By Jill Chang
On the 30th July, about a week before National day, Trueloveis released a video #WeExist – a response to the overwhelming backlash they had received. Words like ‘homophobia’ and ‘conversion therapy’ were tossed about in the comment section, and many news outlets were quick to seize and question their intentions.
The organisation that has been around since 2018 and, according to its official website, is a ministry that provides stories and resources for Christians who want to know more about LGBTQ+ issues. The rhetoric they preach is nothing new in Singapore, and it seems with a very skilled publicist and social media manager, this time around they were able to spread their message to a wider audience than usual.
Over the past few days, I’ve spent my time perusing through their videos and questioning the role religion often plays in sexuality. From acting as an opposer that stifles to a guiding principle to the “right” path.
A common argument often runs through religious groups that preach “guidance” – sexuality is a choice that can be changed. Thus, I open up the old-age question that has been kicked and beaten so many times: Is sexuality a choice?
Sexuality and Science
A quick end to this entire argument would be, no. There has been scientific evidence that suggests homosexuality being a biological wiring in our system. In 2019, geneticist Andrea Ganna conducted a study on 493,001 participants from the US, UK and Sweden, studying their genes and comparing them with the sexuality they identified with. Results revealed that there was a correlation between one’s genetic influences and their preferences, concluding that genes do account for approximately 8 to 25% of the variation in male and female same-sex sexual behaviour.
A similar study was also done in 1993 by scientist DH Harmer, who discovered increased rates of same-sex orientation amongst maternal uncles and male cousins but not in their fathers or paternal relatives. The study went on to conclude that a family with two homosexual brothers were very likely to have certain genetic markers on a region of the X chromosome known as Xq28. Thus, to some extent sexuality isn’t a choice we can make.
However, as both studies had pointed out, there had been many other confounding variables that have yet to be explored. Ganna’s study especially highlighted the importance of considering environmental factors and the complexity of the human brain. Which, even as someone whose knowledge in biology stops at secondary two, makes logical sense.
According to the Neuropsychology Review, it has been estimated that the brain does not fully finish developing until one’s mid-20s or even early 30s. During the process of brain development, the hypothalamus which is the part of the brain associated with sexual desire could still be in the process of development. Thus, by this logic, it also isn’t impossible to attempt to change one’s sexual preference.
Thus, science gives inconclusive answers (which as an arts student, is unsurprising) and often leaves individuals with the moral decision to choose what they want to do with this information. But that still leaves the biggest question unanswered – how does religion play a part in sexuality?
Sexuality and Religion
As someone who doesn’t have a very firm belief in religion, I decided to interview someone who did. I spoke to Kathir, a year three university student who identifies as gay. His coming out story was one that most LGBTQ members could identify with – remaining closeted through most of their primary and secondary education before gradually feeling more comfortable to do so in University. What did pique my interest in his story, was his stance on religion in the journey of his sexuality.
“Hinduism – it is a privilege to be a part of this religion.”
Kathir went on to explain the complex nature of Hinduism and the vast scriptures they have, many telling stories of Gods and Goddesses of varied genders and sexualities that are abundant in number. These figures are represented in Hinduism and Indian epics that tell tales of heroic acts and sometimes moral lessons.
For example, Kathir recalls Ardhanarishvara, a merging of the gods’ Shiva and his consort Parvati to create a being whose half right body is male and the other half left body is female. The name itself means “the Lord whose half is a woman” and many have interpreted this god as a symbol of hermaphrodite, homosexual and the transvestite. In the community itself, he notes that there is a huge transsexual/hermaphrodite (hijra) population in India that worships Ardhanarishwara.
The representation of gendered and sometimes genderless sexual attraction of these figures gave him a sense of reassurance for his sexuality and helped to cement his faith in Hinduism growing up. And while he notes that Hinduism is vastly different from Christianity, he firmly believes that his religion acted as strong support during his journey.
Thus, while it may often seem that religion is an opposing force to the LGBTQ community, the reality often lies in how the individual chooses to use their religion in conjunction with their sexuality. Religion is extremely complex and most importantly, it is a personal belief. From Kathir’s story, it is clear that religion can be used in a way that supports sexuality, while TrueLoveIs has shown how it can oppose it. Either way, it still boils down to an individual’s choice.
Support not Shame
At the end of the day, it is impossible to put a definitive statement as to whether sexuality is a choice. What is most important is that it is not our position to decide or judge another person’s journey in dealing with sexuality.
And while I don’t agree with what TrueLoveIs doing, it is not our place to question, judge or shame the choices they’ve made. After all, the LGBTQ community already knows how that feels – so why do upon others what others have been done upon us?
The best course of action we can do is to continue the discourse on LGBTQ matters, letting those who are struggling with their sexuality know that our doors for discussion are wide open. Accept that there is no one way of accepting our sexual identity and take it upon ourselves to not shame others for their own choices.
- Ganna, A., Verweij, K. J., Nivard, M. G., Maier, R., Wedow, R., Busch, A. S., . . . Zietsch, B. P. (2019). Large-scale GWAS reveals insights into the genetic architecture of same-sex sexual behavior. Science, 365(6456). doi:10.1126/science.aat7693
- Hamer, D., Hu, S., Magnuson, V., Hu, N., & Pattatucci, A. (1993). A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation. Science, 261(5119), 321-327. doi:10.1126/science.8332896
- Stiles, J., & Jernigan, T. L. (2010). The basics of brain development. Neuropsychology review, 20(4), 327–348. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-010-9148-4
- T. (2018). About TrueLove.Is. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://truelove.is/about/