Lifestyle choice or inborn trait?


HARARE – Last week, Tafadzwa Ngodzo, a student at Midlands State University, was convicted of indecent assault on fellow male classmate Shepherd Mwapona.

Ngodzo was obsessed with Mwapona he raided his room one night and touched his privates.

He would write love letters to Mwapona, one of them which read: “Dear my charming Shepherd Jojo… Since the very first day I met you, you caught my eye in the lecture room because you were distinctive from other guys in class, calm, seductive and charming in character. I could feel my heart pondering at the sight of you because I love you.”

Ngodzo, it would appear, is gay.

During the same week, gays and lesbians held a drag queen pageant, Miss Jacaranda, discreetly in an isolated farmhouse on the outskirts of Harare. 

The issue of gays and lesbians has failed to generate sensible debate. The tone and tenor of the debate was set by President Robert Mugabe when he denounced them as “worse than pigs and dogs.”

It was the subject of debate on the new Constitution; one of themes of Mugabe’s recent election campaign and a deadly weapon against main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai who seemed to fail to articulate a consistent position on the matter.

However, we should not occlude debate on social phenomena on the basis of unquestioned hostility. We should have meaningful debate to achieve social harmony.

Ngodzo and Miss Jacaranda participants are realities within our midst.

The debate should be framed on whether homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or an inborn trait.

For instance, did Ngodzo — not excusing his criminal act — choose to be gay or is victim of a biological mishap?

The premises for revulsion appear to be founded on a mixture of cultural, theological and unscientific explanations. 

Yet others declare that homosexuality predates colonial Africa and was present as a way of life during the pre-colonial times.

The issue of sexual orientation is, thus, more complex than the emotional hyperbole of “pigs and dogs” space does not allow for full analysis.

I am not gay; however, my opinion has shifted towards the biological argument.

The dominant view, which informs the “pigs and dogs” narrative, is that sexual orientations are not biologically determined. Instead, they are nurtured by one’s environment and the choices one makes.

Thus, gays and lesbians should not enjoy rights or protection against discrimination, and should not be allowed to marry because homosexuality is mutable.

The other side of the argument, advanced by gay rights activists, is that same-sex sexual attractions are innate or immutable.

It is, therefore, according to this strand, wrong to discriminate against lesbians and gays or criminalise same-sex sexual activities.

It would seem there is more to this phenomenon that science and even religion now acknowledge.

William Wright, in a book about the genetic basis of personality and behaviour, wrote: “I had always had a strong dislike of extremely effeminate men, especially drag queens…But when I…learned of the hormonal mishaps in the womb that appear to cause femininity in men and masculinity in women, my hostility evaporated.

“I no longer saw outrageous queens as mincing embarrassments to all gays but rather as a biochemically betrayed group…who make the best of the genetic hand they were dealt…”

It would seem there are plausible scientific explanations to this puzzling phenomenon. It is one side of the debate that has been overlooked. 

Pope Francis, the head of Mugabe’s own church, has since adopted a more conciliatory view of gays and lesbians.

For decades, the Vatican has opposed homosexuality, and Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVI barred men with “deep-seated” homosexuality from entering the priesthood.

But the new pontiff said recently: “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?..You can’t marginalise these people.” 

As a society, we should also ask if we should continue to judge and marginalise them. It would seem the “choice” argument or “pigs and dogs” narrative is too simplistic.

We should also consider the science argument to reach an informed position on sexual orientation; whether Ngodzo, at 20, woke up one day and declared he wanted to be gay. 

It is possible that he and others did not choose to be who they are.

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