Kyle Bella

Cynthia Nixon & Shifting from Essentialism

Filed By Kyle Bella | January 26, 2012 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: biology, chosen family, community building, Cynthia Nixon, heteronormative, queer, queer critique

If the debates over Cynthia Nixon's statement that her sexuality is choice indicate anything, it is that we are hopelessly wrapped up in finding essential origins for sexuality at the risk of building a stronger LGBTQ community against intolerance. We would rather find ourselves locked in a binary discussion of nature vs. choice to try understanding our sexuality and gender identity in terms of its legitimacy against violent, anti-queer rhetoric.

This debate stifles the potential for unity, and produces a message that, rather than affirming individual expression of one's desires, tries to prove them against scientific and medical disciplines that invented homosexuality as a category of identification. There is no potential for producing pleasure and desire; instead, LGBTQ individuals are locked in a cycle of constructing a defensive political message that stresses normalcy and assimilation. It's unsurprising the result has been a internally divided movement largely led by white gay men and lesbians at the expense of so many other groups.

While Nixon is certainly guilty of working within the framework of this nature vs. choice discussion, and does precious little to advance the complexities of innate and social phenomena, she can be lauded for bringing light to the fact that so many individuals within the LGBTQ community, including Bilerico contributor Yasmin Nair, don't try to define others' desires within the community to fit their message. Nixon is thus a wake up call for allowing LGBTQ individuals to define their desires for themselves.

In advocating for her own desires as a choice, she effectively opens up a space whether the invisibility of certain groups, particularly those who identify as bisexual, sexually fluid, or have a fluid sense of gender identity, is revealed. While this erasure is certainly a product of the nature vs. choice debate, I am less interested in working within the formulations of that debate than trying to imagine spaces beyond essentialism, spaces that can only be defined as sites of embrace, or, to build off of philosopher Michel Foucault's work shortly before dying from AIDS, a politics of pleasure.

How can we change the message, however? The first step I would suggest is abandoning this debate entirely. As I explained earlier, it operates under a politics of defense, rather a politics of creation. Queer people shouldn't have to prove their origins to intolerant bigots who have hijacked the political conservation. It has to be a fundamental belief, shared by all, that any adult has the right to express their sexuality in encounters or relationships of shared consent. Whether a couple wants to be monogamous, in an open relationship, polyamorous, or part of sexual subcultures (including BDSM) shouldn't matter.

Operating within the framework of that desire and pleasure, in so far as it involves shared consent, creates a politics of today, which effectively produces spaces of future creation. While it is certainly valuable to reflect back on one's sexual decisions or forms of gender expression, the desire to understand a moment of origination inhibits a lot of political potential that can come from an approach more concerned with one's present day concerns over sexual or gender expression.

Undoubtedly, in this new celebration of immediate pleasures, moments of self-shaming and imagined violence are bound to emerge. These are moments that the film "Weekend" so powerfully describes as spaces between imagination and expression. While it is difficult to face why you might be unable to affirm or engage in your desires, this process of examination produces a space of narration allowing us to examine one of the most continually overlooked presences in queer life - violence.

Those within the LGBTQ community suffer from widely variable levels of violence, even within supposed queer meccas. As such, believing violence doesn't play a role in shaping your consciousness is self-denial. It's impossible to escape the effects, even imagining that you could be beaten or called a faggot, of this violence. As I have remarked over and over, this relationship to violence has existed prior to queer individuals organizing politically, and continues to exist despite supposedly strong LGBT organizations. What, then, is the problem with our political structure?

Once again, the politics of defense come into pay. As LGBT individuals continually try to defend their actions against anti-queer rhetoric, they slip into normative patterns of being queer. In doing so, there is some degree of education on LGBT experience, but only in a narrowly defined sphere of experience. This experience, rather than celebrating the openness and fluidity of non-normative desires, tells young LGBTQ individuals their desire and pleasure should either be hidden or, if expressed, defined against and through heterosexuality.

It's vitally important, more than ever considering that the stakes of this normative push is the erasure of an instructive and powerful LGBTQ history, to redefine this message. Instead of pushing for marriage rights, engaging in the endless debate of nature vs. choice, or trying to legitimize queer individuals as being like everyone else, why don't we confront questions of why so few gay young men, particularly of color, aren't using condoms; why, even as recently as last week, queer kids are killing themselves over bullying; or why I continue to be called faggot walking down the streets of Philadelphia in 2012.

Every community has different needs, of course. But I'm confident very few of them actually confront difficult questions through openness and affirmation of individual desires. While we can't attribute a revision of the current mainstream LGBTQ political model to Nixon, we should applaud her for refusing to be defined through the totalizing language endlessly rehashed by those who think queer experience should only be talked about in its relationship to heternormativity. Though her words are not without fault, they reveal the untapped, radical potential situated in the everyday, non-normative, pleasures of queer life.

Maybe this means stopping the quest for political legibility. Maybe, even just for a short moment of time, we can think about why so many internal divisions exist within the LGBTQ, and the ways we can use a politics of pleasure and affirmation to bridge some of these gaps. This way not be the coherent, immediately digestible nugget of truth so many seem to desire. However, the logic of nature or choice have benefited nobody. Instead, in focusing on being queer now, we can find connections despite difference, and use that unity to actually change the realities for being queer in 2012.

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