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Opinion Piece

Born this way?

Originally published in FUSE, March 2012

“I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.”

This is what Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role as Miranda in Sex and the City, and a woman who spent fifteen years in a relationship with a man, but is now engaged to a woman, recently said to The New York Times Magazine.

The response has been amazing. Wayne Bensen, of Truth Wins Out, for example stated:

“Cynthia did not put adequate thought into the ramifications of her words…When people say it’s a choice, they are green-lighting an enormous amount of abuse because if it’s a choice, people will try to influence and guide young people to what they perceive as the right choice.”

Blogger Perez Hilton responded by saying:

We totally hear her out and true, we cannot define her “gayness,” but it wasn’t a choice for us. We were BORN gay. And millions of gay people around the world feel the same way.

These responses are part of an idea in the queer movement that we need to fight back against the idea that sexuality is a choice. The defense, based on the idea that if sexuality is solely biological then it makes it harder to discriminate against us, has become engrained in mainstream queer activism. As the reaction to Nixon shows however, it is an idea that is having serious negative effects on the queer movement.

Sexuality is about much more than biology. Sexuality discusses identification, both collectively and individually, as well as how we act as sexual agents in society. As sexual agents, we all make a range of choices, whether it is coming out, participating in relationships, identifying in a particular way or engaging in sexual acts. It is access to these sorts of choices that is central to the idea of queer liberation.

When we deny any form of sexual choices therefore, we not only isolate those who speak actively about their choices (such as Cynthia Nixon), but we also actively remove agency around our sexuality. When we say things like, “it’s not a choice, why would we want to choose this?” what we’re actually saying is ‘we don’t want to be like this, but we have no ability to change it’. We have no sexual agency.

As we demand that sexuality is only biological, we make it easier for our opponents to fight against true sexual liberation, where we all have the ability to make active sexual choices. This pushes us into accepting labels, once again placed on us from those with power in the community, once again taking away our ability to make active choices about how we identify ourselves.

Sexuality is as much about identity as it is our biological urges. Identification is essential to our sexual agency and targeting those who speak publicly about the sexual choices they make is simply not acceptable. As Cynthia Nixon also stated:

A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.

Instead of saying ‘why would we want to choose this?’ let’s start saying, ‘of course we would choose this, being queer is awesome.’ That’s the response of a movement fighting for the ability to be true sexual agents in society.

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About Simon Copland

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. In his spare time he plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer, blogs at The Moonbat and tweets at @SimonCopland.

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