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?