You do not choose to be straight or gay; it chooses you
It is not just Ed Miliband who is being stabbed by his own side. The last few days have witnessed such a spectacular self-harming incident for gay people that I can only assume the homophobes of Britain and America are doing a celebratory jig.
Cynthia Nixon, the Sex and the City actress, who was married to a man and is now engaged to a woman, told the New York Times that she chose to be gay.
“For me, it is a choice,” she said. “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.”
First of all, no one is seeking to define Nixon’s gayness. I care not what shape her lesbianism takes.
This is about us – gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people – and it is about them: bigots. It is about – let’s pick two examples from the last week – Philip Parker, the bullied, gay, 14-year-old from Tennessee, who committed suicide at the weekend leaving a note that said, “Please help me mom.” And about Rev. O’Neil Dozier, the new chairman of Rick Santorum’s Florida campaign, who reportedly said that homosexuality is “so nasty and disgusting that is makes God want to vomit”.
Neither of these people live(d) in a vacuum where words have no effect, and nor does Nixon. For someone who has spent 15 years in the white light of celebrity, she should know better than to think what she says publicly won’t have seismic ripples.
These ripples are grave and real. Across the world, homophobic narrative contains the following central thread: homosexuality is a phase, a choice, and a sickness that can be cured. This is why teenagers in this country have been subject to “exorcisms”. This is why kids in America get forcibly taken to gay “cure” clinics. This is why lesbians in South Africa and Jamaica and any number of other countries are “correctively” raped. And this is why homosexuality is illegal in 84 countries. It is deemed merely a behaviour, like stealing, that one can stop.
Nixon’s words not only feed this rhetoric, they give it legitimacy, A-list endorsement. How long before a religious or political leader cites them to bolster their line in bigotry? “Even a famous lesbian agrees with me!” they will cry.
Nixon continued: “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.”
How lovely her words her, how naïve. It matters whether we “flew here” because lives are ruined and ended by those who say we could have flown the other way.
As enriched as my life has been by being in this minority, and as glad as I am now to be gay, aged 12, just before I attached the word to how I was feeling, if someone had said, “Which would you prefer: a life free of prejudice or one where you get spat at, bullied, turned down for jobs, threatened in the street, sent hate mail and beaten up by ‘queer’ bashers?” – all of which happened – I know which one I would have chosen. But you do not choose to be straight or gay; it chooses you.
I therefore urge Nixon to elaborate on what exactly she meant by “choice”. Does she really think she chose to be aroused by women, to feel at home nestling on another woman’s breasts? How exactly does that work? I didn’t even choose to like carrot cake.
Given that the actor was married to a man, might it just be possible that she is capable of being attracted to both sexes and that therefore her “choice” hinges not on her orientation but the sex of the person she happens to fall for?
Orientation is not a preference. For me, and for everyone I know, there was one item on the menu – even if that item was bisexuality. Yet now we have one dissenting voice that bellows out over the billions who know differently by dubious virtue of her celebrity.
It is not simply a lone voice, it is a whisper in the ears of those who hate and rape and murder us: “You are right, they can change.”Tagged in: Cynthia Nixon, gay, homosexuality
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