Monday, January 23, 2012

The Irrelevance of Choosing to Be Gay

"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."

      - Cynthia Nixon via New York Times (I read it via Joe.My.God.)

I have had this idea for a post for a long time, but—as a straight, white, American male—I was hesitant speak up about it*. That in and of itself is a problem and no I'm not crying about the persecution of the straight, white, American male. I just mean that my generation (late Generation X) has grown up in an era where we were programmed (Anglo-American guilt!) to be sensitive to minority groups and to not speak up on certain things regarding those minority groups, i.e. race, ethnicity, homosexuality, feminism, etc. Above all else do not criticize them as if you know better! Sweet fancy Moses, no! Anyway, I am about to break that programming. To be clear this is my opinion. I am not stating that the LGBT rights movement messed up and I know better. Ok…I am kinda stating that, but y’all are free to ignore it. After all; I’m a straight, white, American male. WE’RE ALREADY IGNORED IN AMURRICA!

I have long thought that the LGBT community has painted themselves into a corner with the “we are born this way” mantra. Now, I agree that people are born gay. Who you are attracted to is not a choice.  It is probable that people who claim to “chose” to be gay are bisexual and do not themselves see it that way. Regardless, I think this is all irrelevant.

The reasons I— as a straight, white, American male looking at it from the “majority group” — think that the gay rights movement pushed so hard with the “We are born gay!” mantra was for two reasons. One reason was to parallel previous civil rights movements that played into people’s (especially American’s) belief that you should not be punished for what you are born into. The second reason, and the one I have issue with, was a misguided attempt (though somewhat successful) to placate the religious majority, namely American Christians. If they were born gay then God made them gay. If God made them gay then it wasn’t the Free Will to choose to be gay and therefore they aren’t sinning. This largely worked on most moderate and liberal Christians. The Fundies and the Religious Right still don’t buy it because some, if not most, think that you should ignore those “deviant” impulses and shoehorn oneself into their idea of the perfect human servant to God.

The problem here is twofold.  First, you have people who outright claim to have chosen to be gay. That is pretty straightforward (no pun intended) and undeniable. You can argue with them about it, but the fact that people feel this way and vocalize it will only create ammunition for the homophobes. Second, it plays into the hands of ALL theists. “God either made you this way and you are OK in His eyes or he didn’t and you’re sinning.” This dichotomy is irrelevant. God didn’t do shit because no god made you or me. God does not exist. So now a significant portion of the gay rights movement is tied into Christian theology and it allows the bigots on the Right to use “choice” to discredit equality. Great. 

Hypothetically, who gives a damn if someone chose to be homosexual? Why would this matter? The problem with the ‘choice vs. birth’ dichotomy is that it implicitly presents homosexuality as bad in one instance and acceptable in another. It’s bad if you choose homosexuality, but acceptable if you’re born into it and can’t help it? What the hell is that? That is fucked up.  What gay rights activists should have done (/ducks), as I think all civil rights movements should do, is divorce itself from anything other than humanist goals. Keep religion completely out of it. Homosexuals LGBT** deserve equal rights because they are people. Fucking simple.

The religious, once again, do not get to impose their worldview either overtly or subtly. They don’t get to insert their religions into the conversation of equal rights as if their theologies matter. The religious can fight for equal rights but they do this as decent human beings not because their god or scriptures told them to. Neither is true. Their gods have not told them to do so and the scriptures are obviously archaic and wrong. People are people. People are not chattel for the religious and their invented gods to quibble over. We have human rights because we are human. Not because it is granted to us by some deity’s human followers who think they, and they alone, speak for their tyrant of the universe. Oddly, their god always shares their personal opinion on the matter. They think they can grant equality in the name of their imaginary god? Fuck them.

*of all the potentially controversial things I have written for this blog I was most nervous about posting this one.

** mini-update: Corrected. I did not mean to exclude bisexual and transgender people from this conversation. I assumed it was implied (which I shouldn't), but I wanted to clarify here.


Andy said...

I wonder if she was going to choose her words better she'd say something like: "I am bi. In the past I chose to live as a heterosexual. Currently, I am living as a homosexual. I like living as a gay woman better than living like a straight woman. However, I am still bi."

Unfortunately, that kind of statement is less likely to pump up a crowd.

Considering I'm bi, I think I'm societally allowed to make these kind of statements without getting too much flack.

Steve said...


That kind of speaks to my point though. She didn't state it that way. She used the word "choice." Because of 30 years or so of inisisting people are born gay and *that* is why they should be accepted, the second someone decides to state it as a choice the homophobes can now pounce.

My overall point being is that, from a humanist perspective, it shouldn't matter whether it's a choice or not. By insisting that it cannot be, for what I think are religious overtones, then it allows the religious to try and control the dialogue. I'm thinking of people that claim "God made me this way so you have to accept me." That is a false premise and plays into the hands of theists as it assumes their terms.

***Dave said...

@Andy, I've seen folks on both sides of the fence jump all over someone for "claiming" to be bisexual, in that the muddies the waters, implies lack of commitment, or whatever. It's goofy, but I've seen it happen. I don't think it would have been a less controversial statement, at least in some circles.

@Steve, I don't agree with some of the side points of your article (being a theist), but I think your core thesis is sound -- *it shouldn't matter whether it's a choice or not*. Thus the battle devolves in some circles into arguing whose science is more ideologically correct, which is not what we should be arguing (and which is bad science at any rate). The point should be one of human rights, and, in particular, on what sound, rational basis can discrimination be justified against a particular group (in this case, folks who are not solely straight in their sexual preferences)?

Framed that way, those who are opposed to gay rights are stuck pointing at their religious texts, rather than being able to argue over science.

David said...

Thanks for writing this. I know it's not easy to write about another person's demographic! Richard Dawkins wrote something similar in A Devil's Chaplain, and there's a website called, but otherwise, not many voices like these.

Screw Cynthia Nixon, though. She is bisexual no matter what arbitrary label she adopts next. Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken!

RR said...

Human sexuality is a continuum: not a binary state. As others have pointed out, you can be somewhere in the middle (bi) and end up with either a same-sex or opposite-sex partner.... And you are right: it shouldn't matter one iota whether or not its a 'choice'...

As an aside, and a gay man, don't worry about stepping on LGBT toes: make your case! ... it was a pretty good one.