x40 (the queer-nundrum)

The most recent episode of Glee briefly touched on an issue that’s often put on the back burner in the GLBTQ community. In case you aren’t familiar with the show, I’ll give you a little background about the three characters affected: the character of Santana Lopez is a late-in-life/closeted lesbian who eventually does come out as a gay woman even though she’s had past relationships with men. The character of Brittany Pierce is portrayed as bisexual, having both relationships with men and women, one of these women being Santana. The character of Sam Evans is a straight cisgender male who ends up falling for Brittany. When Sam asks Brittany out a few weeks after Santana ends their relationship, Brittany – who is generally portrayed as a dunce – has this to say:

“No, it’s not just Santana. It’s like, all the lesbians of the nation, and I don’t know how they found out about Santana and I dating, but once they did, they started sending me, like, tweets and Facebook messages on Lord Tubbington’s wall. I think it means a lot to them to see two super hot, popular girls in love, and I worry if they find out about you and I dating that they’ll turn on you and get really violent and hurt your beautiful face and mouth.”

Lesbians, as a general rule, are very bitchy about women who are either a) bisexual/queer or b) have had relationships with men in the past. “Gold star lesbians”, which refers to women who have only had romantic and sexual relationships with other women, hate knowing that their partner has been tainted by having had relationships with cisgender males. I need to stress “cisgender” here, because there is a lot of transmisogyny within the lesbian community. It’s perfectly acceptable for a cisgender woman who identifies primarily as a lesbian to stay with her partner should her partner turn out to be a transman. Many lesbians, however, would never even consider pursuing a relationship with a transwoman, particularly one who is pre-op. One of the reasons I signed up for a transgender dating website several years ago is because trans lesbians are much more accepting of girls who identify as bisexual/queer or who have had past relationships with men (although the problematic and somewhat offensive nature of said website is something that deserves another whole blog entry dedicated to it). I hated justifying the confusing and fluid nature of my sexuality to other women. Regardless of whether or not I’m actually gay, if I didn’t identify as gay immediately and then apologize for having been in relationships with men, it hurt my chances of finding a cis female partner. I’ve had lesbians turn me down exactly for that reason. Which brings me to an interesting quotation by Cynthia Nixon, an actress (Miranda on “Sex and the City”) who has had past relationships with men and is currently married to a woman:

“I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ …And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it… I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”

I’d first like to note that, just because someone is different, it doesn’t mean they have to justify their different-ness to the world. That person is not obligated to be the poster child of their cause. Ergo, Nixon shouldn’t have to defend or explain her sexuality to anyone, ever, unless she genuinely wants to – but she’s certainly not obligated to. I’d also like to note that human sexuality is extremely complicated and the more we try to box things, the sloppier those boxes get. It would appear to me that Cynthia Nixon is bisexual and chooses – note my use of the word “choice” – to identify as a lesbian because it makes it more palatable to other gay women. And that, my friends, is sad – and certainly not sad on Nixon’s part, but on the part of the divisive lesbian community. And in case this wasn’t obvious, I don’t know Nixon and I don’t know anything about her sexuality other than what she has stated to the media, so I could be completely wrong in my statement that I believe her to be a bisexual woman who is sick of being looked down upon by lesbians. Maybe for Nixon, identifying as straight turned gay by choice is easier or more palatable than the term “bisexual”, which is certainly understandable. I’ve always hated using the term “lesbian” to describe my sexuality, and I would much rather be referred to as a gay woman. I think I even preferred identifying as gay over queer when I was with men (although my confusion regarding my sexuality is something for another blog post). I’ve always preferred the term “queer” over “bisexual”; “pansexual”, which is the more PC alternative to “queer” (a word with a lot of negative baggage attached), never really struck a chord with me either (and it’s worth noting that “pansexual” has some unsavory connotations associated with it, although it was never used as an epithet like “queer” was). Words are weird.

Finally, I’d like to finish up by highlighting something Nixon said:

“Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it…”

I’ve seen this topic discussed on other GLBTQ blogs, and I’d like to discuss it here: it is entirely possible that the whole “born this way” movement might not be the way the gay community should go. Yes, most people state that their romantic, emotional, physical, and sexual attractions are something that is innate and that they have little to no control over. But let’s say that being gay IS a choice – it’s still not a bad choice. I feel that the topics of slut shaming and choosing a life of celibacy (the route that many Abrahamic religious institutions encourage gay people to take) are closely tied in here. What one, two, or more consenting adults do in their personal life is entirely up to them. So long as consent is given, the choices they make should not be shamed or judged by other adults who are not involved. The idea that you’re born gay shouldn’t need to justify the act of pursuing a gay relationship. Whether you’re gay, straight, queer, or asexual, your sex life requires some element of choice, and whether you’re gay, straight, queer, or asexual, chances are there’s someone out there who is going to try to slut shame you into thinking your choice is immoral. Going back to the original topic of this essay, bisexual women are probably the most slut shamed group I know of, and they get this flak from both the straight and GLBTQ communities.

Human sexuality is complicated. But with the exception of sex acts that take place without the consent of the involved parties, it isn’t bad. I’ll leave you with this YouTube video as you ponder your thoughts:

One response to “x40 (the queer-nundrum)

  1. Great article!

    I’ve never quite understood why there is so much distrust within the lesbian community in the sense you describe here, especially towards bi people. Why does it matter that they can feel attraction towards both sexes rather than just one. If it’s concern that they might want to leave you for someone else, that doesn’t seem a terribly convincing reason since even completely straight or gay people are still attracted to others. It’s like there’s this deeply held belief that just because you’re bisexual, or queer, you’re suddenly incapable of deciding whether you choose to pursue attraction, or not.

    I do agree with you that homosexuality being a choice isn’t *necessarily* problematic, and in some sense it can actually be counterproductive to *avoid* the question of whether being gay is good or bad by proving it’s not a choice and therefore not subject to such terms. I think there’s something great and uplifting about simply saying: you know what, whether it’s a choice for someone or something innate, being gay is just one quality that contributes to your person, and it’s perfectly fine whether you are, or not, whether you identify that way, or not. Why can’t we just support people no matter what they are like? There’s certainly no evidence that it’s bad for a person, so why aren’t we going on the offensive to undercut any argument that being gay is bad by directly addressing it?

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