Despite some activists’ outrage over actress Cynthia Nixon’s recent comments, it doesn’t really matter how we became LGBT
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.