[Cross-posted from New Books in Big Ideas] Nature or nurture? Inborn or learned? Genetic or extra-genetic? Humans are so complicated that in many cases we can’t really know what is “in us” from the beginning and what is “acquired” as we learn. And even when we find something that is “in us,” we can often find a way to modulate or mask it. Given all this, sometimes the best–and certainly most convincing–evidence that some trait is inborn rather than acquired is simple, honest testimony.
Such is the case, I think, with homosexuality. In Jonathan Rauch‘s remarkable and moving memoir Denial: My 25 Years Without a Soul (The Atlantic Books, 2013) the author explores exactly what it was like to deny his own sexual orientation for over two decades. Actually, “deny” is not really the right word, at least for what Rauch did in his early years. To “deny” is to realize the possibility of something and reject it. For much of his early life, Rauch never even entertained the idea he was gay, so he couldn’t very well deny it. It just wasn’t possible. He thought he was just weird.
But as he matured, it did dawn on him that maybe, just maybe, he might be gay. Not surprisingly given the prejudice against homosexuality at the time he was growing up, the very possibility frightened him. He did not want to be gay. Who would want to be gay? Why would you put yourself through that? So he denied it. Until there came a time when he met kind, loving people who told him that he really should and could be who he was. They would help him. And they did. Jonathan Rauch then became what he had never really been–Jonathan Rauch.