Cynthia Nixon is in hot water with some gays for comments she made to The New York Times about whether she "chose" to be gay, or was "born that way." Here is an excerpt of what the Sex and the City star said:
"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."
This nature-vs.-nurture argument has been debated in the LGBT movement for decades.
I can say that I am pretty much a Kinsey 6 when it comes to measurement scales. But having covered the LGBT community since 1984, and having identified as lesbian since my teen years in the late 1970s, I have always been intrigued by who gravitates to the nature argument, and who to nurture.
To generalize, it seems that more men go with "born this way," while more women see either a combination of nature and nurture, or all "choice." Add in the new field of epigenetics (which posits there are some triggers that do change our inherited genetic code, and which might be a reason sexuality actually could change over a person's lifetime) and we throw an even bigger wrench into the equation.
While some argue that women are more prone to the "nurture" side because of a more fluid sexuality, I don't think it is as simple as that. I think women, starting in the 1970s, took a very political approach to identity politics, and it was empowering to believe we control "our bodies, ourselves." For men, because of the pressure to be masculine and fit a male stereotype, it was easier to place the power elsewhere, with Mother Nature, not mother nurture.
The bottom line is that those who hate us, want to cure us, or even kill us don't really take the time to understand these nuances. Yes, if we were "born this way," that might make some people think it was an immutable characteristic and that therefore there might be no "cure." But honestly, this does not make anyone love us any more. In fact, there are many inherited characteristics upon which people discriminate (physical abilities, for example), or, at the very least, cause people to feel sorry -- or want to cure. That doesn't make these people think they are worthy of civil-rights protections. Ask African Americans if they think being "born that way" helped during the hundreds of years they fought for equal rights, or ask women about being born that way and how that helped get the right to vote or other rights.
And on the opposite side of this debate, religious choice is a protected category, and yet it is not something we are born with. The right-wing understands protecting religious "choice," just not gender or sexuality "choice." If they hate us, they hate us, and how we got this way just doesn't compute in their narrow minds.
Yes, there are some who advocate a "nature made us this way" argument to help us accept ourselves. But others still try to get gays to suppress their sexuality, or transgender people to suppress their gender identity, no matter how they got that way.
I empathize with people who believe that Cynthia Nixon may in fact simply be bisexual, and thus that being with women may represent making a "choice" between the two genders to which she is already attracted. But this identification of our sexuality is rather artificial. Likely, no one is genetically created to love a specific body part. There are probably many things we inherit and also experience once we are created (in the womb and outside of it) that flip our triggers -- it could be gender, but it could also be dozens of other things. Why do we like someone with dark hair, or someone who is short, or tall, or with blue eyes, or male, female, or transgender?
I am not "fluid" in my sexuality, and neither are most of my lesbian friends. But I do know some women and men who identify as gay or lesbian who have changed back and forth in their identity, and sometimes identify as bisexual. Why should it matter what we call ourselves? If the haters don't give a hoot about why or how we got this way, we should never try to limit who gets to fit into our community.
I also do not believe we should base our quest for civil rights on an argument that we "can't help ourselves" because of our genes. This is a very dangerous and slippery slope. There have been fictional books and films made about this topic: if there is a gay gene, should it be eliminated, or a child aborted, if it's found? Science fiction isn't usually very far removed from science.
I welcome the diversity of opinion between Cynthia Nixon and John Aravosis and others on this topic. But I don't think Nixon is wrong to "choose" how she defines her own life. If the right wing does use her words as a way to attack our community, I don't think it will be any more vile than what they already do. They try to "cure" us and deny our civil rights no matter what the basis of our true selves. We have a common enemy here, and it is not Cynthia Nixon, or those like her who come out as proud in their own unique identity.
Yes, some of us may be born this way, and if you believe this, more power to you. But I welcome anyone into our big tent, regardless of their genitals and the genitals they love.
Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor, Windy City Media Group