Thought Catalog

My Love, My Choice: On Cynthia Nixon And Why Gay Is (Sometimes) Better

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All I’ve wanted to do this past week is take Cynthia Nixon out, buy her a cappuccino and a scone, and spend an hour or so commiserating over how awful people can be.

On January 19, Nixon, best known for playing Miranda on Sex and the City, was quoted in the New York Times saying that, for her, being a lesbian is a choice. “I understand that for many people it’s not,” Nixon went on, “but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.” Immediately — and predictably — certain facets of the LGBT community were furious. How dare she? they wondered. Who the hell is Nixon to say that being gay is a choice? What right does she have to speak with candor about her own experience, if that experience differs from the message mainstream gay rights activists want America to hear?

All of this was painfully familiar to me. In September, I wrote a column for the Atlantic blog in which I talked about my sexual orientation, which is remarkably similar to Nixon’s: I’ve been attracted to both men and women, but for many reasons I choose to identify as gay. The response to that piece of writing frankly astonished me in its vehemence, and in the coverage that has followed Nixon’s remarks it’s impossible to miss the let’s-put-her-in-her-place indignation I grew to know so well.  The tone of the commentary tends to be either condescending or rage-filled, often both. I wish I were surprised.

Most of the negative responses to Nixon have converged around one point: She describes herself as gay, not bisexual. In follow-up comments to the Daily Beast, Nixon said she “just [doesn’t] like to pull out” the B-word, implying that she identifies with it, but chooses to call herself “gay” for the sake of argument because it’s simpler. Well, duh, chorus Nixon’s critics. You didn’t choose to be gay; you were simply born bisexual. That explains it.

Except it doesn’t actually explain anything. Simply slapping a label that says “bisexual” onto Nixon — or me, or anyone else who falls outside a clearly delineated gay/ straight dichotomy — and expecting that to be the end of the conversation is reductive, simplistic, and insulting to everyone whose sexuality is somewhere in the gray area.

Let’s talk about me for a moment, both because that’s my favorite thing to do and because I can’t speak to Nixon’s personal feelings and history. For my part, I don’t see how including the word “bisexual” in my story changes anything about who I am and where I’ve ended up. I’ve been attracted to men and women; I’ve had sex with men and women; I’ve been in relationships with men and women, so sure, call me bisexual if you want. I prefer “queer,” for all the reasons typically cited by young, trendy, white, urban queers, but whatever, I’m not going to fight with you over semantics.

But when I read the original sentence by Nixon that prompted this whole firestorm — “I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better” — something in my soul tingles with recognition. I enjoy sex with men, but I enjoy it with women a lot more. The best sex I’ve ever had with a man is filed, in my head, under “almost like doing it with a woman.” The worst sex I’ve ever had with a woman is labeled “too much like doing it with a man.” Someone will argue here that the distinction between what men and women are like in bed is impossible to quantify because of individual differences in preference, style, athleticism, flexibility, chemistry, etc., and so “like a woman” is basically a useless descriptor; I agree. Still, I can’t help but notice that a combination of experience and (perhaps) innate predilection has left me with a strong association between “ladies” and “good sex.”

If it was preordained by my genetics that I would be attracted to people of both genders, so be it, but that’s only part of the story. The other part — the much more important part, to me — is how and why I came to prefer women. Because I absolutely, unmistakably do. Men and women both have the power to make me turn my head on the street, but even if I weren’t marrying my amazing partner in six months, I would have no interest in ever dating a man again. I feel more comfortable, more relaxed, more myself when I’m in a relationship with a woman. I know on some basic, ineffable level that women are where my body and heart are most at home.

And that knowledge is not something I was born with. It’s not even something I realized late in life, with the shock of a revelation, rearranging everything I knew about myself into an order that finally made sense. I know that’s how it happens for a lot of people, but it wasn’t that way for me. I dated men; I was happy dating men; I knew I was also attracted to women, but acting on that attraction was something I figured I could take or leave. My pronounced preference developed over time, as a result of experiences I had and choices I consciously made. If any one of a thousand things in my life had gone differently, I could be engaged to a man today.

So what difference does it make whether or not I call myself bisexual? My story and my life are too complicated to be summed up and dismissed in that one little word. What is crucial to me is that I chose the relationship I’m in today, and I chose to align myself, personally and politically, with the lesbian community. If I’m a bisexual, I’m a bisexual who is only interested in dating or sleeping with women. I’m a bisexual who thinks John Barrowman is insanely beautiful, but has zero interest in putting any part of my body on any part of his body. I’m a bisexual who would rather lick a clitoris than literally any other activity in the world. I’m a bisexual who is practially indistinguishable from a great big lesbian.

I’m not saying that homosexuality is a choice for everyone. Obviously, it isn’t. But for those of us whose sexual attraction is fluid, or shifting, or somewhere in the middle, or directed towards people who are not unambiguously men or women, devoting ourselves exclusively to same-sex partners can be a choice — a choice many of us make joyfully and with our eyes wide open. What’s so scary and infuriating about that?

Proponents of the “born this way” theory often argue that we must be gay from birth, because no one who didn’t have to would ever choose to face the hatred and persecution that LGBT people deal with every day. I believe this argument does a grave disservice to the strength of our community, the support we offer each other, the blissful unconventionality of our relationships, and — yes — the awesomeness of our sex lives, all of which are reasons why homosexuality is my choice. Yes, being gay means receiving a disproportionate share of discrimination and mistreatment, and it is crucial that we talk about that and fight against it with all our strength. But it’s also crucial that we acknowledge the positive side of being gay, and celebrate it. If homosexuality were nothing but shame and sorrow, I would have stuck with men, and I bet Nixon would have too.

Maybe that’s what scares the “it’s not a choice” crowd. I am exactly the sort of person the rabidly homophobic right is worried about their children growing up to be: I am someone who could have been straight, but chose not to. If gay rights and the queer community hadn’t been part of my life, part of my political awareness, from an early age, I might have pursued relationships with men my whole life long and never known what I was missing. The Rick Santorums of the world say, “If we let gay people have rights, then everyone will want to try it,” and I say, “Why not?  I did.”

This is one of the reasons mainstream gays and lesbians offer for their fury at stories like Nixon’s and mine: We are fueling the fire. We are offering ammunition to the enemy. We are, personally, just by telling our stories and owning our histories, setting back The Cause. As though, if it weren’t for us, Republicans from sea to shining sea would be lining up to vote in favor of gay marriage. As though as soon as we’ve convinced everyone that we really, really can’t help it, homophobia is going to magically disappear.

The thing about people who hate us, though, is this: They hate us. They are going to hate us no matter what we say. There is no way we can spin ourselves that will convince them that we aren’t dirty, perverse, broken and disgusting. They will fight to the bitter end to deny us any crumb of fair treatment under the law, and it’s not because they care whether we were born this way or not. It’s because they believe that, no matter how we ended up this way, we are fundamentally worth less than them. Their rhetoric makes it clear that they barely see us as human. So why are we letting them dictate the terms of our conversations? They are always going to come after us — and by us I mean the entire LGBT community, but I especially mean those of us who are on the fringes of even that marginalized group: we who are bisexual, who are transgendered, who are gender-queer, who are outsiders; we whom the mainstream gay rights movement will turn its back on in a heartbeat, if it looks like it might help The Cause.

What cause? The cause of being as much like straight people as possible? The cause of never threatening anyone’s preconceived notions of what gender and sexuality mean, or how they function in the world? The cause of winning the approval of people with small minds and stunted souls?  That’s not something worth fighting for, to me. If your cause doesn’t have room for fluidity, for idiosyncrasy, for experimentation, for honesty, for quirks, for queerness, for joy, then you and I are not on the same side.

I want to celebrate our experiences in all their glorious specificity. I want to insist on the legitimacy of my own story without someone else telling that I’m undermining theirs. There is no reason why my choice cannot coexist with your knowing since birth. There should be room in the queer community to honor all of our histories, no matter how little they resemble one another.  We of all people should know that the most common experience is not the only correct or allowable one. My story may not be typical, but it is mine, just as Cynthia Nixon’s is hers. No, we didn’t choose to be attracted to both men and women — but we chose what to do about it. Calling us “bisexual” doesn’t explain away any part of the thrilling complexity of our lives. It’s the beginning of a conversation, not the end. TC mark

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My Love, My Choice: On Cynthia Nixon And Why Gay Is (Sometimes) Better is cataloged in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
  • Diamondsinthedark

    This is absolutely how I feel and I wish I could make people understand this without making them read an article or having endless discussions on the matter. Yes, I fancy men but they cannot make me feel completely content. I am a lesbian because I say so.

  • http://twitter.com/kaimcn Kai

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    Thank beyzuz for this article. It’s like attempting to explain “I’m pansexual” to a new partner who inevitably says “Oh you mean you’re bi”. It’s a pointless conversation unless you’ve lived it. I’ve ran the gender and sexual identification gamut with partners, but I predominately date and  actively pursue men these days– for reasons, not some genetic, instinctual call that I must answer. 

    Thanks n’at.

  • Lilym

    best fuckin stuff I’ve read on thought catalog yet. brava for finally sticking up for some radical sexuality politics instead of chelsea fagans “things men can’t wear” and body policing.

  • Pat

    I really liked this article because unlike a lot of others on this website, it made me feel a lot of things.  I absolutely do not question yours or Cynthia’s right to talk about your personal lives and your own choices any way you want to.  I don’t think that any person’s personal story should have to fit into any type of mold just because they’re gay, straight, bi, or whatever.  However I do also understand where the frustration comes from in the LGBT community towards what Cynthia said.  If you think about the opponents of gay rights, one of the main arguments they make is that it is simply a choice, and an immoral one at that.  They believe that for whatever reasons, LGBT people are born straight and “stray from the path” towards what they believe is unnatural gay behavior.  For me being gay was never a choice, I’ve been attracted to men and only men for as long as I can remember, and no matter how hard I tried to be straight, I just couldn’t.  For me, and many others in the LGBT community, we really were born this way, and homosexuality is as natural to us as breathing air, it isn’t a choice at all.  That’s probably why her comments elicited the responses it did, because many of our opponents are going to take those words out of context and use them to fuel their ideas that homosexuality is an illegitimate choice that people willingly make.  I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that’s where they’re coming from.  You’re very lucky to be attracted to both men and women and to have had the opportunity to choose the life you preferred, but for most of us it wasn’t a choice and I think you should understand that as well.

    • muffin

      Well, the author did very clearly acknowledge that this is where the vehement response is coming from, and she does seem to understand that it’s different for different people.  In fact, I think that’s her whole point. 

    • flyingleap

      Pretty sure she does, and Cynthia Nixon does too- didn’t she say something to that effect? That she had made her choice, because she was able to, though not everyone makes the decision she did or even has the opportunity or ability to. 

      What I don’t understand is the immediate anger from most of the LGBT community. Sure, this might be a statement that super-conservative homophobes can use, but… they’re going to use ANYTHING that anyone in the LGBT community says in the exact same way. Would the LGBT community rather Nixon just hush up and conceal this integral part of her sexuality? Because it seems to me that the whole point of that whole movement is to be inclusive, and allow people to be who they are, whether they chose to be queer or not. It’s a bit hypocritical for them to throw her under the bus for making a statement that applied only to her sense of self, and did not at all claim to speak for all queer/bisexual/gay/lesbian/anybody-else people. She’s just being who she is. Isn’t that allowed? 

  • Matt

    Best article I’ve read on tc

  • CM

    WOW. You literally just took my sexuality/fluidity/identity out of my head/soul/private parts and wrote it on TC. I applaud you. 

    Thank you for clarifying all of. “women are where my body and heart are most at home”

  • baby-bi

    Had the strangest feeling reading this…suddenly seems quite likely that this is how I’ll end up. Currently at the ‘figuring sex with women is something i could take or leave’ part, though undoubtedly curious

  • michi

    I think it’s probably really hard, if not impossible, for people who don’t feel the same way to get what you’re talking about but I think you did a really good job of explaining it. Thanks for this article, I really needed it. 

  • Marie

    Thank you so much for describing with such truth and honesty the way a lot of us feel.

  • Anonymous

    Great article. My only concern (as an actual 50/50 bisexual) is the invisibility of true bisexuality in the media. I worried, reading her comments, that people would just be reinforced in thinking, “Oh, well. Bisexuals can choose one then!”

    • JEReich

      I find myself agreeing both with you and with the content of this article.  If one is impervious to specificity in regard to sexuality, I wonder why the all-encompassing word “queer” isn’t used more often.  A true testament to the power of language, not labels: if this word were used more often, I think a lot of resentment towards terminology could potentially be swept under the rug.

  • mac

    this.

  • Lady

    I’m very happy to read this because I have two friends in exactly your situation.  One is a bisexual woman who has, recently, aligned herself with the lesbian community (and who, growing up together, ALWAYS dated men and enjoyed it…which has confused her friends and family no end).  The other is a bisexual man who freely, openly owns his past experiences with men, enjoyed it, but aligns himself with the straight community because that’s what he wants and is only actively pursuing relationships with women (and no, he’s no closet case or self loather.  He genuinely can go either way).  Apparently fucking women is awesome if you’re into that:)

    However, I would like to say that having choice?  That’s also a “Born this way” thing.  Because some of us are born without a choice.  You, naturally, without forcing yourself to, like to have sex with women.  You were “born that way.”  There’s a lot of talk about how everyone’s a *little* bisexual.  I just don’t think that’s true (aside from in an extreme circumstance case where just simple friction from any other human being helps you out.  But I don’t think that counts.  Just the way I dont think being stranded on a deserted island with the elephant man means you have a thing for the elephant man)–and I think THAT is an argument for republicans who think being gay is a choice.  As a college student I made out with women–didn’t go for it at all and to have sex with a woman would be something i’d have to force myself to do if I ever did.  I know lots of gay men who wouldn’t touch a vagina with a ten foot pole.   And we’re born that way.  We’re all “born this way.”  I don’t think your story contradicts that.

    But it is very sad that idiots can’t think for two seconds after reading something that confuses them and get so worked up.

  • coco

    really one of the best articles i’ve read on here

  • hmm

    I can’t help but notice that the choice of sexuality still isn’t a choice; even in the end, a bisexual is born a bisexual but can choose to adopt any one (or more?) of these labels: straight, bisexual, or gay.

    • Lilym

      No? Because when you say that, you are defining their sexuality according to your terms, which means its not going to be correct. Besides that, it really isn’t your job.

  • r_105

    Oh, dear. I’m about to tear up at my desk at work on my lunch break. I recently realized that I find myself in a vaguely similar situation and made a conscious choice to leave (even the attractive) men behind because I only find myself capable of real, adult relationships with women. I didn’t anticipate  all of the negativity, but my crimes as an interloper were made clear to me by some people who I thought were otherwise quite delightful. Thank you for making it clear that, just like anti-racism or feminism, the movement for LGBT (et al) rights is not an us vs. them battle. Rather, it is about individuals having the right to claim and express their identity as they know it.

  • effinclassy

    This is so lovely. You took the words right out of my mouth. (And wrote them far more eloquently than I ever could.)

  • Nicholae Cline

    really excellent, important work here

  • Edelsolm

    I couldn’t have articulated my own feelings more perfectly. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • http://www.myheartandmyskull.tumblr.com Lauren

    SO MANY SNAPS TO YOU, SISTA.  

    Big love, get yours.  

  • Meghan

    This is brilliant

  • Guest

    The labels are so confusing, but I see both sides of the story. I guess some people are born gay in that they cannot feel sexual attraction to the opposite gender and others are born straight in that they cannot feel sexual attraction to the same gender. The fact that you were born with the ability to feel sexual attraction to both sexes means that you are technically bisexual (like myself), but as you have explained you identify more with the gay side of your being. I guess that’s cool, but the other side of the story is that I am sure in my bones that it is much harder for those born exclusively gay, in that they don’t have an out card. They don’t have the opportunity to pursue heterosexual relationships and hence they can’t have an open romantic relationship without ‘coming out of the closet’ and facing all of the social stigma that goes with it. I think that sometimes it makes it harder for people to acknowledge that their are those that are born exclusively gay when people say “I choose to be gay”. That being said I think it is your right to determine your own sexual identity, and to acknowledge that in some cases it can be a mixture of being born a particular way, and what we choose to identify with (also I guess being open to the fact that orientation, may sometimes change).  But we shouldn’t forget that some people are born without the option, that their sexuality is in fact set in stone. I think we just need people gay, straight, bisexual, transgender etc to become more open minded and less afraid of those of us that do have the option of what to identify as, and not to be afraid of exploring sexuality in ways that don’t fit with preconceived norms. 

  • guest

    My biggest fear is saying I’m a lesbian and turning up to a high school reunion with a hubby. What can you say then? “LOL JK, those 4 years of gay indie films and pretentious political-correctness and championing of so-called equality was all a joke! Totally got you all!” 

  • Guest

    But if you like having sex with all women better, as you have stated, wouldn’t that point to you being born with a specific preference? I, as a straight female, COULD (and have to some extent) have sex with women, just as you can have sex with men, but isn’t the fact that I much prefer having sex with men the main indication that I am, in fact, straight? In which case, the fact that you much prefer women, a good indicator that you are, in fact, gay?

  • listenupgirl

    I’m so grateful for this article, as well as the eloquence with which it was written.

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