I am what I am and it's not a choice

After spending money and travelling the world in an effort to "choose not to be gay", Toscano began

Being gay myself, many folks consider me an expert on all things gay. Did Alexander the great have a male lover? What does the Bible say about homosexuality? For my bay window, should I use lace or chintz curtains?

As a gay theatrical performance activist, the most common question I get is: “how old are you?”

Such a rude question, but completely understandable because of my wild past including the 17-year quest to transform myself into a heterosexual with side trips to Zambia, England, and Ecuador plus a five year marriage. They look at my fresh, young face and wonder 'how did you do all that?' I explain that I am a 42-year-old, non-smoking vegan who moisturizes (It is never too young to start!).

The second most common question I get is: “do people choose to be gay?”

When someone is romantically and sexually attracted to someone of the same-sex, is this nature or nurture? Genetics or a mere whim?

This is a scientific question, best left to scientists. No one knows for sure although researchers have amassed a body of evidence that points to biological factors leading to a same-sex orientation.

One recent study by J. Michael Bailey at Boston’s Northeastern University revealed that among identical twin brothers, if one is gay, the other has a 52 per cent chance of being gay. (Fraternal twins show a 22 per cent chance while brothers who are not twins and do not share the same genetic code show only an 11 per cent chance of both being gay). According to a 1997 Canadian study, Anthony Bogaert of Brock University in St. Catharines discovered that the more brothers in a family, the higher the chance that the youngest ones will be gay.

No one has yet discovered the “gay gene”, but, then again, scientists have yet to discover a gene that causes some people to be left-handed.

Human sexuality is highly complex. We all start out in the womb as female, and then mom’s body puts some of us through a hormonal rinse cycle, which turns us male. With such a complicated transition who can say if all humans are 100 per cent male or female. Scientifically speaking we determine someone’s sex according to many factors, not simply the bits between our legs.

But I stray into murky embryonic waters. Back to choice. Did I choose to be gay?

Yes, on September 21, 1972 in 2nd grade (age 7) I said to myself: “Although most people treat gays like crap and only heterosexuality is represented and celebrated in my world, from this time forth I choose to like other boys instead of girls. Sure others will bully me, maybe even beat me up, but hey someone’s got to be society’s punching bag."

Actually, no, I never chose to be gay. In fact, for nearly two decades I even tried choosing NOT to be gay.

Growing up I knew I was different from the other boys around me. When puberty hit and all my male friends went crazy for girls while I went crazy for my male friends, I understood the difference—I was gay, a homo, a queer, a faggot. From messages I heard on the playground, in the media and at church, I determined gays are sinful and abnormal. Instead I wanted to be a good boy.

So, at the age of 17 after giving my heart (and the rest of me) to Jesus, I embarked on a journey to straighten myself out. I spent 17 years and over $30,000 USD on three continents attempting to change or at least suppress my same-sex attractions. I discovered the Ex-Gay Movement, which promises that homosexuals can live gay-free lives. I reasoned that if being gay were a choice, a product of a dysfunctional upbringing in the midst of a lost and dying world, than surely with the power of God and the guidance of ex-gay ministers, I could “un-choose” being gay or at least choose the right thing for a change.

No surprise, it didn't work. Change was not possible, at least not a change in sexual orientation. But through the years of trying I did change. I became suicidal, filled with shame and self-loathing. The ex-gay process left me depleted, discouraged and depressed. It caused emotional, psychological and spiritual harm.

No, I never chose my same-sex attractions. Also, after I came to my senses and came out of the closet, I did not choose to be “gay”—to act gay according to the current standards and stereotypes presented in both the gay and straight media. Instead I chose to be authentic, to no longer demonise my sexuality, to integrate my faith with the rest of my life. I did choose to be a Christian, a Quaker, a vegan and an activist, but I never chose to be gay.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.