Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jill Dolan - Do We Need a More Nuanced View of Sexuality?

Writing for Alternet, Jill Dolan responds to the latest LGBT controversy that arose when Sex in the City actress Cynthia Nixon said in an New York Times Magazine interview that she chose to be a lesbian. Here is a brief summary of the issue:
LGBT, feminist and queer theorists such as UC-Berkeley’s Judith Butler and University of Michigan’s Gayle Rubin propose that gender and sexuality in fact aren’t innate, but are chimeras constructed as indisputable fact by ideology and long-established cultural norms. Nixon’s announcement follows their logic. She had a long-term relationship with a man; now she’s in a committed relationship with a woman. She says jokingly that “gay is better,” but that she chose among sexual practices and relationships is most important. 
Here is what she actually said in the interview and, for the record, I agree with her 100%.
“I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. 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.” 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.”
The LGBT community is afraid - and rightfully so - that for Nixon to declare that her sexual relationship is a choice is to allow the conservatives to say, "See, it is a choice, and it's an immoral choice that deserves no recognition under law.

The gay community holds to the biology argument as strongly as the conservatives hold to the immorality argument - both are essentially fundamentalist arguments that hold to the belief that sexual identity is a binary, you're either gay or you're straight, and it's not a choice.

But it's not a binary - as noted in the article from Dilon, there is a large part of our gender identity and sexual preference that is socially constructed. When identity is socially constructed, there is a uniqueness to each person's relational experience, environmental influence, and biology. There are no either/or constructs in this wider perspective.

Dilon's article includes the following passage in support of Nixon:
Nixon’s insistence that she’s making a choice about her sexuality is doubly radical. She’s refusing to submit to conservative constructions of sexuality that make heterosexuality the only appropriate expression of desire and she’s advocating for a rights-based argument that isn’t rooted in biology but in practice and experience. The old models of lifelong, unwavering sexual orientation no longer adequately describe the multiplicity and fluidity of sexual practices and choices.
Exactly. Sexual preference and expression is much more fluid than most people know or - in the case of conservatives - are willing to accept about themselves.

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