A. The Charge. Homosexuals could be just like the rest of us if they would only make the effort. Instead they willfully embrace deviance and self-indulgence. Adding insult to injury, in daily life they increasingly affect blatant displays of their affliction - what they call “gay and proud.” Surely they must realize that exhibitions of this behavior are distasteful to the majority, Such flaunting of their moral deficits does not help their cause.
By far the best course would be for these unfortunates to cease their perversion altogether. This is simply a matter of will power. As Jonathan I. Katz, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, remarked in a 2003 blog post, “What of those cursed with unnatural sexual desires? Must they forever suppress these desires? Yes, but this is hardly a unique fate. Almost everyone has desires which must be suppressed. Most men and women think adulterous thoughts fairly often, and find themselves attracted to members of the opposite sex to whom they are not married. Morality requires them to suppress these desires, and most do not commit adultery, though they feel lust in their hearts. Almost everyone, at one time or another, covets another's property. They do not steal. Many people feel great anger or intense hatred at some time in their lives. They do not kill.”
B. Background. Sociologists and economists have advanced several types of preference theory. For example, the American economist Paul Samuelson has advocated what he terms revealed preference theory as a method for comparing the influence of advertising on consumer behavior. The models assume that the preferences of consumers can be ascertained by their purchasing habits.
Sexual object choice is not like trying to decide which brand of toothpaste to buy. Still, the term sexual preference finds some favor among those who hold that sexuality is fluid and incorporates an element of choice, as opposed to those who believe sexuality is fixed early in life.
The queer theorist Judith Butler espouses a related concept. In her 1990 book Gender Trouble, she posits a performative or elective understanding of gender, as opposed to the idea that gender manifestations express some sort of innate or natural gender. Butler holds that the performance of gender actually creates gender. She compares the enactment of gender to a theatrical presentation.
C. Response. If homosexuality is a mere preference, then heterosexuality must be also. Yet we see few, if any exhortations that those who suffer from this failing must change. It would not be easy to do so--in fact almost impossible. The same is true with homosexuality.
In fact, the expression “sexual preference” finds favor among those who have unrealistic expectations about the malleability of orientation and its expression, and who seek to alter its character--that is, if the orientation is of the “wrong sort.”
If sexual orientation were simply a preference one could switch it just as one shifts from cheeseburgers to steak or from blue jeans to a tuxedo. Some efforts at “curing” homosexuality rely on a version of this model. Since the theory is inadequate, the interventions have generally failed.
Today the expression “sexual orientation” is rightly dominant, emphasizing that erotic attraction emanates from the deep structure of the personality. It is not a mere choice, taste, or whim which can be easily altered. Nor can the desires be simply suppressed by an act of will power.
However, there is some earlier history of speaking of homosexuality as a taste. Correspondingly, in French it could be called a goût. This French term retains some popularity today, at least in Francophone areas, where the idea can be used to refer to particular inclination, as for hirsute or smooth bodies, muscular or slender ones, and so forth. But sexual orientation itself is different from these specifics, because it is experienced as part of one’s core personality.