I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Bindel, a lesbian activist, feminist and author who just put out a new book, ‘Straight Expectations.’ What first intrigued me was reading an interview she did with The Independent in which she told the interviewer that the claim of being ‘born this way’, whatever its merits, can seem like self-pitying capitulation: please accept us, we can’t help ourselves (and oh, by the way, we’d much rather be straight). I’ve been thinking and saying that for years, but rarely heard it from anyone else, let alone someone with a high profile.
Over twenty years ago a friend said to me, ‘When are we going to stop saying we’re born this way and say it doesn’t matter why we’re gay?’ His point, which I took to heart, was not that we’re not genetically inclined or programmed for our sexual orientation, but that if it were a choice (let’s say for the sake of argument), there would be nothing wrong with that choice. Joining in the constant refrain and now unshakable orthodoxy that we are born gay, lesbian or bisexual (I’m omitting transgender because, as many trans people will tell you, gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same thing) has only reduced us to victims of genetics and made us appear to use our helplessness in the face of biology as the reason we should have civil equality.
As far as I know, no one is born religious (take your pick of religions). Yet religion has been a protected status since this country’s founding, enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. No one dares suggest that we be able to discriminate based on someone’s choice of religion (although it happens – ask a Muslim). Nor does anyone suggest that choosing to be religious is an insane choice! Yet the ugly twin of the ‘born this way’ defense is the often heard refrain that no one in their right mind would choose to be gay. Why not? Being gay taught me empathy, it gave me strength, it made me determined to live life on my terms as much as possible. It gave me a view on the world and on humanity I seriously doubt I would otherwise have. And now, at 55, it’s given me a fabulous life with a husband I know I will walk the rest of this journey with, a home in New York City and another in the New Jersey countryside. And I would trade this, for what? To be a grandfather, and father to the children I had with my female partner/spouse/long abandoned girlfriend? The life I have now, and the one I’ve lived, with all its adventure, exploration, curiosity, and so many interesting encounters, is not one I would replace just for the sake of not being challenged by people who reject me.
Was I born this way? I don’t care. It’s irrelevant to me, and the wrong question we’ve been asking for 40 years and more. Our rights should not be dependent on any sort of genetic mutation or anomaly, a smaller hypothalamus, a wayward hormone. And as for people like Julie Bindel (or Cynthia Nixon before she was forced to recant) ‘playing into’ the hands of our opponents, I’d say we did that a long time ago. We let them set the terms when we began to insist that we can’t help ourselves and should be granted equality based on something too many of us readily admit we would change if we could! The opponents of our equality and our lives don’t dislike us any less because we ‘can’t help it,’ and they have been determining the agenda ever since we turned it over to the geneticists and the assimilationists.
Rather than attack people who express this and other views that differ from the accepted doctrine, we ought to refrain from mirroring those who would silence us. The world needs more ideas, not fewer, and if science ever determines that there is no gay gene, that we are not, strictly speaking, born this way, what then? Will everything we’ve built on a genetic, biological defense collapse? I would rather negate the question now and say I’m a citizen, I make choices all the time, and my equality is non-negotiable, whatever the causes of my sexual orientation. Now that’s pride!