Actress Cynthia Nixon (Sex in the City) - previously in a long relationship with the father of her two children, and now in a long relationship with a woman - made a series of sometimes confusing, sometimes contradictory statements about her sexual orientation choices over the past few weeks. I haven't written anything about them until now, because, quite frankly, I didn't care.
She's not my favorite actress, she wasn't saying anything that I thought was particularly earth-shattering at first - the idea that sexual orientation labels are "chosen" has been circulating in academic arenas for years, if not decades - and she wasn't identifying as bi. I prefer to use this space to write about bi culture and bi people. Despite the fact that we make up 50% of the LGB population, we don't have many resources or spaces dedicated to our community. So, I wave the bi flag wherever I can.
But when she (finally) came out as bisexual in one of her latest statements, I sat up and took notice.
What happened was this: her main thesis seemed to be that sexual orientation can be a choice for some, and is a choice for her. The "Born This Way" crowd gasped and berated her. I yawned. She was right. People can have choice when it comes to the language we use to describe our attractions, behaviors, community affiliations, and relationships. And in fact, we do have a choice.
There are many words that we can use to describe ourselves and our sexuality, and no one else has a right to put labels on us. We're not born speaking, so we're not "born this way," in the sense of having a word that describes our sexuality. The words come later. After the desires, the feelings, the internal analysis of those feelings, maybe some sexual experiences with people of different genders, etc.
For that reason, the nature versus nurture debate about sexuality - which, oddly, seems to only come up when people are talking about gayness, never about heterosexuality or about other sexuality concepts, like polyamory and monogamy, BDSM, etc. - is moot. This is not about some essential or learned thing (natural, or brought about by nurturing). This is a language thing.
Having said that, the Nixon debacle reminded me of the many times I've heard people talk about bisexuality as something that puts a wrench in the "born this way" argument. I don't get it. Why would the existence of bisexuality negate an essentialist construct of sexuality?
Not that I think people are born bi, or nurtured to be bi - just as I don't think that people are born anything else or nurtured to be anything else. But if someone is going to say that sexual orientation is something we are born already having, why would that only apply to monosexual orientations? If someone can be born straight or born gay, couldn't they also be born bi? My hope is that someone will describe this wrench to me. (Maybe in the comments section.)
Then there was the backlash against Ms. Nixon regarding saying she made a choice. What was that about? Can't a woman have an opinion about her right to make a choice, her belief that she has made a choice, and her ability to express that choice publicly? While I agree that many of her statements were questionable, and some of her earliest quotes on the topic could even be interpreted as biphobic, this anti-choice sentiment espoused in the backlash is a symptom of a larger problem in our society when it comes to women and choice.
See Exhibit A: Susan G. Komen Foundation vs. Planned Parenthood. One "women's" organization refusing to support another, because then - gasp! - women might actually have access to choices about their bodies, their sexualities, and their procreational and recreational sexual activities.
Sound familiar? What is our LGBT movement based on, if not the idea of choice? We live our LGBT lives around choice. We fight for choice every single day. The choice to do what we want with our bodies, the choice of who to share those bodies with, and the choice to use certain words to describe all of the above.
Cynthia Nixon's choice has been to build a romantic partnership with a woman, after a decade and a half of choosing a romantic partnership with a man. Not everyone gets the chance - or choice - to find love with even one person in a lifetime, and she's found it with two. That sounds like a choice life to me!