT to exclude those whose same-sex attraction was not exclusive.

              Also, the term preference does not have to imply choice. It can merely indicate that there are a number of possibilities. Am I attracted to people of the other sex, the same sex, or both? If both, is it to both equally, or is the attraction more to one sex than to the other? The answer to those questions can be said to indicate my preference. It does not follow that I have chosen to have that preference.

              Rather than saying that Weinberg’s definition raises more difficulties than it resolves, I would say that he probably did not foresee that some would seize on his use of the word “preference” in order to waste time cooking up strained interpretations.

              • Preference in the ordinary understanding of the word strongly indicates choice, see also the Oxford English Dictionary; (prefer: like one thing/person better than another or others; tend to choose) I don’t think using the Oxford English Dictionary as a basis for understanding of English words a strained interpretation do you!?

                It’s pretty clear Weinberg’s definition doesn’t get us anywhere nearer a clear and unambiguous definition of homosexuality.

                Can I suggest a more etymological one namely that homosexuality is simply same-sex sexual attraction, that one is capable/has the ability or experiences sexual attraction to some people of the same sex?

                Thus including anyone who experiences homosexual desires whether predominantly heterosexual, closer to some kind of bisexuality or exclusively homosexual.

                • “I don’t think using the Oxford English Dictionary as a basis for understanding of English words a strained interpretation do you!?”

                  Greatly as I respect and even revere the Oxford English Dictionary, yes, I do, if one is using it to give a statement a meaning which its author clearly did not intend it to have.

                  I see two problems with your “more etymological” definition of homosexuality. The first is that it would include a huge number of people who do not consider themselves homosexual, are not considered by others to be homosexual, and whom almost no-one would regard it as reasonable to describe as homosexual. The word would, in effect, have so elastic a meaning as to be, for all practical purposes, useless.

                  The second problem is that, if you wish to be logically consistent, you must be prepared to use the same etymological principles for the definition of heterosexuality, as follows: that heterosexuality is simply other-sex sexual attraction, that one is capable/has the ability or experiences sexual attraction to some people of the other sex. Thus including anyone who experiences heterosexual desires whether predominantly homosexual, closer to some kind of bisexuality or exclusively heterosexual.

                  • I don’t see losing the term homosexual as a noun as a problem at all. When I meet someone who self identifies as gay, I don’t see a gay, I see a man who happens to be gay.

                    I was defining homosexuality not homosexual. I think for the former my etymological definition suffices. Also if we are to retain homosexual as an adjective then the difficulties you point to do arise. But that is relatively simple either we can say that everyone who is not exclusively same-sex or other-sex attracted is bisexual or homosexual denotes those who are totally or predominantly same-sex attracted. I would opt for the former and I guess you the latter.

                    Finally I was of course aware that you did not intend the word preference in that sense but it does have that common understanding and we need a definition that anyone can use without being accused of asserting homosexual attraction as a choice. (which happens a lot even when that was not the intention eg gays can use term ‘gay lifestyle’ but others are criticised for doing so)

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