Unnatural Selection?

Posted: January 25, 2012 in bisexuality, Freud, homosexuality, Identity, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

A recent New York Times interview with Sex In The City star Cynthia Nixon, has caused a bit of a furore amongst mainly American gays. I first read about the story in Queerty, which is itself a VERY gay website. But I appreciated them running  it, and quoting Nixon at length and opening up the discussion to the commenters below the line.

Other publications/individuals have not been so generous, and have railed at Ms Nixon for what? For having the audacity to suggest she has some agency in her sex life and her love life? How very dare she!

One of the main criticisms from Teh Gays about Nixon’s statement is that she is playing into the hands of the religious right in America who claim homosexuality is unnatural, against God, and a sinful ‘choice’. One supergay article suggests:

‘she needs to learn how to choose her words better, because she just fell into a right-wing trap, willingly.  When the religious right says it’s a choice, they mean you quite literally choose your sexual orientation, you can change it at will, and that’s bull.’


Another gayist piece states quite baldly:

‘ the issue here is not the legitimacy or source of an individual’s sexuality. It’s a question of strategy. ‘


This concept of ‘strategy’ relates to a theoretical term called strategic essentialism.

‘The term was coined by the Indian literary critic and theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. It refers to a strategy that nationalities, ethnic groups or minority groups can use to present themselves. While strong differences may exist between members of these groups, and amongst themselves they engage in continuous debates, it is sometimes advantageous for them to temporarily ‘essentialize’ themselves and bring forward their group identity in a simplified way to achieve certain goals.’

I oppose ‘strategic essentialism’ because I think it fails in its own goal of uniting ‘oppressed’ groups who have a common ‘enemy’ or oppressor. It serves to privilege (yes I can use that word too) one group’s identity and needs over other, less powerful ones.

In the case of the backlash against Cynthia Nixon, it is clear to me that (usually white middle class and often male) gays are outraged that their worldview and their sense of self, and how they were born this way, is not being prioritised. If sexuality is, to some degree, a choice, as Cynthia says it is for her, (note she is not generalising about other people), then gays lose some of their ‘victim status’ as these poor, beleagured people who are forced to live under the shadow of the heterosexual dominant group.

One of the comments that I found most troubling was this one:

It seems to be suggesting that bisexual people ‘choose’ their sexuality but gay people don’t! Apart from this not even beginning to make sense at a ‘scientific’ level – how are bisexual people ‘made’ so that they have the ability to make choices and gays are not? – it is politically quite worrying. I think what it is really saying is that bisexual people are ‘liars’. If sexuality is innate then people who ‘choose’ to go against their ‘natural’ sexual orientation, be it straight or gay, are a) lying and b) oppressing the people who stay in their ‘natural’ boxes by making sexuality look like less of a destiny.

One of the comments by Nixon that stood out for me was this:

‘I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.’


My ex was/is bisexual. Though he rarely used that word to describe himself. Sometimes he took the Freudian label and called himself ‘polymorphously perverse’. And sometimes I have worried, since we broke up, that he might have ‘gone gay’. This has filled me with a sense of loss and rejection, because if he is now ‘gay’ then what does that say about our relationship that occurred (with some hiccups) over a period of over ten years?

I expect my ex doesn’t identify as gay, now. He was more Anti Gay than even the author of the book of that title. He taught me, long before I had heard of Steven Zeeland, that ‘sexual identity is a joke’.

But it’s not a very funny one. And I think people’s reactions to Cynthia’s open discussion about her own sexuality, are a sign of how we still haven’t reached ‘the end of sexuality’. Maybe one day, eh?



  1. redpesto says:

    “[Strategic essentialism] serves to privilege (yes I can use that word too) one group’s identity and needs over other, less powerful ones.”

    Yep – which is why left-wing men (and women) told feminists to keep quiet, straight feminists kept telling the lesbians to pipe down, lesbian feminists kept telling lesbians into BDSM to put the toys away and keep their legs crossed. All in the name of ‘unity’.

    Thje ‘born that way’ argument has all sorts of pitfalls, not least the possibility that for some people the sexed body of the other person(s) may be part of the overall sexual experience – the difference ‘behavioural’ bisexuality and bisexuality as ‘identity’ (and there are plenty of bis who cleave to the latter as much as lesbians and gays do to their identities to the exclusion of bis).

  2. redpesto says:

    Nixon, from the NYT interview:

    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.

    And o you know what really scares people, especially sexual conservatives (of any stripe)?

    That people might opt in. And enjoy it.

    [Cackles evilly]

  3. What I found most disturbing (and yet familiar) about Aravosis’ commentary is that his focus is all about strategy and “what the fundies might think” and nothing about liberation or freedom, reducing everyone to the role of politician or political strategist.

    Um, gross!

    But then he does live in DC, doesn’t he?

  4. @bev13thdisciple says:


    Is, in fact, Ms Nixon’s choosing:
    a) to be bisexual?
    b) to be with either a man or a woman at a particular time (given an inherent and ‘unchosen’ bisexuality)?

    I’d say perhaps the latter.

    • hi

      I think the comment below from celestial viper shows that this kind of argument between ‘choice’ v ‘natural’ sexuality is a red herring. Partly, I would add, because we can not prove that sexual orientation is ‘natural’ no matter how much scientists look for the ‘gay gene’ so the argument is kind of ‘academic’ in the ‘pointless’ sense of the word.

  5. Hi,

    I think it’s say to say that Nixon has caused a rifted.

    I posted on a Facebook page for SameSame, a terribly gay-centric ‘news’ outline–one of those ones where there is no news (or world, for that matter) outside of (homo)sexuality, same-sex marriage, Lady Gaga, or Glee. Sorry, it actually repeats some things you’ve already said…but, anyways.

    “If it’s not a choice then it’s biological, which in turn raises the argument that there is ‘gay gene’ or chemical difference that pre-determines sexuality. Social conservatives can use either argument to sustain their debate, just as queers can. I.e. if it’s a choice, then why can people not ‘op in’ as much as people can ‘op out’? Conversely, if sexuality is biological and therefore you’re born ‘X’, as the LGBTI community already has, it can be said sexuality is ‘natural’ and not ‘wrong’. If anything Nixon demonstrates how reductive the choice vs. ‘born this way’ rhetoric really is.

    The strategic essentialism—that is, unity at any cost—minorities have is outdated and counterproductive. Yet it provides the cornerstone for the white, neoliberal ‘gay rights’ movement. This strategy only supports the privileged powerbrokers who author and reinforce the ideological outlook of the community, whatever community that might be. Perhaps a more radical position is to accept both premises without the need to vilify or denounce Nixon. Although heaven forbid is there is more sexualities out there that need to be added to the ‘all inclusive’ acronym…”

  6. Paul says:

    Frankly my answer to “is sexual orientation a choice?” is a resounding so what? Religion is a choice too, and yet religious choice is protected by law. Why couldn’t sexual orientation be the same way?

    Do they really think the hardcore fundies are just going to shrug their shoulders and say “oh well, guess that’s that” if incontrovertible proof that “it’s really not a choice” is ever found? (To answer that, I must ask “does that fact that people don’t choose their race stop racists?”)

    This: “I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive.” makes me laugh, because the fact is I *was* “walking around in a cloud” and idn’t realize I was bi until I was about 25. Did I wake up one day and go “y’know, I think I’ll be bi today.” No, not exactly, but it definitely wasn’t something I’d always known about myself either.

    Frankly, I’m to the point where I don’t really care what “gayists” (interesting term btw) like these guys have to say about bisexuals, they;ve made it abundantly clear that they consider people like me (especially *male* people like me) to be fence sitters at best, liars and traitors at worst. It weren’t straight people who coined the phrase “bi now, gay later.” that’s for sure.

  7. Paul says:

    Also, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, it’s kinda funy that they’re all paranoid that now the fundies are going to be able to point at this quote and go “See? SEE? It totally IS a choice muahahaha”

    Seriously? The response to that is painfully obvious. Is she a biologist? No. Is she an anthropologist? No. Is she any kind of scientific authority on the subject at all? No. She’s an actress, and I know those Hollywood types like to think they know how everything works, but the truth is they really don’t.

  8. That nature/nurture debate is an old chestnut and will never be answered, except by people who hope to make some kind of cultural or political capital from it.

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  10. Matthew says:

    I recently read that Foucault did not believe in “sexual orientation” only “sexual preference” “we don’t know what are natures are.”

    Currently as I mentioned in my last message, I am now a heterosexual polyamorist and have temporarily have left the boys behind. However recently I flirted with a “gay” man at a party. He told me as a young man he told a gay therapist of his attractions to women. His gay therapist informed him that he was “just trying to conform to hetero normative society.” Years latter he disrobbed for a steam bath with a lesbian friend and immediately became aroused and realized he was not exactly “gay”. He had sex with her. Though still chooses that label. His gay friends informed him “if you have sex with a women please don’t tell us.”

    What this little story shows is just how institutionalized “gay” is. In the past a therapist would attempt to cure a patients homosexuality now gay therapists attempt to cure a clients heterosexuality.

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