Cynthia Nixon's comments about her being gay as a "choice" made me yearn for the clarity of Anne Heche. Laugh all you want, but a decade ago, when Anne and Ellen broke up, and Anne began a relationship with a man, she was quite skilled at articulating the complexity of sexual orientation and refusing to label herself. But I am not about to jump onto the "bash Cynthia Nixon" bandwagon. To the contrary, I believe Cynthia was likewise trying to speak to the same complexities. She just didn't realize the backlash that would result and is now suddenly responsible for the end of gay civilization as we know it. Give me a break. If anything, this controversy is primarily a reflection of the amount of influence and power celebrities have in our culture.
I do not know Cynthia Nixon, but from what I have seen, she appears to be a smart, passionate, articulate woman who is in a relationship that is based on love and respect. As a parent, she has been an advocate for children and education and is making a difference. But at the end of the day, this is not about her. How about we pull off the target from her back, take a deep breath, and look at the issues behind the firestorm rather than focus on the person who struck the match?
Personally, I believe Cynthia spoke her truth without parsing her words and now finds herself the object of hostility and anger from the absolutists in our community, for a variety of reasons. This is what happens in a world where identity politics rule and the willingness to live "in the grey" gets in the way of our progress as a community and culture. So let's talk about it.
First, we should be thanking her for giving us an opportunity to talk about the lavender elephant in the room that plagues our community and organizations: talking about sexual orientation for what is really is, a complex human trait that is not fully understood, and not a simple gay/straight binary but a spectrum of behavior and identities that includes bisexuality.
And it also includes choices, especially for women, which has been borne out of research on the fluidity of sexual orientation. My mantra is, "The only choice we make is to be honest about who we are," and that is exactly what she did. My own experience is that I have always been attracted emotionally and physically to women only. And I identify as lesbian. But I know plenty of women (including my wife) who may best be described as "lesbian-identified bisexuals," having the capacity to be attracted to men and women but choosing an identity that they feel comfortable with and which reflects how they want to be publicly known. How many? Who knows? And who cares? That's their choice, and I respect it. It is interesting how it seems more common in women than men, but that's a whole other post.
When we get caught up in the argument that says we are "born this way," and that is the argument for equality, we'd best look at the ways that those whom we would call anti-gay and who would prefer that we not exist might find some way to determine the sexual orientation of a fetus and play the biological determinism game, just like people do with sex-selection of fetuses and the infanticide of infant girls (yet sexism still is an insidious problem, right?).
"Why are people gay?" is still a common question for a lot of people. (Of course, the L, B, and T in LGBT are rarely part of the question, but you know what I mean.) When asked, I often respond with another question: "Why are people straight?" The answer is that human sexuality -- and sexual orientation -- is a complex, fluid, messy, and individualized human trait, and one that most likely has some genetic components. How people express that trait -- how they behave, what they think and feel -- is what makes this so challenging. Human nature and reality make the answers more difficult, but they are also what make us beautifully diverse. And that's a good thing, not something we should be afraid to talk about. Maybe it is because it would involve talking about sexual behavior? Can't do that, can we? Or can we?
In my experience, most people are neither stupid nor naïve, and when presented with real people and compelling arguments that are not abstract or simplistic, they get it. Or at least they begin to think about things differently, which is the best we can hope for with some.
Anyone who knows me or my work as an activist is well aware that you would be hard-pressed to find a bigger ally to the bisexual community. (Google "Cathy Renna bi ally." Really.) I constantly push back when speaking with journalists, activists, and anyone who will listen about the problems that arise from the lack of visibility of the bi community and the lack of willingness to talk about sexual orientation in a complex, nuanced way. It has not been easy, but maybe this fire that Cynthia has sparked will finally light a fire under the bottoms of those in a position to do more and do better.