So what if being gay IS a choice?

Despite some activists’ outrage over actress Cynthia Nixon’s recent comments, it doesn’t really matter how we became LGBT

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

After four decades of watching people struggle to keep up with the politically correct standard of the day in discussing LGBT life, I’m beginning to think it’s time for everyone to relax a little.

I reached that decision this week when I read about activists getting in an uproar over Cynthia Nixon, an actress who starred in Sex and the City, telling the New York Times Magazine she preferred being gay to straight because she had lived both types of lives. Her remarks created a furor among those who demand we frame all of our speech in a way they think best advances the LGBT rights movement. A few days later Nixon softened her stance in a Daily Beast interview by saying she was a bisexual by no choice of her own, presumably in an effort to quell the controversy.

Frankly, Nixon’s first remarks in the New York Times Magazine article made sense to me, and so did her later remarks about believing she never made a conscious decision to be a bisexual. It’s just that I regretted she felt compelled to revise what she had said earlier to appease her critics. I got what she meant the first time without her follow-up explanation, and I imagine most other enlightened people did as well.

Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon

Nixon, who gave birth to two children with a male partner, probably did make a choice to live a gay life when she became sexually involved with a woman. If someone is attracted to both the opposite and the same sex, there probably does come a point when the individual might need to make a choice in terms of permanent or semi-permanent partnership.
Certainly Nixon ought to be the best judge of what happened in her own life, so what’s wrong with her telling the truth as she sees it?

Nixon noted correctly that many LGBT activists shudder every time they hear the word “choice,” “preference” or “lifestyle” because they fear it supports conservative religious arguments that homosexuality is a perversion practiced by degenerates who get their kicks out of being wicked. As the theory goes, that gives credence to the evangelists’ claims that bisexuality, homosexuality and gender variance can be cured by the administration of a good dose of Bible verse in quantities sufficient enough to scare the holy bejesus out of the sinner.

As we all know, that doesn’t work. Actually, even most straight people realize that won’t work because most of them have also suffered the wrath of the evangelical community in condemnation of some aspect of their lives, such as the urge to masturbate or engage in sexual activity before marriage. In reality, the only ones who truly believe a pack of Bible thumpers can transform a person’s sexual orientation are people who are lying about it, have been brainwashed into believing it or are just too ignorant to understand scientific research.

Decades of scientific evidence make it clear that every aspect of a person’s physical and mental makeup — which certainly includes sexual orientation — comes about as a result of heritable genes and the impact of sex hormones on the brain and other body parts of the developing fetus.

In his 2011 book Gay, Straight and the Reason Why, neuroscientist Simon LeVay outlines decades of scientific studies that all point to the same conclusion: In essence, people are what nature made them.

LeVay, who served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has pointed this out in various articles and books he has authored over the years. The results of a scientific study LeVay published in Science in 1991 showing marked differences in the brain structures of gay and straight men is credited with helping spur the two-decade wave of scientific research aimed at determining a biological basis for sexual orientation.

What the body of scientific evidence does for most reasonable people is confirm what common sense had already told them. There’s just no way certain people with obvious mental and physical characteristics could have been anything other than what they became — namely gay, lesbian or transgender.

With others in the LGBT community it’s a little trickier because they display either few or none of the obvious characteristics identifying them as anything other than straight. Environment might have played some role in their development, but again the scientific evidence points to biological factors. What’s more the individuals usually report experiencing feelings since their earliest recollections that set them apart from heterosexual people.

Still, the unpredictability of humans makes it impossible to categorize all people. Some members of the community undoubtedly did feel an attraction to the LGBT lifestyle and chose to embrace it for that reason. The very size and the diversity of the world’s LGBT community is so staggering that if we come across some people who are merely practicing free will, it shouldn’t be so surprising.

That’s why I liked Nixon’s earlier remarks that it didn’t matter how people came to be a part of the LGBT community. As she said, it doesn’t matter how each and every person got here, and words will never sway the opinions of bigots and opportunists. It will require life experiences — such as coming to realize they have a child or grandchild who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender — to hopefully educate them about the realities of life.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has reported on LGBT issues for three decades for the mainstream and alternative media. He can be reached at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Fishing with Juan

‘CRUSH’ ON YOU | Abe Vigoda ventured into electronica territory with its new album ‘Crush.’ Gay member Velasquez, second from right, hopes this might increase fans for the band — especially gay ones.

As indie band Abe Vigoda tours the country, lone gay bandmember Juan Velasquez sometimes just wants to settle down with a boyfriend

GREGG SHAPIRO  | Contributing Writer
gregg.shapiro@gmail.com

Juan Velasquez has been with Abe Vigoda since the beginning. No, he’s not the lover of venerable Fish and Godfather star Abe Vigoda, but the indie band that co-opted the actor’s name.

Velasquez is one of a growing number of out musicians who play in cool indie bands including Grizzly Bear, The Soft Pack and These Arms Are Snakes and Vampire Weekend. Crush, Abe Vigoda’s new disc, might take some of their existing fan-base by surprise, considering the (welcome) use of synthesizers and dance beats. At the same time, the band has definitely increased its potential for a larger LGBT audience.

Velasquez spoke about being the only gay in the vill… er, tour bus, and whether the actor knows about his eponymous rockers.

Dallas Voice: Were you and the other members of Abe Vigoda listening to different music than you ordinarily would have prior to recording Crush? Juan Velasquez: No, not really. It had been two years since we wrote music together. Influence-wise there’s different music that we like, stuff that we’re interested in and enjoy. I think it was a natural thing that happened. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. We don’t all communally love one thing.

You said that it was a natural thing, so would you say that the sonic difference of Crush was a conscious decision or did it occur organically? Definitely organically, but it took a while. We write sporadically, usually when we’re practicing. Our drummer [Dane Chadwick] really likes dance music, so he introduced electronic elements to the band. We toyed around with them as a thing that we would be able to use and then we realized how much we liked it. It’s fun because you’re not restricted to guitars and drums. There are more things that you can use. I think we were finally more comfortable using synths.

How has the response to Crush been from longtime Abe Vigoda fans? It’s very varied. Some people just don’t get it. To me it sounds more “accessible” than other things we’ve done through the years. Some people are not so jazzed on it and some people like it. It’s not what they expected and because of that they like it. Sometimes we’ll play shows and mainly play songs from Crush and people will be like, “Why didn’t you play anything older?” I think people are still getting used to it. Even more important, people that didn’t like us before are maybe not getting into it because it’s a whole new thing and they didn’t know what we sounded like previous to this record. It’s a mixed thing, which is kind of what we expected. It never enters our mind when we’re writing what it’s going to be like on the other side of it. We just want to produce something that we like and then after that, it’s up to unknown forces whether people will be into it.

You run the risk of alienating some people, but you also stand the chance of reaching a whole new audience. Yes. For me it’s more exciting than just doing the same thing that people are going to like. I’m excited when bands change and evolve. We’ve never been a band that sticks to the exact same thing. It’s fun to try new things and push yourself.

The songwriting on Crush is credited to the band Abe Vigoda. How would you describe your role in the process of song creation in the group? It’s different for different songs. Sometimes Michael [Vidal] and I will have an idea or something we’re fiddling around with on the guitar and bring that to practice. Then everyone does their own thing on it. We generally jam together as a band. Everyone is in charge of their own instrument as far as what they contribute. Within the structure of the song, my main part is already there and we’ll work on it together. Sometimes I’m just adding something to what Michael has already laid out. We all edit each other and edit ourselves. It’s pretty democratic way of writing songs, I think.

What’s the best part of being the lone gay member of a band? [Laughs] What’s funny is that some people think everyone [in the band] is. Or they think there is one, and it’s Michael, the singer. When we’re on tour, the other guys in the band aren’t looking for girls. They’re really nice guys, which is awesome. If anyone, I’m probably the one who’s more like on the prowl [laughs]. I get really excited when I find someone else in a band who is gay because there aren’t that many of us in indie rock. Sometimes I’ll venture out (while on tour in a city) and check out the gay bars or if I have a friend in town we’ll go out and do our thing. In a way, I have a little freedom where I can go and do my own thing. I get some space away from the whole touring thing and being in close quarters with everybody.

Because they’re not going to tag along. Sometimes they do. Sometimes we’ll all go out to a gay bar. It’s a non-issue, obviously. I don’t think I could be in a band where it was an issue.

Are you aware of a contingent of LGBT fans among Abe Vigoda’s fans? I’m not aware of one if there is. Not to generalize, but we’re usually playing for kind of a straight crowd. Sometimes, someone will mention that, come up to me and say, “I’m gay, too.” But that’s rare. But I’m sure there are [gay people in the audience].

I’m not even sure people know that there’s a gay member of the band. It’s also not the focus of our music. There are some bands for whom that is the focus of their music, to be in a queer band to give voice to queer issues, even in a fun or punk way.

Like Scissor Sisters. Exactly. Or Hunx and His Punx. They definitely have a gay following, whereas we have a more mainstream indie rock following.

Does being in a touring band make it difficult to maintain a relationship? You betcha! If you would have asked me this at this time last year, I would have said, “No! I have an amazing boyfriend.” I never really until last year had a relationship or somebody that I was really excited about. It was the first time that I legitimately fell in love with someone. Before that it had been more casual. In January of last year, I was in love. We went out on tour with Vampire Weekend and then recorded Crush around this time last year. I was gone and missed him and talked to him on the phone. It felt like a relationship. It was great and exciting. Then I got home and soon after I got dumped. He didn’t enjoy that I was gone for so long. I never saw it that way. Being gone for a long time is rough on relationships, but I’d never really thought about it because I wasn’t in one. You only have a certain amount of time when you’re home to meet someone and once you get started then you have to leave again. Hopefully, I’ll meet someone who doesn’t mind that their significant other has to leave for a while. It’s definitely stressful. I don’t mean to sound like a cry-baby. I’m over it now. At the time, it was pretty shitty. Because it was something I couldn’t control. It’s my job. I’m not going to choose somebody over this.

Do you know if your namesake is aware you named your band after him? I have a pretty strong feeling that he does. One time somebody who wanted to interview us, instead of contacting [the band’s publicist], found his publicity person and messaged them. They got a response saying that it wasn’t the band’s publicist that they had reached, it was the actor’s. If his publicist knows, he knows. And he doesn’t seem to care, which is good.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright