Cynthia Nixon, on 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.

For more, go here.

33 thoughts on “Cynthia Nixon, on choosing to be gay

  1. Hmm, we just read Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity in my Feminist Theory seminar…this will be very interesting to discuss in that context…(i.e., SB gives a framework where CN’s claim makes political and ontological sense). Thanks for the link–I’m posting it to my course website now!

  2. I’m inclined to be sympathetic to the quoted selection, in the sense that it should be an open question within gay and bisexual rights movements as to whether or not they have pushed the “born this way” line too hard. While it’s certainly true that there’s some evidence to suggest that one’s sexual orientation is fixed at birth or childhood and cannot be changed, it’s also true that the empirical and conceptual picture is murkier. We know perfectly well from empirical evidence that many self-identified straight people have “gay” sexual experiences they enjoy and that many (even most, depending on the study) self-identified gay people have “straight” sexual experiences they enjoy. What all of this suggests to me is that even if sexual orientation is fixed/immutable, orientation is probably far more complicated than our rather limited conceptual tools are able to capture.

  3. Wait, so I can be both gay and straight whenever I choose to be. I can be gay on Wednesday and straight on Saturday night? I need to rework my schedule.

  4. That one believes that one has chosen to live in a certain way does not necessarily prove that one has chosen to live that way.

  5. Clearly this is her way of defining her sexuality. Why is it any “wronger” than to define yourself as gay, straight or bi?

  6. I think the position gestured at is a pretty plausible one — is philosophy-speak, it’s anti-realism about sexual orientation. Orientation is a kind of sexual identity, and sexual identities are determined in part with how the subject self-identifies. Probably there are limits to one’s own autonomy here — it’s not sufficient for being gay that one declares oneself gay — but I have no difficulty believing that in at least some cases, one has the sexual orientation one has partly by virtue of identifying as having it. There’s not some objective, mind-independent fact that settles one’s orientation. If so, it may well be possible for someone to be straight at some times and gay at others.

  7. I’m very interested in these issues about choice and sexuality in my own philosophical work. I am working with a (gay) undergrad right now and we’ve been reading some of the research on sexual fluidity in women. It’s almost as if I can see his mind being blown as he reads this stuff, having never heard about it before–every message he’d ever gotten about being gay (including while being trained as an educator about lgbt issues by our lgbt center on campus) had front in center the “It’s biological, we are born this way, no one has any control over their sexual orientation. Therefore you have to stop hating us and treat us equally” narrative. (In fact, when this student tried to describe the project we are working on to friends, the friends immediately assumed I must be a homophobe–who else would even consider the possibility that sexuality could be anything but determined at birth!?)

    It’s concerning to me that this is the only conception of gayness that is being made available to young lgbtq people and that this narrative suggests that if sexuality can be chosen then the case for lgbtq rights somehow falls apart.

    In thinking about these issues I’ve often thought that there are interesting philosophical questions I’ve never seen raised about what concepts like “straight” “lesbian” “gay” “bisexual” “queer” even mean. In the popular (liberal) mind it seems it’s assumed that it’s mostly obvious which of these one is, that there is always a fact of the matter about which of these an individual is, and that this fact cannot change over time because biological forces determine before birth what a person’s sexual orientation will be. These assumptions in no way live up to my experience or that of many of my loved one’s/friends.

    For instance, I identify as bisexual and my partner identifies as a lesbian. But we both have had some sexual experiences with men which we’ve enjoyed. We can both imagine having sex with men in the future were we to break up (though I find this much more likely than she does). Neither of us finds it too likely that we would have a long-term relationship with a man in the future, but it’s certainly possible–though she finds this much less likely for herself than I do for myself. Are we correct about our sexual orientations? (Is this even something one can be incorrect about?) Does our being right about our sexual identities depend on our being correct about what we would do *if* we broke up?

    I was in my late teens when I first became sexual involved with or considered having a romantic relationship with another woman. That was when I began identifying as bisexual. According to the dominant narrative, though, that’s not when I became bisexual–I must have always been bisexual. It’s biological after all!

    But what if I had never had sex with a woman, never decided to date a woman, never met and fell in love with my wife. What if during my sophomore year of college instead of hanging out with all those gay friends, instead of all the feminist discussions about sexuality, I had spent time with folks in the community service club instead. And what if in that club I had met a nice guy and started dating him and then went on to have a perfectly satisfying relationship with him. And what if that relationship had gone well and continued into the future? I likely could have been perfectly satisfied sexually and emotionally with a relationship with a man just as I am currently perfectly satisfied in these ways in a relationship with a woman. (This, I think, is a reason why many bisexual’s stories of “how they knew” and their coming out are so very different than those of gay men especially. I’ve never known a bisexual who had the “I always knew. I was always different.” story.)

    So in the very close possible world in which I ended up with a man long-term instead of my wife and am completely satisfied emotionally and sexually, am I still bisexual? What role does one’s own self-conception play in determining what my orientation really is? If I considered myself straight in that case would I be mistaken?

    I recently heard an intriguing story from a friend who identifies as straight about a past sexual experiences of his with other men. He described a number of occasions in which he felt a strong desire to have sex with a man and enjoying giving another man pleasure when he did so, but finding himself generally not very able to maintain an erection. With regard to one particular man he described feelings of extremely intense romantic attraction, but again found that it didn’t translate into a very satisfying sexual experience. These kinds of stories are just completely fascinating to me. Our usual ways of thinking about sexuality offer no way of making sense of these kinds of personal experiences of sexuality. (And in my experience there is an unfortunate political pressure along the lines Nixon is reporting not to talk about these sorts of experiences as they undermine the “born this way” narrative which seems to be the lbgt rights movement’s main argument in favor of equality.)

  8. Always seemed to me that the idea that sexual orientation was always biologically based and immutable was a Noble Lie. In the past, gay rights activists had to convince people that being gay was OK. So the strategy was to make the case that it was something one couldn’t help and so something for which one couldn’t be blamed. And, assimilating gay to the ethnic/racial model helped. If being gay was virtually an inborn, ethnic characteristic it could be sold as being acceptable.

    Now times have changed and, I believe, there’s no more need for the Noble Lie.
    Who the hell cares who fucks who nowadays?

    I’m a heterosexual female, and my sexuality isn’t fluid. But it seems reasonable that people, men as well as women, fall all over the place on the spectrum. Heck, haven’t we read Plato? I suppose when it gets down to brass tacks I think the goal should be to TRIVIALIZE sex rather than making the case that it’s some big deal in one’s “identity”, and to recognize that people have a range of interests and tastes.

  9. Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa: Ian Hacking on looping effects may apply here; in any case, it includes the interaction with one’s (various) social groups, which may well be right.

  10. I think we need to reclaim the word “bisexual” and stop shaming people who have boinked both genders, and stop harassing them to just pick one.

    Why can’t it be acceptable to say, “I’m bi but prefer X gender here,” rather than retroactively deny all former homo/heterosexual behavior? Plus if you end up trying the other side later, then you get to deny the other side? I don’t think that’s right.

    As Cynthia herself says, “I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”

    Oddly enough, for someone saying she chose to be gay, that’s kind of what I thought. I think it’s awful to retroactively erase your previous relationships a la Willow on Buffy, or claim that it was all a lie when as far as I can tell, it wasn’t.

    Reclaim bisexuality. We should make it a thing.

  11. “I think it’s awful to retroactively erase your previous relationships a la Willow on Buffy” – that made my far-too-long-and-work-filled night; thanks!

    (I must say, I’ve publicly identified as bi since I was 15 and no one has ever given me a spot of trouble about it. I do believe all this bisexual shaming and disbelief goes on since people keep talking about it, but somehow I have managed to move through several decades of life and many homes across the continent without actually running into any of it.)

  12. Jennifer–being bi I also hate the pressure to choose stuff. And sometimes I do wonder if more people would identify as bi if not for the pressure/assumptions that exist both in and out of the lbgt community (And unlike Rebecca I have gotten at least mild bi disbelief/shaming. More usual is simple invisibility stuff.)

    BUT, I don’t see how we can simply assume that Cynthia Nixon is bi now or was always bi. When I identify as bi I take it that brings with a whole host of implications not only (or primarily) about my sexual/romantic past, but also about my current attractions, desires, and fantasies and my speculation about what my sexual/romantic future and my future attractions, desires, and fantasies will be like. I.e. I am attracted now to people of both sexes, if my relationship status changed I likely would have sexual relationships with men and women in the future, etc.

    I have no idea what Cynthia Nixon’s attractions, desires, fantasies and future speculation about these things are like. If she in fact does not currently feel attracted to both sexes, does not think she would be interested in having sexual relationships with men in the future, etc. (even if she did experience those things in the past) then it makes perfect sense that she doesn’t identify as bi. Once we allow that it’s at least possible that these things can change over time, then the idea that she was once straight and is now gay rather than always having been bi seems plausible to me.

    If that is her understanding of her sexuality, I don’t think that is trivializing to the past relationship with a man. I agree though that the Willow thing on Buffy always bugged me that there was never any room provided for even the possibility of bisexuality. But even gay oriented shows tend to be really bad at portraying that possibility–e.g. Queer as Folk. Sadly I think Grey’s Anatomy’s might be the show which has gone to the greatest length to be very, very clear that a character (Callie) is not straight, and not gay, but absolutely bi. (Of course it might be worrisome that they accomplish that portrayal by ensuring that her romantic/sexual partners go man, woman, man, woman, man, woman–but at least they are making it clear.)

  13. We should note that the claim was not to *bisexuality*, nor to having *had* both gay and straight experiences and self-identifications, but to having actually BEEN straight and also having BEEN gay. Hmmm.

    Yet here’s a line of thought that most biological determinists about sexual orientation should accept:

    1. Various hormones (current levels and/or developmental levels) play a pivotal role in sexual orientation.
    2. The profile of those hormones does continue to shift after sexual maturity — variation tends to be greater for women than for men.
    Conclusion: Pivotal factors in sexual orientation (i.e. hormone profiles) could easily differ across the course of some people’s lifetimes — perhaps more for women than for men.

    Yet this would still be no reason to think that just ANYONE’s sexual orientation is liable to shift in such a way.

    And as s. wallerstein points out, the fact that one experiences a shift as voluntary (“claims it” existentially, perhaps) does not entail that there is no strong biological explanation running in tandem with that experience of choice.

    There are good reasons for queer folk to resist the “born this way” argument as a universal claim — for it inspires pity more than radical social critique — with the implication that IF an effective orientation-change treatment somehow DID come along, we would all jump for it.

    Not I.

  14. I second Harriet’s comments above.

    Both genetic and essentialist beliefs about sexuality are overstated. My simple thought experiment goes like this. We can imagine an island (or enclosed building) where a single sex has been placed and raised, where the language and conceptual notions both of humans and other species has been cut down to the language and knowledge of only one sex. If we grant genetic determination of sexualities, and we claim that the same distribution of genetics in our society is the same as in our group on the island, then there may even be some bifurcation and splitting of sexual identities that match those genetic structures, but whatever the behavior is it is decoupled from the macro-scale anatomy. That is, a (genetically) heterosexual male, say on an island of all males, does not wake up one day and say “I like my partner(s) but I feel like they have a penis where something else should be.” Of the constructionist mind, I also claim that sex is still prominent, but I guess we could imagine worlds (akin to some religious stances) that greatly prohibit sex in itself.

    I assume that the people on such an island can have as rich and complex mental lives, social institutions, and desires as we do, but those desires and thoughts would not align with some of the key things (such as different sexual organs) that we think about when we think about hetero-, homo, and bi-sexuality. The essentialist program and evolutionary psychology when making genetic claims fail to think of radically different social and environmental structures that force us to question what exactly it is such “genes” are encoding for, and how and whether our complex thoughts and conceptions and our behaviors are actually resting on those genetic structures.

  15. I, Lyndon, am anomynous above.

    I also wanted to say that we are born into a certain society and social structures and with certain genetic and biological structures. The “choices” that we make are very limited in those regards, but part of those choices can include how we can rethink social institutions and reconstitute the discourses that limit us, determine us, and allow us freedoms to remake our selves. Getting over the hump of discrimination and social shaming is the first major hurdle; avoiding essentialist beliefs that prevents critical self analyis and that does not accord with our best understanding of the world is another important step.

  16. great discussion of a great quote.
    i fear however that we are missing the political import of what cynthia nixon is arguing (though harriet baber’s reference to the noble lie above hits the mark, i think). she continues, “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.” appeals to nature or genetics or being “born this way” reinforce these already-restricted terms of the debate, such that we can extend legal protections to those who are “born this way” and therefore not at fault (though an object of pity, as mentioned above) and deny them to those who are voluntarily different or weird – or degraded or bad. a friend reminded me recently that we (USians, that is) have legal protections for people who “choose” to be a certain way, and they fall under religious or freedom of conscience protections. either way, however, the framing forces us into this free will vs. determinism thing, which we seem to agree is rather inadequate. and so, in conclusion, the noble lie has consequences, and also, re:#3, queer theory has some pretty good conceptual tools.

  17. The “born that way” theory and the “choice” theory are not the only possibilities.

    The psychoanalytic theory of sexual orientation or any other theory which links it to early childhood development implies that sexuality is basically formed before one is able to “choose”.

    In addition, that somone is bisexual does not mean that one chose to be bisexual: bisexuality could well be the product of genes or of early childhood.

    One more comment, which probably no one will like: a very successful actress like Cynthia Nixon will tend to see her life as a product of conscious choices. There is a whole ideology of success, of being master of one’s fate, behind that.

  18. Something interesting I just read (actually heard on audiobook) in Pinker’s new book, _Our Better Angels_. (And this is just some straight empirical data so don’t worry about Pinker’s unfeminism)

    Not only is acceptance of gay identity and activity booming in the US–amongst the youngest adultish cohort, 18-25 I think, individuals are both more accepting and less likely to hold that sexual preference is inborn and immutable than older Americans. His take is exactly what I suggested earlier: these kids don’t see any problem with homosexuality so they don’t see any reason to make the case that it’s something one “can’t help.”

  19. “That one believes that one has chosen to live in a certain way does not necessarily prove that one has chosen to live that way.”

    “In addition, that somone is bisexual does not mean that one chose to be bisexual: bisexuality could well be the product of genes or of early childhood.”

    This is absolutely 100% true. Of course people’s beliefs about why they do what they do and why they are the way they are can be false. Of course any given sexual orientation could be caused in a variety of ways, some involving choice and some not.

    I’m not sure what the implicature of pointing out these obviously claims in the context of Nixon’s view on her own sexuality is supposed to be though.

    Is the point that we should dismiss all self-understandings of how individuals come to have the sexual orientation they do because no one can know in their own case whether they had a choice or were born that way or what have you? (This would be a really weird thing to say about sexuality in comparison to just about any other kind of social identity–e.g. race, gender, ethnicity.)

    It would be equally important then I assume to point out when a gay person says “I was born this way” that just because they *believe* they had no choice in their sexuality, doesn’t mean that they did in fact have no choice. (In which case I guess we can’t really fault anti-gay folks who routinely insist that gay people who say they have no choice are mistaken.)

    And should we also explain all celebrities understandings of their sexuality through their success? (Perhaps the many celebrities who believe they were born that way or came to be that way given events in their childhood suffer from low self-esteem and so fail routinely to take any responsibility for any aspects of their life, success or failures.)

  20. Wallerstein,

    The “early childhood” theory may be a better analysis, I think it is still pretty far away from the essentialist frame in which most people think of their self and how the discussion is had by many people, especially genetic determination. Furthermore, the idea of a psychoanalytic approach could open up the discussion about how social institutions and discourses structure how we behave by structuring that early environment in the manner that it does. The dynamics around “gay marriage” and adoption of children by gay couples and even just the emphasis that we should be tolerant of different lifestyles may create a burgenoning of psychoanalytic structures that change lives today and tomorrow in ways that they did not in the past.

    The “choice” idea can be framed in both an individualistic structure and also a wider social structure. That is, we as a society by creating institutions in the manner that we do “choose” sexualities for individuals, even if those individuals then have little choice about changing those influences later in life. Though the individualistic “I” may feel helpless to restructure their self based on their prior environmental influences and their genes, and thus their psychological structures, I tend to believe that our selves are more dynamic than that and can, by changing the social dynamics around us (e.g. taking sex out of the realm of morality and sin) make significant changes to our selves and our brain/mind states, desires, thoughts and behaviors.

  21. It seems to me that most of the moral controversy in this area is not over sexual orientation as such but on homosexual activity (regardless of sexual orientation). So the choice Cynthia Nixon is talking about is perhaps not the choice that’s most relevant to that controversy — unless she is intentionally collapsing the distinction between choice of orientation and choice of sexual conduct.

  22. One more (ridiculous) thought experiment.

    If a study that everyone took as fool proof with thorough empirical evidence showed that having sex at least 6 times a day with at least 3 homosexual encounters and 3 heterosexual encounters would make you live strongly for 50 more years, and society as a whole readily took up such practices, my guess is attitudes would eventually change. “Strong” homosexuals and heterosexuals may take part and say at first, “Oh, I do it but it really is not pleasurable and is quite disturbing to me.” My guess is after ten years they may still say that they get more pleasure from one practice or another, but I would think they would have gotten over any disturbance by the activities they saw as disturbing before. And those religious dissenters of excessive sex would probably learn to enjoy it and not to see it as the downfall of the human race.

    I post this only to further the claims that sex and sexuality just is not necessitated to be as a big deal and as psychologically entrenching as we make it or even to be so baseline formative of our characters.

  23. Re Lyndon’s thought experiment: I’m at best ambivalent about thought experiments that depict counterfactual states of affairs that are particularly fantastical or alien to human experience, especially when such hypotheticals are used in connection with matters of human behaviour, psychology and ethics.

    In a world in which humans had evolved in such a way that sexual relations, and homosexual relations in particular, could bear the particular relation to human biological welfare outlined in your hypothetical, it’s highly likely that human sexuality and psychology would be substantially different than they actually are. So I’m dubious as to whether the thought experiment actually sheds light on these questions.

  24. Nemo,

    My thought experiment is an expanding of Berger and Luckmann’s analysis of what going to prison long term does for many people’s sexual practices and sexual characteristics. I am sure there are many other analyses of this. I think one can separate out a sexual act from ones character (sexuality), but acts that one would consider unacceptable to engage in on the outside may become something that one has to fit into one’s own views of one’s self on the inside. Such radical shifts in the individual’s environment forces them to rethink their self and behaviors.

    Anyways I do take that to the fantastical level because I think it helps us imagine how even greater changes to ones environment can fundamentally change behavior and character/identity. It also takes that analysis away from an individual just being shifted into a dramatically different environment into one being raised in that fundamentally different environment, which sheds light on the psychoanalytic factors that someone mentioned earlier.

    I was not thinking of a society that evolved in that way, I am saying that we could *plausibly* imagine taking one sex of human beings to such an island/prison, and ridding such an environment of all of the opposite sex, both human, animal, and in language and thoughts, at least once we get past the initial generation. I argue that such people would be mentally complex and live viable and happy lives, but yet do so unisex. In a similar way, we can ask the question what would a being be like if we deprived it of all human “social” contact but made sure it stayed alive until it was 15. It is a thought experiment and fantastical only because we would not do it; I do think such a thing tells us something fundamental about that lump of meat (about us) and what its brain/mind and genes are actually capable of.

  25. Lyndon,

    I wasn’t thinking of a society that evolved in that way either; I was thinking of how differently homo sapiens would have had to evolve in order to provide the conditions under which daily diet of both homosexual and heterosexual sexual activity could make the difference between living an extra 50 years or not. It’s like trying to imagine how I would be different if I had been born to different parents — there wouldn’t really be an “I” there as I know it, and in a similar sense I think the thought experiment isn’t so much about how human beings would react in the hypothetical circumstances as it is about how a hypothetical kind of beings would react in hypothetical circumstances (which is less instructive).

    That isn’t the case with the single-sex island colony example, but it would be a very different environment from the one in which our species has evolved. I’m inclined to suspect that human beings would be congenitally maladapted to such an environment, and it’s hard for me to imagine a group of human beings flourishing under such circumstances. (It’s a far cry even from real-world prisons, monastic communities and so forth; the people there aren’t living in a one-sex world.) And although each individual raised in the island environment would make some adaptations, we couldn’t even hold out hope that a single-sex population would eventually adapt genetically over time through natural selection.

  26. That second thought experiment was just off the cuff so I do not hang much on it.

    [Nemo] “It’s like trying to imagine how I would be different if I had been born to different parents — there wouldn’t really be an “I” there as I know it, and in a similar sense I think the thought experiment isn’t so much about how human beings would react in the hypothetical circumstances as it is about how a hypothetical kind of beings would react in hypothetical circumstances (which is less instructive).”

    I do see what you’re saying in the second part and I agree the first part is somewhat baffling as well. I think “we”, perhaps that is easier to think of than the “I,” need to ask the question “What would I be like if I was born to different parents?” It is a significant factor that needs to be analyzed, and characteristics and behaviors structured under that influence need to be undone, at times, when possible. And though you can’t change how that “I” was created, we can ask deep and important questions about the creation of any “I” in the future and can change those structures if we deem it beneficial.

    You are right that any thought experiment is poor if it asks about how a “hypothetical kind of being would react in hypothetical circumstances,” and my second thought experiment does encroach on that. With that said, my thought experiment may also fit into our society in that it does not matter whether the science is good or not, whether it actually fits us or is wrong about us, it only matters that it is possibly convincing, everyone else agrees and goes along with it, and my self goes along with it. Given the history of scientific influences on behaviors, such as whether babies should be sleeping on their stomach or back, for example, it seems structured similarly. There have been large changes in behavior based on faulty (hypothetical) beliefs about human beings, and that is all that my experiment called for. Most of the good and faulty scientific influences I can think of do not seem to encroach on major parts of our identity, but they probably do to some extent.

    Our behavior and characteristics are so intertwined with social influences and environmental possibilities that we are always open to great changes to our daily lives (the internet) and changes to our identity, though self re-identification moves more slowly than behavioral changes. I was only trying to show that if our society was to all of a sudden engage in radically different sexual behavior or beliefs, my self would change as well even if I had strong inclinations against such behavior and took such characteristics as something that were not part of my self model.

  27. philfemgal: YES. on it. nixon says in the article that she finds the notion that she had to have been born a lesbian offensive not only in that it recasts her life before coming out as not real or not authentic in some sense, but that it also dismisses her previous relationships as not real or not authentic. so the very pertinent questions you raise have real political and personal consequences that she lays out.

  28. I have been straight and I have been gay and I choose to be straight much to the dismay of my many gay friends. I don’t know how to explain it but it was definetly gradual, I felt like I had a reverse coming out. I felt different and gay my whole life then after being raped in my adulthood and reviewing the abuse I suffered as a child something changed in me. I had to re-assess my sexuality, I had to relearn sexuality. Sex is mostly psychological for women or more so than it is for men and that isn’t sexism it’s psychology. I have to fight daily for my loved ones to understand why I am heterosexual now and the truth is I don’t understand all I know is I am in no way sexually attracted to or interested in women and I have no interest in a romantic relationship with one. I was raped by a man but it was suspected, but never proved, that his girlfriend had a large role in drugging me and possibly performing sexual acts on me as well. Since her role couldn’t be proven through dna, she was immediately dismissed and he was convicted. I consider myself a feminist and a supporter of gay rights and even identify with a lot of “queer culture” still but I am not gay, not even bisexual, and even though seeing a woman kiss another woman doesn’t bother me, it would feel uncomfortable for me to be kissed by another woman nor more so than being kissed by a man your aren’t interested in, it’s just my feeling of that goes out to the whole gender, all females. I think we are still understanding sexuality, I think it’s so layered and so complex that’s it’s hard to judge another and who are we to say what makes someone gay or straight. I think these days the problems might be the labels and how constricting they are. Growing up mixed race I never understood those check boxes that I had to mark who I was and always being left with other…I think modern ideas of sexuality are headed that way were that box might be too small to fit the whole realm of human sexuality and it’s psyche.

  29. Back in the 1970s (yes, I was there!) feminists and gay liberationists agreed that the right to “determine our own sexuality” was fundamental. For good or ill, everybody could agree on this because of an inherent ambiguity in the word “determine”. You can determine the value of pi to three decimal places by any valid method you choose, but it will always be 3.142: in this case “determine” just means “find out”. On the other hand, when your government determines the rate of income tax you must pay, it does so by fiat: it just decides.

    For me, and I suspect for many others, the determination of my sexuality hovers between these interpretations. There is no simple algorithm to calculate it, as there is for pi, and like tax tariffs, it may change over time: though one might speculate that a government which recklessly varied its tax rates from year to year would be in for trouble.

    You won’t be surprised to learn that the current insistence on the alleged biological determinism of sexuality comes from the USA (the wind blows from the west). But you might not know that its origin lies not with psychologists or political activists, but with lawyers. In that country, one of the main avenues to obtaining guaranteed legal rights is the establishment of “protected class” status. One of the requirements for protected class status is that the class in question must be defined by some “immutable” characteristic.

    In strict legal terms, “immutable” does not mean “literally incapable of change”: protected class legislation guarantees rights against discrimination on the basis of religious belief, for example, and guarantees those rights just as firmly for converts as for those born into a particular religion. But it is easy to see why the biological determination of homosexuality, if accepted, might be attractive to lawyers seeking to secure our legal or constituional rights.

    But in the words of the late, great Ira Gerschwin: “It ain’t necessarily so.” Some Old Greek guy said much the same thing, and started the whole philosophy ball rolling.

    When you say your sexuality is – or is not – your choice, you are, inevitably, making a political statement. I prefer to say it is, because the alternative sounds to me too much like “I can’t help being the way I am, please don’t be horrid to me.” If we abandon our claim to choice, we leave it in the hands of our enemies, as a stick to beat us with. American fundamentalists say: “Gay people have chosen to be gay.” Rather than denying that, shouldn’t we say: “Yes, I choose to be gay, respect my choice!”?

    P.S. I think I agree with what philfemgal and sk said, in so far as I understood it..

  30. The facts are, the gender-queerness of young children is often apparent to others before it is to them; and we have myriad reports of people discovering their own sexuality at the time of, and through the experience of, puberty.

    I would also point out that the “unchosen” nature of sexual attraction is commonly considered well-established outside of the issue of gendered sexuality. Nobody ever says things like, “I chose to be attracted to tall people.” People are even allowed to say things like, “I’m not attracted to black people,” and it isn’t considered racist because you don’t choose such things.

    So I think it’s a bit hasty to call the involuntary sexuality theory a “Noble Lie.” Actually, I think it’s ridiculous. There are too many children from conservative Christian families, who do not believe sexuality is determined, and who would never for a second have considered choosing such a “lifestyle of sin,” and yet who find themselves — after a jolt of pubescent hormones — forced to confront their inner evil (such as they experience it).

    And what about gay people who actively try to “remedy” their sexuality? There appear to be many people whom we ought to admit are ontologically gay, who nevertheless reject the involuntary sexuality theory by trying, in earnest, to become straight. (They may or may not identify as gay, in the mean-time.) Is Harriet Barber (or Petre Norman) suggesting that such “recovering homosexuals” have a realistic hope of achieving their goal of heterosexuality?

    There is more at stake in answering this factual question than its political implications. We are talking about biology here.

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