Batsi Chikura

Dr Batsi Chikura is a consultant physician and rheumatologist based in Lincoln, UK. He is a member of the Royal College of Physicians (London) and a member of the British Society for Rheumatology

Homosexuality: nature or choice?

THE question everyone wants to know is whether or not homosexuality is a medical or psychiatric condition? Do homosexuals really have a choice or they are born that way? Can modern science and medicine explain the sexual diversity?

The genesis of homosexuality and heterosexuality has traditionally been argued as either wholly biological or wholly social-environmental. The current theory is that both are important.

In 1896, Krafft-Ebing, a German psychiatrist, published a famous book, Psychopathia Sexualis, in which he described homosexuality as hereditary weakness and perversions of the sexual instinct. Krafft-Ebing considered procreation as the sole purpose of sexual enterprise and that any form of recreational sex was a perversion of sexual desire. Hence, he concluded that homosexuals suffered a degree of sexual perversion because homosexual practices could not result in procreation. Will heterosexuals accept to have sex only for reproduction? I do not think so.

Does sex have a purpose at all other than reproduction? Most animals have sexual contact only when the female is in oestrous and sex serves the sole role of reproduction.

Bonobos, previously called the pygmy chimpanzee, have a different concept: they have sex for breakfast, lunch and supper – any time is sex time. They are also pansexual, which is to say they have sexual attraction and sexual desire towards all gender identities and biological sexes. They have both heterosexual and homosexual sexual contacts and even group sex. Could this be the animal version of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah?

Unlike in the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, sex serves an important function in the Bonobos’ community in keeping the society together, maintaining peaceful and cooperative relations. When Bonobo groups meet in the forest, sex is part of the greeting ritual. Fights and tensions in the group are quickly resolved by an outburst of sexual activity.

If humans could adopt the Bonobos’ concept, wars will be a thing of the past. The Bonobos have the blueprint of ‘the erotica of harmony and peaceful co-existence’. The 1960s anti-war slogan ‘Make love not war’ may have been borrowed from the Bonobos.

Are people born gay or heterosexual? Karl Ulrichs (1825-1895) proposed that homosexuality could be innate (born gay) and probably located in the brain and this could be explained by neurophysiology of sex. He is seen today as the pioneer of gay rights movement.

Despite great progress in the neurosciences, our understanding of the determinants of sexual orientation is incomplete; however some progress has been made. There are many studies that have attempted to identify biological underpinnings of gender identity and sexual orientation in humans by investigating the effects of sex steroids, so pivotal in the differentiation of the genitalia. Sex hormones are very important in sexual development. The results have so far been inconclusive.

A few studies have also been carried out to explore the brain functional changes of homosexual and heterosexual men during sexual arousal using functional magnetic resonance imaging. This type of imaging looks at patterns of brain activation during visually evoked sexual arousal. These studies have shown that although there are similarities, certain areas of the brain are exclusively activated in homosexuals. This means that there are different neural circuits that are active during sexual arousal in homosexual and heterosexual men. There is therefore, a neural basis of sexual orientation. This should be considered as a variation rather than an abnormality.

The difference between male and female genders is small, although in real life this looks so big that no confusion should arise. But hang on, a genetic male can be born female and will look female. This is caused by a male foetus not responding to male hormone (androgen insensitivity) during early development. External female external genitalia will form, however the affected person will have testicles in their tummy and lack ovaries and female womb, so they cannot reproduce. Some famous female athletes have fallen foul of authorities after failing a gender test in the Olympics.

Could it be the environment people grow up in which influences their sexual orientation? Currently, there is no evidence that one’s social environment plays a crucial role in gender identity or sexual orientation.

The United Kingdom is often considered the motherland for gay people, however there could be equal proportions of gay people in Zimbabwe and UK. Gay people in Africa are often left with no other choice other that to operate in the shadows, darkness and peripheries of human existence.

The current process of drafting a new constitution in Zimbabwe has brought to the forefront the thorny issue of sexual orientation and preferences, particularly whether or not homosexuality should be accepted and gay rights enshrined in the constitution.

The late Reverend Canaan Banana, the first black President of Zimbabwe, was arrested in 1997 and charged with having sex with his bodyguard, Jefta Dube.  He was convicted on eleven counts of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault in 1999 and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Banana died in disgrace in 2003 and was buried in his home village. Recently, more cases of sodomy have gone through the legal system in Zimbabwe, yet some parts of the Zimbabwean society remains in denial of existence of homosexuality, often blaming the West for the variance.

Divergent opinions about homosexuality have divided communities and churches, most notably the Anglican Church about the ordination of gay bishops and blessing of same sex unison. Christians often quote selected homophobic passages from the bible, for example: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it.  It is perversion (Leviticus 18:22-23).”

But why are people so repulsed by homosexuality? The lynching of black people in America, the Jewish holocaust and similar bigoted violence originate from hate and intolerance. Criminal acts stemming from prejudice based on race, religion and sexual orientation can only be described as “hate crime”. The victims are often left angry, fearful and depressed.

Hate crime is not new, since biblical times it has been rife and there is no place for such violence and discrimination in modern society.

The belief in the free choice model of homosexuality is the strongest predictor of homophobia. Many studies have shown that heterosexuals who believe gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons consciously choose their sexual orientation and practice a lifestyle conducive to that choice are much more likely to possess discriminatory, homophobic and heterosexist beliefs.

Modern heterosexist communities accept violence against gays and lesbians and promote hate speech. Sex in public, whether by homosexual or heterosexual, is unlawful in most communities. What people choose to do behind closed doors should be a matter for them. Morality, like beauty, is the eyes of the beholder.

It was recently reported that Morgan Freeman, 72, is planning to marry his step-granddaughter, E’Dena Hines, 27. My initial reaction was repulsion but later my feelings and thoughts went through 180 degrees. What two concerting adults, Mr Feeman and Miss Hinds, choose to do behind closed doors should not be my business and I wish then well.

A lot of effort and time has been put into exploring the chemistry, anatomy and physiology of homosexuality. In my opinion, we also need to look closer at the chemistry and pathophysiology of hate. Are we born homophobic, or were we nurtured to be homophobic? Why do people hate passionately what they do not believe in or what they are not? The Muslim-Christian wars in Nigeria are too painful to watch.

Like ageism, homophobia has no place in world. Marginalisation of minorities will not make them disappear. I sincerely hope the current constitution being drafted will endeavour to protect and cherish the rights and privileges of all sections of the Zimbabwean society, including gay people, old people, women and minorities. Your health is your priority, so take care of yourself.