Thoughts about Ben Carson’s “gay choice” comments

Ben Carson on raceIt’s not news at this point that Ben Carson said being gay is a choice, as evidenced by the men who come out of prison having switched sexual preferences from straight to gay. It was an amazingly stupid thing to say, impolitic and ill-thought out.  I have enormous respect for Dr. Carson, but that comment cemented for me why this otherwise admirable man should not throw his hat into the presidential ring.

The statement was wrong-footed to begin with because enormous numbers of gay sexual encounters in prison are, in fact, gay rape. These encounters have little to do with desire and preference, and everything to do with power and, on the part of the rapist, with a momentary sexual release.

The statement also denied man’s nature — and please bear with me here, because I’m not going to embark on some weird riff saying all men are inherently gay and it’s only Western society that forces them into heterosexual sex.  I’m heading off to a different point.

Man is a sexual animal, by which I really mean that men are sexual animals — more so than women are. To support this statement, I have three entirely unscientific little anecdotes to tell: one is a WWII joke, one is a WWII remembrance, and one is a story about gay Mormon missionaries.

First, here’s the joke, one that my father learned during his time in North Africa with the RAF during WWII:

A soldier has been serving in the desert for a long time, and has become increasingly antsy as his body craves sexual release. He notices that his fellow soldiers seem much more relaxed than he is. Finally, he overcomes his shyness and approaches one of his mates to find out why the latter isn’t sexually frustrated. “Ah,” says his mate. “The secret out here is to find yourself a nice camel. You’d be amazed at how good that can feel.”

The soldier is horrified at the thought but, eventually, his urges overcome him. He finds himself a nice lady camel, rather pretty and clean-looking for a camel. He then heads out into the desert with her for some privacy.

Once in the middle of nowhere, he realizes he has a small problem: he can’t reach the camel (think Chihuahua approaching a Great Dane). Eventually, our young soldier gets a bright idea. He’ll take the camel near a sand dune and then position himself on the sand dune. In his mind, the problem is solved. What he discovers, though, is that camels don’t stand still and he finds himself chasing his camel lady through the dunes.

After innumerable failed attempts at engaging with his camel, the young soldier suddenly spies an exquisitely beautiful, half-clothed young woman staggering through the desert towards him. “Help me!” she cries. “If you can save me from this terrible desert, I’ll do anything for you. Anything.”

The soldier looks the young woman over carefully, and then politely asks “Would you please hold my camel for me?”

Second, a WWII remembrance that comes from my mother, who was interned by the Japanese during WWII. The Japanese segregated their camps by age and sex. Women and young children were separated from men and boys. According to Mom, (1) many of the boys admitted after the war that the men in the camp molested them and (2) several of her married friends were very distressed after the war to hear their husband’s confess to homosexual affairs or encounters while in the camps.

Is what I heard from my Mom True?  I don’t know. I don’t know whether my mother really heard these stories or whether, if she heard them, the narrators were accurate. Certainly, though, the stories are consistent with other tales of incarceration.

Third, I’m passing on a narrative that came from a lapsed Mormon I know who is very hostile to the Mormon church. He contended that Salt Lake City has a huge substratum of married men who get together for gay sexual encounters. Many, he says, would have been gay under any circumstances, but are married to women because of social pressure. He contends, however, that others first experimented with homosexual sex during their mission, and got a taste for it. Although primarily heterosexual, they retain a lifelong desire for homosexual encounters.

Part of the problem, said this guy, is the Church’s own instruction book for young people on their missions all of whom are recent high school grads just bursting with hormones). The Missionary Handbook mandates chastity (as well as reminding its missionaries that the wrong type of sex can be illegal). The handbook also suggests ways to fight physical desires and prevent false accusations:

You are expected to obey strictly the law of chastity, which forbids sexual conduct of any kind outside of marriage between husband and wife.

Violations of the law of chastity—including touching the private parts of another person, whether under or over clothing—are criminal conduct in some areas. If the victim is a minor, penalties can be severe, including imprisonment. Even false charges can take months to investigate and may disrupt or end missionary service.

To help yourself obey the law of chastity and to protect yourself from such charges, always remain with your companion. Never be alone with anyone else, male or female, adult, youth, or child (except as explained in “Stay Together” on pp. 30–32).


Stay Together. Never be alone. It is extremely important that you stay with your companion at all times. Staying together means staying within sight and hearing of each other. The only times you should be separated from your assigned companion are when you are in an interview with the mission president, on a companion exchange, or in the bathroom.


Never be alone with, flirt with, or associate in any other inappropriate way with anyone of the opposite sex.


The following guidelines apply to all missionaries, regardless of age or sex.

Because of increasing legal complexities, be extremely careful around children. If charges of inappropriate behavior are made, you may find yourself involved in a lengthy court case. If you are found guilty, you could face a substantial jail sentence and Church disciplinary action.

As in all other relationships, never be alone with a child.

Although I would be driven quite crazy if I could never be alone, ever, I think the above rules for behavior are very sensible if you want to keep young people away from accidentally impregnating someone or getting pregnant, or facing rape or pedophilia charges. Indeed, if these rules applied to American high schools, they would be much more wholesome, safe and, probably, emotionally more comfortable places.

The one thing the rules don’t do (and can’t do) is to protect against a young missionary’s urge to satisfy his (or her) sexual desires with whatever companion happens to be there. After all, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.

And that, said the ex-Mormon, is exactly what happens. Those young men on missions have sexual relationship with their same-sex companions are not gay; they are opportunistic.  (Let me add here that I have no idea if there’s any truth at all to what this guy said, any more than I know whether there’s truth to my Mom’s stories.  I accept them as true here, both because they jive with what I understand about human nature and because they  help make my point.)

Fundamentally, all three of my anecdotes relate to opportunistic non-heterosexual sex. I did mention, didn’t I, that men are sexual animals?

Carson’s off-the-cuff response failed to distinguish between genuine homosexuality, which manifests itself as an overriding preference for sexual relations with someone of the same sex, and opportunistic sexuality, which sees people from across the sexual spectrum make do with whatever is available to satisfy their sexual urges.  This is true whether those sexual urges reflect power, loneliness, sexual frustration, or whatever else drives humans. By doing so, Carson came across sounding like an idiot.

I was impressed by Carson’s speech at the Prayer Breakfast a couple of years ago, and admired his bravery in gently and politely standing up for his faith and belief systems in front of a president who manifestly seems not to respect either of those two things. I respect Carson’s intelligence and the good he’s done during his career. Indeed, he is a virtuous man. But he is also not ready for prime time and seems to me to lack the basic mental filters any politician, not just a politician during a time of Leftist speech and thought codes, ought to possess.

If Carson’s presidential exploratory committee were to approach me, I would say, “No! His gifts aren’t meant for the presidency, and he would be destroyed in a presidential race, or even a Republican primary. Let him continue to do what he does now: educate about the values that matter most to him. That’s where he can and will make a difference.”