I’ve often had people react, when they see me write for the first time, “I didn’t know you were left-handed!” to which I reply “I’m not.” This response usually leaves people with confused looks on their faces, surely thinking (if they don’t actually say it aloud) But I see you writing with your left hand. Some people think I’m ambidextrous. Others think I’m just lying.
Over the years, I’ve also had some folks who don’t know I’m not really left-handed try to work out the narrative in their own heads, “Oh, you draw and are into music. Left-handed people are supposed to be a bit more creative.” At this artificial correlation I can only laugh.
I am not left-handed. I was born right-handed, and I use my right hand for almost every task (sharpening pencils, using scissors, eating with chopsticks, throwing a ball). What throws people off is the fact that I write (only with pencil, pen, or a paintbrush—not with chalk on a chalk board) with my left hand.
It all started when I was seven years old. My brother is five years older than me and always taught me things way beyond my grade level, including big words. When he mentioned ambidextrousness, I was fascinated. I wanted to be ambidextrous. Naive “scientist” that I was, I thought that I was “born” right-handed, so I must be right-handed and will always be right-handed. So, “logically,” if I just added left-handedness, I’d be ambidextrous. So I kept practicing and practicing writing with my left hand, and I neglected to keep practicing with my right hand. In the end, instead of adding left-handedness to my right-handedness, I switched hands. Now, over twenty years later, I still can’t write with my right hand.
I recently found out that a friend of mine’s father stuttered because his father had forced him to switch from left-handedness to right-handedness. When he tried to force her from left-handedness and noticed her beginning to stutter, he immediately laid off and let her remain left-handed.
These two anecdotes shed an interesting light on the whole nature v. nurture debate. Clearly, there is a general handedness inclination. I was, in fact, “born” right-handed, and my friend was “born” left-handed. She might have been able to switch but then would have developed a stutter like her father’s. I switched with no noticeable side effects (other than people’s disbelief when I tell them I’m not really left-handed). Unless you have some reason to believe that switching from the right hand to the left hand is somehow easier than vice versa, the only other feasible explanation is that the ability for nurture to properly adjust nature greatly depends on the perception of agency on the part of the switcher. The potential stutter in my friend and actual stutter in her father are clearly defense mechanisms against being forced to switch hands. I, on the other hand, had no need for such a defense mechanism, since I was not being forced to switch hands. I switched hands out of curiosity and my own determination.
That’s why I think debates about whether being gay is genetic or not are irrelevant. Nature can be shaped and changed. But when we stigmatize what someone considers a part of herself, that desire for change will not be an inwardly motivated one; it will be perceived as an outside force that needs to be resisted. The internal narrative will run more like “You cannot change who I am. This is who I am. Who are you to try to change me?” instead of “I don’t know if I feel like this. Maybe I’ll try something else.”
The focus on such debates should not be on whether it is possible to change but on whether it is desirable to change and, if it is desirable, what are the ideal circumstances that would facilitate an effective change.