WE'RE HERE, WE'RE QUEER,
WE'RE GENETICALLY DETERMINED?


Sheep!



To be, or not to be [queer] is decidedly not the question for most mainstream lesbian/gay organizations and activists. Rather, their strategy is to claim that lesbians and gay men have no choice in our sexuality, that we are born gay, and therefore should have equal civil rights. The legal team fighting against Colorado's anti-gay Amendment 2 partially based their case on the testimony of "expert" witnesses who argued that gays are "born that way." We should question the basis for choosing this strategy and recognize the serious, even dangerous, political ramifications of such a choice.

Personal Histories

Certainly, many lesbians and gay men feel that we were "born that way." After coming out, many of us look toward our pasts to make a coherent story: "that's why I slipped into my black lacy dress whenever that baby butch was around," or "this certainly explains why my heart fluttered whenever that nellie boy walked past our house." That type of story-telling is a common occurence amonst queers, on a first date, in our fiction, films, and newspapers.

But what about those lesbian and gay folks who don't feel that they were "born that way?" What about the experiences of bisexual and transgender people which undermine the "born gay" argument? What about the fact that, as studies have shown, lesbians, as compared to gay men, are more likely to feel that they, in fact, were not born homosexual? Are lesbians, therefore, somehow less authentically "gay"? What about all of us homos who once were involved with people of a different sex? Were we simplyl unaware of our homosexual desires, or is it possible that we were actually attracted to someone of a different sex? All of these exceptions cannot simply be dismissed; clearly, not all of us feel that we were "born gay."

The Politics of Science

What are the political ramifications of a movement basing its claim for equal rights on the authority of biology? For starters, in invoking science, we play into the myth that science is politally neutral and objective. In fact, science historically has been deployed to bolster those in power and further oppress everybody else. Scientific "evidence" about differences in skull sizes was used to justify European/American colonization of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. More recently, we have the New York Times  bestseller, The Bell Curve, which purports to prove that people of European descent are genetically predisposed to greater intelligence than people of African descent. Never mind that these supposedly scientific, objective claims have been disproved; science still retains its air of authority.

Implicit in a strategy which bases our rights on biology is the belief that if science can prove we were born gay, then the state will recognize our rights. This logic is dangerously faulty. Historically, people in power have often used biology in a more sinister manner. A cursory look at the histories of people of African descent, indigenous peoples, Jews during World War II, and women, to name only a few, reveals some obvious instances where being "born that way" was itself enough to justify enslavement, genocide, deportation, subordination. We shouldn't be naive: biological origins could lead to biological solutions such as aborting fetuses with "the gay gene," sterilization of women giving birth to gay people, "treating" people with "the gay gene" to make them straight – in sum, eliminating gays altogether. Science does not happen in a political vacuum. As a movement, we could challenge science's guise of objectivity instead of legitimizing it by relying on a biological basis for our rights.

Self-Hatred: A Mistaken Strategy

To say that we were "born gay" implies that many of us would be straight if we could. Not only does this position deny the reality that many of us are thrilled to be queer or do queer things, but it also undermines the decisions of queer youth and others to come out. Why come out when those already out would choose to be straight if they could? There's no way around it: the "born gay" strategy is self-hating. So why are so many local and national gay/lesbian organizations using it?

Civil Rights?

The lesbian/gay movement has chosen this "born gay" strategy in order to ground its claims to equality in a civil rights model which says that recognized minorities should be protected from discrimination by the majority. In other words, the movement claims sexual orientation as grounds for protection from discrimination in housing, jobs, public accommodations, access to the military, etc. Sounds good, for what it is, but shouldn't all human beings, regardless of whether they fit into a recognized minority group, be free from discrimination, period? Why should choosing to be queer or do queer acts (or, for that matter, choosing to do anything which doesn't harm another) be grounds to deny us rights? The Religious Right, and even moderates, say we shouldn't get rights because we choose to be gay, and therefore are choosing to be sinful, immoral, and perverse. We then counter the Right by saying we were born this way, implying that we either are not, or cannot help being, sinners and perverts. Instead, by challenging their notion of sin and perversion and the regulatory nature of their idea of morality itself, we could challenge the very processes that place differential values on human beings. Why is the decision I make with another woman – to spread her legs, put my fist inside her cunt, and twirl her clit with my tongue – a basis for granting or taking away my civil rights?

In using the "born gay" strategy, we play into a model which is based on strict categories, always keeping "minorities" as the "other," defined in contrast to the majority. The members of the majority are placed as the default universal human being to whom minorities don't quite measure up. A civil rights/born gay model does not challenge the dominance of heterosexuality; rather, heterosexuality remains in the (oppressively) normal position while homosexuality begs to attain the protected minority, but inferior, status. Such an outcome is far from liberatory. How can it even be construed as equality? And how would it be implemented: who gets to fit into the "gay" category? If I had straight sex last night but have a lesbian lover, am I a lesbian? This last example suggest not only the practicality, but also the desirability of a more fluid notion of human sexuality which acknowledges bisexuality, pansexuality, and asexuality, rather than fitting all of us into the simple heterosexual/homosexual divide. Civil rights for lesbians and gay men will not broaden this society's notion of sexuality.

Another flaw in the "born gay" civil rights strategy is that it suggests that if gays are protected from discrimination, "our" lives will be better. That assumption is based on a white, male, middle-class archetype where one's homosexuality is likely the only barrier to a piece of the American pie. For queers of color, queer women, trangenders, poor/working-class queers, and others who fall outside of the white, male, middle-class model, gay civil rights might not make much difference in our everyday lives. Gay civil rights, in fact, may not even make the lives of gay, white, middle-class men much better. If heterosexuality retains its privileged status, homos will still have to negotiate the daily barrage of messages which label us abnormal, deviant, sick, predatory, depraved, unnatural, sinful.

A parallel situation is instructive. The lives of many African Americans have been improved by the winning of civil rights. Such legislation has not, however, ended or even meaningfully challenged the racism coursing through this society and endemic in all of its institutions. Civil rights victories have not translated into significantly increased employment opportunities for poor and working-class Blacks, access to quality health care and education for Blacks, decreases in police brutality/torture and incarceration rates of Black people, a cessation to burnings of Black churches. Civil rights legislation should not be repealed, of course, but it should be recognized as only a partial victory. Instead of settling for a civil rights model, the L/G/B/T movement could challenge the very basis on which "minorities" are granted rights and instead propose a vision where all of our lives are valued and we can all live free from suffering.

Some of us feel that we were born gay but not all of us do; the question is, should the granting of civil and human rights be contingent on a definitive explanation of the origins of homosexuality? The "no choice/can't help it" argument obscures the possibility that queers actually have something to offer dominant heterosexual society. Claiming chosen sexualities could push people to broaden their ideas about the possibilities of human sexuality and their own sexuality, about gender, about the necessity of human touch, about survival, about pleasure, about family and community, about lust, desire and love. We could powerfully claim that we choose to be queer and, in so doing, open up that very identification to its infinite possibilities.



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