Cynthia Nixon clarifies that whole "gay by choice" remark

Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon caused an uproar in the LGBT community earlier this month for saying that for her, being gay was a choice — and that choice or not, no one should be discriminated against for their sexual orientation. Reactions varied: some cheered her words (I'm in that camp), others wondered why she didn't just say she was bisexual, and some said she was just giving fuel to bigots who work to undo all the progress made in the past decades on behalf of LGBT people in the U.S.

Well congratulations, people in the latter camp! You've successfully told someone who is not you how she should feel about her own sexuality. After the major browbeating she received, she clarified her statements to The Advocate:

My recent comments in The New York Times were about me and my personal story of being gay... However, to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context I would like to clarify:

While I don't often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have 'chosen' is to be in a gay relationship.

Frankly, I think it's embarrassing for the LGBT community that Nixon had to do this. For one thing, interpreting her words to mean that being gay is a choice for everyone is a flagrant and intentional misreading of the text. (I mean, she literally says she is only talking about herself.) And for another: she's right! "Don't discriminate against gays because homosexuality is not a choice" is a shitty argument; it implies that we'd, you know, be straight and normal if we could but, oops! Looks like we're stuck this way, so please don't gay-bash us. No one says, "Don't discriminate against black people because being black isn't a choice;" you don't discriminate against black people because they're people and the color of your skin says nothing about your character or worth as a human being.

If homosexuality is a choice for some people — some — why should that change anything? You still don't get to dictate the consensual sexual activities or identities of anyone other than yourself. (And you certainly don't get to deny them rights because of it.) Nixon wasn't wrong, and the fact that people have harangued her into saying something about her own life and identity they find more palatable is a shame.

Commentarium (8 Comments)

Jan 31 12 - 1:42pm
yes

yes and yes.

Jan 31 12 - 2:14pm
moops

Being Christian is a choice, yet in the US it's against the law to discriminate on the basis of religion.

Jan 31 12 - 2:22pm
KS

She wasn't using the words "gay" and "straight" in the way most people would define them. If you feel attraction to both men and women then you are bisexual. If you go from dating a man to a woman that doesn't mean you've transitioned from "straight" to "gay". It just means you're flexible, and that's great. Saying that she's in a "gay relationship" makes complete sense.

I agree with you that it shouldn't matter whether it's a choice or not.

Jan 31 12 - 2:30pm
dave1976

Ummm, your black person comparison is pretty shitty, especially from a legal perspective. I know what you're saying, but at the end of the day say skin color is a protected class, at least in part, because people cannot choose what color skin they are born with. Same goes for gender and disability (religion is the one exception. We might be better off if it was removed, but let's save that debate). So, even though you may be right in theory, one of the likely keys to civil rights protections for the LGBT community is either proof or a conclusion that sexual orientation is not a choice.

So I get why people in the "latter camp" were (rightfully) pissed off. While most posts I read were sensitive to her particular situation, they were upste with her poor choice of words, especially for someone who, like it or not, is a public face of the LGBT community.

Jan 31 12 - 2:44pm
Hmm

I agree.

I also agree that it shouldn't matter but to subscribe to that completely is to ignore the world we live in today. Not everybody is a accomplished celebrity that doesn't have to worry about ridicule and attempts to sway by family and society. In a perfect world, she can describe herself however she wants, but personally, I'd hope that she'd be more aware of the impact of her words, being in an openly gay relationship in Hollywood when so many LGBT suffer from people that refuse to understand and accept them.

Jan 31 12 - 4:21pm
GL

Is it me or do Cynthia and her girlfriend look like sisters? Maybe Cynthia just really wanted to date someone that looks like a masculine version of herself.

Jan 31 12 - 5:32pm
Laura

I don't think of people as homo, hetero, trans, bi, or queer. I just know that we're all SEXUALS, and I'm cool with that. How consenting adults want to live, fuck, or define themselves is none of my damn business. I just want everyone to be excellent to each other.

Feb 01 12 - 11:53am
profrobert

@JBR: I agree it shouldn't be an issue whether orientation is a choice or a biological imperative, but it actually does matter from a legal perspective. Discrimination on the basis of innate characteristics, such as race, is more easily prohibited than discrimination on the basis of a choice. Religion is a choice, but it also has explicit protection from government interference under the First Amendment, so it's not an appropriate counter-example. If orientation is an innate characteristic, then laws that discriminate against gays are subject to "strict scrutiny" under the Fourteenth Amendment, meaning that they are presumptively invalid and the goverment has to prove that such law is necessary to promote a compelling interest, and that it's the least restrictive means available. This is a very hard standard to meet. If orientation is a choice, then a discriminatory law is presumptively valid, and the persons discriminated against have the burden of showing there is no "rational basis" for the law, which again is a very hard standard to meet (though it was in Lawrence v. Texas). So it is really really important that sexual orientation be an innate characteristic rather than a choice if you are hoping to have the courts strike down DOMA, Prop 8, etc. I'm not saying it becomes impossible -- Lawrence provides the roadmap there -- but it's a much harder argument.