I received an email from a reader today who asked me a wonderful question: do the characters in my stories, by showing such (ahem) flexibility in their sexuality, defy “the ‘we’re born that way’ reasoning that some people have begun to embrace?” This is an excellent question, and one that I wanted to answer publicly. So, here are two answers, and a bonus-round question that I think is related:
- Are people born gay? Yes.
- Can people choose to be gay? Yes.
- Does bisexuality really exist? Yes.
The question of whether people are “born this way,” as the Lady Gaga would have it, is really a political question. In times when the measure of people’s citizenship is whether they sleep with the opposite sex (fuck you, North Carolina!), it is a powerful political move to claim that sexuality is as determined as hair color or shoe size or anything else on the genome. It would take particular cruelty to claim that people who are simply following the biological dictates of their being should be discriminated against (go ahead and fuck yourself again, North Carolina!). And that’s the power of the Gaga–being “born this way” is a weapon to use in the culture war, the war for equality.
But once that moment is over–once the battle has been won–we will set aside biological determinism just as surely as we have done for race and gender and ethnicity. We now understand race and gender to be a complex of identities and choices and biology; that subtlety is possible only because we accept that all people, regardless of race or gender or ethnicity, are entitled to human and civil rights. We no longer trouble ourselves with what being “black” or “female” or “Peruvian” means–all of these mean different things to different people. Equality allows nuance.
Now, sexuality is a slippery beast, because it is not a visible, enduring part of people’s identity. But, I would argue, neither are any of the other categories. People can choose to disavow their ethnicity (Peruvian becomes Chilean) and their sex (a woman can dress as a man, or become one) and their race (black people invented “passing”) or to make it a central, defining part of their self-concept. It all comes down to choice, because the choice has no political consequence. And this will be true for homosexuality as well.
Once the battle for equality is won, of course.
It’s hard to defend the human and civil rights of an arbitrary assortment of behaviors (“Sodomites can’t marry? Then stop committing sodomy!”). Defending an inborn identity is much more effective. And once we have achieved the equality that all people deserve, then we will be able to relax. It will matter a lot less whether people were “born this way,” or were just that way for a few years in college, or could be this way or that way depending on whom they are with.
You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?
Bisexuality. I have always believed that everyone is bisexual–that far from being a hedge used by gay men to keep from being dragged out of the closet, it is actually the default sexual orientation of every damn one of us. It’s not bisexuals who are in denial–it’s the Kinsey 0 and 6 outliers who are in denial. Once we stop caring about origins and labels, we’ll be able to do what we want. With whom we want. We won’t even have to call it “bisexuality,” because that won’t matter anymore. We’ll just call it sexuality, and we’ll treat everyone equally no matter what kind of sex they’re having.
Does this sound like an evangelical’s hell on earth? Damn right. And it’s the future. I guarantee it.
Oh, and fuck you, North Carolina.