In 1957, when I left school, being gay was still a choice. You couldn't, of course, choose what would make your knob jump up and dance. But you could, and did, make a choice about whether you were going to get on with life as you were, or cover it up.
The point was, it was illegal. Most homosexuals kept their sexuality hidden - lived reclusive lives, got married as a front, or told endless silly stories about having never met the right girl. But a surprising number didn't. They enjoyed things just as they were, particularly the clandestine nature of their social life.
By the time I was fifteen I'd already read Isherwood and Auden and was enthralled. It wasn't so much the sexual side of things, it was the outsider nature of their lifestyle. I couldn't wait to get on with a gay life and had no reservations about jumping into it. So as soon as I left school I made the choice and jumped.
In those days, for anyone who wasn't a part of it, the gay world was a secret. Nowadays it's public property and the excitement has gone. Being gay is no longer a choice, it's just a gene. If you're homosexual, that's fine. No one's going to bother you and most countries in Europe even allow you to get legally hitched. All rather dull compared with how it was.
At school, the other big decision was religion. We were told point blank we had to believe in God. There were school prayers every morning and the only way to avoid them was to be Buddhist, Jewish or Moslem, in which case you could wait in a small room next to the library.
Since my atheism wasn't accepted as an excuse for not attending prayers I made my protest by refusing to lean forward and shut my eyes when they were being said. Instead I sat bolt upright and stared at whoever was on the podium delivering them. In due course I was called before the headmaster.
"You don't shut your eyes during prayers," he snapped.
"Seems like you don't either," I told him.
For this I was sent to London to see a psychiatrist. When I told him I refused to be railroaded into believing religious claptrap, he muttered, "Good choice."
But over the last few years there've been ominous rumblings about a religious gene - a gene that creates an unstoppable need in people to believe in an all-powerful gentleman in the sky. This would put religion on a par with homosexuality - not a choice, but something you're born with.
Which brings me to bagels.
A week or two ago H&H Bagels, New York's most famous bagel establishment, closed its doors after 39 years in business. Regular bagel buyers stood outside the empty building in tears and columnists wrote about a culinary disaster. But why? How could any right-minded person like a bagel? Bagels are the nearest thing to stale bread ever invented.
They were first brought to America by Jewish immigrants in the 19th century. The same immigrants gave America its film industry, its music industry, its best songwriters, many of its great comedians and authors, and outstanding people in every other field. But they weren't too hot on food. True, they could drum up a decent cheesecake and were quite clever with pickles, but oh... those bagels!
Imagine in front of you on the breakfast table is a bagel - freshly baked perhaps, maybe still warm, but with nothing more to offer than the sensation of chewing on stale crusts and blotting paper. Next to it is a croissant. Crispy and flaky on the outside, soft and mouth-watering on the inside - maybe the most delicate confection ever produced by the baking of flour and water in an oven. These two items are about the same price, about the same size, made mostly from the same ingredients, and serve the same purpose. One is utterly exquisite. The other is disgusting. So why would anyone choose the bagel? How can it be explained?
Some day soon scientists will come up with the answer, but I'm afraid it's going to be very boring. Like being gay, or believing in God, I've a feeling they're going to discover a bagel gene.
It's depressing. There are far too many genes around these days. I preferred it when we made choices.
Find out more about Simon Napier-Bell's work and interests at www.simonnapierbell.com