For anyone who spends time looking at the religious opposition to gay rights, the name of Robert Gagnon surfaces often. Very active with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the theology professor making his home in my own city of Pittsburgh PA, has been a loud and vocal opponent to the acceptance of gay people for the last few decades. I first met him many years ago, at a day long “dialogue” sponsored by the Pittsburgh Presbytery, where he thought he was the only person in the room who had any clue about theology, religious history, and academic scholarly research. He threw his weight around like you would expect, supporting his opinions as if they were fact with much bravado, but little else.

This week however, his name surfaced in relation to the ex-gay movement, and while those efforts are frequently associated with some religious justification, the loudest advocates in the ex-gay arena are usually gays who either get their jollies from abusing those who seek help in those programs, or gays who maintain their own self-hatred and self -control by trying to control the lives of others. I never knew Gagnon was associated with these folks, and it led me to ponder, is a Robert Gagnon gay? He certainly looks gay, but we all know that looks can be deceiving, and it is so inappropriate to judge someone on how they appear. That’s one reason why non-discrimination protections are so critical. There are many straight women and men who get perceived as  gay or lesbian simply because of how they look or act.
Then again this evening, Gagnon’s name surfaced yet again in a Google alert for “Homosexual.” The linked post is the start of a review of something Gagnon wrote which is supposed to be a secular justification against homosexuality. How interesting I thought! What does the Biblical Scholar have to bring to a secular argument to oppose gay people? And as I read, not only the commentary of Gagnon’s writing, but Gagnon’s text itself, that nagging question returned. Is Robert Gagnon gay? Of course the short answer is, ‘No he isn’t.’ “Gay” is an identity either self-assigned or assigned by others, and he most certainly doesn’t self-identify that way. But is he a homosexual? That is a harder question to dismiss especially when you use his secular arguments against homosexuality as a tool to understand what he thinks homosexuality is.
This distinction between homosexuality/homosexual behavior and being gay is a very important one if you are going to grasp either the religious or (pretend) secular opposition to the acceptance and equality of gay people. From a psychological perspective, sexual orientation is a characteristic of a healthy person, and ranges across a continuum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, with most people falling somewhere in between. While Science tells us that orientation is natural, it is also culturally constructed, and this is most easily understood if we think about gender roles, and social expectations. A person may experience an orientation towards their same gender, but participate in other-gender behavior because that is understood as the “right thing” to do. Some break this down  as nurture vs nature, while others argue that since there has been no gay gene found, sexual orientation isn’t something we are born with. But truly, there are many things about behavior, Biologically controlled, that do not have a single-gene origin, and Gagnon’s writing really doesn’t care about that anyway. If we are going to consider if Gagnon is gay, we don’t have to solve this argument right now.
So what does Gagnon share that suggests he is a homosexual? Here is the post that was in the Google alert, and also the link to Gagnon’s original text Lowder runs out of steam before addressing all of Gagnon’s text but no matter: the real interesting part is at the beginning in Gagnon:
1) The nature argument. Marriage is not just about more intimacy. It is about merging with one’s sexual other half or counterpart, a complementary sexual other. Erotic desire for what one is as a sexual being is sexual narcissism or sexual self-deception: an attempt at completing oneself sexually through merger with a sexual same.
Keep in mind that Gagnon’s piece is entitled. “How to make a valid secular case against cultural endorsement of homosexual behavior. ” Gagnon equates sex with marriage, and [gives away] his religious perspective from the very beginning. Secular? Not a chance! The text reeks of an Adan and Eve understanding of Gender, plain and simple, relying on the tired old “electric plug” idea of sex. You know how the prong part goes into the slot part, and this is called “complimentary.” Completing oneself is just a different way of expressing Genesis 2:18 and 2:23-24. The next part is where Gagnon gives himself away perhaps.
Most people intuit something developmentally deficient about being erotically attracted to the body parts and essential gender that one shares in common with another.
Lowder dismisses the importance, even as he recognizes how odd this idea is:
“Developmentally deficient”? That seems like a very odd description. It suggests that normal development includes going through a homosexual phase before arriving at a heterosexual one, which strikes me as implausible. I doubt even Gagnon believes that. In any case, I do not find any evidence or reasons in Gagnon’s article to think homosexuals are “developmentally deficient.”
I think Gagnon is telling his own story of his own development, and attributes it to “most people,” rather than own his own story?
Youth discover their sexuality, and sexual feelings at different ages, but it isn’t uncommon for even toddlers to know that self manipulation feels good, and most boys as they move through puberty have heard more than once, that they “better stop it or they’ll go blind.” Is this enjoyment at touching one’s own parts what Gagnon is referencing as a part of normal development? That isn’t too big of a stretch at all. But what comes after? For Gagnon, do gays stop developing when they start playing, not with their own body but with other bodies like their own? Is he suggesting that this is the normal development: touch yourself, touch others like yourself, and then touch another not like yourself? Did Gagnon touch other boys?
My experience was and is, different from what Gagnon expresses. In my experience as a teen, all guys talked about jacking off (touching themselves) and all guys talked about wanting to touch girls! And if guys can be believed, even after they become sexually active with girls, they still love to touch themselves! I never knew guys who touched other guys until well after High School. I never knew anyone who went through a homosexual phase and then a heterosexual outcome.
All this could be for naught. Gagnon may simply be again relying on his religious perspective- Genesis 38:9-10, as well as the more general admonition against masturbation as a selfish (narcissistic?) behavior which may fall under the general heading of Biblical fornication.
Lowder doesn’t address Gagnon’s five other points, but I believe they support my inquiry- at least the next two. They remind me of my own experience as a youth. You see, I never had heard the term “homosexual” or even was aware that I had any feelings for other guys for most of my teens. But at some point, on a Boy Scout camping trip, I saw my first pornography that one of the guys had stolen from his father. The magazine was from Europe, and while most of the pictures were of women, there was also a picture of a nude man. Someone said something about homosexual as if it were an exotic thing that Europeans did, and after I got home from that trip, I went to look it upin the book, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask.” This described me perfectly- afraid to ask. The book’s description of a homosexual is a truly frightening thing, and I assured myself right then and there, that I would never be one! I’d do whatever it took to make sure I was not one, EVER!
Here are Gagnon’s next points:
2) Negative side effects.
3) Increase of homosexuality.
Reminds me exactly of what I read as a youth that scared me so! In reality, there is no substance behind either one. There is plenty of real science to dispute #2, and the reality is that there have always been and will always be gay people. The number does not increase. We don’t multiply, however, it is possible that more people are simply open about their orientation rather than hiding and denying it. So the number of gay people doesn’t increase, only the number who are comfortable and proud to share their orientation.
Gagnon’s other points are pure hogwash but follow the same trajectory as these mentioned. If we accept gay people, all hell will break loose and civilization as we know it will all fall apart. Isn’t that consistent with a youth’s critical thinking abilities? The few pages I read as a youth was enough to lead me to be so utterly afraid, is it possible that Gagnon’s own experience wasn’t much different from mine?
Yes, I don’t think it is too far of a stretch to understand Gagnon’s perspective as that of a gay person- a homosexual fighting with everything he can to not be what he fears he is. Only Gagnon knows for sure.

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