In the wake of Lady Gaga's new song "Born This Way," there have been several online discussions about the worth of arguing whether queers are biologically determined or not.
I think it's a pointless issue. Whether or not science supports one view or the other, it seems far more imperative to ask: why should biology be the determinant of anyone's right to live, have health care, gain citizenship, get and keep a job and so on (note that I don't include marriage on the list - that's not a right, it's a cultural prescription to which the state has added essential benefits because that is simply the easiest way for capitalism to function via the family unit. Read: taxes and sundry other benefits).
As some here have pointed out, making the argument for rights, however one frames them, on the basis of biology is politically expedient. It's an easy hook, and it allows us to tug at straight heartstrings.
But it has always struck me as a particularly heartless move even as it relies on pathos. The biology argument, taken to its logical end, suggests that we turn around to the Right or, for that matter, many on the so-called Left who also grant rights based on "nature," and tell them that it's okay to discriminate against, kill, maim, brutalize those who might be seen as "choosing to be this way."
What are we saying about those in our queer ranks whose lives defy prescriptive ideas about choice vs. nature - the genderqueers, the transgressives, the bisexuals, the polymorphously perverse, the polyamorous amongst us? Are we explicitly and implicitly saying, "Oy, see these ones over here? It's okay to beat the crap out of them. Just leave the rest of us chosen and biologically determined ones alone, okay?"
Relying so much on the argument of biology is also bound to bite us in the ass. Even hypothetically speaking: what would happen to us if science, one day, decided that queerness was chosen or that, at the very least, we operated on a sliding scale where neither choice nor biology were fixed and immutable ways of being. I suspect that the carefully constructed house of cards built up by mainstream gays and lesbians who run around earnestly assuring so-called "allies" that really, truly, we really just can't help ourselves, we're really born this way, would come tumbling down around their ears. And they would be left trying to come up with yet another way to prove themselves worthy of the most basic protections.
I don't see straights, who are fine with dipping their toes and other parts into experiments with sexuality, having to defend themselves on the grounds of biology. So why are we so obsessed with the idea that we deserve basic rights only if we can first prove that we were just "born this way"? Why can't we see that talking about being "born this way" also implies a deep and lingering shame about who we are, as if there's something dirty about being "this way," and that we should be merely tolerated? How is it that we place so much emphasis on the (mostly Western) ceremony of "coming out" - which is an enactment of choice - but refuse to even consider that maybe, just maybe, being a particular way isn't permanent or even entirely unconscious or biologically driven? What if desire were really some combination of biology and volition? What if we simply surrendered to the possibility that sexuality is a happily mad and maddening vortex of impulses that we will never really trace to some basic, biological instinct?
It also seems peculiar that gays and lesbians, of all people, should be so eager to embrace a biological explanation of who we are given the dark history of science trying to cure us through institutionalization and/or forcing and ripping apart our physical, biological brains and our minds. The efforts to reverse gayness continue today, with organizations like Exodus International trying to cure us. Instead of either laughing in the face of such idiocy or simply refusing to engage with them and instead ensuring that none of us are subject to their machinations, we choose to get down to their level, get on the defensive, and scream that we are, in fact, "born this way." Why does that even matter? Aren't we simply giving such groups more fodder for their hare-brained campaigns? Don't we have bigger and better issues to fight for? Like, you know, labor rights? Health care? Citizenship that's not simply based on whom you fuck and for how long in a "committed relationship"?
I was reminded of all this when I recently revisited a document I've read a few times in the past, and which seems especially relevant today. "The Gay Gene Will Not Protect You" can be found on the ACT-UP NY website, and it points out that "[e]arly sexologists supposedly proved 'scientifically' that there were genetically based physical differences between the sex organs of homosexuals and heterosexuals that justified - among other things - incarceration in mental hospitals" and that "[b]y 1914, to prevent the inheritance of disabilities, 12 states had laws using genetics to justify the sterilization of the developmentally disabled, the blind, the deaf, the 'deformed.'" None of this is new information, yet today's mainstream gays and lesbians persist in turning to scientific explanations to justify their very existence, wilfully forgetting that science has, in the past, chosen to try to obliterate us and other vulnerable populations. And can do so again.
I can't locate authorship or date - I'm guessing this was written sometime in the mid-to-late 80s and probably written collectively (if you know better, feel free to say so in the comments section). The piece was written for a booklet distributed anonymously during the 2005 NYC Pride. I don't agree with everything in it, especially the part about how "[q]ueers are the final front of unrestricted discrimination in America, prejudice everyone can agree on." I'm tired of this argument that queers are the most loathed minority; it assumes that racism and misogyny, for instance, have magically disappeared from our landscape, or that queers are always just queers and not raced or sexed or classed. - but I'll forgive the unfortunate words as borne of their time.
Overall, I find the document bracing and a necessary corrective to the bland rhetoric of "born this way" spouted by mainstream gays and lesbians and echoed in the vapid, do-nothing politics of Lady Gaga. On the latter: I think she's fine to dance to, and I wish that both she and her little monsters would realize that she's a pop star, and a highly manipulative and media-savvy one at that, not a revolutionary.
I want to be clear: I'm not against science per se, but "science" is not an essential and immutable, ah, science. Its history is riddled with the worst kind of exploitation of "scientific" facts and has led to the systematic and persistent torture of the most vulnerable among us: the mentally different/disabled, children, women, queers, racial and sexual minorities. When it comes to the issue of sexuality, I think it's time we stopped caring about whether or not people think we're born this way or not.
I suggest an alternative slogan: "I chose to be this way. And I don't give a fuck what you think."
My thanks to Ryan Conrad for reminding me of "The Gay Gene Will Not Protect You."