Cynthia Nixon and Bisexual Choice

X-posted from my guest post on PrettyQueer.com.

Cynthia Nixon

Cynthia Nixon’s recent comments about homosexuality and bisexuality created a full-on outburst within LGBT communities in the US and around the world. How dare this woman, asked the opposers, claim that being LGBT can be a choice? The audacity! It seems that Nixon’s words shocked the community so immensely that Nixon herself was obliged to “clarify” her remarks, saying that most people “Cannot and do not choose the gender of the persons with whom they seek to have intimate relationships.”

For the sake of putting things in order, I would like to start with a few quotes by Nixon, just so we know what it is exactly that she said. The original quote which caused this scandal was: “I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.” (Oh, the horror!). Later on, while clarifying her statement, Nixon said: “For me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. 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.” Among other things, Nixon was forced to “admit”, that even though she does not identify as such, “The technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have ‘chosen’ is to be in a gay relationship.”

So what happened here?

First of all, this is the case of a woman who opened her mouth and spoke out the unpopular opinion. As we well know, when women – even the strongest, whitest and most famous ones in the world – express their opinions, they need to be silenced right away. The unprecedented and international criticism against Nixon should first and foremost be understood in its gendered context. In our patriarchal world, if you’re a woman who dares to step away from the mainstream, you must and will be punished.

Secondly, this case concerns internalized LGBT-phobia of the worst kind. The sheer volume of rage expressed at a sentence such as “gay is better” only emphasizes this further: How dare she insinuate that being LGBT can actually be a positive thing? For shame! The original argument, which Nixon dared to counter, is: “Being LGBT is not a choice, because if it was then obviously we would all choose to be straight.” This kind of argument presumes that straightness and heteronormativity are the only options for leading a good and happy life. In addition, as Nixon insinuates, it also reassures the conservative LGBT-phobes – and heterosexuals in general – that the standards that they set for us are well and good, and that being queer or trans really does suck, just as they say.

The third – and perhaps the most important – component here is biphobia: negative views or treatment of bisexual people and bisexuality as an identity. Indeed, in one of the interviews which followed her comments, Nixon said: “I don’t pull out the ‘bisexual’ word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.” In fact, when one of my Facebook friends put up the link about Nixon, already the second reply was “Or maybe she’s just a bisexual that needs to calm down” (a comment which also got ‘Liked’ by 4 people).

Bisexuality and choice

More than anything else, what this story demonstrates is the subversive force of bisexuality, such that is able to deconstruct binary sexual identities, as well as the entire binary division on which the system of Western sexuality is based. Whether or not bisexuality itself is a choice, the idea of a choice is inextricably connected to it: Bisexual people are always considered as being able to choose between heterosexuality and homosexuality. Many times this notion serves as a weapon against bisexuals, in order to erase the existence of bisexuality as an existing identity or as a viable option. Nevertheless, the very use of this notion as a weapon can insinuate how threatening this idea – and bisexual identity itself – might be for monosexual identities.

Bisexuality and the idea of choice threatens the assimilationist gay movement precisely because the movement seeks to reassure and validate the heterosexual mainstream. What the “Born this way” argument tries to tell heteronormative society is: “It’s okay, you needn’t be afraid that you’re the same as us. We were born defected and you were born good, and no one can change the way they are. So please accept us, with our defects, so we could try to live a proper life like you.” I hope no explanation is needed for all that’s wrong with this argument.

Nixon’s remarks subvert this LGBT-phobic attempt to reassure the mainstream, because they take the idea of bisexual choice as a positive vantage point: Yes, we do have a choice, and it’s better to be queer. This type of announcement counters the entire value system that our society has built around sexual identity – the same value system maintaining that being straight is good and being LGBT is bad – the same value system which the assimilationist gay movement endeavours to perpetuate.

LGBT lives are not always easy. Bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay people, all and each, suffer from severe oppression by the State and society in all walks of life. But our lives are so much more than just oppression and suffering. Our lives and our cultures as LGBT people open up to us endless options, ideas and ways of life, which the normative world closes up to those who lead straight lifestyles. We, bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay people, have the option to live exciting, fabulous, shiny, liberating, revolutionary queer lives full of love, rage, solidarity, pride, struggle, friendship, pain and joy, far off the beaten path of heteronormativity. If you had the option, wouldn’t you choose it?

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12 thoughts on “Cynthia Nixon and Bisexual Choice

  1. I appear to have missed the furor over Cynthia Nixon and her remarks (and if she’s someone famous, I don’t know her), but this article was spot-on, particularly when you were talking about how bisexuality threatens/can threaten monosexual identities and when you were summing up the implications of the “born this way” argument. Very well written, I applaud you.

    • Thanks! :)

      Cynthia Nixon is known for playing Miranda on the TV show “Sex and the City”. The whole fuss about her comments went on about a month ago. If you’re interested, you can google “Cynthia Nixon gay” and you’ll find a lot of stuff.

  2. Recently I had a [drunk] argument with my brother-in-law (he’s a homophobe, I’m bisexual, married to his brother) in which he practically said “I don’t have problem with gay people who were born that way, I pity them, but then there’s the one who choose to be gay, those are the ones I hate” and I, in my drunkness, was supporting his argument answering that yes, gay people didn’t have a choice. Later, sober and rethinking all of what was said I discovered how wrong was that I thought the same way he did because, you know, I chose to be in a heterosexual relationship and I was cancelling out my own sexuality by agreeing with him. Contrary to Nixon I chose the hetero way, but that doesn’t mean that I am heterosexual, it only means that I love this man. It doesn’t mean also that I think that all bisexual people should choose the same path I did because it is “better”.

    Basically, you wrote exactly all that I was trying to explain to myself.

    • Thanks!

      I think that in many ways, the issue of choice misses the point around bisexuality. I don’t think that bi people who identify as bi and who are in a mixed-gender relationship have necessarily chose heterosexuality or indeed the “hetero” way. If someone identifies as bisexual, they have obviously chosen a bi identity, not a heterosexual one. Being in a mixed-gender relationship doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s heterosexual or heteronormative at all. On the contrary, I think bisexuals are strategically located to spread queerness into unsuspecting straight populations ;)

  3. As a bi guy who has switched back and forth for 20 years, I have to say that male bisexuality is just as fluid as female bisexuality however I strongly believe that social pressures for a gay / straight dichotomy amoung men is so much greater than for women. “Straight” men sublimate their homoerotic desires and “Gay” men sublimate their hetero erotic desires. Gay men have sex with women and don’t tell their gay friends. And Straight men have sex with men and din’t tell their straight friends. I have dated women and men openly and it generally upsets everyone.

    • Thanks for replying.

      I agree with you that male bisexuality is no less fluid than female bisexuality, and also that the gay/straight dichotomy forecloses on men much more than women or people of other genders.

      I would, however, advise caution in arguing that gay and straight men in general sublimate their bisexuality. A lot of people are in earnest gay and straight, and denying their sexual identities can be just as much problematic as it is when done to us as bisexuals (This is actually more concerning gay men than straight men. I have very few issues with subverting male heterosexuality). In addition, this sort of stance imagines bisexuality as “natural”, “universal” or “inborn” in ways that dissolve it as an actual identity in the here and now. Instead of speculating about people who don’t identify as bi, I think we would all be benefited from talking and thinking about actual bi people and actual bi identities. After all, oppression isn’t going to let us off if we simply wish it away…

      • I agree with you, i don’t think or say “Everyone is bisexual.” That is a meaningless statement when talking about sexualities. however what I mean by sublimating is the Freudian sense. Freud completely acknowledged that certain men were in earnest completely homosexual. But he also theorized about libido and how it is directed, think the adoration of fag hags and divas as a non-eroticized libido phenomenon. Or in hetero guys certain sport conduct, or male bounding rituals much is homoerotic in content. But perhaps this is just too much my own projection because in the end I have had sexual relationships with both my Divas and my football buddies.

  4. “In addition, this sort of stance imagines bisexuality as “natural”, “universal” or “inborn” in ways that dissolve it as an actual identity in the here and now.”

    I am also not of the “born this way stance” nor the natural stance, but I am of a point of view of the “universal” but in a very specific way that is greatly misunderstood. Plato, Kant, Bergson, Jung, and most recently Deleuze spoke of universality but it is abstraction which manifests in the world in a myriad of ways. As Deleuze and Jung would describe as Rhizome – becoming in various directions.

    Reading your writing you obviously come from a post-structuralist perspective. But there is a use for this other sort of thinking on the subject. For one bisexuality always has a sense of the unfulfilled desire, a certain potentiality which seems almost platonist (in fact Aristophanes speeks of our Homosexual and Heterosexual Soul Mates and these ” embraces” exist in one person). Another aspect is the Archetypal, my current partner a bi woman is as tall as I am 6’2″ and has a very maternal body, feme appearance but often a more masculine/feme spirit, we both have a certain androgynous psychology. I respond very much to here motherly body and she responds to my motherly desire to nurture others. Jung provided a language to talk about these phenomenon of anima/animus etc. -imperfect as it is because we can not define gender, but it is a language that can be used and subverted if one likes. And alas Deleuze radicalized universalities by deteritorializing by making them becomings.

    Yes I know this makes the discussion Often abstract and ungrounded. But for me these abstractions seem to correspond to direct attributes of character and real experiences of personalities which end up transcending gender.

    • You’re right in identifying that I come from a post-structuralist perspective. As such, I’m inclined to look not into ‘ultimate truths’ about identity, but rather about discourses and modes of production of identities.

      What I would ask about Freud or Jung is where, how and under what conditions is bisexuality allowed to exist in their theories, and on what terms it is produced. As you say, their bisexuality is almost Platonist in nature, again since it is never allowed to exist in reality, in the here and the now. Both Freud and Jung either deny present/adult forms of bisexuality or allow them to exist only in the subconscious or childhood. Thus, the erasure of bisexuality as an adult identity and from the here and now becomes the condition for the appearance of bisexuality in those theories, invoked yet erased and made impossible all at the same time.

      Another problem that I have with Jung is that his theory is infuriatingly misogynist and essentialist (even more than Freud’s, and that says a lot!). The anima is attributed with both feminine qualities and inferior social values and is supposed to be “ruled” by the animus in men. In women, the “rule” of the anima is what makes them an object of domination by men (per Jung). And again we need to remember that just like bisexuality, these two binary opposites are only allowed to exist as a metaphor or an ideal (or a Platonist idea). For Jung, feminine men and masculine women were an abberation to be fixed or treated, something that suggested lack of balance rather than the ideal “psychic bisexuality” (as I think he called it).

      I agree with you that these two theorists did indeed, at the time, give an initial language with which to speak about and conceive of bisexuality and genderqueerness, however now there’s a wide availability of a much better language – such that is neither misogynist, binary, or essentialist, which allows for a far more complex and nuanced way of thinking about or conceiving of sexuality and gender, and which allows space for the present/adult existence of both bisexuality and genderqueer identities. So why not use it instead?

  5. I’ve been straight and I’ve been bi and I’ve been gay, and right now, for me, gay is best. Nixon’s sentence bares the heart of the debate: it’s my business whom I choose to love, and nobody else’s.

  6. [Edited for two postings (combined into one) and for (one) incompliance with the comments policy]

    I’m a bisexual man who’s been a few bad heterosexual relationships, so lately I’ve been choosing to be gay by trying homosexual relationships instead. It’s been working better for me – I think that’s what Nixon was getting at when she said “gay is better.” She didn’t mean homosexuality was better than homosexuality, she meant that being in a gay relationship worked better for her than an heterosexual relationship. However, I do feel the pressure from “both sides” wanting me to “pick a side” – like sexual orientation was a team sport or something! It’s pretty irritating for people to assume I’m gay just because I’m dating or having sex with men or that I’ve actually changed my sexual orientation. Sorry, my sexual orientation is not just a pit stop on the way to homosexuality!

    I also don’t really like labeling my relationships as heterosexual, straight, homosexual, gay, etc. because that sort of generalizes the genders, despite the fact that I’m dating men now, I think the gender shouldn’t really define a relationship.

    I’m definitely not of the “born this way” stance – I appreciate the sentiment of “we’re here, we’re queer” but I also don’t fully accept the idea that sexual orientation is something chosen. It’s that “nature vs. nurture” argument – it’s not one side or the other. I can’t really help being sexually attracted to the people I’m attracted to, so that’s natural, but I could always deny my feelings, which is more of a social sort of thing. Sexuality is very complicated and I would say anyone who implies that a person is gay from birth isn’t thinking hard enough about it.

    P.S.
    And when I say sexual orientation is complicated, I mentioned I identify as bisexual… that’s not strictly true. I identify as bisexual, pansexual, homosexual, and queer. How I feel about each those might vary from day to day, even!

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