There are some lessons to be learned, I think, from a couple of remarkable statistics gleaned from recent surveys. One, from last November, found that only 49.7% of Cambridge students identified as heterosexual, with 11.9% as homosexual and 29% as bisexual. Another, more recently, finds that 10% of British 16-18 year olds would like to change their gender.
There are similar kinds of results from surveys in the US. One might rightly question the methodology: for example, the first survey was conducted by the student magazine Varsity rather than by scientists, and one responder reported his sexuality as “rower.” Self-reporting studies are always massively biased, even in professional social psychology. But remember that most of the historical studies giving far lower rates of aberrant sexuality/gender are also self-reported, including the official British census results, the latest of which, in 2021, showed 1.5% of over-16s to identify as homosexual, and 1.3% as bisexual, and “only” 0.5% disputing their birth-certificate gender, despite the current trans obsession. The overall figure for heterosexuality was 89.4%, which is very different from the Cam. U. survey of just a year later.
Even the Office of National Statistics agrees, though, that the percentage of LGBTQ+ identifiers is steadily increasing year on year. I don’t think there can be serious doubt that what this reveals is that there is a massive element of social conditioning in these matters. One can certainly argue that the huge numbers in some of the surveys amongst the young show the results of imitation, whether through social media or educational propaganda at schools and colleges. There is some evidence that many of these self-identifiers in surveys do not actually act out their declarations, even at the time. And it is certain, from consistent findings of serious research, that many teenagers who claim to be born in the wrong body will soon grow out of the notion, either (according to some research) settling on the gay lifestyle or, I suspect more commonly, falling in love, getting married and having 2.4 kids.
But once again, remember that even the older estimates of these states and feelings, almost all based on self-reporting, were equally subject to change over time. We always think of those married people “coming out” as gay, but not often about the many with some youthful homosexual experiences who discover their “true self” in heterosexual marriage. So we can say with some confidence that the individuals concerned in these inflated figures are honestly reporting their present feelings, but that those feelings have been massively influenced by the current social milieu, and that most will subsequently change their minds.
On principle, we can also conclude that most of the 10% of kids wanting to change their gender are also currently convinced that they have “really” been of another gender since birth. After all the whole trans narrative is about being born in the wrong body, not about normal boys growing up to be women, and little girls to be men. Yet their belief will not stop them growing out of it (even those who proceed to hormones or surgery are detransitioning at an alarming rate). So here’s a contentious conclusion: most of that ten percent are wrong about their alternative gender being innate.
This fact is important in the more general assessment of individuals’ conviction that they have been “gay since birth.” That idea governs much of the discourse now, particularly as churches agonize over the question of gay clergymen and so on. We talk about “homosexuals” and “heterosexuals” as if they were as much a biological trait as male and female were until recently. We talk about accepting “people of all sexualities” as if it were proven that one is born with some particular orientation (“Since God made me this way, should it not be celebrated?”). Past “discrimination” by churches is repented – though we do not use that word about paedophiles or wife-beaters in the church – is not God’s law nothing but discrimination against sin? And there is an unspoken assumption that the main pastoral conundrum is that, although Scripture condemns homosexual acts (and even unconsummated lust, Matt 5:28), individuals actually have little control over them, and none over same-sex attraction. All these ideas unconsciously accept the LGBTQ+ framing of things, even as the biblical teaching is being affirmed. It is that cognitive dissonance which causes as much heart-searching as the overt pressure from the world to comply with its impositions or face sanctions.
Yet the idea of inherent sexuality or (non-chromosomal) gender has scant support in good-quality science, despite research being truncated by the societal prejudice that it would be “unethical.” No strong genetic factors have ever been found for sexual preference, weak and ambiguous signals notwithstanding. None of the claimed hormonal abnormalities or brain differences stand scrutiny. That just leaves the blame with God for denying himself in creation the human soul – which is not good theology, and not science at all. So the claim that sexual preference is inborn is based purely on personal conviction, which we have already seen to be prone to manipulation, even if Eve in the garden had not given us the archetypal example.
Yet it is certainly not fair to say that homosexual orientation or activity is simply a matter of “choice” simpliciter. The pastoral problem of the adult struggling with strong (and concealed) desires is real, and compassion for, say, the married man who, moved by deeply buried same-sex attraction, has an affair with another man is surely the Christian position. The question is different when applied to church leaders and teachers, from whom exemplary standards are required by God, but that’s a separate issue, as is the case of the brother or sister who persists in sin with impunity.
However, the kind of thoughts governing a pastoral response to that situation ought not be about the man’s struggle against his inborn, God-given, nature, but about recognising and fighting indwelling sin. That might very well be helped by the ability to discern long-forgotten causes like adult (or adolescent) abuse, foolish choices in childhood, and so on. Scientific knowledge on this is lagging the need, because doing the research breaks the dominant narrative and will neither be funded nor published.
But it should scarcely be controversial that many lifelong weaknesses and character faults have their roots deep in forgotten or simply not-understood circumstances in our lives. It is, after all, a commonplace in counselling that emotional deprivation in childhood is a common factor in personality disorder. Still, the aim is to heal the wounds, not accept them as good.
One defence of the “inherent sexuality” argument is that, although we can discern social conditioning in the increasing rates of sexual and gender aberration, the persistent few percent even before the LGBT revolution, and of course anecdotal evidence down the centuries, show a “baseline level” that environmental causes cannot explain. But this is an obvious fallacy. There has never been, in our history since Adam, a “normal” period. Proverbial sources of sodomy like a standing Navy and single-sex boarding schools have been around for several centuries, but not before. Celebrated cases of homosexual British monarchs like Edward II and James I (Richard 1 is a more doubtful case) may reflect more the abnormal upbringing and power of princes than a biological baseline.
Conversely, Moby Dick and Dickens both instance the likelihood of being asked to share a bed in a crowded inn in the nineteenth century, without raising any question of sexual temptation or lack of probity. That is a purely modern social taboo (and should, I gather from one historian, be applied to Richard I sharing a bed with the French king, too). Back in 2020 I did a piece showing the radically different contexts of homosexual activity in different societies down the centuries – in none of which was “innate sexual orientation” a consideration.
Every society since Eden has been a perverted society in one way or another, and perversion of God’s gift of two sexes and the marriage between them is no exception. Addiction to the wrong people (whether your own sex or another’s wife, or your children) has complex roots in an individual, but so too has addiction to alcohol, or to chocolate, or to fighting, or to work. Some of these are more harmful than others, but all are potentially “besetting sins,” and none is inborn. And therefore none should be affirmed or celebrated, but rather opposed not only by the perpetrator-victim (sin being both a fault and a disease), but by anyone involved pastorally.
Because God’s word is true and unchanging, that will be so even if 100% of students, or clergymen come to that, soon identify as non-binary lesbians with beards.