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The Windmills of Your Mind

Once, several years ago, I was talking with a fellow gay man (who happens to be African-American), and remarked that I'm not really attracted to black men. "That's racist," he said, sounding affronted. Back then, perceiving racism as something of a choice, I retorted: "How can it be racist? I did not choose to not like black men, just like you didn't choose to be gay." This seemed to dissuade my friend from any further accusatory remarks.

Over the years I've thought back to that occasion, and wondered if my friend might have been on to something? Of course it depends upon one's definition of racism (an oft-overused word these days), and the social/cultural dynamics one has been surrounded by in life. It's true that racist homosexuals do exist (once, when a gay guy found out I was biracial, he promptly told me that I was the product of race traitors, and should be hung from a tree). Still, are our sexual preferences a product of upbringing/influence, or are they more innate?

There's long been the nature vs. nurture argument when it comes to human sexuality. Personally, I think it's a bit of both, but I also think it is a superfluous bone of contention. It is my contention that the whole "born this way" line of thought negates the underlying issue for what it is to be gay. It shouldn't matter whether it's something we're born with. It should matter that it's simply something we want to do, and that it harms no one. Surely this isn't a controversial concept?

And what of sexual attraction? Are we predisposed to like certain people more than others by some sort of genetic coding? If so, how strong of an influence is it in our lives? How much -- if at all -- do external forces come into play? Should we judge someone's preferences (well, we do, but should we)? For example: three women are out together for a night on the town. They are white, black and Asian. The white woman likes a black guy she sees, the black woman also likes a black guy, and the Asian woman likes women who are Asian and white. How much are the aforementioned preferences down to nature, and how much are they due to nurture? Also, should it matter?

Another bit of conjecture: Let's say that a boy is born, and then is whisked away from his mother and raised in a closed society that consists only of men. As the boy grows older, he will no doubt feel natural, sexual urges. Will the fact that he's been raised only by men, that he's never seen or even heard of a woman, influence who he is attracted to? In other words, can you acquire a taste for something, if it's the only thing available to you?

I don't profess to know the answers to any of the points raised, though I do like to think about them from time to time. Specifically, on a personal level, what does it say that I'm simply not attracted to black men? In this regard, Tyson Beckford has been the standard bearer. I can look at him and think, 'Wow, he's a really handsome fellow,' but it stops there. No stirring of the loins. Nothing else. Is that good? Bad? Racist in some way? I really don't know.

One thing I do appreciate about my Tyson Beckford reference is that it has, I think, allowed me some empathy toward realizing how it must be for straight men. No doubt they can acknowledge when another man is attractive, perhaps even remark on the qualities that make him so. But that's it. There is no sexual current running back & forth. We accept this as standard heterosexuality. And, to be honest, I rather like that I am able to better understand that aspect of the spectrum.


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