Questions regarding same-gender attraction origins come in many forms. Did I choose to be gay? Was I born this way? Where do these attractions come from? Each digs at perhaps the most perplexing question of all: Why? Why do I feel these attractions? What caused or causes them?
People do not generally wake up one morning and make a choice on their orientation. Many people who deal with same-gender attraction identify having the feelings from a very early stage in life, while others may begin to experience them later in their teens and even early adulthood. In either case, individuals typically do not “choose” or somehow intentionally “invite” those feelings. Regarding the origins of same-gender attraction feelings, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught the following:
“No one, including the one struggling, should try to shoulder blame… As for why you feel as you do, I can’t answer that question. A number of factors may be involved, and they can be as different as people are different. Some things, including the cause of your feelings, we may never know in this life. But knowing why you feel as you do isn’t as important as knowing you have not transgressed. If your life is in harmony with the commandments, then you are worthy to serve in the Church, enjoy full fellowship with the members, attend the temple, and receive all the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement” (“Helping Those Who Struggle with Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October 2007)
The most honest answer to this question is that no one really knows for sure and the answer could vary from person to person. There are a lot of theories about this, but it is very hard to prove them one way or another. Some people tend to think that same-gender attraction is caused by genetic or biological causes before a person is born. Others tend to think it is caused by environmental factors–things that happen or that you learn as you grow up.
In a 2006 Public Affairs interview, Elder Dallin H. Oaks responded to this very question with the following:
“The Church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction. Those are scientific questions — whether nature or nurture — those are things the Church doesn’t have a position on.”
Also from Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
Applying the First Presidency’s distinction to the question of same-sex relationships, we should distinguish between (1) homosexual (or lesbian) ‘thoughts and feelings’ (which should be resisted and redirected), and (2) ‘homosexual behavior’ (which is a serious sin).
“We should note that the words homosexual, lesbian, and gay are adjectives to describe particular thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. We should refrain from using these words as nouns to identify particular conditions or specific persons. Our religious doctrine dictates this usage. It is wrong to use these words to denote a condition, because this implies that a person is consigned by birth to a circumstance in which he or she has no choice in respect to the critically important matter of sexual behavior.
“Feelings are another matter. Some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of ‘nature and nurture.’ All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior” (“Same-Gender Attraction,” Ensign, October 1995)
Understanding on a personal basis what might cause some of the feelings of same-gender attraction can be a significant part of the process of growth, development, and healing for many individuals who experience same-gender attraction. The roots of these feelings are as varied as the individuals who experience them. Many have found it very helpful to work with a qualified therapist to facilitate the process of understanding, accepting, and dealing with feelings of same-gender attraction.
As you explore this subject, you will find that the arguments back and forth on this issue are very complex, and can be a bit overwhelming sometimes. Keep in mind the following points as you learn more:
- Different people have different stories, and what fits in one person’s story may not be true for everyone. For example some people have connected their own attractions to the same sex with being sexually abused. While this may be true for them, it would be wrong to assume everyone who has been abused experiences same sex attraction, or that all people who are same gender attracted must have been abused.
- Both sides of the debate can sometimes use research in misleading ways in order to try and be right, so it is wise to read the research carefully. Newspapers and magazines can sometimes claim that a study proves more than it actually does.
- It is hard sometimes to tell the difference between a cause and an effect. For example, some studies have shown various purported psychological and/or physiological differences between gay men and straight men. However, it is not always clear if the difference made them gay, or the difference is a result of being gay.
- Knowing why does not necessarily help you figure out what to do. There are many things that can be biological that aren’t good for you. Studies have shown your genes could make you more inclined to be an alcoholic, or to overeat. That does not mean that drinking to excess or overeating is good or right. In the same way just because something is environmental does not mean it is right or wrong. However you decide on what is right or wrong, simply knowing why you feel that way will not solve the question.
- Ultimately whether biological factors, environmental factors, or both cause same gender attraction, you still have a choice over what you do. Part of being an adult is learning how to have self-control over your desires and then to make good decisions about which ones to act on and which ones not to.
While asking the questions considered here can be healthy and constructive, dwelling heavily on them can be quite detrimental. Neither your happiness nor the actions you choose should be dependent upon knowing why you feel the way you do. This generally applies to any trial we experience in life. Elder Robert D. Hales offered the following counsel:
I have come to understand how useless it is to dwell on the whys, what ifs, and if onlys for which there likely will be given no answers in mortality. To receive the Lord’s comfort, we must exercise faith. The questions Why me? Why our family? Why now? are usually unanswerable questions. These questions detract from our spirituality and can destroy our faith. We need to spend our time and energy building our faith by turning to the Lord and asking for strength to overcome the pains and trials of this world and to endure to the end for greater understanding” (“Healing Soul and Body,” Ensign, November 1998)
We wish the very best to you as you seek answers. We promise that as you rely faithfully on the Lord you will find peace and understanding, whether or not you find all those answers in this life. God bless you with the strength to build faith and persevere.
(How’d we do? Leave a comment below to help us improve our answers!)