The “born this way” vs. “choice to be gay” debate still comes up on social networking sites and while I don’t have a stance on either side completely, I have seen excellent arguments from both sides.
I think gays get pathologized either way:
with the gay gene, so they can be engineered out of existence) or
with the choice, so they can choose to be straight and not prey on fellow straight people to convert them to gayness.
If you take religion out of it most of the homphobic motivation disappears. However, I’m always in for listening to this debate – among gays and lesbians, of course. Because even though I am bisexual, I don’t buy a lot of the “biphobia” stuff, and I don’t think lesbians should be straight and bi women’s guinea pigs to see if they are “woman-loving” enough or not.
That being said, compulsory heterosexuality is a real thing so we can’t even tell if the women in straight relationships are actually straight or not; not because I’m advocating for recognizing the bi ones (who have privilege over gays/lesbians) but because they still lack freedom to disentangle from the financial and emotional benefits of associating with males in exchange for some manner of protection or safety, as well as face the dire circumstances of coming out. Some people say they would never choose to be gay because of all the stigma and hardship, and others say they do because they are proud, like Julie Bindel, or Nesriin here (below).
However, being a lesbian is a sexual orientation and not an identity. If it were, then the “lesbian” that fell in love with and married a man is still a lesbian. Better that she own up to her having made an honest mistake, and while she had believed for a long time she was a lesbian up until then, she is actually bisexual and there’s nothing wrong with that. Speaking of bisexual, there’s the belief that ideally, everyone would be bisexual, but this is no different from saying,”ideally, everyone would be polyamorous.” It assumes one is a bigot for having a specific sexual or relationship preference.
The choice stance is closely related to political lesbianism. So far, I have heard that what counts as political lesbianism is:
– celibacy, i.e. not having sex with men
– putting women first and having strong friendships with them (but not sexual or romantic relationships!)
– thinking lesbianism is an identity, not a sexual orientation
– thinking “butch” and “femme” are gender dynamics that mimic those of straight couples (note that “butch” is often a stand-in for “gender-nonconforming woman,” because society believes GNC women are “masculine” or “manly”)
Saying lesbianism = identity also means it is okay for straight “queer” and bisexual women to appropriate lesbian terms like dyke, butch and femme, which is why I think straight feminists are promoting such beliefs about political lesbianism. I realize saying it’s not an identity actually goes against the “choice” argument, but I don’t believe in “choice” or “free will” anyway, much less in a patriarchy (and if we weren’t in one, I think we’d be free to act in accordance with our values and true desires, whatever they may be). The point is, people on the street don’t care about your inner identity, they care about what you look like. Some people don’t conform to gender and “look” gay (whether they’re actually gay or not), some don’t and pass for straight (including “femme” lesbians, and bisexuals in relationships with the opposite sex). It’s possible that some bisexual women claim they are lesbian because they know some lesbians don’t want to date bisexual women. This is deceptive, and is part of the “biphobia” stuff I don’t believe in (because most of it is not legitimate to begin with). Lesbians are not obligated to date outside of their sexual preference.
I think we are asking the wrong question as to whether it’s a choice or a matter of being ‘born this way’. It’s really for gays/lesbians/bisexuals to figure out for themselves, not the rest of (heteronormative) society, who will use it as ammo. While I believe we are powerless over who we are attracted to or fall in love with (hence the term), we can act upon our desire (or not) to enter into a relationship with someone. This includes gays, lesbians and bisexuals who stay in the closet and remain in relationships with the opposite sex (hence why bisexuals get called “bihet”). Maybe the question should be directed towards whether organized religion is a bad thing, not being gay/lesbian/bisexual or anything that deviates from heteronormativity (including gender roles). Because if we decide that being gay/lesbian/bisexual is okay, then there’s no reason to figure out why such people are that way.
Here is one such argument for the “choice” stance (Nesriin). As for the “born this way” stance, I think it’s pretty self-explanatory: that our sexual orientation is hardwired, and by association there are people born gay and people born straight just as we have now, with a majority straight population and a minority gay/lesbian/bisexual population.
“Every woman can make the choice to eschew men and align with women. Often the only thing stopping women from feeling attractions to other women is societally based. Women panic when they realize that if they pursue their feelings, it means facing a lifetime of lesbophobia. Women “experiment” with other women all the time, and in fact they speak positively about it, so that is what leads me to my conclusion: they would pursue these romantic interests if they weren’t so afraid of society’s reaction to them.” – Heath (Nymeses)