Nixon has a point—why can’t sexuality be a choice? Why do homos seem to lose their critical (“second sight”) edge and blindly adopt a “born this way” mentality? What are we afraid of learning about ourselves?
A few months ago, Darnell L Moore carefully put forth a defense of the pro-choice movement within the LGBT community for the Huffington Post:
“[I] want to push back against those who feel as if there is only one right (pun intended) way to think about our sexual selves. What if one's affinity towards, attraction to, desire to be intimate with, and/or love for another person of the same sex is a choice after all? What if we, including those of us who are LGBTQ-identified, considered what it might mean if we only relied on the nature argument to somehow prove that we aren't morally inept, sinful, hell-bound, deviant, lustful, and/or community-destroying bodies?
[W]hat is wrong with someone making a choice to love, have sex with, be attracted to, or befriend someone of the same sex? After thinking about this question, I considered what it might mean for us to move one's ‘choice’ to love and be loved to the center of our politics. The denying of another's choice to love, kiss, hug, sleep with, hold hands with, or share a home with another person (of the same sex or not) is an aggressive move against another's right to the pursuit of happiness, especially when that choice does not bring harm to the persons or the communities in which they are part.”
I think both Nixon’s and Moore’s comments lie at the precipice of a major change within our LGBT civil rights movement. On the horizon lies a new ethics, one of empowerment, one of confidence, one of joyful acceptance of one’s being—including what she deems as constitutive of her “sexuality.”
What is a Choice, What isn’t a Choice
For as long as I can remember, I’ve asserted that it’s imperative that our community adopt a new ethics, one that bespeaks the belief that we have control over our actions, our behaviors and our decisions, and that, therefore, we have the power to choose how we identify in terms of sexuality. I’ve written about the ethics of choice here, here and here.
Sexuality exists within culture; it is defined by the culture within which it exists. It is an external signifier—a linguistic “identity”—that categorizes our actions and behaviors, from how we decide to dress (how we decide to perform our gender( s ) to who we decide to fuck. Por ejemplo:
Action: Gleefully diddling a tasty morsel of a woman?
Identity: You are a lesbian!
(NB: how you define yourself and how others identify you do not always coincide... isn’t that right, Tracy?)
So, what isn’t a choice? The ambiguous, uncontrollabe forces of desire flowing through us which “have no name.” Or, as I’ve said elsewhere,
Desires are pre-personal forces (or impersonal, meaning they have no “identity”) that are continuously proliferating and continuously moving within and through (human) bodies. Desires can be harnessed (for action) and can be psychologized (as we commonly understand them; as articulated thought). What I want to emphasize is the difference between desire and action in terms of the body: desires are internal, actions are external to a body. Desires are uncontrollable forces; actions are controllable acts or movements (verbal or physical).
So, while the forces that labor within me run the gamut of their existence outside the domain of my physical and mental agency, I do have the power over my actions and my identity (or identities, if I so choose and as consistent with my changing body as it matures throughout its life).
Understanding what I am in control of provides me with the fortitude to declare that, yes, my sexuality — as it is expressed through my actions and communicated or made visible through my identity — is my choice.
And, more recently, after some thought-provoking discussion with a lovely Succulent Interlocutor, I wrote,
...there is no direct correlation between our internal desires and our external identity; the connection that is made is one that is consciously created and established by the person (i.e. I perceive myself to feel [x] desires, so I will identify [x1] way).
I want to think about these “uncontrollable forces” … [b]ecause these forces, while pre-personal and beyond our control, are still perceptible — these forces are still felt by us, even though it’s impossible to articulate these (fluid, amorphous, boundless) feelings into (spatialized, static, fixed) language. Even though vague, we do have a certain, subtle consciousness about these forces swirling within us. Yet, any attempt to translate these feelings into language automatically renders them different from what they are.
No one is able to comprehend in totality the depths of their being; no one is able to grasp, comprehend and articulate the myriad of forces coursing through them. We have no control over these forces, but we do have the power to perceive them and, in perceiving, can attempt to negotiate and craft a lifestyle amenable to our own unique being (our own likes and dislikes).
Sexuality is defined by more than just an attraction to a person of the same sex; it is in part defined by the gender( s ) of the bodies in a particular relation/dynamic and of the type( s ) of sex acts performed. (Remember when everything outside of the missionary position was deemed “sodomy”?). We do have the power to define ourselves, including our sexuality. Rather than being understood as a threat to our homo-security, the pro-choice argument should be embraced as empowering and affirmative of our human capacity to fashion our own lives. To make our lives into and as art.