EMILY SAIDEL: In an extended New York Times Magazine article, Cynthia Nixon commented on the language of sexual preference and choice.
“Nixon manages to keep a similarly cleareyed perspective on her relationship with Marinoni, despite the titillation it has caused in the tabloid media. She has less tolerance for the skepticism she says her relationship has sparked among some gay activists who find her midlife switch in sexual orientation disingenuous.
“I totally reject that,” she said heatedly. “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 they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. 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. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.” Her face was red and her arms were waving. “As you can tell,” she said, “I am very annoyed about this issue. 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, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. 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.”
That the idea of choice and sexuality would raise hackles is not a surprise. What is surprising is that the gay activist community would be so quick to scold someone for telling her personal story. Nixon never suggests that sexual preference is a choice for all people; she simple describes her own progression from preferring men to preferring women.
To act on one’s sexual attraction is always a choice whether gay, straight, asexual, or politician. But to feel that sexual attraction in the first place is the ineffable quality whose source has yet to be located. If one were to go through life insisting that s/he preferred blondes, only to eventually fall in love with a brunette, that person would not be accused of denying his/her true preference initially. While hair color is more easily changed than gender, the same shift in attraction is both possible and understandable.
The Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists cogently describes this situation. “Some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime. Individuals maybe become aware at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.”
Cynthia Nixon moved from one sexual identity at one time in her life to another at a later date. Gay Activists hurt their cause by not accepting both those who identify as gay from birth and those who identify as gay following a sexual identity shift.
CHRIS PUMMER: I agree that activists shouldn’t scold anyone for their personal choices, but I also sympathize with the position of some that Nixon is clouding the picture by talking about it at all.
It really is a no-win situation for Nixon to comment on her personal life. Even thought in the interview with New York Times Magazine Nixon is very clear that she’s describing her own situation, and not making a broad generalization about sexuality as a choice, that’s not how her comments are being perceived. It’s certainly now how the headlines are being written.
It’s obvious Nixon has considered how her comments can be taken out of context or misrepresented. So why keep adding fuel to that fire? There is the time-honored tradition of offering a “No comment” when reporters ask a famous person about aspects of their personal life. And if her sexuality, and her views on it, are a truly a private matter to Nixon, then that not commenting on them is the appropriate choice.
Of course Nixon is as free to talk about her sexuality as she is to act on it, so I’m not implying she shouldn’t comment if that’s what she wants. I am asserting, however, that if you bring your personal life into the public arena, expect others to have an opinion on the matter.