by: J.N. Reyna
A few years back, looking for ways to do our part in forwarding the idea that human sexuality is indeed more fluid than people care to accept, some friends and I had the wonderful idea of starting a website listing all the non-gay and lesbian people we’ve had gay and lesbian sex with. We’d have categories: Formerly Gay, Currently Straight; Bi-curious; Closeted Bisexual; Closeted Homosexual; Drunk. The logic was that the only way to advance the cause would be by being so public with our own experiences and outing those who would deny the rights of other people to live and love freely–despite those cowards’ very own forays into the sometimes greener queer pasture.
While our self-righteousness eventually gave way to laziness, that we could even count so many self-identified straight people among our sexual partners was telling. Sexual orientation can be subject to change. In different contexts and over time it can take different forms. And, yes, that can include choice in being straight or gay.
Recently, actor Cynthia Nixon, speaking from her own life experiences, voiced her beliefs regarding the malleability of sexual orientation–and quickly drew unwarranted criticism from, most surprisingly, many in our own LGBTQ community. In a New York Times interview, in response to a question on whether her lesbianism could be discounted considering her coming out later in life, she said:
“I totally reject that,” she said heatedly. “I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. 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. 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.”
I hesitate to legitimize the role of actor turned social cause spokesperson since popularity and fame should never grant an individual the unquestioned authority it often does. However, in this case, I side with Nixon. In respect to her unpopular position, people seem to be asking the wrong questions.
One of the most vociferous attacks against her position has come from those who believe she is doing a disservice to young people. In their view, if we claim homosexuality is a choice, then young queer people can be forced into being straight. In the words of Wayne Besen from of Truth Wins Out:
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.
That people choose to explore their homosexuality and identify as gay or lesbian does not mean that anyone should be forced to not be gay. Sure, in the wrong hands, people who think homosexuality is a choice may aggressively try to force people straight. But this is not a reason to deny the reality of choice. We shouldn’t cower away from uncomfortable truths because they may be abused in some way. Instead, we should ask ourselves how can we stop people from imposing their will on others? Is there any argument whatsoever that would legitimize anyone from forcing anyone else into being straight? Denying anthropological, social and natural scientific data — in additional to the valid individual experiences of members of our community — in support of the fluidity of sexuality benefits no one.
We should respect people’s choices at expressing their homosexuality regardless of whether it’s a choice later in life, or an orientation that feels innate. It is unfortunate that the deterministic essentialism arguments that have been used by our oppressors for so long have now become central tenets of our own identity. We were, gulp, born this way. It’s not our “fault.” The only way for some people to accept homosexuality is to say it’s natural. The essentialists use biological arguments to reduce stigma against homosexuality and bisexuality. Some of these same essentialists use biological arguments to espouse other ideas about male and female heterosexuality that would make us cringe. What we need to be asking ourselves is how did we let essentialism become so entrenched in our identity and causes? What exactly is so wrong about the idea that some people may not let gender influence their choice in partner?
That we have an innate sexuality to express is the only thing provided in nature. Its expression is a choice for some — perhaps it is a more conscious choice than others. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality.
And for those of us who might not be comfortable accepting the sexual choices of others, here’s another choice we make: to be open-minded and conscientious. Where do you side?
J.N. Reyna is a queer Chicana born and raised in Chicago. She is a
writer and researcher currently working toward obtaining her doctorate
in social psychology. Broadly, her academic research interests
include the self, social identity, and consumer psychology. To stay
current with her daily musings, you can find her on Twitter @reynabot
and at her blog, http://www.SoDamnTired.com.