Saturday, January 28, 2012

The word "choice"

Homosexuality has been a hot topic for me this week… (I guess in reality it always is, but it was just emphasized this week for some reason.)

I went out to dinner with a friend last night. At dinner though she made a comment that caused me to seriously want to slam some walls back up…  She was talking about her son and said, “He is getting good grades, has his head on straight, and he isn’t gay. I can’t complain.” I just kind of sat there as she continued to talk. I had come out to her at one point last year, but it had never been a big deal. It had never had to be a topic of conversation. Then this comment last night…

The comment could be taken in several ways...

I have met and spoken with enough LGBT people to know that both inside and outside of the church, almost no matter where you are, growing up gay is a challenge. The process of coming out to yourself and coming out to your family and friends is almost always difficult, there are often no life-models/role models for you in a very hetero world, and the laws and such are just not in place to let you live your life with the same benefits as many other people.

Parents often like to protect their kids from struggles… As I sat there thinking about her comment I imagined the movie Gattaca - people are basically sort of genetically manufactured. In a world like that where parents could pick their children's traits I wondered if homosexuality would trend towards being eradicated like an unwanted disease or lesser condition than heterosexuality... The world would lose so much if that happened. 

Then the Cynthia Nixon thing this week where she said that for her being gay is a choice. Uhm, yeah… The comment ticked me off, but I am currently pondering upon it a bit more... Let me put a quote in here…

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 found myself yelling at the computer screen, “You’re bi BITCH!!!” A bit over reactive and hyper-sensitive Kiley?!  Yep… I just find it strange to say that just because she chose to be in a relationship with another woman that made her "gay" instead of "bi". To me that would be the equivalent of gay people marrying into heterosexual relationships and calling themselves "straight". I realize I am being judgy and snarky... I'm sorry... 

In all honesty I have talked to a lot of gay people and I have personally NEVER met one that said they tried both and chose to be gay… I have of course not made a study of it or talked to ALL gay people on the planet... I think my gut reaction to her words at best was outrage at the seemingly lack of sensitivity. Lots of us have had significant struggles with coming to terms with ourselves and figuring out who we are. Just my over-reaction to the statement is something I might need to explore more. 

Why is it such a big deal to me that being gay was not a choice? Certainly, if I knew how life would turn out now and were sent back to do it over again I wouldn’t change anything. I like who I am and life is pretty great. The cost of getting to “great” was so high and the road was really long… 

In some ways her attitude that it can be chosen is a bit empowering. Maybe I am looking at it the wrong way. Maybe if more of us had that attitude we would struggle less and embrace ourselves more...

Other related posts:

TGD - The Gay Dot
Dad's Primal Scream

Other relevant post:
Brad on gender


  1. My own discomfort with the way she explained things was that it was going to give the haters more ammunition. But someone mentioned to me on Twitter that even saying it's not a choice still sometimes implies that if we could choose to be straight, we would.

  2. Yeah - saying it is a choice opens things up for it to be easy to continue saying it is a "sin".

    You are right, saying it is not a choice though does imply that we would choose otherwise. Like being gay was a disease or something...

  3. I do like her point that it doesn't matter if it's a choice or not. If it was a choice, would we say that people could not make decisions about their sexuality? In this, a free country? Does that make sense? Or does it piss you off more? ;-)

    1. I'm trying to look at it from other angles. I want to see it from her side. I want to feel that it doesn't matter, yet based on my first reaction it still does matter to me for some reason and I'm not sure why. It is something to explore for sure.

      Its not really a free country though... It should be but its not.

  4. why are people so afraid to say they are bi?

    1. You are right and we definitely see it on both sides.

      Some who do find their life partner in a hetero relationship that have a hard time admitting to their queer membership card.

      Those in the homosexual relationships who don't like to admit that they like guys too...

      Like "bi" is threatening somehow... I am kind of jealous of bi people because in some ways I feel like the whole world is open for them... I'm probably wrong about that but it seems like it sometimes.

    2. I think it's because people don't like ambiguity and shades of gray, at least in American culture. It's easier to expect all people to fit into discreet boxes (i.e., straight vs. gay, male vs. female) than to accept that some people blur those categories.

    3. That really might be it. Things have to have clear lines...

  5. It's a scary thing for people to say they are "bi" especially if they are in a committed relationship for some, because then they wonder [erroneously] that label is going to make them less faithful [which of course is stupid], but it's a [common] human reaction.

    1. Dang it, that wasn't my whole reply... anyhow.

      I think that people who say it's a choice just don't get it. They lack empathy. They lack knowledge.

      I say that because I used to feel/ think that way. Feel free to kick me. But notice I say "used to". What changed my mind? One of my best friends came out to me my freshman year in college. I was the first person for him to come out to. My heart just melt. I knew this guy all of high school. I cried with him. Not because I was ashamed of him, but because he felt he had to hide that from everyone for so long. He'd known all through high school he was gay. He dated tons of girls, but never seriously. He felt so sad. So ashamed. He didn't know how his parents would react (they were devout Catholics). And because Ben came out to me, I just knew. [that unless you're bi] there really isn't a choice. That's just the way you are. Ben is still one of my dearest friends. And I'm forever grateful to him, for helping understand being LBGT.

    2. LOL - I don't make it a habit of kicking people... ;)

      I could see what you are saying about committed relationships feeling threatened. I agree that a lack of empathy definitely plays a part in a lot of things surrounding these issues.

  6. With respect to your friend at dinner, even though my first reaction just to reading what she said wasn't the charitable one, I think a helpful quote is, "Never attribute to malice what could be attributed to ignorance." Or, in this case, give her the benefit of the doubt.

    but with respect to the Cynthia Nixon thing, I think that this points out a really important point...the whole gay rights/gay advocacy issue is focused on a HUGE smokescreen of choice/not choice. But it really don't matter whether it is a choice or not a choice. The real thing we should be arguing is that, however it happens for any given person, it's not a problem. It's OK. It should be accepted because it is acceptable.

    If you ONLY argue, "I should be accepted because I didn't choose this," then you don't win acceptance. You get pity. It sends a message, as Ben alluded to, that kinda goes: "Yeah, being gay kinda sucks, but it's what I'm stuck with, so I'm dealing with it and you should accommodate me."

    That's not the argument I think anyone should be pushing for, is all.

    As for the actual issue of choice vs. not a choice, I won't go queer theory on everyone at this time, but I'll just say that I think we as a collective society are going to get into problems some day of trying to force everyone into a rigid model of "straight/gay/bi."

    1. When people say its not a choice, rather you are born this way I don't think it is meant to sound like, "being gay sucks, but is what I'm stuck with". At least I don't mean it that way, and I project onto others my meaning... I don't assume that they mean it that way either... BUT I see what you are saying.

      I was having a conversation tonight about the problems with straight/gay/bi thinking. (I need to do some queer theory reading.) Even what a man or what a woman is problematic.

      Anyone else read Brad Carmacks latest post on gender?

    2. I know people don't mean it that way, but I think that's what logically leads to the responses that certain people who are already opposed to homoesexuality have. E.g., we're at a point where religious opponents of gay relationships are changing their argument. They are more and more saying, "OK, so you may be born gay, but you can still choose not to act upon it."

      That argument only happens because no one has convinced them that gay relationships should be accepted because they are good, not just because they are the only thing gay people are comfortable with.

      Or, take for example when people say, "Well, what if everyone were gay?" When countering, "Well, everyone wouldn't be gay, because being gay isn't a choice," the underlying message is that both people either consciously or subconsciously believe that it would be worse if more people were gay, but since being gay is "quarantined" to a select minority of the population, it's OK.

      Really, when someone says, "What if more people were gay?" (or even, "What if bisexuals were encouraged to pursue relationships with the same sex, rather than only pursuing with the opposite sex?") the counterargument should be, "So what? same sex relationships are good."

      I think that for whatever Cynthia Nixon was trying to say, it was ultimately that second point. We're too busy trying to validate who is a "real gay person" (vs. bi or whatever) that we don't focus on the point that whatever the origin is, being gay should be accepted.

      Re: straight/gay/bi thinking, I think that the problem exactly derives from as you say, what is a man or what is a woman. I think that as trans and intersex issues become more well-known, that's going to drive a steamroller through what we think we know about gender and sex.

      In other words, I think that Brad really covers all the bases in a nutshell...

      (As a side note to an already lengthy comment, Brad plays with the LDS idea of there is a 1:1 correspondence of physical to spiritual gender. But it's interesting that LDS ideas SHOULD allow Mormons to better understand and support transgender people. E.g., since Mormons already know things can go wrong in mortality, and we receive our bodies in mortality, Mormons should be the first people to understand that your physical sex organs and the body you have might differ from the gender you are.)

    3. I think there are subcultures that are really bringing to light a lot of the issues you are talking about.

      Strangely enough things like the TV show Modern Family and their gay couple with the adopted kid really seem to go a long way with doing what you suggest. "So what? Same sex relationships are good."

      Show like that seem to show how relatively "normal"/ordinary gay people are.

    4. Do you have any recommended books or sites for queer theory reading?

    5. Oh Kiley, don't you know that I'm functionally illiterate? I get all my queer theory learnings from the interwebs.

      But I'm pretty sure that if you got in contact with Alan (he posts at MSP), he could get you volumes of actual books on the subjects.

    6. LOL - "functionally illiterate" I might have to file that one away... (Though I really fall into that trap too of reading what people wrote about and summarized about a book rather than actually reading the book itself.)


    7. Personally, I find saying "I choose to be gay" to be far more empowering than "I don't have a choice but to be gay." Unless of course it's like, "I can't help myself but be gay, because it's so cool." =p

      The most important explanation from queer theory that I think addresses this topic is in Eve Sedgwick's Epistemology of the Closet. She argues that when sexuality is linked to a gender binary system (when people are categorized as gay/straight/bi), the nature/nurture debate arises. The debate is built into the categorization system, rather than existing a priori. The words "nature" and "nurture" are vague and conjure assumptions about what "nature" is and what is "nurture" is. For example, when we say, homosexuality is "biologically programmed," it's possible to imagine human technologies that would alter our programming, to bring us in accordance with our "true natures" (as the LDS church might put it... IOW, what is "nature" and what is "nurture" can switch depending on who you're talking to). Hence, it's much more important to argue that "gay is good" than "gay is natural."

    8. LOL - YES! This: "I can't help myself but be gay, because it's so cool."

      I will have to check out that book. These are subjects that I just don't know enough about.

      Nature vs nuture - unless you have some serious scientific background are soooo misunderstood.

  7. I've thought about the whole nature vs nurture thing before and concluded that it really didn't matter, because either way because (whether it is environmental or genetic) it is something we can't go back and change. But this idea of choosing one over the other is a bit bothersome to me too I guess. Sure, I can say I choose to be with a man over being with a woman, but that is because I am gay... that's what feels natural to me and makes me most happy. But does that make it a choice? If we had placed before us a cup of gasoline and a cup of water, clearly labeled and we were told to choose one to drink, I suppose we would "choose" water. But the other choice is death.

    I think this idea of choice is particularly sensitive for mohos because we grew up with the idea of agency. As long as members believe being gay is a choice, they can continue their belief that acting on gay "impulses" is evil. But if there is no choice in the matter, and we are actually wired in such a way that we gain happiness and feel love most strongly with someone of the same-sex... well then it starts to break down the doctrinal basis for condemning gays.

    1. I like how you worded it, "that's what feels natural to me and makes me most happy." Who isn't going to choose what makes them feel natural and happy?

      I think you hit it on the head there - this is something that probably hits the religious or formerly religious gays the hardest. Choice somehow translates to sin...

  8. My first reaction to Cynthia Nixon was coming from the mindset that that of course sexuality is a wide spectrum of gay to straight with lots of colors in between. Whether she phrased it in the best possible way or not, I understood that she meant that among the choices she had for relationships, she chose a woman. It didn't mean, for her anyway, that for 40+ years she was in a fog, and suddenly had the realization, "Oh, of course! I was gay all along! I could've had a V8!" For some it really is that dramatic a shift, but for her, a series of relationships with men were completely valid and honest, but in the end, that's not where she ended up.

    I think it's frustrating for a woman, of her age especially, to have people telling her, "oh how great that you figured out your sexuality," when hers was a different scenario.

    But then I did think, oh, right. Conservatives are going to jump on the c word and say, "Aha! Choice! I knew it!" I don't think we should frame our thinking in the arguments or phrasing of those who do not sit with us at the grown-up table. Wherever you are in the spectrum, there should be a place for you. If we who think freely on these issues turn on each other, we're screwed.

    Bisexuals are in a tough spot. Gay people roll their eyes and say, yeah right, you just don't have the nads to admit you're gay. To straight people, bisexuals are this dangerous phenomenon that are out to screw whomever they can corner.

    Some scenarios are unique. For example, if a bi woman ends up with another woman, can she then identify as lesbian because she's in a lesbian relationship? Could that scenario be categorized as a choice? I don't know, because there are so many facets to sexuality, and it can even be fluid for some.

    I think what she's ultimately saying is, "Don't try to tell me who I am or what my story is," which is exactly what most people who are 100% gay are saying, too.

    1. Your first paragraph really helps me see it a bit better. That makes a lot of sense when you explain it that way.

      I spent some time laughing at myself tonight too... She used "I statements". I got pissed off at an "I statement"... She was not even trying to generalize...

  9. Oh, and I hope your friend's kid is as gay as a basket of Easter eggs. She's one of those people who loves being all edgy and cool with gay friends, but then says, " My kid?! Oh, HELL no..."

    1. He's not... But when she said that I kind of wished it...

  10. So interesting to read your reaction to the same topic. Usually you and I are in sync, but we obviously disagree on this one. I think you make some valid points and your feelings about it are definitely valid. I just had a different reaction.

    1. You and I are usually pretty parallel.

      I know my reaction is a result of some buried internal homophobia though... It is something I need to dwell on and think about for awhile.

  11. I didn't read all the other comments, so... sorry if I repeat something.

    Sexuality as a choice isn't upsetting to me, but I find myself not wanting to change my sexuality, because I don't want to discount that there ARE people who are asexual and who will always be, and that isn't a choice... If I change, how does that affect them??

    Leaving the church as a choice used to be VERY upsetting to me... I didn't feel like I had a choice. I HAD to get out. It was going to kill me if I stayed... So John Dehlin staying, and people trying to use him as an example of what I should do... pissed me off.

    I think being upset shows me where I need to heal and change old belief patterns. As I've let go of the idea that those who stay in the church are better than those who don't... I don't feel the same anger at John.

    so, maybe (and absolutely correct me if I'm wrong), your reaction shows you where you can do some of your own healing? What is it that upsets you, and what old beliefs does she hit on?? And what fears does she trigger?

    1. That is exactly what I think it did. I spent a lot of time yesterday and today thinking about my reaction.

      My coming out of the closet and my leaving the church pretty much coin-sided and in many ways the church and spiritual things have been dealt with and thought about and worked out but in some ways not enough time has been devoted to embracing my sexuality and identity...

      The anger at the comment showed me how much discomfort there is still surrounding being gay... ARRGGHH.


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