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.
— Cynthia Nixon, in an interview for the New York Times magazine
I kind of understand where Cynthia Nixon, an actress best known for her role in HBO’s Sex and the City, is coming from. The problem with her statement is that it comes at a time when much of American finally has heard enough science points to being gay (or straight, for that matter) is certainly not a choice. While a black-and-white notion about sexual orientation is helpful to the lesbian and gay movement in the struggle for equality, this thinking at the same time renders bisexuality invisible.
There is still much confusion about the idea of a person being able to be emotionally and sexually attracted to men and women, also compounded by the fact that for straight and gay people it’s hard to see that:
- The attraction is perhaps skewed more toward men or women than equally so for bisexuals;
- The bisexual person’s attractions are not about promiscuity.
And some misconceptions are far more egregious and widely held:
- Bisexuals are really straight people on the DL exploring “the other side”
- Most bisexuals are having their cake and eating it too, opting to favor marrying an opposite partner for “straight privilege”
- Bisexuals aren’t concerned about LGBT equality since they can “opt-out at any time” to suppress any same-sex attraction.
I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Nixon’s statements about any identification with the term “bisexual,” while understandable, don’t help:
Her face was red and her arms were waving. “As you can tell,” she said, “I am very annoyed about this issue. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. 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.”
Accepting that bisexuality exists (I suppose there are probably some in the straight or LGT community that will argue otherwise), it’s odd that Nixon won’t claim the identity — it’s not a label, per se; it obviously helps make her point that sexuality is a continuum, with most falling on the straight or gay end of it, and some smaller number of people falling right in the middle. Our culture acknowledges a binary view of sexual orientation, so it’s only natural that for those who are bisexual, find this out about themselves later, as they struggle with that socially enforced binary rule. And for a gay community wanting to ensure a certainty about its identity to ward off claims by the fundies that we are engaging in same-gender sex acts just to piss them off as agents of Satan, bisexuality muddies the waters.
Over at AMERICAblog, John Aravosis described Nixon’s remarks as “irresponsible” and said:
She is into both genders. And that’s fine. But 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.
It’s not a “choice,” unless you consider my opting to date a guy with brown hair versus a guy with blonde hair a “choice.” It’s only a choice among flavors I already like. And if you like both flavors, men and women, you’re bisexual, you’re not gay, so please don’t tell people that you are gay, and that gay people can “choose” their sexual orientation, i.e., will it out of nowhere. Because they can’t. And when you tell the NYT they can, you do tremendous damage to our civil rights effort. Every religious right hatemonger is now going to quote this woman every single time they want to deny us our civil rights. Thanks.
I’m probably a bit less peeved than John only because I don’t look at Cynthia Nixon as a serious spokesperson for the community, and I don’t think this gives fundies damaging ammunition from her that would derail the LGBT civil rights struggle at this point. I just kind of sighed and thought her passion/anger got in the way of seeing the big picture. While some celebrities are clued into movement politics or issues, many others are not, and occasionally they get the mic in front of them and utter poorly chosen terminology, or worse, get facts screwed up or flat-out wrong.
Cynthia Nixon’s mistake, IMHO, was not seeing an opportunity to claim bisexuality, to bring it out of the shadows; she made a conscious choice not to align with that point of view. For those in the bisexual community tired of invisibility and misconceptions, they can point to this NYT interview as another example of affirming the status quo of confusion. If there was more of a discussion about bisexuality it would help unravel what leverage the anti-gays still have. After all, they studiously avoid discussions about bisexuality, along with the existence of intersex individuals (born with intermediate or atypical combinations of genitalia that usually distinguish female from male). Anything in nature that deviates from gender or sexual orientation binary norms confounds them – but there’s no reason for those of us on the side of equality from opening a better dialog on these topics, even if it is uncomfortable. Otherwise you will have the Cynthia Nixons of the world inadvertently “leading the way” with a personal view that is spun as some sort of scientific truth.