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?