Born choosing this way

A week or so ago, actor Cynthia Nixon said, in relation to an earlier speech she’d given saying she’d been straight and gay, and being gay was better:

“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.”

Cue big fuss:  if it’s a choice, some people might choose not to be queer.  If it’s a choice, won’t the homophobes try and hurt us, or not accept us, or take away our rights?

So Cynthia came back, and said she’s bisexual, not through choice, but that she’s choosing to be in a relationship with a woman at the moment.

While I’m pleased to see someone claiming the B word, it saddens me she’s allowed herself to be pushed into claiming a genetic essentialism for her sexuality, regardless of identity.

As Cynthia notes, there are people who believe they were born same, both or opposite attracted, who live their lives acting on attractions which feel enduring and intrinsic to their sense of self, which are consistent over time.

And there are people who explore attraction differently at different points of their lives.  Because their social environment changes or because they meet someone who they find themselves drawn to in ways they did not expect.

I feel like every aspect of my sexual life has been a choice, as soon as I knew that heterosexuality is not compulsory.  And I think that’s true for lots of people, and one of the main drivers of right wing fundamentalist terrors around queer visibility. After all, if heterosexuality wasn’t so damn fragile, would it really be so threatening when queer people “flaunt” who and how we love?

When I was sixteen, a woman I’d played cricket with at school came out as lesbian.  I thought she was wonderful, athletic, funny and smart.  Her coming out made me wonder if I was lesbian too, because she was the player to whom I was closest in the team.  I spent an agonised night, going over and over how much I liked her, deciding in the wee hours that since I knew I was attracted to boys, I couldn’t be lesbian.

[Queer reading: if I’d known being bi was possible, that night would have been less agonising.  And if I’d recognised the huge raving crush I’d had on Ruth could have been sexual, cricket might have been even more fun.]

I’ve written before about coming out as bi.  It was in my head first – the possibility of attraction to women – and then I realised one day I was fantasising about a beautiful feminist friend, about running my fingers through her hair while I looked into her eyes.  Not all that platonic, then.

Since being sexual with women, I’ve chosen to continue identifying as bisexual.  Even though I’ve never fallen in love with a man.  I’ve loved men, and I’ve really enjoyed sex with men, but I’ve not yet felt spiritually connected to a male lover in the way I have to several women lovers.

People make choices around being sexual all the time, and some of those choices are to act on or deny same and both sex attractions.  Insisting on an essentialist view of this is limiting and, I believe, heterosexist, since the safer it is to explore same sex attraction, in my experience, the more people do it.  No disrespect for people who know they were born this way, but let’s not remove our agency through fear – let’s celebrate it, hell, let’s insist on it.

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