Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why "Choice" Is Scary When it Comes to Matters of Sexuality (And Why It Shouldn't Be)

I want to start off this post by saying that I'm a gay male who also identifies as queer, hence the reason I make references to 'we.' It's possible that I'll make comments that could be seen as adding to the erasure of other sexual identities (although I'll obviously try not to!), because I'm coming at this from a rather narrow P.O.V. in this particular instance. If this does happen, please feel free to let me know in the comments or via email! 


So, this happened. Then people, somewhat predictably, got angry.

Here's the thing: Nixon is clearly talking about her own experience of her own sexuality.

"...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."
See? It would be impossible for Nixon to have made this statement more explicitly about her own personal experience. Not only that, but she's absolutely correct to point out that she has an inalienable right to define her own sexual identity, based on her own sexual history. It is, after all, her own sexual identity.


I can understand why other people find the 'choice' narrative to be a scary one when it comes to the topic of sexuality.

As Nixon clearly recognises, this is not an argument over which the queer community generally has control:

"Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate."
I think it's a bit simplistic to suggest that the queer community has just 'ceded' this point, as if we've ever really been in a position of power when it comes to setting the tone of this conversation. However, point by point, here are my own responses to these questions: It can be! It's not! No, they shouldn't! But they do.

The argument that heterosexuality is the norm and homosexuality is an aberration isn't a new one. In fact, it's been the underlying principle of how we've understood homosexuality (and all "alternative" sexualities) since the word came into popular usage. As this post points out, not only is the "belief that homosexuality is not biologically determined...strongly correlated with religiosity," but this belief has an impact on the rights that those with religious beliefs then think should be afforded to those who have made that 'choice.' This serves as an example of how, couched in a narrative that situates homosexual conduct as the sinful and/or unnatural act of people who have chosen to go against the word of God and the natural order of things, references to 'choice' have generally been anything but positive for queer-identified people.

Suggesting that sexuality is a choice can be seen as adding credence to the idea that we are wilfully doing the wrong thing by being who we are. Perhaps more dangerously, it can be seen as adding to the credence to the notion that "pray the gay away" movements are somehow legitimate, despite the fact that claims of its effectiveness are unsupported. And, given that the battle for equality is ongoing, it's also somewhat politically dangerous.


There are (at least) two ways to turn a discussion about 'choice' in a different direction.

Firstly, we should acknowledge that, even if our sexuality is a choice, it is still a legitimate choice. It makes a hell of a lot of sense to argue that no one would willingly choose to be discriminated against and vilified; but this biology vs. choice dualism essentially suggests that to choose to be gay would be a bad thing. That's how dualisms tend to work, right? By placing the "superior" option ahead of the "inferior" one. So, if we're naturally gay then everything's a-okay, but if we were to choose to be this way then there's suddenly a problem? Why?

Being heterosexual might make life easier (in the sense that it would be a generally more privileged experience), but I don't buy into the idea that it would be "better," or "right." In fact, whether we're born this way or we choose to be this way is ultimately irrelevant, because the fact is that we are this way. And I think it's important for us to realise that that's okay!

Secondly, if you can argue that homosexuality is a choice, then you can argue just as well that heterosexuality is a choice. Once you throw up the former argument, you're basically asking for the latter, aren't you? There exists no supportable evidence to suggest that one type of sexuality is more innate to our species than any other. Sure, people argue that the perpetuation of a species through reproduction has to be some kind of natural imperative, but that doesn't actually translate into an argument that those members of a species who don't reproduce are somehow going against nature unless you're playing a game of Lazy Science. In fact, given the worries that we have about overpopulation and the fact that homosexuals can not only reproduce themselves, but are also able to pick up the slack of heterosexuals through the act of adoption, fostering, etc., it's obviously facetious to even try setting up that kind of debate.

I'm not saying any of this to try and set up a real argument either way. Rather, I want to suggest that it's kind of pointless to get into these types of debates, because a) there are no real answers and b) it still ends up suggesting that choice isn't legitimate. Which brings me back to the obvious question: why?

Here's the thing: I do see my sexuality as being something innate to who I am. The only choice I believe I made was being true to myself and coming out to everyone else about my sexuality. That's a choice that I'm extremely glad I made.

Do I have a problem with the idea that some people view sexuality as a choice?  


Because I don't think that this actually makes my - or their - sexual identity any less legitimate.

To finish this post off, I think I'll go back to a point that Nixon made:

"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."
 Sounds about right to me.

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