With the election of Mike Baird as the new premier, New South Wales is potentially about to embark on a sharp social conservative turn. Baird not only opposes same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption, but is he also anti-abortion and against heroin injecting rooms. In other words, he is the antithesis of Barry O’Farrell’s social liberalism.
But it is one comment in particular which has got people riled up: a statement in which Baird implied that people “choose” the “homosexuality lifestyle“, a line which led comedian Tom Ballard to wonder whether Baird was drunk on a $3,000 bottle of wine. On a more serious note, NSW deputy opposition leader Linda Burney alsodemanded that Baird explain whether he still held this “backward” view, stating that:
People enter same sex relationships on the basis of love, not because of some lifestyle trend.
The question has long been a point of contention for lesbian and gay people, but the idea that we are “born this way” has become an article of faith in recent years. If we are “born gay”, we should not be discriminated against, since you cannot and should not discriminate against what is “natural”.
It is this argument that is forming the backbone of the reaction against Baird’s social conservatism. Unfortunately however, the attack buys very much into Baird’s philosophy.
Anecdotal evidence points to this as well. Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon for example has publicly stated that she actively chose to be a lesbian, Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson has spoken about a potential willingness to date men in the future, and Olympic diver Tom Daley has described his experience of being a man who “fancied girls” but entered a relationship with a man.
All of these stories describe experiences, or at least a willingness, of people to change and adapt their sexuality and sexual practices throughout their lives. We all make active choices – whether it is who we decide to have sex with, how we have sex, and how much sex we have.
And herein lies the problem. When we attack Baird for saying people choose an homosexual lifestyle, we are implicitly saying “who would want to choose this lifestyle?” – something I’ve actually heard gay people say –, in turn buying into the very idea that non-straight sexualities are not desirable. In doing so, we open up those who make these sorts of active choices to discrimination. We open the opportunity for oppression (social or legal) on people’s legitimate sexual agency.
We can already see this playing out internally within the gay and lesbian movement. When Nixon said that she chose her sexuality, she wasruthlessly attacked by gay and lesbian advocates. When Daley announced that he had a boyfriend, many were determined to put him into the “gay” or “bisexual” box, even though that wasn’t how he described himself. Quite simply, they were told they had to accept that their sexuality is all biology.
This is not the way it should be. We shouldn’t discriminate against people’s sexuality or sexual habits not because they’re “natural”, but because there’s nothing wrong with them.
The people of NSW deserve to be worried about the conservative trend Baird may now be poised to take the state on. Many of his positions deserve to be fought against, but his belief that people choose their sexuality is not one of them. Next time we hear him say it, our only response should be “yes, and what’s wrong with that?”.