"Born This Way" or Gay By Choice: Does It Matter?


We know what Lady Gaga would say, but what if queerness isn't simply a matter of genetics? What if some of us choose to be gay? That's a more controversial question than it should be — after all, there's nothing inherently wrong with being gay, so it shouldn't matter that some people, for reasons of their own, have opted into it. Nevertheless, Cynthia Nixon pissed off a huge chunk of the LGBT community when she told The New York Times Magazine that she chooses 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.

Personally, I don't think my gayness was a choice, but I appreciate Nixon's sentiment. I also appreciate Frank Bruni's excellent op-ed response in today's Times. I have long embraced both sides of the nature vs. nurture debate, simply because I don't believe it needs to be one or the other. And even if being queer is purely genetic, there is always an element of choice involved. Just look at the number of prominent politicians who have been caught having sex with men after choosing to marry women. Besides, as Bruni points out, the "born this way" explanation doesn't go a long way toward curbing homophobia.

Bigotry isn't rational. Finding a determinative biological quirk, deviation or marker could prompt religious extremists who now want gays in reparative psychotherapy to focus on medical interventions instead. And a person's absence of agency over his or her concentration of melanin has hardly ended all discrimination against blacks.

Furthermore, the problem with identifying any trait as a genetic quirk is that it tends to be considered a mistake. Need I cite the fictional example of The X-Men, who — despite awesome superpowers lots of us would kill for — were often social pariahs? They tried to find a "cure" for being a mutant, too. I'm not sure if I would choose to be a mutant if that were a choice, but I sure as hell prefer being gay to the alternative.

That's the key difference between those insisting on biology and people like Cynthia Nixon and Frank Bruni: it's "I didn't choose this" vs. "I wanted this." There is no semblance of an apology, no need to coddle oneself with the proof of a "gay gene." And while controversial, this once negative stance has become a positive: the idea of choice celebrates the freedom of expression. Having pride in something you were born with is noble, but having pride in something you chose can be even nobler.

Regardless of where you fall on the debate, Nixon — who is living her life openly as a gay woman and an advocate for same-sex marriage — need not be chastised for her opinion. It's a question worth raising, not an issue of bigotry. As long as we agree that queerness is a good thing, who cares how we got here?

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