What's Wrong With Homosexuality? by John Corvino takes a philosophical standpoint when discussing arguments against homosexuality, in particular "…the claim that same-sex relationships are morally wrong…" (p. 5). But What's Wrong With Homosexuality is as much a philosophical and moral discussion as it is a deeply personal account of being a gay man. Corvino therefore develops arguments and moral outlooks based on common notions against homosexuality, such as it being a risky lifestyle, not being normal, while at the same time discussing central notions of homosexuality as either being biologically based or a matter of choice.
Perhaps the most striking and emotionally loaded is chapter five titled, Born This Way, in which Corvino discusses the notions of homosexuality as being biological, a choice, or somewhere in between. As such, Corvino discusses the difficulty of both claiming that homosexuality is solely biological or simply a matter of choice, to him, the discussion is more complicated and nuanced than that. "Put aside the fact that "this way" is ambiguous. (No one is born having sex - that, obviously, involves choices). The crucial point is that the leap from "I don't choose my feelings" to "I was born this way" is a nonsequitur. It forces a decision between (A) voluntarily chosen and (B) genetically hardwired, without entertaining possibilities like (C), acquired but nonvoluntary" (p. 100). At the same time, Corvino notes that the issue of choice can be equally problematic: "The subtext-one might say "baggage"-behind "it's a choice" is that homosexuality involves a kind of defiance: heterosexuality is the "normal" or "default" setting, and it is only by some act of willful deviance that people become gay. This latter claim is not only patently false, it's offensive. It ignores the deep struggles many of us go through as we become aware of our same-sex attractions. It ignores the fact that, far from embracing homosexuality, many spend years fighting or hiding it. Perhaps that's why the issue hits such a raw nerve. Do opponents think I'm doing this just to be difficult? To upset my parents? To offend church elders? They could not be more wrong" (p. 102-103).
As Corvino discusses the moral notions of same-sex relationships he does so in a very patient matter, even as he is constantly faced with opponents telling him that his feelings, love, and devotion to his partner are not only unnatural, but also sinful, perverted and blasphemous. "I've had food thrown at me by people yelling "faggot". I've been physically attacked by teenage gay-bashers. And - twisted as it may sound - I've heard people invoke the Bible while doing such things" (p. 147). As upsetting as opponents words and actions can be, it seems as if they are more damaging than ever during the teenage years. Corvino discusses his own feelings and despair when he was younger, and perhaps this is why his own coming out story is so powerful. At the same time, the reader is almost able to feel the urgency behind his words when discussing the harmful and devastating effects of homophobia on teenagers struggling with coming to terms with their sexual orientation; "…here's what these kids will hear: Your deep longings for intimacy are not merely immoral or unwholesome, but demonic (p. 145). It is obvious that Corvino speaks from experience when discussing such harmful effects. "I cannot emphasize enough how emotionally scaring such rhetoric is. Moreover, the very people to whom teenagers might normally turn for solace - their parents, teachers, and ministers - often use this rhetoric most freely and unthinkingly" (p. 146).
Corvino writes in very witty yet sincere and passionate manner. As mentioned before, even though opponents often resort to rather degrading name calling, Corvino does nothing of the sort, instead focusing on the moral questions at hand. Corvino does however use the rhetorics and views made by gay rights opponents to further strengthening his own arguments, blending personal stories with philosophical knowledge. As such, the book is as valuable in the classroom as it is for LGBT youth struggling with coming to terms with their sexual orientation, or who find that their religious upbringing clash with their own feelings and identity. Opponents of homosexuality, though perhaps not likely to want to engage with the book, should still consider doing so, especially when confronting their own beliefs and prejudice.
© 2013 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.