Poor Cynthia Nixon. Once the darling of Teh Gayz, she must now be wondering what she did to earn the ire of those she worked so hard to please.
The Sex and the City star is in trouble for comments to the New York Times, in which she dared to assert that sexuality was, for her, a choice. She used the "C-word" over and over: "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."
Now, if you know anything about Teh Gayz, it is that they hate, loathe, and despise the "C-word." Suggest to them, however gently and patiently, that perhaps sexuality is not immutable or that, horrors, people might actually choose to be straight or gay or even - deep breath - that it simply doesn't matter either way, and you will be responsible for many hissy-fits along the lines of, "Now look what you've done! All those crazy right-wingers are going to use this against us! If we're not sad, pathetic creatures who just can't help being the way we are, we will have no rights!"
Which is exactly what gay commentator John Aravosis has said in response to Nixon: "Every religious right hatemonger is now going to quote this woman every single time they want to deny us our civil rights." Perez Hilton, who is apparently now the Gay Ambassador to the World, writes, "We were BORN gay. And millions of gay people around the world feel the same way."
It's no surprise that the likes of Aravosis and Hilton, conservative gay men, are excoriating her, but I was surprised to find some of my radical friends celebrating Nixon as some kind of forgotten queer hero. I woke up to a slew of praise for Nixon on Facebook, praise for her seeming to dare to say what we queers have known all along: that sexuality is far more fluid than most want to acknowledge, and while a lot of people might feel that they will be forever gay or lesbian or bisexual, a lot of us really don't care to fit into categories. And, yes, perhaps some of us do in fact choose our sexuality. In my view, which I explained in a 2008 piece titled, "Is Homosexuality Genetic or Chosen? Does That Matter?" and in a 2011 piece, "The Gay Gene Will Not Protect You," we shouldn't even bother engaging the argument over whether or not sexuality is a choice.
But while Nixon might seem to echo my words, I find this sudden praise of her entirely misguided and I, for one, don't choose her as my Queer Hero. In fact, I suspect Nixon, whose politics around sexuality and marriage have always been deeply conservative and assimilationist, will recoil from those now adopting her as their idol.
I realize this will be a shock to those on either side of this conversation so let us, dear Reader, step back to that moment when Cynthia Nixon became so beloved of Teh Gayz, her chosen people.
Nixon came out as a lesbian in 2004, declaring her love for Christine Marinoni after a long relationship with Danny Mozes. She had been with Mozes from 1998 to 2003 and had two children with him, but they never married.
Nixon, who played the heterosexual Miranda Hobbes in SATC, spoke of the change in her life in the blandest but succinct way: "In terms of sexual orientation I don't really feel I've changed. I don't feel there was a hidden part of my sexuality that I wasn't aware of. I'd been with men all my life, and I'd never fallen in love with a woman. But when I did, it didn't seem so strange. I'm just a woman in love with another woman."
As statements about sexuality go, this was not really revelatory to those of us quite used to thinking of sexual orientation as fluid rather than as a set of fixed categories.
But then Nixon began her statements on gay marriage, and they became increasingly more conservative as she spoke of her love being affirmed by the institution of marriage and as she praised the special rights and benefits she and her partner could enjoy - rights that are constantly denied to the unmarried.
To me, it was always surprising that she even wanted to marry Marinoni. I wondered: why did a woman, presumably quite wealthy for the rest of her life from royalties alone, who had once been in a long-term and non-marital relationship with a man, and with whom she even had two children - born out of wedlock, as they still like to say - now decide that her lesbianism could only be validated by marriage?
I can't presume to speak for Nixon, but I will point out that she is a celebrity in an era when coming out or at least seeming kinda, sorta, maybe gay is practically a career requirement. Her statements about sexuality and marriage are not entirely made out of a desire to further a specious call for "equality" (a word that, in the gay movement, really just means: "we deserve more rights than the unmarried") but also to advance her popularity. In a time when gay marriage is mistakenly read as a progressive/left cause by the mainstream, it makes sense that Nixon would want to wrap her sexuality in an issue that would gain the most traction and visibility.
Here's another way of putting it: Cynthia Nixon was far more interesting as a straight woman than she is as a lesbian.
But Nixon was seeking validation, which always makes one boring, and she made the rounds with her conservative statements about marriage. She appeared at a 2009 NYC rally for gay marriage, waving her engagement ring, enacting the stereotypical bling display required of all engaged celebrities. The Daily Mail quoted her saying that marriage was something she had been wary of and that her former boyfriend Mozes had not been interested in it either, but that Marinoni wanted to be married.
The moment that sealed The Love of The Gays for Cynthia Nixon was when she spoke at a panel titled, "Love and Obstacles: The Case for Gay Marriage," during the 2010 New Yorker Festival. With a great deal of historical inaccuracy, Nixon responded to the charge that gays and lesbians marrying would change the institution of marriage: "Gay people who want to marry have no desire to redefine marriage in any way. When women got the vote, they did not redefine voting. When African-Americans got the right to sit at a lunch counter, alongside white people, they did not redefine eating out. They were simply invited to the table. We want to be entitled to not only the same privileges but the same responsibilities as straight people."
With those few words, the videotaping of which swiftly went viral, Cynthia Nixon attached herself to the myopic and often racist politics of the gay marriage movement, which unhesitatingly appropriates all other movements for change while erasing their radical politics. Following Proposition 8 in California, the gay marriage movement and Dan Savage in particular, turned viciously upon African American voters, blaming them for passage of the Act, thus demonstrating the community's blatant racism and its unwillingness to even think of African Americans as in any way linked to "gay rights." Nixon's racism is in a softer style, but it is no less damaging. In her misleading description of what was in a fiercely fought and deeply radical movement, she reduces the struggles of African Americans to the mere asking for the right to sit at lunch counters and a desire to eat out more often, a request that was apparently met in a genteel manner by whites who proceeded to kindly invite them to the table. This erases the very great violence and the assassinations that the Civil Rights Movement endured, and it erases the continuing reality of systemic violence and exclusion still faced by African Americans.
Then there is the idea of married gays wanting not just privileges but the same responsibilities as straights; gays are desperate to prove that they are worthy of the awesome burdens of marriage, saying, in effect,: "We won't just get married and, you know, fuck around in our usual way." It's a formulation that also marks gays as leaving their childish, hedonistic, un-married ways behind, buying into the prescriptive logic of the straight world: that you're not really grown up until you get married. Because, of course, unmarried people- - ike Cynthia Nixon in her former incarnation as the partner of Danny Mozes - are useless, irresponsible twits. People who should never be allowed to have children!
So I hope my friends will forgive me if I'm not impressed by Cynthia Nixon's latest statements about choice and sexuality. If there is anything to be learned from this particular moment, it might simply be that our politics around sexuality and issues like gay marriage don't always dovetail and fall together into some neat boxes marked "radical" or "conservative," in much the same way that our sexuality cannot be rigidly codified into "choice" or "born this way." In a better world, for which I continue to strive, someone who acknowledges that sexuality is fluid could and, I think, should also acknowledge that there is nothing about marriage that makes it the most desirable state for everyone. Someone like Cynthia Nixon who speaks as openly and even, I must say, fiercely about sexuality as a choice would, you might think, also be someone who militates against the idea that marriage should be the guarantor of rights so basic as health care or who got to take care of your children in the event of your death.
At best, Cynthia Nixon is someone who can't recognize and embrace the contradictions of her life to use them to further a more interesting one, a life that is not quite so bound by prescriptive roles of wife and wife. In the same NYT piece, she speaks of Mozes who, contradicting her earlier statement about him as someone uninterested in marriage, is now married and with twins (in the sexism that is a trademark of the NYT, his wife is described as a "widow" before it is revealed that she is also a child psychiatrist; one would think that her profession mattered more than her status as someone apparently stuck in a time-warp of perpetual grief). Apparently, "they all share parenting duties." Nixon can understand and perhaps even live a life that is more complicated than the conventional marriage she so desperately wants to be seen enjoying, but she also wants Teh Gayz to back off when she goes against their mantra of having no choice in their sexuality.
Cynthia, honey, open your eyes. You can't have it both ways. Come to the dark side.
With many thanks to Bil "Nine Words" Browning for the title suggestion