I'm reading through the glossary in Elizabeth Meyer's Gender, Bullying, and Harassment, which I've been reading for an invited book review, and I noticed something that seemed odd to me in the definition for 'gay':
The preferred term for a person who engages in same-sex relationships and identifies as a member of this community. It is preferred to the term homosexual, which has scientific meanings that apply specifically to same-sex behaviors and does not consider a person's identities and relationships. Gay can refer to both men and women, although many women prefer the term lesbian.Now I can think of three different things that could be distinguished here:
1. The sexual orientation: to use Meyer's own glossary definition, "the genders and sexes to which a person is emotionally, physically, romantically, and erotically attracted" -- such as homosexual, bisexual, omnisexual, heterosexual, and asexual -- and is informed by innate sexual attraction." This is a factual issue about which kinds of people the person is attracted to.
2. The identity: how someone identifies themselves in relation to sexual orientation. This isn't the same as sexual orientation, which is a question about who someone is attracted to. It's a question of how the person defines themself.
3. The behavior: how someone acts with respect to people of different genders or sexes. e.g. actually engaging in romantic and/or sexual relationships, making efforts to pursue such relationships, and so on.
I know people who would consider themselves homosexual according to sexual orientation as it's defined in 1 but who do not see their identity defined that way and in fact want to resist it. It's not clear that they are gay in the sense of Meyer's definition. This observation is completely independent of the moral question of whether they should resist it. They in fact try to, which means they don't identify as gay according to how Meyer defines that term.
What I find odd is that they also don't count as homosexual, the way Meyer defines that in the definition of 'gay' above, but they do count as homosexual by the definition of 'sexual orientation' in 1. If they are celibate or engage in heterosexual relationships (two men I know in this category are heterosexually married and, as far as I know, faithful to their wives), despite that not being their innate preference, then they do not participate in homosexual behavior as in 3. They merely have the attraction as their primary attraction, simply 1. The definition of 'sexual orientation' in 1 specifically allows for this possibility. But the definition of 'gay', which excludes it, also excludes it from what it says about the term 'homosexual', which it says "has scientific meanings that apply specifically to same-sex behaviors and does not consider a person's identities and relationships".
So is being homosexual a matter of sexual orientation, as in 1, or is it a matter of behaviors as Meyer distinguishes it from being gay in her definition of 'gay'? Or is the term ambiguous between the two and can sometimes mean one and sometimes the other? I thought I knew what it meant, but now I'm not so sure if she's capturing an important use of it that I haven't noticed before. If that's so, then perhaps we need to make distinctions clearer and figure out a term for the sexual orientation that doesn't imply anything about behavior.