The power in ‘choosing to be gay’
The Atlantic - 06/03/2014
In politics, the notion of being gay by one’s own volition is like Voldemort—dangerous even to be uttered. Biological determinism is the new normal, yoked to tolerance claims much as magic hews to Harry Potter. It was not always this way, but a determinist ethos began to insinuate itself into gay politics in the late 1980s or so. As sociologist Vera Whisman noted as early as 1996, “the claim of ‘no choice’ is to a pro-gay stance as the claim of ‘choice’ is to an anti-gay one: a foundational argument. Anti-gay rhetoric uses the term ‘sexual preference’ to imply choice, while pro-gay rhetoric uses ‘sexual orientation’ to deny it.”
Television shows are full of characters invoking their biology when confronting their queerness, and Hollywood films depict immutability as unassailable truth in movies that present a “tolerance” thesis. In conversations with friends and family, we certainly hear a lot of “but I always knew something was different,” or “I always felt gay,” or something to that effect. These are, unquestionably, very real feelings for many (although assuredly not all) gay people, and I don’t want to deny the experience of that “inevitability.”
Believing that one is born gay can also become a handy weapon against the harsh treatment by family and society, and an explanatory tool to combat internal self-loathing and doubt. There is clearly some real comfort for gays—particularly those who have navigated the waters of hatred—to come to land on the supposedly solid shores of biology.
However, part of the problem in this whole gay-gene discussion is that “choice” is referenced in a narrow way.