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"You don't get to define my gayness for me."
January 29, 2012 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Cynthia Nixon (of "Sex and the City" fame) told the New York Times last week that she chooses to be gay. Her comments generated a number of responses from gay bloggers, some angry, some not so much, and generated enough heat to be covered by the AP. In today's New York Times, Frank Bruni tries to make sense of it all.
posted by gertzedek (90 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
She is in the right.
posted by Renoroc at 7:57 PM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Some people get to choose. A lot of people don't. Nixon's comments were unfortunate, but probably true to her experience, and shouldn't be taken as universal.

For me, the takeaway lesson is that the term "bisexual" still has too much garbage attached to it and people need to get over their discomfort with the concept.
posted by hippybear at 7:59 PM on January 29, 2012 [33 favorites]


How great for her. That must be really great.

Nobody wants to "define your gayness" for you, Cynthia. Gay away. Gay your little gay heart out. Don't feel like the gay anymore? All gayed out? Go un-gay. De-gay yourself. Have at it! But, y'know, at the same time shut up because you have literally added nothing to the discussion. "I decide to be gay." That's amazing. You've broken through!
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:59 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


I decided I was really horny.
posted by swift at 8:04 PM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


For me, the takeaway lesson is that the term "bisexual" still has too much garbage attached to it and people need to get over their discomfort with the concept.


An ex of mine summed it up the best, and a way i wish more people would call it, "person specific". There you go, it really covers all different spots along the Kinsey scale, the person is attractive to you, then that works. None of this black or white attraction.
posted by usagizero at 8:07 PM on January 29, 2012 [14 favorites]


As a straight guy who, admittedly, does not have a lot of gay friends (but has had openly gay friends since he was 14) I have to say that the really hardline "IT'S NEVER A CHOICE EVER" position always made me uncomfortable. Human sexuality isn't and can't be that simple. The idea that admitting things are more complicated than they appear to be harms the discourse because it gives the homophobes leverage is just missing the forest for the trees. Black-and-white thinking is a bigger problem than almost everything else on the table. The more everyone -- allies and opponents alike -- stat grasping that gray areas are the norm, the better things will be. I have absolutely no problem acknowledging that some people looked inside themselves and chose to date on gender or the other. I also have no problem acknowledging that some people, from the day they can remember, only had to acknowledge what they already knew. And everything in between.

...but then again, I've spent my life on the outside looking in, so to speak, so what the hell do I know.
posted by griphus at 8:08 PM on January 29, 2012 [31 favorites]


Is it OK to be gay? Yes.
Is it OK to choose to be gay? Also yes.
Thank you, drive through.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:09 PM on January 29, 2012 [42 favorites]


Why does anybody care so much about why somebody feels something?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:11 PM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


"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."

I don't think this is actually that controversial. She acknowledges that many people don't get to choose, but that she is choosing. The press is selectively quoting to make headlines. Even this post only puts the juicy parts in the main post. She is just acknowledging a fact.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:13 PM on January 29, 2012 [25 favorites]


It's not just the ladies.

"One should never lose hope. Homosexuality can strike any straight man at any age." - Roger Peyrefitte
posted by General Tonic at 8:14 PM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think it's lovely there are people who can choose, and I feel it's lovely that there are people who can't choose. As someone in the latter group, it would be wonderful to be in the former group, but I'm not insanely jealous.

Who cares why two (or more) people who can consent get freaky?
posted by maxwelton at 8:16 PM on January 29, 2012


Bigots will latch onto all kinds of bizarre reasoning in order to maintain their opinion, because they're ignorant homophobes. Why should anyone define their sexuality in order to please people the that such have contempt for them?
posted by sleep_walker at 8:17 PM on January 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


*the people that
posted by sleep_walker at 8:18 PM on January 29, 2012


Reading about this controversy makes me wonder, all of a sudden, whether or not there is an ongoing conflict between those who claim that homosexuality is inborn, and those who claim that gender is a construct. I get the impression that there's a lot of overlap between adherents of both claims, but it also seems like they should be mutually exclusive. I'm guessing that this must have already been worked out, so would anyone care to illuminate? Or is there an ongoing war between these two camps that I am unaware of?
posted by Edgewise at 8:18 PM on January 29, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's really no one else's business what another person's sexuality is, or whether or not it's a choice. Any suggestion to the contrary should be met with a resounding, celestial MYOB FFS!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:22 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


being bisexual in a long term monogamous relationship makes the labels feel tricky. when she started dating a woman a lot of people wanted to create a narrative that she had found herself or that her previous marriage was built on a lie or something, and as she says - that's not at all her experience. and now, she's with a woman and seemingly plans to be with this woman for a long time. she's in a lesbian relationship. i guess this is why a lot of us bisexuals started using queer instead of gay, because gay, like straight has seemingly little wiggle room - EITHER YOU ARE OR YOU AREN'T! make up your mind! pick a gender! we aren't really part of the movement. we don't fit into the box. we don't help the cause. we feed into the worse stereotypes. this is the message we get again and again.

i can totally sympathize with her - did i "choose to be straight"? well, sort of. i choose to give up dating everyone besides my husband. in doing that, i decided to be in a straight relationship. does that make me straight? no. but it does mean i'm living the straight lifestyle, i suppose. i can see someone in that position removing some of the semantics and saying "I chose to be gay."
posted by nadawi at 8:29 PM on January 29, 2012 [41 favorites]


We believe in religious tolerance, not because people are born with Lutheran genes or Muslim genes, but because religious bigotry is wrong.
posted by secretseasons at 8:29 PM on January 29, 2012 [19 favorites]


I am straight, and have a gay daughter. It is none of my business whether she was born that way of whether she chooses it. I understand the inquiries into the biological origins of sexual preference, but they have always made me uncomfortable, in that it's no one's fucking business how anyone has arrived at a place that makes them happy, as long as no one else is hurt by arriving at that place. Fuck off bigots, and try to live your own lives, rather than dictating to others.

At the same time, I always hated Miranda, so I don't give a shit about anything Nixon has to say.
posted by Danf at 8:36 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm frustrated by the backlash from the gay community against her remarks. Why should we feel pressured to keep all our speech "on message" in response to a potential reaction from the oppressor?
posted by hermitosis at 8:36 PM on January 29, 2012 [37 favorites]


"I loved a boy. And then I loved a girl. Call it what you will."

What is so hard to understand about this story? It's the story of a good (male) friend of mine, too. I think it's beautiful, and a big pot of money awaits the first filmmaker who can tell it well.
posted by msalt at 8:37 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


right on, secretseasons.

i understand the importance of the narrative of "we didn't choose this!" as anti-homophobia 101 - but that narrative has serious limits. homophobia isn't wrong because "we couldn't help it", it's wrong because it's a bigoted, hateful, and destructive set of attitudes & beliefs. and relying too heavily on the attitude that we just can't help ourselves, it's not our fault, etc, just feeds into bigots' ideas that there is something WRONG about ourselves that's only tolerable because it's 100% immutable.

personally, i didn't choose to be queer, but i love it. and if someone somehow offered me the option to be straight now, i wouldn't take it.
posted by sea change at 8:40 PM on January 29, 2012 [16 favorites]


"We didn't choose this" was an important step in the late 90s, but we've moved past it. The best reaction is what we're seeing here -- "whatever."
posted by msalt at 8:43 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


"I loved a boy. And then I loved a girl. Call it what you will."

This needs to be crooned by somebody.
posted by jonmc at 8:45 PM on January 29, 2012 [18 favorites]


Even if I was gentically designed to fuck men (and this is a dubios claim), i think culture dictates and social cohesion and choice, allows us to work through that meaning, to make sexuality just part of a genetic determenation kills it for me.

an example:

a) brain chemistry makes me want to fuck men.
b) growing up in small town alberta makes me want to fuck men between 16 and 40, who are working class, etc
c) growing up LDS makes me want to fuck young dads
d) reading queer theory, and becoming involved in radical queer culture, in Edmonton and then in Toronto, means that I am no longer willing just to fuck men.
e) finding women I find attractive means that I choose to fuck women,
f) finding people who refuse their biology as destiny, means that gender presentation becomes profoundly ambigious. so i can fuck people who are both men and women, and neither men nor women.

so some of its genetics, some of it is geography, some of it is choice, some of it is more complicated.
and when you get really complicated--there is some trauma in my life, and brain chemistry changes when trauma is invoked--and i have had sex lately that directly mirrors that trauma--is that a choice, or is it brain chemistry, or is both or neither--the narratives we engage in are so profoundly mixed, that you cannot just say, it is a choice, or it is not a choice.

and i don't id as bi, because in the term bisexual, is a continutaiton of these dialectical pairs, boy or girl, gay or straight, man or woman, erect or flaccid, chose or destined.

(also, as someone in the xian milleau, the choice is even more important--because just like G-d in her infinite mercy did not make me a Christian, but allowed me to move onto an undestanding of the world that included christian culture and history, God, in her inifinte mercy did not make me gay, but perhaps, if she was that invernetionist (and she most likely isn't) allowed me to move onto an understanding of the world that included queer culture and history)

also, I would fuck Cynthia Nixon in a heartbeat.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:45 PM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


The fact that, as a bisexual, Cynthia Nixon can choose to be with either men or with women (or both, if that's what floats her boat) doesn't mean that she chose to be bisexual. Ambidextrous people can choose to write with either hand, but that doesn't mean that I can choose to write with my left hand or a leftie can write with their right one.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:54 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the handwriting example is poor because you can learn to write with the other hand. I know because my dad was slapped with a ruler when he tried to write with his left hand.

Shrug.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:55 PM on January 29, 2012


"I loved a boy. And then I loved a girl. Call it what you will."

This needs to be crooned by somebody.


Like Michael Buble. I always thought that Buble and Beiber should do a duet, possibly on "Boola Boola."
posted by jonmc at 8:58 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Edgewise,

As far as I understand this is an issue that queer theorists have tried to hash out over time. Sex as a social construct creates a lot of problems for inborn sexuality. To put it in a nutshell, we can't even well define a man and a woman (our constructs are mosaics at best), so we can't then say that sexual orientations based on those flawed constructs are rock-solid, inborn, or biologically determined.

I think the bigger issue is that arguing for sexual orientation as inborn does NOTHING to argue for a particular sexual orientation as morally good or neutral. The undercurrent of much of the choice-vs-no-choice debate is that gayness is bad, so if you could choose to be straight, then you should. The gay rights activist counterargument has been, "Well, I didn't choose my orientation and don't choose it, so you should accept my relationships." It's kinda a, "Well, I'm stuck with this, so have pity on me."

Whatever Cynthia Nixon's case, she's pointing out that regardless of how homosexuality arises for a person, it's NOT a bad thing to begin with.
posted by subversiveasset at 9:02 PM on January 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


This is an important issue to me, but I somehow am not highly motivated to engage with it in this context.

But, briefly, while I'm pretty sure that most don't choose, I'm not comfortable with absolutes about this and, far more importantly, I am deeply suspicious of all determinist argument from biology and strongly believe that emphasizing lack of choice achieves a small short-term tactical advantage against the bigots while ceding long-term strategic advantage. After all, if there's one thing we know about bigots, they really don't care of someone was born that way, they'll be happy to put you in the camps and ovens, regardless.

In my view, the "born that way" with regard to homosexuality implies to the bigots that it can't be a moral choice because it's not a choice, and in doing so, it cedes the bigots the moral territory entirely. I'm much more comfortable telling the bigots that, fuck you, there's nothing wrong with gay sex and therefore it doesn't fucking matter whether it's someone's choice or not.

I do well understand why it is important to many people to validate publicly their own experience that it's not a choice. Given the stigma, given the guilt and shame that so many are made to feel, and given how almost all gay people struggle with their sense of identity and orientation, feeling like they must "choose" to conform...well, it's extremely important to get the message out that, fuck no, this wasn't a choice. Talking about it like it's nothing more than a choice trivializes the experience, the struggle with identity in a homophobic society.

People talking about choosing to be gay is very understandably threatening because it seems like doing so is functioning in that trivializing way. It feels like an appropriate of an identity that someone doesn't have a right to.

I understand that. But I think that the intimate relationship between lack of choice and essential identity is one that's wrongly forced upon gays and lesbians in our homophobic society. That is to say, it's not directly forced by homophobia, because of course homophobia asserts the opposite. But in fighting that oppressive homophobic dogma, one is pushed into claiming that crucial territory right here, the one that says, no, this is who I've always been and you can't take that from me. So, again, I understand it, but I think that in the longer term we're all better served by divorcing the choice issue from the identity and morality issues because, really, it's the latter two which are far, far more vital.

And, you know, I know people who aren't certain their orientation was inherent and determined by biology. My best friend of twenty years is gay and there's absolutely no ambiguity in his identity as a gay man. But we've had many, many conversations on this topic and he personally has some sense that preadolescence there was more ambiguity in his orientation than there was later. This is only his personal experience and he doesn't, and I don't, presume to speak for anyone else.

Finally, people are really really weird about this stuff. Understandably, on the oppressed minority side, as I discuss above. But straights are weird about this. I've been very open about my sexual orientation and experience and the response is just damn weird. I'd prefer to be bi. I've tried gay sex three times and found it interesting but that it really didn't work for me, ultimately. I feel quite straight...but a whole bunch of people like to think that my failure to have never had any homosexual experiences somehow necessarily makes me non-heterosexual. That's very revealing, isn't it? Someone on this very site wrote, in an argument about this with me, that if "you people" want to get straights to accept gays, then "you" must stop this disingenuous stuff like asserting that I'm straight when I'm clearly bisexual or gay.

It seems obvious to me that most people have a pretty strong orientation in one direction or the other. A portion has a more ambiguous orientation. And some of that latter group can shape their own sexual identity by their choices, just like all of us will our own identities to some degree. And, what's most important, is this identity. This sense of most essential and authentic self. Whether that was determined by biology, or choice, or more likely a combination of the two; whether a person actually engages in activities in agreement with that choice...that stuff really doesn't matter. What matters is who they know themselves to be. Whoever that is. That's who they are. And, most important, they have a right to be allowed to be that person, with respect and dignity and without institutionalized bigotry enforced against them.

It's not up to me to decide whether Nixon's self-identity and social-identity is authentic. Given the context and history, I think it's Not a Good Thing to deny it to her.

And, ultimately, it's just not about choice. It's about people having the right to be who they are and live their lives as they wish.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:03 PM on January 29, 2012 [24 favorites]


To put it in a nutshell, we can't even well define a man and a woman (our constructs are mosaics at best)

The Big Lebowski: What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?
The Dude: Uhh... I don't know sir.
The Big Lebowski: Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn't that what makes a man?

The Dude: Hmmm... Sure, that and a pair of testicles.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:04 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Q: What is a man?
A: A miserable little pile of secrets.
posted by subversiveasset at 9:07 PM on January 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm left handed and I learned to write with my right hand. Biology isn't destiny.
posted by hob at 9:10 PM on January 29, 2012


I'm a dyke, instantly recognizable as such, I've been queer my whole life, I was in Queer Nation, all my relationships have been homosexual relationships, a good majority of those I've slept with have been women, but being gay is a choice for me. I could sleep with men. I could marry a man. I didn't - I like being with women better.

And I totally agree with her that the born this way narrative accedes the bigot's argument. Why I'm gay is irrelevant to whether I should be accorded basic human rights.
posted by latkes at 9:11 PM on January 29, 2012 [24 favorites]


I was going to make a post about this because of all the editorials (it was really daunting just to sift through all of them) but I never got around to it. Other than my own laziness, I gave up partly I find the whole "controversy" kind of pointless and in poor taste. I really don't care what Cynthia Nixon's sexuality is, and if being gay was her choice, fine. She says it was for her and who am I to say otherwise? That's her business.

Really though I think we put too much emphasis on the "it's not a choice" argument. For one thing, it shouldn't matter. Whether or not you can chose your sexuality bigotry and discrimination are wrong. To my ears though, to respond to "being gay is wrong" with "being gay isn't a choice" implies that we'd rather not be gay, because it still may be wrong, but hey, I have no say in the matter. Maybe I didn't choose my sexuality but that doesn't mean I haven't embraced it, and I think that choice narrative is missing that.
posted by catwash at 9:14 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


OnTheLastCastle I think the handwriting example is poor because you can learn to write with the other hand. I know because my dad was slapped with a ruler when he tried to write with his left hand.

To me that makes it an even better example. Many people were slapped with a ruler (or suffered some equivalent scolding and disapproval) whenever they, in childhood or youth, expressed attraction for a person of the same apparent gender as themselves. Thus they were "socialized into heterosexuality". They may or may not enjoy heterosex, or enjoy it as much as homosex assuming they ever do that, but they can do it, and they can love their hetero partners, and conceive children.

This, to me, is the stereotypical life story of the homosexuality-obsessed, obvious "closet case" Republican Christians. Are they "straight"? In a manner of speaking, yes. They choose to be. (Or alternatively, continue to go along with a choice their parents and other early influences made for them.) Is it, all things considered, a healthy life choice? Probably not. However, it is their choice to make, for themselves. When they attempt to make that choice for others, apparently to aid in validating their own choices, that is when they run into ethical trouble.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:21 PM on January 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


If reading the comments to various articles covering this episode has taught me anything, it's that even gay dudes can be misogynistic assholes when it comes to respecting the autonomy (sexual or otherwise) of women.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:24 PM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm actually really glad she said this, if for no other reason than the "born this way" argument is kind of running amok in pop culture right now. And even in response to her comments, people are trying to make some "scientific" sense of the impossible idea of choosing sexuality by hastily creating "female sexual fluidity!" as the explanation for why women decide to "switch orientations".

Rather than, you know, the fact that "homo" and "hetero" as sexual and personal identities have existed for a very short time in human culture and acknowledging that real human shit is more complicated than any sexual, romantic, or otherwise binary system.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:31 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


Behavior is a choice. Desire, not so much.

People force themselves to have sex they don't really want, all the time, for various reasons. Some of them might even find a way, eventually, to be attracted to that person, if the stars align. (People are weird.) But I doubt it's very often, and I'll bet the pain to pleasure ratio is way too high.
posted by msalt at 9:31 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


subversiveasset, thanks for answering me directly. I agree with you, that by broadly adopting the born-this-way position, the gay community is almost taking an apologist's stance. And, of course, it may not be entirely accurate. But it is understandable. It's one thing to say that you shouldn't be judged for something you can't help, end of conversation. A lot of people will (and do) agree with that sentiment, regardless of their discomfort with homosexuality.

But it's tricky and even potentially dangerous for the queer community to instead argue that homosexuality is a valid lifestyle, regardless of plasticity. Not only is this going to be much harder for the general public to swallow, but again, it might not be entirely that simple. After all, moral value is infinitely more subject to dispute than supposed medical fact.

Personally, I'm in favor of the truth. Whatever that is. And I'm certainly in favor of Ms. Nixon being able to frankly discuss her own sexuality. If nothing else, by reflecting the variety of individual experience, I believe that she adds something to the conversation.
posted by Edgewise at 9:32 PM on January 29, 2012


Honest question. Was she always attracted to women? Or did she meet one person, find herself attracted to that person and that person happened to be a woman? Is that really a choice she made? She made a choice to act on that attraction, but not on the choice to be attracted to a person of the same sex. If not, did she choose to be attracted to this person? Is that even possible?
posted by Ad hominem at 9:32 PM on January 29, 2012


Personally, I'm in favor of the truth. Whatever that is.

...
posted by joe lisboa at 9:34 PM on January 29, 2012


How great for her. That must be really great.

Nobody wants to "define your gayness" for you, Cynthia. Gay away. Gay your little gay heart out. Don't feel like the gay anymore? All gayed out? Go un-gay. De-gay yourself. Have at it! But, y'know, at the same time shut up because you have literally added nothing to the discussion. "I decide to be gay." That's amazing. You've broken through!
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:59 PM on 1/29
[1 favorite +] [!]


I don't understand this comment. Did suggesting that she chose to be gay make things difficult for gay people who didn't choose it, is that why tumid wrote this? What counts as "adding to the discussion"?
posted by jayder at 9:35 PM on January 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't understand this comment.

I didn't either, but I suspect it was likely an expression of what I said up-thread:

... even gay dudes can be misogynistic assholes when it comes to respecting the autonomy (sexual or otherwise) of women.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:40 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm entirely in agreement with Nixon's attitude that it shouldn't matter why someone is with a person of whatever gender. I'm a little less sure I understand why she's so determined to hang onto the label for herself that she used to be straight and now she's not.

I guess it's possible she never felt attracted to a person of the same sex before and that she's not attracted to men now. Strikes me as somewhat unlikely, but whatever, I don't know what's in her head.

As much as I'm in agreement with her that it shouldn't matter whether it's a choice and I (notably less stridently) agree that rigid adherence to fixed-at-birth is in some way letting the bigots set the conditions... jesus, get real. The bigots DO set some of the conditions; there's a bunch of them still and a lot of them have power. Not everyone has had a successful hollywood career, is white, and lives in NYC.

So shit, change the damned line in your speech from "I've been straight and been gay and gay is better" to "I've lived straight and lived gay and gay is better" if it might make life marginally better for some kid in Podunk, Nowhere or shorten the fight by a week or a minute.

Nobody gets to define your gayness for you, Nixon, but words have power; one would think an actor would understand that. If you're going to try to do some good from your position of authority and security why can't you do what's good for the cause over this weird little ego thing?
posted by phearlez at 9:43 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I've said before, I'm wary of "it's not a choice" arguments, because they seem rooted in the idea that being GLBT isn't our fault, but it is someone's fault -- and that it is a fault. I'd prefer arguments that there's nothing wrong with being GLBT.

While I find the question of just why we're GLBT as fascinating as anyone else does, I'm especially wary of attempts to find causes. It often feels like they're only a few steps removed from eugenics.
posted by jiawen at 9:44 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


"However, it is their choice to make, for themselves. When they attempt to make that choice for others, apparently to aid in validating their own choices, that is when they run into ethical trouble."

Yeah, I'm not comfortable with that comparison at all.

It's kind of interesting how in a recent privacy thread, where I was dissenting about identity, the dominant opinion is that it's a really good thing that modern society allows people to choose their identities and to discard and alter them at-will. And yet, in other contexts, like this one, there's a strong view that identity is endogenous and unchanging. For example, you (the commenter I'm quoting above, aeschenkarnos) are willing to concede to this hypothetical person some "choice", but not truly concede that they are capable of choosing their identity in this regard.

As is often the case, either extreme position in this makes little sense to me. It seems to me that, within each person's experience, there are many different ways in which their identity has been variously determined and variously chosen, running the gamut from one to the other. And, furthermore, across all of humanity, given diversity of individuals and cultures, the particulars of all this, and how much it collectively weighs in one direction or another for a given individual, also runs the gamut from one extreme to the other. No, I'm not saying that there are not clusters and that careful, limited generations aren't possible...I think they are.

But I'd prefer the test to be simply how much that identity is authentic to the person who embraces it, in their own experience. In your example, it really isn't very authentic. But maybe in others, it might be. But necessarily in those cases, if they were able to embrace an identity that was some distance from where they started, then it couldn't have been determined. It was amenable to will, to choice. But in others, it won't be. So, no, I don't think in your example that person has "chosen" to be straight. They haven't. By your description, that's clearly not their own experience of their identity. It it were, they'd be happy and content within it. The issue isn't whether it was chosen or not, it's whether it's authentic to their own experience, or not.

And this is distinct, though related, from what kinds of sexual activity one engages in, or even who one loves. For example, in my case I found that I liked certain aspects of gay sex because, well, for the obvious physiological reasons. And then a few psychological reasons. But I didn't enjoy it enough to, pardon my explicitness, be able to orgasm. It was fun, it was pleasurable, but it just didn't hit my buttons well enough to do for me what I expect sex to do. And, much more fundamental than that to my own identity, I really can't imagine being in love with another man in the sense that I've experienced being in love with women. And that's why, given my observations about other peoples' experiences, I think I'm actually more straight than a lot of people who identify as straight. It's about experience of self.

In contrast to my experience, I also know that people who have gay or straight identities, pretty unambiguously so, have had unique and idiosyncratic experiences where they either/and a) greatly enjoyed sex with someone not in accordance with their orientation, and b) fell in love with that person. This is much more typical with gays and lesbians, given all the pressure our society places on gays and lesbians to conform to heteronormative expectations. A large number of gays and lesbians, who absolutely are not bisexual, can testify to unique or extremely rare experiences where they had enjoyable sex with and even fell in love with someone of the other sex. That doesn't make them straight or bisexual. It just means that their preferences weren't so absolute and exclusive as to make it impossible to have this unusual experience. But, that said, these people will tell you that as much as they enjoyed the sex, as in love with their partner as they might have been, they knew this wasn't really in acordance with their identiy, their sense of self. They knew, even if they tried to convince themselves otherwise because of external social pressure, that they weren't straight. They were a gay or lesbian who happen to have an enjoyable straight sex experience, or happen to have fallen in love with an exceptional person of the opposite sex.

And I'm certain this is true, or could be true, for many straight people. Maybe it could be true for me, that'd be cool. Maybe not. Either way, it doesn't affect my identity vis a vis my orientation much, if at all.

Regardless, most of us know who we truly are, what our identities are. Well, that's less the case in proportion to how much a culture confuses people and disallows various identities. But, even then, deep down, I think we usually know. Mostly, the struggle and life journey is in finding a place to most fully be that person we know we are, inside. And, again, "that person inside" isn't necessarily some inherent and determined thing...to some degree, and not the same for each person, we also choose to shape who that person is. And then we try to be that person as much as we can, with ourselves and others.

Nature/nurture in this debate, as in almost all others, obscures the most important stuff. Certainly, to some degree I've chosen to be so highly intellectual, that it's an essential part of my identity. But, to some other degree, I also experience myself in this regard as it not being about choice, but being inherent. I can't untangle it and I don't want to untangle it. I don't need to, because my identity, my experience of self, is not dependent upon exactly how it came to be true. It just is. It's true, and that's all that matters.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:01 PM on January 29, 2012 [4 favorites]


"I don't understand this comment. Did suggesting that she chose to be gay make things difficult for gay people who didn't choose it, is that why tumid wrote this? What counts as 'adding to the discussion'?"

and

"I didn't either, but I suspect it was likely an expression of what I said up-thread: 'even gay dudes can be misogynistic assholes when it comes to respecting the autonomy (sexual or otherwise) of women'."

That's totally unfair.

If we're quoting our own comments in this thread, and because the following quote of mine appeared in a long comment and perhaps it was missed, then:
I do well understand why it is important to many people to validate publicly their own experience that it's not a choice. Given the stigma, given the guilt and shame that so many are made to feel, and given how almost all gay people struggle with their sense of identity and orientation, feeling like they must "choose" to conform...well, it's extremely important to get the message out that, fuck no, this wasn't a choice. Talking about it like it's nothing more than a choice trivializes the experience, the struggle with identity in a homophobic society.

People talking about choosing to be gay is very understandably threatening because it seems like doing so is functioning in that trivializing way. It feels like an appropriation of an identity that someone doesn't have a right to.
There are good reasons why many people are touchy about this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:06 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


being bisexual in a long term monogamous relationship makes the labels feel tricky. ...

i can totally sympathize with her - did i "choose to be straight"? well, sort of. i choose to give up dating everyone besides my husband. in doing that, i decided to be in a straight relationship. does that make me straight? no. but it does mean i'm living the straight lifestyle, i suppose. i can see someone in that position removing some of the semantics and saying "I chose to be gay."


This is a familiar conversation in our house. My partner is very much queer, in that she isn't easily placed into a simple sexual category. But she is living in a committed, monogamous relationship with a man, which makes her "straight" in the world's eyes.

And there are plenty of reasons someone might not feel that "bisexual" is an accurate descriptor -- perhaps when they are with the man, they are only interested in the man, and when they are with the woman they are only interested in the woman. And I know straight men and women who've had a few late nights with a lot of beers where they had some fun with someone of the same gender, but they would never identify as other than straight. How people identify publicly, and what they actually do in their own beds, are two very separate things, and I think it's a mistake to try and make them connect.
posted by Forktine at 10:12 PM on January 29, 2012


So basically what this all reminds us is that the uneasy stigma against bisexuality is still just as alive and well in the queer community as it is in the straight world...so much so that Nixon seems strangely resistent to even use the word herself.
posted by trackofalljades at 10:16 PM on January 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


"So basically what this all reminds us is that the uneasy stigma against bisexuality is still just as alive and well in the queer community as it is in the straight world...so much so that Nixon seems strangely resistent to even use the word herself."

I don't disagree that there's a bias against bisexuality in the gay community and, as it happens, there are good reasons for it which are pretty much the same as what I described in my previous comment. I'm not saying that it's right, just that there are damn good reasons for it.

But I'm suspicious of anyone pushing this interpretation of what she said. First of all, it's not what she said and it's a bit presumptuous to say that she's really just a bisexual but afraid to say so. Secondly, though, it's pretty much committing the same sin that it is complaining about. That is, it's replacing one bias with another. Just because she didn't previously identify as gay, just because she identified as straight, doesn't necessarily mean that her experience of herself now as gay is inauthentic.

When someone tells me what their orientation is, I prefer to privilege their own attested experience of self above all else, absent some compelling reason to do otherwise.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:27 PM on January 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


So can I discriminate against people who choose to be bigots as long as they weren't born that way?
posted by madcaptenor at 10:50 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do not understand the confusion. She said -- in the same fucking breath that she said it was a choice for her -- that she understands that for many people it is not. Just because sexual orientation is outside the realm of choice for many doesn't mean it is for all, and why should those for whom it is to some degree a choice have to pretend it isn't? It makes me as angry as straight people who think that because they are straight, other's can't be gay.

I think if someone has a problem with her stating her sexuality turned out to be a choice for her that it's just another form of bigotry. Just because this time it's some gay people demonstrating the bigotry doesn't make it less bigoted.

And I also think it's lame to insist she call herself bisexual. How does anyone know she's bisexual at this point in her life? Are you measuring the moisture in her genitals when she looks at males? Why the hell can't she have chosen, successfully, for whatever reasons seemed valid to her to point her sexuality in a particular direction?

Some of the things that turned me on when I was twenty years younger still do, many do not. Some people CHANGE over the course of their lives.
posted by lastobelus at 11:01 PM on January 29, 2012 [7 favorites]


One point does not a trendline make.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:26 PM on January 29, 2012


What point and what trendline do you mean?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:39 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are three slightly different things that we refer to as gay and straight, and by slightly changing what we are talking about we can get conflicting statements about what's a choice.

There is sexual orientation, sexual identity, and sexual relations. You actually do have a choice for 2 of these, but the most important one is orientation and that is not a choice. Furthermore, orientation is so fundamental that it's unreasonable to expect any gay person to choose to live contrary to their orientation.

Which is to say, for most it's not really a choice at all. If identity, orientation, and the sex partners you are having all are in agreement on the gay or straight scale, then it would be all the same to you and in this case it's clearly not really a choice. Anyone who says differently is basically saying that since any gay man can have hetero sex and marry women, then his gayness is a choice, and this is absurd.

Nonetheless, there is a grain of truth that you choose your sex partners and you choose the label for your identity. For some with bi orientation, it can be a choice where to take that. That choice is part of sexual identity, and nobody should be encouraged to be dishonest about identity.
posted by cotterpin at 11:57 PM on January 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


First of all, it's not what she said and it's a bit presumptuous to say that she's really just a bisexual but afraid to say so.

As somebody who does identify as bisexual, I completely agree with this. Though I don't interpret my own experience in quite the same way that Nixon describes hers, I relate to much of what she said, and I'm so glad she said it.

Sometimes it feels like those of us who fall in the middle of the spectrum just can't win. However we choose to live our lives or describe ourselves, a bunch of people will either object or helpfully attempt to reframe it in terms of their own agenda or worldview. When I was growing up, I was very aware of the prevailing cultural narrative and felt tremendous pressure to conform to it, even while my sexual orientation seemed to be flying back and forth like a ping-pong ball. When you're young and confused and trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and people keep saying - quite literally - that you don't exist, that your own lived experience could not have happened, then you start to wonder if they're right. If you're curious what it feels like to doubt your own existence, let me assure you that it's fucking terrifying.

No, I did not choose to have the capacity to be attracted to and/or fall in love with both men and women (and it's been a pretty much 50/50 for me), but yes, acting on that capacity in either direction is absolutely a choice. It took me a long time to accept that. Some people (e.g., my mom) find this baffling: if, theoretically, I could fall for a man just as easily, why on earth would I make my life harder by choosing to date a woman? They don't get that it just doesn't work that way. It's not like there's this clean split at any one time, or you can just re-flip the coin until you get the side you want, or that there are even "sides" at all. You can't be gay or straight in a vacuum, the very nature of the beast is that other people are involved, and once there are other people involved the whole thing gets messy and off-balance.

It shouldn't even be that big of a deal, but it's this rigid cultural narrative that's turned what's really just a little-c choice into a huge paradigm-shifting Choice that calls your core personhood into question and retrospectively invalidates everything that came before it. Speaking as someone living it, it's so easy to buy into that interpretation, and that Nixon is strong and self-possessed enough to stand firm in the face of so much backlash and denial means a lot to me. To those freaking out: the idea that you aren't equally attracted to both genders is just as wacky and bizarre to me as Nixon's statements surely are to you, but you know what? I will take your word for it. It would be nice if we could all grant each other the same courtesy.
posted by granted at 12:42 AM on January 30, 2012 [26 favorites]


"There is sexual orientation, sexual identity, and sexual relations. You actually do have a choice for 2 of these, but the most important one is orientation and that is not a choice. Furthermore, orientation is so fundamental that it's unreasonable to expect any gay person to choose to live contrary to their orientation."

There's a lot of reasons to not assume that everyone has the same experience with regard to orientation...specifically, that it is "so fundamental" as to not ever, in any sense, be a choice. One of those reasons, as it happens, are the numerous individual testimonies which don't conform to that absolutism.

It's really, really weird to me that a lot of people who share the same progressive cultural values and politics will simultaneously embrace a maximally nature (or, at least, endogenously determined) idea of sexual orientation and a maximally nurture idea of gender. Especially when the testimonies of individual people are all over the map in both cases and especially when the science for either position is minimal and tenuous.

What is far more likely, and more respectful of the attested variation in human experience, is to allow that both orientation and gender vary across individuals with regard to how much they each are determined biologically. (And here I am using gender as the ideal self-identity cognate of dimorphic sex differentiation in cognition—which, to be sure, I think is vastly more ambiguous and fluid in reality. There is a connection between sex and gender, but it's...complicated.)

Given how people describe their experiences as straight and gay and bi, I'm inclined to believe that the orientation of most people cluster into those three in a determined way. That is, most don't experience much, if any, sense of choice. But I'm not at all inclined to believe that this is universally true, nor that there isn't ambiguity at the margins.

Orientation is related to desire. It's much more than that, but it's the part that people focus on, and for good reason. But what's interesting about desire, about preference, is that this is perhaps one of, or the most, important and pervasive aspect of our own psyche that we experience as something independent of choice and will during its internal experience. This is true enough that we talk about it paradoxically in forms of "I want to want X". Our experience of desire, of preference in the moment is completely outside will and choice.

Yet, clearly, our preferences change. If they are determined (for the sake of argument), then the conditions which determine them must change. More than that: we often do exercise will and choice in ways which, apparently, do cause those preferences to change over time. If it's the case that those conditions are determinative, then in many cases we do have choice over those conditions.

I'm not saying that's always true, or that it's always or even ever true with regard to sexual orientation, at least for all people. I am inclined to think it's true for some, because they've attested to it.

But the point I'm trying to make is twofold:
  1. First, that while an experience of a lack of choice in a preference means it's determined in some respect at that time, it doesn't mean that it's necessarily always and forever determined and it especially doesn't mean that the mechanism which is determinative is biological.
  2. Second, the fact that our experience of preference has the interesting character of being outside choice doesn't mean that the authenticity of a preference is dependent upon some arbitrary purity test of choicelessness.
It just doesn't follow that we should say that orientation to be orientation, by definition, is determined and static and completely outside free-will. It just doesn't. It can have that experience of being determined and unwilled, and almost certainly does, while still being mutable and willed in some other respects.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:58 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love granted's comment so much, I couldn't limit myself to just favoriting it.

With such an excellent comment, it's hard to say that something is better than the rest. But two sentences really stand out to me and deserve to be highlighted, literally:
However we choose to live our lives or describe ourselves, a bunch of people will either object or helpfully attempt to reframe it in terms of their own agenda or worldview.
and
If you're curious what it feels like to doubt your own existence, let me assure you that it's fucking terrifying.
It's vitally important that we listen to people's individual testimonies about their experiences. Generally, of course, but especially so when it comes to social justice issues involving identity. This applies to the experiences of people of color, of women, of gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transsexuals, of the disabled, of victims of sexual violence, of others.

There is perhaps no act more fundamentally violent than to deny someone's experience of self. There is perhaps no act more fundamentally loving and human than to affirm someone's experience of self.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:07 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Elaborating on my comment at the original article: at the risk of getting my head torn off, I'm going to suggest that maybe this is more of a lesbian thing than a gay male thing. When I think of the lesbians I've known personally (and I mean women who identify as lesbian, not bisexual), a decent number of them (though definitely not all) have described themselves roughly the way Nixon does. The women commenting in this thread seem to follow a similar pattern. But I have never had a gay male friend who would say it's a choice. I'm sure there are a few out there, but this position is much less represented among gay men on the whole. I don't know if it's female sexuality being more fluid or something else, but I think it's a distinction worth acknowledging.
posted by pete_22 at 1:19 AM on January 30, 2012


You can't be gay or straight in a vacuum, the very nature of the beast is that other people are involved, and once there are other people involved the whole thing gets messy and off-balance.

Yes, but "messy and off-balance" arise not so much from "gay" versus "straight" but of monogamy which is also a well-entrenched cultural norm (and a lovely thing for two people to share.)

As a straight male, I am attracted - oriented you might say - to many different females, but I choose to be married and I choose to have sex with only one female person, despite any and all inner yearnings to the contrary. It is a choice I make, which I re-affirm regularly, and which I in no way regret. It is a way of life.

Why should making the same choice (to live monogamously with one other person) be any more or less difficult for someone who is bi-sexual?

Isn't this basically the same choice Nixon made? She may have a bi-sexual orientation, but a desire to live in a monogamous relationship with someone she loves forces her to choose? That's not so much "choosing to be gay" as choosing to be monogamous.

But I have never had a gay male friend who would say it's a choice.

Choosing to be gay is such a big taboo that gay people even deny that it could possibly exist.
posted by three blind mice at 1:27 AM on January 30, 2012


"Choosing to be gay is such a big taboo that gay people even deny that it could possibly exist."

That's not at all how I would put it, but I think you're pointing to something important here. It's why I mentioned the weird responses I get to my discussing my experimenting with gay sex. Because one part of what I think is going on is that for most non-bisexual people, the notion of having an attraction toward one sex is synonymous with having an aversion (sexually) to the other.

And I think that's very interesting. It suggests something. Because in most other aspects of our lives and preferences, it's not the case that having a preference for something requires having an aversion to everything else in that class. Even when there are only two choices, I might really like one of them but just slightly like the other, or be indifferent to the other—yet not have an aversion. Similarly, the inverse isn't true, either: having an aversion doesn't mean there must be a corresponding attraction.

I can see no reason why even if orientation were absolutely and completely determined biologically that this would necessarily involve an aversion in conjunction with the attraction. I feel far more confident about the causation of sexual orientation aversion than with most everything else involved with these issues—and that's that it's totally, or almost totally, cultural.

Think about what the implications are for this culturally enforced aversion. For one thing, in the most fundamental sense it invalidates bisexuality. It makes it literally unthinkable for many people.

But more than that, it also has implications for the contours of the orientation choice debate. Because it also fundamentally makes it unthinkable for many people to even imagine such a choice.

Which brings us to pete_22's comment:

"Elaborating on my comment at the original article: at the risk of getting my head torn off, I'm going to suggest that maybe this is more of a lesbian thing than a gay male thing."

I do think there is an asymmetry here, though I'm extremely dubious of any of the silly EP theories that it's biological. Rather, I think the asymmetry exists because the aversion I describe above is much, much less strong with regard to lesbian sex.

The lack of enforced aversion for one gender makes some things thinkable which otherwise wouldn't be. It makes female "experimentation" comprehensible to heterosexuals where male experimentation isn't. It makes choice in this context more comprehensible to everyone. And by "comprehensible", I mean "thinkable". And the lessened aversion reduces the stakes, both personally and socially.

And it's worth mentioning that this aversion asymmetry, an aversion which is itself almost entirely cultural, is also a fundamental expression of a cultural value of patriarchy. There are obvious reasons why in a patriarchy lesbian sex doesn't have an enforced aversion the way that gay male sex does (if women are supposed to be asexual in desire, then there doesn't need to be such an aversion and, also, with an asexualized female, the lack of aversion makes a particular kind of male gaze possible); and, similarly, why the feedback loops regarding desire and taboo also have that asymmetry in proportion to the patriarchal values and the asymmetric enforcement of aversion. So here is an example of why feminism and gender studies and queer theory are all deeply related. Just, you know, for those who are interested.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:06 AM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't disagree that there's a bias against bisexuality in the gay community and, as it happens, there are good reasons for it which are pretty much the same as what I described in my previous comment. I'm not saying that it's right, just that there are damn good reasons for it.

What are these reasons? I'm very curious about it, especially since I self-identify as bi-sexual but not publicly. I've also never had same-sex relations and probably never will since I'm in a "straight" monogamous marriage. What does that even make me? Some label that's derogatory?
posted by melt away at 2:12 AM on January 30, 2012


What are these reasons?

Again, I think there's a gender difference. The bias I'm aware of is gay men who don't take "bisexual" men seriously, because they believe most of them are either straight and just experimenting or (more often) gay and still partially in the closet. Dan Savage has articulated this position pretty clearly, among others.

I have no idea whether gay women have a similar bias against "bi" women. Do they?
posted by pete_22 at 2:31 AM on January 30, 2012


I like the discussion that Nixon's comment generated, no matter what the opinion is, I'm glad its getting people to think critically about what words mean, how sexuality should or should not be defined, what does sexuality mean in personal contexts and all the rest of it...and that's good.

Admittedly I'm also monitoring the overall progression and outcome of this discussion with personal interest in mind. I identify as a bisexual and am not too comfortable with being completely out. I'm on the bandwagon of not caring for the word bisexual. I don't really bring up the topic of my sexuality in formal settings (school, work), but its always made me feel awkard thinking what if it comes up. What do I say? I don't want to lie, so my choices are bisexual or queer: I don't really identify with the political context with the word queer tbh but I really do not like saying bisexual to folks older than me, or having them find out because it just...feels rude. And with younger people, it invites that leering/judgy, rap music definition of bisexual...which is cool, that exists too but, that's not me either, so it begs too much other information. Saying gay feels easier, like there's less to explain. But I'm not gay.

Plus, I understand why Nixon might use the word gay even if the word bisexual didnt have its connotations. When I say I'm bisexual, its not like, I will be attracted to a woman and then I'll be attracted to a man, and back and forth. Its more like like, sometimes I can like a man, but mostly, I don't think about men, as a gender pool which I am generally attracted to sexually, at all. But I do with women. Its not 50/50. I can easily see how someone might feel comfortable using the word gay although technically speaking the range of attraction does encompass both genders.

I hope people come out of this discussion with greater tolerance/leniency in self identification - its hard enough as it is just let us call ourselves what we want, and that the word gains more legitimacy than the reputation Tila Tequila has given it. Argh.
posted by joannqy at 2:47 AM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I understand the perspective that, to say you "choose" to be gay infers that it is something you are in control of, and thus leads to the reasoning of "who would choose to be gay if they can be straight?" That's a homophobic response, in my opinion, and I find it interesting that the queer community get their knickers in such a twist about it.

What should be happening is that society shouldn't care about whether it's a choice or not. It's just another way of regulating what we as individuals are allowed to do with our bodies. So what if she chooses to be gay? So what if at one point she was straight? The whole kerfuffle seems to me to come from being unsettled by the notion that our biology is not something that's static or fixed in any reassuring way.
posted by New England Cultist at 2:47 AM on January 30, 2012


If it's okay for gay people to castigate Cynthia Nixon on her definition of her sexuality, then it is okay for the conservative right to castigate gay people on their definition of their sexuality.

If "being born that way" makes any difference, then it is okay to berate all the religious and politically conservative folks who were not born that way either.

Why is this not a no-brainer? Why does this even need to be debated? By anyone?
posted by mie at 3:03 AM on January 30, 2012


Medical men are not all scientists, which could be why they overlook the possibility of free individual choice in their weird quest for a 'cause' for homosexuality.
Graham Chapman in 'A Liar's Autobiography', 1980
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:41 AM on January 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have all along felt that we as queer and trans activists have been fighting the wrong battle. We shouldn't be fighting for the idea that we can't help it, that it's innate, that it's built-in and unstoppable for us to be queer or trans (or both) but that we are human and therefore deserve human rights. We should be fighting for the right to choose who we are without interference or sanctions. I have no problem with Ms. Nixon's idea that her sexuality is her choice.

For some additional thoughts, I think that Hanne Blank's (my partner's) interview at Salon about her new book (coming out tomorrow) - Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, might be an interesting read for some of you. The book itself is quite short and well worth a read and should be available at your local library. The book is, as you might imagine, not only about heterosexuality but its partner, homosexuality.

Salient quote:
"Well, you know, minority politics has been a lot easier to sell than to just say, “Being human ought to get you human dignity,” full stop."
posted by kalessin at 5:16 AM on January 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


There are good reasons why many people are touchy about this.

Ivan, it seems as though you are willing to defend prejudice/bigotry/narrowmindedness (as mere "touchiness") when it is exhibited by a group whose perceived agenda you favor. I can't imagine you articulating such "good reasons" for intolerance when it is exhibited by a group for whom you have no sympathy.
posted by jayder at 6:18 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The worst comments and the most comments on my bisexuality have come from the queer community. Especially after I married and had a child. If someone is uncomfortable identifying as bi, I completely sympathise.
posted by FunkyHelix at 7:17 AM on January 30, 2012


As I straight man, I don't have much to add to this conversation, except that ever since Don & Mike pointed out that Cynthia Nixon looks a lot like Dave Foley, I can't unsee it.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:49 AM on January 30, 2012


I don't understand the "angry" criticism.

I'm a little less sure I understand why she's so determined to hang onto the label for herself that she used to be straight and now she's not.

A bisexual woman who chooses to only have sex with women can't be "gay"? Weird.

Tempest teapot.

she's pointing out that regardless of how homosexuality arises for a person, it's NOT a bad thing to begin with.

And that. Kudos.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:54 AM on January 30, 2012


Ivan Fyodorovich There is perhaps no act more fundamentally violent than to deny someone's experience of self. There is perhaps no act more fundamentally loving and human than to affirm someone's experience of self.

That's a philosophically respectable position and quite a lot of the time, we and other people are sincere and authentic in our assertions of identity. However, often we are not. We bullshit ourselves and other people to gain some perceived advantage, even to deliberately change something about ourselves that we dislike.

Only if our delusions cause disadvantages to others is this a problem, and in my view compulsive bubble-poppers are a worse pest than harmless self-liars. Live and let live; I don't care if you assert that you secretly have a horse's soul, are a reincarnation of some pharaoh, or what you say about your sexual orientation and gender. Unless it makes some practical difference that seriously matters, I will go along with it. It would be impolite not to. However, I will reserve my own opinion on the topic, and you have no right, in the absence of clear evidence, to expect me to actually believe you - let alone to expect me to be aware of some non-obvious belief of yours without being told.

"Authenticity", to my way of thinking, has a much higher bar than mere assertion. If you want to be considered "authentic", then you must live an authentic life. The right to have your sense of self affirmed by others comes with the duty to affirm it yourself, to live consistently with it. In the case of sexuality, that's a very low bar to jump over - it really only affects yourself and your (potential) sexual partners. Everybody else should take your word, to a very great extent. If you insisted that you were a gay man and yet publicly dated only women, often, people may be inclined to doubt your authenticity. While people like that do exist, they are rare and usually have low authenticity in other, more externally-affecting, areas of their lives. Most people are mostly genuine, in my experience.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:57 AM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it's okay for gay people to castigate Cynthia Nixon on her definition of her sexuality, then it is okay for the conservative right to castigate gay people on their definition of their sexuality.

Why? And who said it was "okay" for either thing to happen? Just because somebody has an opinion about what she's said doesn't mean that "gay people" as a class fall in lockstep with that opinion; in fact, if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's far more likely that the "conservative right" falls more into lockstep about their definition of gay sexuality or the lack thereof than it is that "gay people" fall into lockstep about any one definition.

As a gay person myself, I couldn't care less what Cynthia Nixon has to say about her sexuality, although the unbridled rage over this from gay male activists like John Aravosis is so over-the-top you begin to wonder when he ever stops and sees anything other than through his narrow prism of hair-trigger media-driven political activism. She's expressing an opinion. She's not Moses bringing down tablets from the Holy Mount. Leave her alone, for fuck's sake.
posted by blucevalo at 8:13 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Cynthia Nixon clarifies her comments to The Advocate.
"My recent comments in The New York Times were about me and my personal story of being gay. I believe we all have different ways we came to the gay community and we can't and shouldn't be pigeon-holed into one cultural narrative which can be uninclusive and disempowering. However, to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context I would like to clarify:

"While I don't often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have 'chosen' is to be in a gay relationship.
posted by secretseasons at 11:49 AM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


bisexual is so often a bad term to describe people who don't have a preferred gender for their partners. omni/pansexual get closer, i guess. this whole episode has me feeling even more like the people at the ends of the spectrum still don't really grasp that it's a spectrum for us.
posted by nadawi at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Phew, that was close, now we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

While over at the queer by choice headquaters we'll still sometimes get death threats from queer people.

My straight self woke up one day an decided to be queer by noon.

Deal.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 12:03 PM on January 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm a little less sure I understand why she's so determined to hang onto the label for herself that she used to be straight and now she's not.

A bisexual woman who chooses to only have sex with women can't be "gay"? Weird.


More like, a bisexual woman who was only having sex with men before wasn't "gay?" Weird, though not as much so as putting the punctuation outside your quote marks.

This binary where someone can't think Nixon's word choice is sub-optimal or counter-productive without being in a frothing rage about it is a little tiresome. She can say what she wants about her own life but it's not surprising that some folks - particularly if they have invested their life in activism - might be concerned if they think it's sending a problematic message.
posted by phearlez at 2:06 PM on January 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh, so annoying that she felt she had to apologize. What the hell?!

And thanks kalessin for the head's up about Hanne's book. Love her writing - hadn't heard of this.
posted by latkes at 2:21 PM on January 30, 2012


"I loved a boy. And then I loved a girl. Call it what you will."

This needs to be crooned by somebody.


Just not Katy Perry, jonmc. Anything but that. As for what kalessin said above:

"We shouldn't be fighting for the idea that we can't help it, that it's innate, that it's built-in and unstoppable for us to be queer or trans (or both) but that we are human and therefore deserve human rights."

That gets a hell yes from me, as someone who used to work for an entire officeful of lesbian lawyers and who had many, many interesting conversations as a result.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 4:39 PM on January 30, 2012


it's not surprising that some folks - particularly if they have invested their life in activism - might be concerned if they think it's sending a problematic message.

Why should one person hesitate to describe honestly her own experience, for fear of sending the "wrong message." Is truth ever the "wrong message"?
posted by jayder at 4:46 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


some folks - particularly if they have invested their life in activism

Cynthia Nixon has devoted a pretty sizable amount of time to activism herself.
posted by neroli at 5:56 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just not Katy Perry, jonmc. Anything but that.

Look who youe telling, lady. I was thinking either Tony Bennet or Chaz Bono, or preferably a duet.
posted by jonmc at 5:59 PM on January 30, 2012


Was I the only one picturing kd lang?
posted by secretseasons at 6:16 PM on January 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why should one person hesitate to describe honestly her own experience, for fear of sending the "wrong message." Is truth ever the "wrong message"?

On Metafilter? Oh, yeah.
posted by msalt at 7:18 PM on January 30, 2012


Oh, crikey.

I suppose technically I am a bi male, although I prefer to identify as "non-judgmental" based on the ideal that if you dig someone and they dig you, great and go for it!

I, however, have been mocked and generally treated rather shabbily over the years by what, I suppose were "actual real" gay people, especially lesbians and excoriated for being a "fencesitter" and not choosing a side.

I neglect to see why this should even be an issue, or that of Ms. Nixon's choice. If you find someone you want to be with and they want to be with you, then go off and be happy. And f you see someone being happy like that, stop being bitter and be happy for them.

I am going to suppose, however, that I have totally mangled my attempt to make my point as I so often do in the situations. I suck at trying to walk the line between passionate and non-offensive.
posted by Samizdata at 5:09 AM on January 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Didn't k.d. and Tony already do a duet?
posted by jonmc at 6:58 AM on January 31, 2012


I just want to offer a little glimmer of hope for everybody: I'm heavily involved in the GLBT organization on my local college campus and I can assure everyone that among the younger generation, it is utterly uncontroversial to be bisexual, trisexual, transgender, gay (except for that one gal you really like), lesbian (except for that one hot guy you really like), or anything else.

The younger generation is moving beyond labels. In 20 years, all of this will be a non-issue.
posted by Avenger at 3:43 PM on January 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


We have chosen to be gay.
posted by latkes at 10:48 AM on February 19, 2012


I'd like to think the idea is rising in acceptance (I spent far to many high-school "ethics" periods debating about whether homosexuality was a choice or not and whether it matters - hint, it doesn't), but somehow I doubt it.

Don't Quote Me: Choosing to be Gay about Sheryl Swoopes
posted by mrgrimm at 9:10 AM on February 21, 2012


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