It’s Pride month and the media is abuzz with talk of parades and frivolity, and speculation and anticipation for the upcoming Supreme Court's rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. One of the most common talking points and indeed one of the most popular pieces of rhetoric utilized by the queer rights movement in general is the notion that "we were born this way."
Frankly, that rhetoric has always bothered me. I understand why it originated. It had its place, its role to play in the gay rights movement, But now, in the context of our contemporary understanding of queer theory and the political and social needs of present day queer communities, the biological determinism of "born this way" rhetoric does more harm than good.
Where is my agency? Why are we so determined to deny our own ability to choose our path and determine the course of our own lives?
The claim of being "born this way" conflates sexual attraction with identity. What we really mean is that people have no control over to whom they are sexually or romantically attracted. Throughout history and across cultures it is a universal and natural part of humanity that some people are innately attracted to members of the same sex (or both sexes, or all sexes, or no sexes in an infinite variety of degrees and combinations). But identity is something different, and the modern manifestation of sexual identity is a fairly recent development in human history. Having same-sex attraction and engaging in same sex-sex has meant many different things in different times and different cultures. We as an aggregate determine what it means today, in America, and we as individuals choose what it means in our own lives.
Thus our identity is a choice. and we are not doing ourselves any favors by denying our own power to determine how we live our lives and how we interact with society. Our persistent denial of this choice is its own sort of internal homophobia. As if being queer were so awful that a free choice to accept and embrace one's queerness is unthinkable. By insisting that we did not choose this, we accept the basic implicit premise that being queer is somehow bad or wrong and we would not choose it if we had the option.
The denial of choice is the fuel behind bi-phobia, used as an excuse for ostracizing members of our own community who are somehow perceived to have more choice than those who deem themselves more "purely" gay. Most importantly, by denying our own ability to define ourselves, we give our opponents the ability to define us instead. Consenting adults should be able to make whatever choices they want in their romantic and sexual lives, without legal or societal discrimination. By insisting that our civil rights are defensible only on the basis of immutable biology or genetics, we implicitly deny the rights of anyone who makes a choice not to conform to arbitrary social norms and constructs.
Let’s reclaim our agency! We do not choose our lust or our love, but we choose our lives. We choose to pass, or to come out. We choose any label we want, or no label at all. We choose to defy our oppressors and live the lives we want with the people we want, quietly and subtly or with rainbows plastered on our walls. We choose to create communities for ourselves with their own varied practices and ideals, and then we choose to what degree we want to re-assimilate into mainstream American cuture. We choose to stand up and fight for our rights- or not, as safety or convenience allows. All of these choices are valid, none of them any more or less gay than the other. Being LGBT does not mean any one thing, but is rather a fluid and ever evolving identity. We created that identity, and we continue to define it through our choices every day.
Talk of genetics and nature is necessary for some arenas. Historically, It was instrumental in the de-criminalization and de-medicalization of homosexual sex. Even today, it is sometimes necessary to protect our physical safety, both in legislation and in public opinion. It is necessary to defend against our most violent and sometimes most vocal foes. These are not issues of the past, but are still urgent in the lives of millions of LGBT people in America, and even more so in other parts of the world. We must continue to remind the world that being sexually and romantically attracted to people of any and every sex is natural and normal and not a matter of choice.
But having gay sex does not in itself make a person gay, and our identities are defined by far more than what we do in our beds. It is time we make explicit the distinction between our actions and our identities and reclaim our agency in our own lives. We do not choose who we are inclined to sleep with, but we choose to transform an action into an identity we choose what that identity means. We are out and proud, so it's time we stop being ashamed to admit our choice. It is time we choose to stand up and claim our right not only to live queer lives: we need to claim our right to choose.
I choose to be Queer, and I am not ashamed.