Gallup And Everyone Else Wants to Know: Were You Born This Gay?

In a poll released on Wednesday, Gallup found that 42% of Americans believe homosexual people are born homosexuals, rather than becoming so due to factors such as upbringing and environment. 37% voiced the opposite opinion, and another 21% didn’t answer. Nobody asked me, but if they had, I’d have responded with some questions of my own: why are those the only options? How come you’re asking random strangers of unknown sexual orientation rather than actual queer people? And don’t you think that’s kind of a loaded question?

Origins of Homosexuality: Innate of Environmental? Image of public views over time.

Via Gallup. I looked for the corresponding “why are straight people straight” poll, but for some reason, I couldn’t find it.

Gallup has a long history of polling the general public about queer issues, sometimes problematically. In the case of this particular question, it fits into the larger narrative being told by a particularly vocal set of gay rights activists. That narrative goes something like this: gay rights are the civil rights struggle of our time. As we know, it’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of race, because people are born that way. Similarly, it’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, because people are born that way.

Those are far from the worst ideas I’ve ever heard; I think there are elements of truth in all of those things. But those are far from the only true things, and sometimes the repetitive drum of the “born this way” tagline drowns out those other truths.

Yes, some people are queer and know it from a very young age. Other people realize their queerness a little later on — in college, or after they’ve married a partner of a different sex. Some people experience fluid sexual attraction throughout their lives. Still others (count me in this group) feel like their queerness is something they chose for themselves — and further, that the element of choice in their behavior and identity should have nothing to do with its acceptability.

I think that part of the reason many of us have become invested in the idea of inherent queerness is that it’s an easy narrative to defend. People generally understand why discrimination against minority groups is wrong, thanks to the hard work put in by black civil rights activists (and women’s rights groups after them, and immigrant groups, etc). By slotting queer people into this familiar framework, our struggles become quickly comprehensible.

However, the queer-rights-as-civil-rights approach has its limitations. Getting hate crime legislation passed, for example, is no small feat; however, it still leaves the underlying hate intact. I also question whether the idea of queer people as just the same as you straight people except for this one thing is applicable — because we aren’t exactly the same, are we? The very nature of our difference means that certain foundational social structures from straight society (I’m thinking gender roles and the like) cannot operate in the same way. Queer culture has some unique features, and I think we’d be better off trying to make straight society more like us than the other way around.

Beyond that, I feel like it’s hypocritical to piggyback on the work of civil rights leaders without examining racism in queer culture. If the goal of civil rights activism is to eliminate discrimination in all forms, why aren’t more queer groups taking steps to explicitly fight racism? Why are there so many entitled white queer people oblivious to their privilege? The struggle against racism isn’t “over,” and there are many racialized people who are also queer. I feel 100% confident saying that I was born as a mixed race Filipina due to factors beyond my control. My queer status? Less so. I suppose it’s possible that I was “born” bisexual, but again, that isn’t what feels true to me. What feels true is that I’ve made a series of choices and that I continue to do so.

I think some people are born gay, some achieve gayness, and some have gayness thrust upon them. - Mae Martin

Wisdom from Mae Martin.

While scientists continue to explore the many ways that biology relates to/is responsible for our sexual identities, anecdotally, I can think of plenty of instances in which I’ve made conscious decisions regarding the matter. In Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay & Lesbian Liberation, Urvashi Vaid writes, “Homosexuality always involves choice — indeed, it involves a series of four major choices: admitting, acting, telling, and living. Even if scientists prove that sexual orientation is biologically or genetically determined, every person who feels homosexual desire encounters these four choices.” Maybe this isn’t everyone’s truth, but what Vaid describes feels true for me. Perhaps more importantly, I agree with her that the argument for innate queerness is very politically limiting.

Vaid explains, “Where we once sought to free the homosexual potential in everyone, by making it safer to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual, we now assert the conservative view that all we want is the freedom to be our biologically determined selves. History shows that the shelter of biology has never protected a people from persecution. The right does not care that we were born gay; they object to us because we are not straight.”

Although Vaid wrote all of this in the mid ’90s, the point still stands. While not all queer people have the luxury of a safe environment to come out in, what if those of us who could moved away from biological essentialism, and instead focused on stamping out homophobia? What if our larger cultural narrative was less like “People can’t help being the way they are so give them a break” and more like “Every person deserves respect, regardless of who they are or how they got that way“? Like, maybe I wouldn’t emblazon that across the back of a jean jacket (or maybe I would!), but it feels to me like a more empowering message.

Also bisexual erasure.

Lady Gaga, did you decorate that jean jacket at Alpine Meadows? That unicorn stencil looks awfully familiar…

Even though the person who brought “born this way” into pop culture parlance is an out bisexual, some disturbingly common threads I see throughout these “born or made” discussions are monosexism and bisexual erasure. For example, I don’t think it’s accidental that Gallup only directly named gays and lesbians in their poll. By and large, bisexuals are seen as a complication, or watered down extensions of “authentic” sexualities, where authenticity is connected to biological fact.

In Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, Shiri Eisner writes, “In the case of bisexuality, we might look at society’s insistent attempts to naturalize both homosexuality and heterosexuality, appealing to bodies, genes, hormones, and brains in order to establish that ‘this’ (the sexuality in question) is inborn, natural, and immutable. Under this logic, one is either ‘born’ gay or ‘born’ straight, and thus any performance of their desires is ‘true to its nature.’ Being in a same-gender relationship presumes homosexuality, and being in a different-gender relationship presumes heterosexuality because one’s relationship choices are understood to reflect one’s inner essence. Bisexuality — and bisexual passing — short-circuits this circular logic by showing that ‘acting gay’ or ‘acting straight’ does not necessarily equate with ‘being gay’ or ‘being straight.’ It allows us to distrust visual representations and to deconstruct claims of inner essences.”

I think part of the reason why we like to think of sexual orientation as a division between two camps is that when differences are well-defined, they are easily contained. Polarized notions of gender and sexuality make it easy for people to figure out which side they’re on and draw lines between “us” and “them.” Bisexuality breaks this worldview down, showing people that the “other side” is not so different. And while prejudiced people can learn to be “okay with” homosexuality as long as they maintain distance from it, it’s a different and trickier thing to feel “okay with” ambiguity that hits so close to one’s own sense of self.

In the end, my feeling is this: it doesn’t matter how we got here. Whether we were born this way or we chose to be queer, we’re all entitled to be who we are, period. We don’t owe anyone an explanation or poll results playing into a narrow definition of “progress.” All we owe each other is respect.


In order to make sure that the comments section on this article is a healthy and welcoming place for our bisexual readers, please note that any comments that question the validity of bisexuality or sexual fluidity as a sexual orientation, question Autostraddle’s decision to publish pieces discussing bisexuality, or make essentialist claims about bisexual people (ex. bisexuals are cheaters, bisexuals turn out to be gay) will be swiftly deleted.

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Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Brooklyn. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair.

Laura has written 72 articles for us.

130 Comments

  1. Thumb up 16

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    I adore this article. You wrote very clear, concise, and persuasive words. Part of my coming out process has been facing the difficulty of my aunt claiming that I “like to go back and forth” (although I identify as a lesbian, I’ve been with men previously – apparently my declaration that I don’t plan on dating men ever again matters), and obsessing over things that happened to me when I was younger that “prove” I’m gay. I like to sleep with women, and I know that. I shouldn’t have to have “proof” for anyone. I just want to be taken seriously, and having people doubt MY feelings about MY sexuality is definitely heartbreaking as a lady who’s only been “out” for a little over 2 years (and “out” to most people I meet over the last 6 months).

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      When I initially came out and identified as bisexual, I did so because I didn’t want to deny or hide my history of being involved with men and enjoying it. But I knew that I no longer wanted to date men and I wanted to try out my lifelong attraction to women. That did’t go over too well with the lesbians I met. I was told by one woman that I should put “gay” on my dating profile so I’d get more hits. So I did. And to this day, when I’ve been involved with women, I usually get the leery questions, “So do you think you’ll ever date men again?” No, no, I don’t want to. But that gets into the issue of choice–did I “choose” to be gay? Will I “choose” to be straight again? And I know that that brings up unsettling issues with the “new civil rights” narrative and validation of lesbian identity. So I am caught between being honest to myself, honest to others, and not wishing to disrupt the apple cart.

  2. Thumb up 20

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    I know that I was born gay. Really gay. My parents kept any and all things homo very far away from me, and I knew from my earliest memories that I liked girls/didn’t like boys. A neighbor kid told me what gay meant when I was seven or eight, and it was a eureka moment, putting a word to the feelings I’d been struggling with. I called the Trevor Project for the first time when I was ten.
    I struggle with the idea that gayness can be a choice, I think because that’s what I’ve been fighting against my entire life: “Oh, you decided to be gay, so you can decide to be straight.” I tried that—it didn’t work so well. I’m like a 5.5 on the Kinsey scale, but if I were really given the choice, I’d want to be straight. If I were straight, goodness gracious, my life would have been and would be so much easier.
    The idea that I’m making the choice to be gay is what’s going to leave me familyless on my wedding day. So it’s hard for me to accept that some gay people do believe it’s a choice.
    I don’t know. It’s just hard, I guess.

    • Thumb up 13

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      Thank you for sharing this. I think it’s hard because ideally, how other people come to their identity shouldn’t matter. But it does. Because if it can be a choice for other people, then can’t it be a choice for you, too?

      Of course not, but that’s a much harder question to answer/wrestle/sit with than just “I am gay and this is how my gay works because this is how gay works and gay works the same for everyone.”

      And I don’t think the difficulty of dealing with that kind of question is separate from the lack of respect given to answers that say “This is my identity and my truth regardless of how I got there, and regardless of whether or not it lines up with the narrative you’re looking for.” Which is why I love this article, because it’s pushing us to ” ‘Every person deserves respect, regardless of who they are or how they got that way,’ ” and therefore pushing us to not see other people’s truths as challenging/invalidating our own truths.

  3. Thumb up 15

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    Thank you so much for this, Laura. I didn’t come out until I was 20 and now identify as pansexual, so the born-this-way defense is insanely problematic for me. I constantly choose to be “more gay”; I can *choose* to pursue the girl to whom I’m attracted rather than the guy to whom I’m also attracted. The “they can’t help it” rhetoric is rooted in the idea that homosexuality is a disease and something that no one in their right mind would prefer to heterosexuality.

    • Thumb up 6

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      Thinking I was born gay doesn’t mean I think homosexuality is a disease or that I wouldn’t choose it. It’s not a defense or an apology- it’s just how my sexuality works. Being a person who is gay in an extremely homophobic society has given me plenty of impetus to examine my sexuality. I know I was born gay. I frame my discussion of my gayness that way, because that’s how I frame my sexuality. That’s my life and my story.

      • Thumb up 14

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        I know that many people who identify as LGBTQ feel that they were born that way, and I would never argue with that. It’s when people try to defend the rights of LGBTQ people as a whole by claiming that every gay person was born gay that I take issue with their rhetoric.

  4. Thumb up 6

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    so glad this topic was brought up and addressed well. I def. think giving credence to or engaging in the binary debate is politically harmful and conservative, and that the discussion should be changed by the community. maybe simply recognizing rights as a policy choice couched in the progressive ideology you mention could work. I guess the problem has been that the ‘story’ of rights in America has previously been framed in terms of innate characteristics. it was doomed to be recognized as too artificial a story.

  5. Thumb up 12

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    Here’s the thing: I was born gay. Maybe you weren’t, and that’s up to you, but I was and many, many, many other queer people feel that way about themselves. I don’t say I was born gay because I’m trying to piggyback off the Civil Rights Movement, or because I like taking a conservative approach to gay rights, or because I want to prove I’m just like straight people. I say I was born gay because I was born fucking gay. That’s it.

    It wasn’t a choice for me, and saying that doesn’t make it an apology. I really resent the fact that so many conversations about this topic tend to frame people who openly embrace being born gay as obsequiously trying please straight people or fit into a heterosexual world. I’m proud to be gay. Thinking it’s an innate characteristic of mine does not make me conservative or deferential or anything else.

    • Thumb up 22

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      I don’t think Laura said that there was anything wrong with people who were born gay. But there is something wrong with having to try and fit yourself into a narrative that doesn’t actually reflect your experience. We need room for everyone’s experiences of gayness and queerness and biness and fluidity and everything else.

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        As far as I’m concerned, everyone is allowed their own narrative, but I have a problem with people framing my narrative as “politically limited,” “conservative” or pandering to heterosexuality. Laura did a better job than many in this discussion (although there is a bit of that in this essay), but I’ve heard more than a few times about how saying I’m born gay must be because I’m trying to apologize to straight people because “I can’t help it.”

    • Thumb up 11

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      Like Maeve said, I read the article and personally understood that it was implied that “born this way” was important for the LGBT community, because it is indeed very often true.

      I think that the article points out that the “born this way” tagline has been taking up a lot of space these past few years, often even negating the experiences of other people, who embraced queerness later on in life, or made a much more conscious choice about their sexual orientation.

      My English isn’t the best, so maybe I just don’t “read” certain things correctly from this article, like it’s tone for example, but I really don’t think Laura implied that “born this way” was a BAD line. She only outlined why it was easier to use for LGBT rights movements / more appealing than it’s “I chose that lifestyle for myself” counterpart.

      The problem isn’t that a lot of people identify with “born this way”, but that there is no room left to display the “chose this for myself” option.

      :)

    • Thumb up 20

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      As far as I see it, there is a big difference between being “born this way”–and being proud of that fact–and framing our entire fight for liberation and respect around the idea of lack of choice. Believing that you, personally, were born gay is by no means “pandering” to a heteronormative society. To maintain that that lack of choice is the *reason* we should be respected, however, tastes false and conditional. We should be fighting for our rights on the basis of the validity of our identities in and of themselves, not dressing it up as something for which–*because can’t be changed*–society might as well tolerate. Respect for queerness shouldn’t be conditional upon its being freely chosen, either, but that’s not the mainstream argument perpetuated by organizations like HRC, so that kind of pushback isn’t going to come up as much.

  6. Thumb up 18

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    The Mae Martin quote is so relevant to me, and all of my personnal feels.

    The “I was born this way” thing is super important for the LGBT community, because it holds quite a lot of truth for MANY queer people. A lot of stories I read go along the lines of “I always knew”. Myself included. I was 3 when I asked my babysitter if I could kiss her “on the lips”.

    However, I also feel as if my upbringing and my life experiences growing up “facilitated” my embracing my queerness. It’s very hard to explain… but I feel as if I somehow “learned” to feel more attracted/attatched to women through various experiences. It was always easier for me to feel “in security” when around strong female figures like my school teachers, female doctors and dentists, etc. I’ve been loved and guided and influenced by many wonderful women. Even though I’ve also had great men around me on some occasions, they have influenced my life significantly less. It just happens to be so. I think that the love and nurture of the many strong females around me just made it this much easier to feel attracted to women in my adult life. :)

    Sometimes I hear stuff like “lesbians are lesbians because they have daddy issues”, and even though this is a bigoted and idiotic way to put it, I can’t even reply to that with “it’s not my case”! I admittedly have a not-so-great relationship with my dad.

    But then I guess… what about it? What if this “daddy issues” statement is sometimes a tiny bit true for an unknown percentage of gay girls? What can be done about it? Build a time machine, go back in time, and replace our not-great father figures with super awesome ones? Just to prove a goddamn point? Life doesn’t work like that. I’ll never be sure wether this bad relationship with my father figure “influenced” my queerness, or if it’s 100% unrelated. The truth is : I really don’t care either way!

    Basically, I do realise I’ve always had the potential for bisexuality, or sexual fluidity, but a huge part of me thinks that my upbringing around great women and less remarkable men helped me embrace my queer side.

    I am not sure this makes any sense at all, sorry haha.

    I’m thankful for this article, Laura! :)

    • Thumb up 2

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      I joined just so I could comment on this piece. I was born gay this is a fact. The only choice is in admitting it. I have the upmost reset for the individual right to self identity. But I there is confusion around the world choice. the difference between straight people and members of the LGBQ community is that straight people are not capable of sexual attraction to members of the same sex. Anyone who is capable of feeling or one day feeling same sex attraction is not and was never straight. This is a fact.

        • Thumb up 5

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          Thinking of this I have such a clear memory of the incident and of the sadness it caused… she never specified that kissing was “for a boy and a girl”! :PP Thank you babysitter, wherever you are, for not pushing the straight agenda on me when I was still a toddler.

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      I like the point that you brought up about ideas about what makes a lesbian. There’s also an idea that lesbians have mommy issues. I’m sure this is true for a certain amount of people, even het. people, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people deserve to be accepted and respected as individuals. It’s easier for people to understand a binary system of either homo or hetero. Our society is conditioned into all sorts binaries which are easy for people to understand without having to think too much about things. So, when trying to change societies homophobia it’s easier for people to think about it in a i binary way that simultaneously allows people to continue to be bigoted while still allowing for gay people to exist with the “oh, I see, you really can’t help it” narrative. I also think the article is accepting that yes, some people are born gay and no one is disputing that here. I agree with you that the real point is that this becomes problematic when that is the only narrative. The LGBT community is extremely diverse in it’s make up and the narrative needs to reflect that. And society needs to accept that, not just put them into their own neat boxes (which happen to sometimes coincide with actual people experiences).

  7. Thumb up 11

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    I love this article! Really well-written and balanced. I get so tired of the “born this way” argument because, as you said at the end of your piece, it doesn’t matter how we got here! All human beings have inherent dignity and deserve respect and equal rights. It’s impossible, as people brought up in this society and culture, to examine it from a totally unbiased or outside perspective so trying to assess whether queerness comes from nature or nurture is really silly. Especially since most psychologists agree that things can rarely be traced to just our genes, our upbringing, or our personalities working in isolation. You have to take a biopsychosocial approach! Binaries are dumb but for some reason our society is obsessed with making things black and white and having two opposing options to choose from: either you were born this way or you decided to be gay.

  8. Thumb up 23

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    Thank you so much for writing this. The “Born This Way” narrative is so central and prominent. There was a time in my life where I felt like I really needed to believe that my queerness wasn’t a choice, but an innate, biological, uncontrollable part of me. But now, I feel like it’s a lot more complicated than that. I mean, I feel like my attraction to women wasn’t something that I chose, but that there are other aspects of queerness that I do choose. I choose to dress in more masculine ways sometimes, and I choose to seek out and create communities of queer people, queer women. These choices are empowering and important, and for me, such an essential part of what it means to be queer.

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      The other aspects of queerness stem from that your attracted to women. And someone that makes differ choices about clothing and community is still queer. The queer status hinges on the attraction to women or members of the same sex.

      • Thumb up 5

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        I don’t necessarily think that, in my personal experience, “other aspects of queerness stem from” being attracted to women. It’s true that if I weren’t also attracted to women, I might not consider the ways I dress and make community to be queer, but I don’t think that being attracted to women caused that? Maybe I’m misunderstanding your point.

        But I guess what I’m trying to say is that for me, being queer is about much more than who I’m attracted to. In a way, I consider queer a political identity, as well as a sexual orientation, because it’s a type of resistance to dominant structures of power. And in that way it is a choice for me. And I know it’s not like that for everyone, and I think that’s more than okay.

        • Thumb up 7

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          Clara, I agree — for me, being queer is about more than just my sexual orientation. It’s a cultural identity having to do with community and shared values.

          Not everyone feels this way, but that’s okay. I’m happy to hear another person voice this. Thank you for commenting (and then explaining some more)!

        • Thumb up 5

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          I get that there is a political and cultural aspect to queerness. But not every one that queer/lgbt is a part of that or wants to be. The closeted person that never acts on their attractions or just has anonymous hook ups is still queer. ( I also know that there is a very large range of outness) The Queer or Lgbt label is suppose to cover everyone that feels same-sex attractions. The born this way movement is talking basic existence. The point is to try to stand up for everyone’s rights regardless of their contributions to the culture.

          The hope is one day more people will be free to embrace their identities.

  9. Thumb up 12

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    Love this article <3

    I actually wrote a post elsewhere about this recently, here goes:

    A couple of minutes ago I stumbled upon this article narrating why it is dangerous to speak of sexual orientation as a choice. The arguments were fairly run-of-the-mill and still, reading it as a pansexual person hurt. It hurt because it paints my sexual experience as, literally, dangerous.

    The author claims, more or less, that having (or even suggesting) a choice undermines the entire gay movement and in a very real way endangers queer people across the globe. The fact is I, personally, do have a choice. I am, have been, and probably will for the foreseeable future be, attracted to a variety of different genders and gender expressions (or at least the corresponding people). I am fully capable of choosing. Basically all my perceived sexual queerness boils down to actively choosing to act on an attraction that would, by society, be considered “homosexual”.

    Now I do understand that the author makes a difference between orientation and conduct. You may choose conduct but not orientation. Well this seems to be true for me as well. I did not choose that I am attracted to so many variedly gendered people. I can only choose who I try to connect with. But here’s where this distinction breaks down for me. It probably would be possible for me to live a life that would be perceived as heterosexual by most. And I could probably do this while having a rather fulfilled sexual and romantic experience. Now, of course, I would have to deny myself some things. Some people I could have connected with, some relationships I could have had, etc. But this is still choice. It is my choice not to deny myself these people and connections. To not question whether a specific relationship would be read as gay.

    And there is also another, even nastier undercurrent to this debate. One of the arguments used to support “born this way” is that, given a choice, who would choose to be queer. Well apparently I would. But this argument invalidates my choice, it basically says, if you choose to act upon your attractions they must be either too strong for you to ignore (feeding into the hypersexualization stereotype) or you are after all really gay, because why else not choose a more acceptable match.

    These are just my thoughts, directly after reading this article. It is not a thoroughly researched and structured argument. I would appreciate comments, criticism and general debate.

    Lastly, just to clarify: I do not dispute that many people do not experience a choice and to them “born this way” may apply. I also don’t speak for all pan- or bisexuals, this is my unique experience. All I argue for is that the “born this way” debate feeds into negative stereotypes, is in fact not a universal experience of queer people and furthermore should not be necessary to argue the salient points.

    TL;DR: “Born this Way” negates the choice pan- and bisexual people make by just identifying as such. Thus it creates and adds to common biphobic stereotypes.

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      Born this way is not negating you choice. You did not choose to be capable of feeling attraction for members of the same sex. I agree that their isn’t enough conversation about the choice to accept and act on same sex attractions. And I appreciate that the bisexual/pansexual community has a unique experience in this regard. I don’t envy you I could never have chosen to embrace a same sex relationship if I had the possibility of a heterosexual relationship. (Though perhaps the fear of a child inheriting gayness would have also driven me away from a heterosexual relationship) I respect you for making that choice. You mention that that the narrative says no one would make that choice. No ones chooses to be something that leaves you vulnerable to violence and rejection. The reason that the suicide rate for people is so high is that no chooses to be hated.

      A little while ago there was a young lesbian that wrote about her parents finding information about woman’s sexual fluidity and deciding that she could somehow choose to be straight. Whenever LGBT people say that they had a choice it causes harm.

      • Thumb up 8

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        salome, I respectfully disagree. The harm being done in the situation you described doesn’t come from an LGBT person speaking their truth; it comes from the parents pressuring their child to be straight. The real problem there is heterosexism and homophobia.

        • Thumb up 3

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          Yea, I agree that that the parents were wrong. Acknowledging that change the fact that publishing information about sexual fluidity played into the bigotry. The moment you say something is a choice someone else has a right to make a judgement about that choice and try to influence it. Rights shouldn’t be based on innate traits but they are. Historically, the right to sexual autonomy didn’t really exist in many different parts of the world. You needed family permission to marry, premarital sex is seen as a moral wrong. Still, today people are comfortable with society punishing disapproved sex. the main argument is that LGBT are harmed by being forced to try and live heterosexual lives which is backed up by the suicide rate.

          My rights shouldn’t hinge on sexual autonomy. I can’t choose to be able to be able to find fulfilment with a man. It’s not autonomy if there’s only one healthy choice. Also, frankly I don’t think it’s possible to ever win global respect for gay rights with sexual autonomy. There might be a global respect for being born gay and therefore creating room within preset cultural sexual norms for a healthy existence.

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        I believe the exclusive “born this way” narrative causes harm, EVEN IF it turned out to be true for all LGBT people(and I’m not convinced it is). Let’s say they do one day find a genetic or hormonal cause for same-sex attraction. Let’s say a prenatal test could be developed to find out if a fetus is likely to be born gay. Do I need to spell it out?

        Homophobia, not the provenance of our queerness, is the cause of our problems. Homophobia is what causes harm. Queer people should have rights because they are people. Period.

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      Hear hear. I just finished reading “Sexual fluidity: Understanding women’s love and desire”. It was very tactfully written by an author who was aware of the reprecussions of her research and felt guilty that her conclusions were being misconstrued by anti-gay publications.

      Basically you don’t choose your orientation, but your experience can be fluid and if it is fluid, then you experience shifts between one period of time in your life to the next. But the shifts themselves are not conscious choices. You can’t help your attractions at a certain point in time.

      The way this is misconstrued is that if you have shifts in sexuality, then it’s possible to “wait out” a predominantly homosexual period of time until a heterosexual period of time comes along again. But this of course is problematic because a) you don’t know when that will come along if ever, and b) during that time you don’t have free reign to act upon the feelings that are very biologically driven, which is the same thing as denying someone who was born 100% gay the right to be with someone of their same gender.

  10. Thumb up 13

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    I’ve always had a big problem with the idea that if you weren’t ‘born this way’, it must have been a ‘choice’.

    I’m certain that some people were born with a preset sexual orientation and some people’s orientation was shaped by their experiences and may to continue to change throughout their life. Some may even have made some kind of conscious choice to pursue particular attractions over others. The fundamental point is that it only matters how it came to be if you are concerned with ‘fixing’ it.

    Identifying a ‘gay gene’ is only useful if you plan on manipulating it. Identifying environmental factors that play a part in homosexual behaviour is only relevant if you want to correct/prevent homosexuality – or I suppose promote it.

    That’s why I find it disturbing when someone says that gay people can’t help, they were born that way. To me that says that to them this is a problem, an affliction. And my sexuality is one of the best parts of me. It has taken me a long time to accept it, but I do not need to have it excused away.

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      I don’t see orientation changing. Heterosexuality is norm and a lot of people don’t realize their different. A bisexual or pansexual person is not straight just because they don’t currently have a member of the same-sex around that their attracted to. A straight person is not capable of ever feeling attraction to a member of the same-sex.

      I care about finding the biological underpinning of gayness because I would like to know why I exist. People already try to fix it. They continue whether or not the exact reason is ever found. Also we can identify the exact genes responsible in all sorts of genetic illness. We still have have children born with dwarfism and down syndrome.

      We not going to cease to exist.

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    Thank you for this article. For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the “born this way” discussion:

    -I believe that everyone is born with a certain potential for sexual and/or emotional attraction towards other humans with varying characteristics. Usually, the attraction we feel tends to gravitate towards certain prototypes that package a number of desirable traits, commonly referred to as our “types”. After having experienced a significant number of instances of attraction, a pattern usually emerges. I like to imagine this as a three-dimensional space containing the intersections of different spectra of various types of attraction, within which attraction “clusters” occur.
    -The above describes the purely biological aspect of attraction, which I will call our attraction potential. Of course, this potential exists in an environment, which I like to imagine as a space outside of the cube. This environment determines which aspects of our attraction potential will be translated to real life experience, depending on the people we meet.
    -The third factor in play is our filter of social conditioning and the various beliefs imposed by us on society, acquired through healthy reflection etc. This filter determines how we consciously (as well as on the ego level) process and judge our various experiences of attraction. I imagine this as a blanket wrapped around the cube.
    -Finally, we have the choices that determine how we live our lives and largely arise out of the three factors mentioned above.
    So, returning to the original question: are we “born this way”? To me, the question only makes sense if we distinguish between life choices and inner experience. I believe our “attraction potential” is something we’re born with and that doesn’t change much throughout life. However, our perception and awareness of that potential changes dramatically according to the environment we live in, the people we meet, and perhaps most of all the beliefs we hold at a given time of our life. The experiences that this complicated process leads to is what ends up constituting the basis for how we choose to identify (leaving out the importance of available vocabulary) and which choices we will ultimately make for ourselves.
    The real question, which has a different answer for each individual on the planet, is not whether or not we have a choice, but rather how much the choices available to us will conflict with our inner experience of desire and thus affect our happiness. Thus, someone who feels they were “born gay” may feel profound dissatisfaction if choosing a lifestyle that is not compatible with their identity and inner experience, whereas someone who has “chosen” a queer lifestyle may potentially achieve happiness and harmony with their innate desires by embracing a different part of their attraction potential.

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    There are so many factors that *can* go into a person’s expression of their sexuality and gender that I don’t know if I will ever know the answer to that question. And even if I did, it seems like trying to turn sexuality into a pie chart where it’s 50% genetic and 26% upbringing and 11% choice and 7% environmental factors and 6% other is vastly oversimplifying a potentially very complex aspect of an individual’s life.

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    Hm…well this article did make me think today. I think that from an early age i DID know i was gay but i didnt know what that meant until i was almost in high school. I just knew ‘gay’ was a bad word to call someone like ‘fag’ or the ‘A word’. I always did know I had a crush on one of my best friends in the 3rd grade but no one told me or discussed with me what that could mean. I tried to date guys in my freshman year of HS because it was considered the norm then I realized I liked girls because they were pretty and more caring. And they seemed to get me and vice versa. Im not sure yet if we turn gay or just are I just know we are all beautiful humans who love certain humans.

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    Thanks for speaking about your choice to be queer. I hope you (and others) will write more about this topic! I really don’t identify with the “born this way” camp- if anything, because would that mean I was just unaware or subconsciously denying my queerness until I was 27 years? I don’t think so. I wasn’t raised in a homophobic or religious household, so there was no real reason to suppress same-sex feelings. I’ve been in groups of queer women where everyone seemed to be trying to one up each other with stories of how they knew they were gay when they were babies, and I never have anything to share (besides a general lack of interest in dating in high school.) Meanwhile, the relationships I had with guys in my twenties were real and so were the feelings I experienced while in them. That doesn’t mean I would date men now, but that’s partly because I can’t look at a dude without seeing the patriarchy. That’s part of the reason I like the term “queer”, because other labels (for me) seem to erase my past experiences.

    The most important point that the article made is that whether something is a choice or something innate, there is no excuse for hate and discrimination.

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      I am RIGHT on board with you with everything you said. :) I myself love the word “queer” because it doesn’t erase my experiences with men, which are real, and genuine.

      I guess “bi” applies very well also, and I sometimes use it, but I feel that “bi” doesn’t very well imply that I’m way more into women than men. Bi is usually understood as mostly 50-50, and “pan” usually refers to falling in love with the individual’s soul, which isn’t my case, as there is a definitive, strong physical attraction towards the ladies. I can absolutely feel infatuated with a woman without feeling a strong connexion, personnality-wise.

      So I started using queer a while ago, as I feel it the right meaning for me, but then again, a word is a word. We’re all allowed to choose what suits us :)

      “The most important point that the article made is that whether something is a choice or something innate, there is no excuse for hate and discrimination.”

      THIS a hundred times.

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    I like this article so much I finally had to make an account to comment on it. Thank you.

    I didn’t figure out that my sexuality was something other than straight until I met someone in college. My experience with her was much more confusing and painful because I didn’t feel like I was born gay. I struggled so much with the identity part of sexuality. It felt like allowing myself to explore the confusing feelings I had for certain girls meant I had to BE something, and I questioned why I didn’t already know that I was that thing, if it was truly part of my identity.

    People have said to me, “oh well, you were still born that way” meaning that there was something part of my biology that made me open to having sexual feelings for women, even if I didn’t understand it as part of my identity from a young age. Having people say that to me feels like they are trying to fit me into the popular mold, and I don’t think there is any reason that I should have to all fit that mold in order to find acceptance. Identity and existence and sexuality are all much too complicated to all be tied together into the one argument that is used to justify the existence of queer people to others.

    It worries me that the “born this way” narrative has been the strongest argument for acceptance and equal rights because, in my experience, hearing that narrative so frequently, to the exclusion of others, made me question the validity of my own feelings. It made coming out to both myself and to others much more difficult. I’m glad that I finally did allow myself to explore those feelings, for all of the challenges that being queer can bring, because it helped me to accept myself and develop some wonderful relationships that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I worry that for some people the struggle to understand their sexuality outside of the most accepted “born this way” narrative might present an unsurmountable barrier.

    So I guess I just wanted to say thanks for putting some other narratives out there with this article. I hope it helps explain to those who do feel that the “born this way” narrative represents their experience why it’s important for others to hear that being “born this way” isn’t the only way to be queer.

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      Thank you for sharing your perspective! I really relate to what you said about “oh well, you were still born that way” feeling like people are still just trying to shove you into the popular mold. Like, is that really necessary? Why isn’t our shared humanity cause enough for respect?

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      I relate to this so much. When I felt things that made me question my assumed straightness, the “born this way” and “I always knew” narrative made me feel as if I couldn’t really be gay because I thought “if I were gay I would already know.” Which I didn’t, so I thought it was somehow too late… until I learned that some women figure it out much later in life than me. Only then was I able to take my feelings seriously and ask myself what I really wanted, at which point it soon became obvious.

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      Hey yea fellow late-comer here! I don’t feel like the “born gay” narrative really helped me. I am grateful for the role it played in the fight for gay rights, and I’m happy for other people that they are able to identify with it, but I don’t think it’s the only one out there.

      Also, welcome to AS!

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    I fundamentally agree with this article in that whether or not gayness is inborn, an immutable characteristic of some humans throughout life, should not be the sole justification for equal rights. However, attempting to fight the current civil rights battle with the argument of “all human realities on the spectrums of sexuality and gender identity are equally valid regardless of how any one, group, or majority of humans arrived at those realities and thus should be treated with respect, dignity, and equality simply because they ARE human realities” will fail because this logic is, sadly, far too nuanced to be comprehended by the majority of Americans. The “Born This Way” narrative is working because, as you say, it is familiar and easy. That’s not necessarily THE BEST way to get the job done, but it is, finally, creating momentum behind the drive for equality for more humans on those spectrums, and so in this instance I believe the ends justify the means. I hope thoughtful, educated people continue to have these discussions as we do need to recognize the limitations of buying into inborn characteristics being the only or best justification for progress, but be careful not to stymie that progress with the critique. I hope most Americans DO believe some people are born gay, because that belief, at this moment in our social evolution, helps our cause.

    Finally, I contend that all people at any position on the sexuality and gender spectrums were “born that way,” regardless of how/if each identifies. If you are pansexual, you are born with the capacity for pansexuality. If you are bisexual, you are born with the capacity for bisexuality. This article and the discussion of are/aren’t born gay is bordering on circular logic: My queerness is not inborn because I am pansexual. My queerness is a choice because I consciously recognize I have the capacity for choice as pansexual. My capacity for choice arose from what? The human capacity for choice. And that is what? Inborn? Most likely.

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      This. I agree with this. The challenge is even greater for bisexuals, pansexuals etc. who are constantly having to “prove their authenticity” even to other queer people. Many people, including my lil bisexual self, were “born this way” and the “choice” narrative undermines this in the minds of a lot of our oppressors, as well as people such as parents/family members who already struggle to accept us as we are. Let’s face it: as long as they think it was a “choice”, they’ll be trying to force us to make a different one.

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    I appreciate this article so much because I agree that the “Born this Way” narrative can be very limiting. So many times I have questioned what is the “right answer” or my “true sexuality” that I was born with (not necessarily liking men or women or both, but do I have an innate preference for one or the other and exactly how strong), but asking those questions tends to only make me miserable. What I know is that I have various feelings of attraction to people with various characteristics, and that yes, my experiences and circumstances certainly influence how I experience and interpret those attractions.

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    This is post is so interesting and timely for me. I can completely understand and support folk who know that they were born gay. However, as a 29 year old woman who has just had her first lesbian experience/relationship, I really don’t think the issue is so clean cut. I am super into the girl that I have been seeing, and as a result, have found myself suddenly really sexually attracted to other women. I don’t know what this means about my sexuality, exactly. I haven’t had enough experience to know if I would never go back to men. What does concern me is the stigma about bisexuals, particularly in the lesbian community. My lady friend is pretty confident that I am genuinely into her, but I know she still has concerns that I could leave her for a dude some time down the track, which just isn’t the case. It doesn’t work like that. I have a circle of lesbian friends I hang out with sometimes and the idea that I won’t be taken seriously because of my previous and potential attraction to men really worries me. I know a lot of queer women have had bad experiences with bi women but I don’t think it is fair to judge anyone else’s sexuality. Add to that that I am rather femme and I feel like I would have no chance if I were to get into the queer scene.

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      This. I see the value in the “born this way” narrative and how it protects queer people from the pressure,judgment, and coercion to make the “right” (heteronormative) choice. That’s why I won’t fight the “born this way” narrative if it helps people gain equality and respect (not pity, respect). I’ll contribute to the united front. But within the community, I don’t want to be judged as “less than” or “not really” a queer woman who prefers to be with women because of my past. I don’t like the idea of a hierarchy of superior/inferior forms of queerness.

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    I love this article, thank you Laura. I believe I am innately bisexual – I was born with the capacity to love both men and women. But I absolutely chose to be queer, and this is an important distinction for me because that choice meant acting on my feelings, revamping my politics and seeking new and vibrant communities. I feel joy that I was born bisexual, and choosing to live my queer was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

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    It makes me angry when people don’t acknowledge that ‘born this way’ narratives are a strategy for survival in the face of the danger of conversion therapy. Maybe you never had to consider the possibility that you’ll be sent away, harassed and abused if you didn’t manage to convince your family that you’re not making a choice by being gay, but not all of us have that privilege.

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      Yes, this! This perspective of “it doesn’t matter” comes from a place of privilege. It’s all well and good to intellectualize it in safe spaces, but there are still many places in the world where you can legally be killed for being gay. Plus there are many other places where you can be harassed, fired from jobs, disowned from families, denied housing, institutionalized, and raped for being gay. It absolutely matters to those people that it’s not a choice for them. There are many terrible things that happen to queer people that many people would not choose to go through if they had a choice. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to be oppressed. Being gay involves real struggle, rejection, oppression, and actual physical danger for many of us.

      I wouldn’t choose to be straight at this point in my life, but I sure as hell would choose not to have been put through the terrible and dangerous situations that being gay in a homophobic society has made happen to me. At other points in my past, I probably would have chosen not to be gay, and I don’t think anyone can blame someone for that. When you have the weight of societal and familial rejection, fear, and danger pushing on you every single day, only someone who has the privilege of not feeling that would judge someone for wishing they didn’t have to feel it.

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      I think you can acknowledge that “born this way” is often an important argument, without agreeing that it should be the agreed upon narrative.

      As someone who struggles a lot with the fact that I wasn’t born this way, or at least don’t feel like I was this is an important distinction. I know that if I ever decide to come out to my Muslim dad I run the risk of losing that relationship completely, and that’s not something I can really comprehend. The only chance I have is convincing him that I was born this way. So I get it!

      At the same time feeling “not gay enough” because I didn’t know I liked girls from a young age, and wondering why I’m putting myself through this if I could’ve just “chosen” to stay straight has made this process a whole lot harder.

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    Love this article, thanks!

    The choice vs born this way dichotomy is really simplistic, in my opinion. Personally I don’t feel like I chose to be gay OR that I was “born this way.” I was born a baby, you know? I didn’t have a sexuality yet. Was I somehow biologically destined to be queer? Probably. Did social/environmental factors and life experiences play a role in the way my sexuality developed? Possibly, how should I know? As for choice: there came a time when I chose to seriously question my assumptions about who I was attracted to, and it turned my world upside down. Honestly though, I don’t really care why I turned out this way. I’m a lot more concerned about the things that stopped me from finding my heart earlier.

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    I’ve always had a slight problem with the whole “born this way” thing. Does saying that mean that they’re suddenly more deserving of equal treatment than people who “developed” their queerness? It’s not all as cut and dry as that and this article makes good points.

    As someone who’s only really started the path to accepting their gayness in the past couple of years (out of various factors), when people say “born this way” it makes me feel a little… invalidated? I mean, I can pinpoint various moments from my younger years where yes, there evidence of a repressed attraction to women while I believed I was straight through and through. For that I blame my lack of non-heteronormative role models growing up, amongst other things. I had so many issues to sort through first before I could even reach my sexuality.

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    Thank you for this – so much food for thought.

    I’ve tended not to think about this enough, since ‘realising’ years ago that I feel like everyone is born with the capacity to love anyone, and what happens after that is a big tangled mess of who you meet, what happens to you, what you’re allowed to express, what you choose and so on.

    I’d not thought about the ‘born this way’ being a disempowering message but you put it so succinctly:

    What if our larger cultural narrative was less like ‘People can’t help being the way they are so give them a break’ and more like ‘Every person deserves respect, regardless of who they are or how they got that way’?

    You’re so right that ‘born this way’ sometimes seems designed to illicit sympathy, like ‘it’s a shame but we can’t help it so don’t be mean’. Ick. And on the other hand it’s a statement of fact for many people – I include myself.

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    This article and autostraddle in general has helped me so much!!!
    I’ve come out to two friends so far and that’s it, not hiding it, it’s just still new. But it’s something that makes me happy, and isn’t that the point, to be happy with yourself? I’m sure everyone will know at some point…

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    I’m completely torn on this issue, at least as it relates to myself. As annoyed as I get with the “born this way” narrative, how overly simplistic it is and how it’s manipulated to gloss over a lot of experiences and identities, I DO feel I was born this way. I knew I was “different” from a very young age, and I actively tried to be straight for a long, long, long time until I finally faced the inevitable and came out a year ago. None of it felt like something I chose and it wasn’t easy. But I don’t like the idea that goes along with “Born this Way”, which is that if it were a choice, we’d all of course choose to be straight. Again, after attempting to repress my sexuality for so long, it feels so good to finally be myself that I know I would NEVER ‘choose’ to be straight, even if I magically could.

    This also ties in, I think, with the idea of the modern LGBT movement, its Born This Way platform, and the focus on marriage. I don’t think marriage is and end goal or the only goal, and I don’t want to get married just to assimilate into a heteronormative lifestyle–but I do want to marry my partner. So while I oppose the complete focus on marriage, I also want access to those rights for myself.

    Sigh. Just torn up between a “Queer” theory of living and the more mainsteam LGBT movement’s version of living, I guess.

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    I know now that I have never been capable of genuine sexual attraction to a different gender but I don’t know if that means I was born gay.

    Regardless, I would definitely still choose to be gay because it aligns with my social realities of preferring the company of women and hating/distrusting men (as a social group; I’m okay with some individuals).

    Logically, I think being pansexual would be the best choice because to me it seems like the most open form of attraction, but if I were to approach love and sex the same way I approach platonic friendship I’d still overwhelmingly choose to be gay. It’s so nice not having to deal with men in that way in my life.

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      Not sure why my answer was so cisnormative, but I should clarify that I don’t seem to get along well with cis men. I find non-binary individuals delightful so if I had a choice, they’d also be included in my potential realm of suitors. However, even as a gay woman, I have a very narrow field of attraction in women as well so I think that above all else indicates that I don’t have control over my attractions. Every woman I crush on is Slavic or looks Slavic and is femme-presenting with tomboy tendencies. Don’t think I was born that way though since it probably reflects my cultural upbringing and own projected experience of gender performance.

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        I need to reply to thiiiiis! Haha, I totally have a type too, which I suspect must come from somewhere! I always go for small/short, feminine-presenting brunettes, and usually they have some European or Central/South-American descent. A lot of my celeb crushes have Spanish, French or Mexican blood.

        I’m really not sure where this comes from! I’m brunette myself, and I’m 5′ tall, so it sort of explains why I like short-ish ladies. But the girls I find myself terribly attracted to usually share two features :
        1 – Dark eyebrows
        2 – A large smile, with possibly super full lips, possibly dimples, possibly with gums showing if they smile wide.

        … any Straddler fits that description? *shifty eyebrows*

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    This is a really interesting topic. In terms of the ‘born this way’ narrative, personally I found it really useful for me when I was coming out. It was a huge struggle and a very difficult time….and it helped in having my family come around, I suppose. Now, I’m more comfortable with myself and my sexuality, and I don’t know really, how it all came about. I can remember having an attraction to other girls when I was 5 or so.

    I don’t know whether it means I was born queer, or that I developed my queerness when I was really young. Ideally it shouldn’t matter. Ideally we would be able to have a movement that didn’t have to focus so much on how we were born and maybe we are moving in that direction, and we can have a movement that says that some of us were born queer, some of us choose to be queer, and all other ways of coming around to queerness.

    All that said, I think in a conservative environment the ‘born this way’ narrative can be useful in having people come around in terms of their thinking and it can be very useful personal and political strategy in some respects.

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    When queer theory starting really coming to light in the 90’s I was still a teenager who was terrified of letting the general public know that I was attracted to females. As an older, more educated person I am now completely comfortable with my sexuality. My sexuality included being attracted to females as long as I can remember. If my having queer sexual feeling at a very young age makes other people feel left out of the queer community, or that they feel that they have to prove something in queer communities, I’m thinking that’s a whole lot of not my problem. Just as I had to get over the extreme fear of admitting who I am, all others have to take that risk and learn to be comfortable with their stories. It is not my responsibility to police my narrative to make others feel comfortable. As the article states we should live in hope that sometime soon people will feel entitled to whatever sexuality they choose/or don’t choose. Having strong sexual hormones/feelings/learned behavior at a young age has nothing to do with politics. Some of us are more aware of sexuality at a younger age. Some of us don’t see how amazing having sex/love feelings with another woman is until it is actually happening. All of it is okay, and the least we could do is not police each other on a queer womyn’s website.

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    While I agree with many of the points made in this article and am suspicious of the ways in which many of the narratives of LGBT rights movement seem geared towards assuring straight and cis people that they really are straight and cis, I feel that the author is being slightly disingenuous. Obviously, she knows that “born this way” as a political narrative emerged not only as an attempt “to piggyback” or what-have-you off of the Civil Rights movement. “Born this Way” emerged as a political narrative in part because it is a very useful rejoinder to two arguments made against LGBT people/LGBT rights. 1) The argument that LGBT people are a danger to society because they are out to “turn” your children and possibly “recruit” or “convert” you. 2) The argument that since LGBT identity is not innate, it can be “changed” through “conversion” or “reparative” “therapy.” In response to these arguments, the “born this way” narrative says: 1) LGBT people aren’t out to “recruit” anyone because LGBT-ness is in not something you can be “recruited” into. 2) LGBT identity cannot and should not be “changed” through “therapy” because LGBT-ness is an essential, innate, part of who you are. Attempts to “change” this are dangerous and unfounded. While I’m not interested in “born this way” as like a totalizing narrative, I think in these ways the “born this way” narrative can be actually fairly useful and rather than being politically-limiting is powerfully protective of LGBT people, interests, and rights.

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    Thanks for this article. I assumed the “born this way” narrative for myself from day one but lately I’ve been thinking about whether it is my narrative or not.

    When I came out I had experienced what I thought were intense feelings of infatuation for boys, but the moment I thought about having sex with them I felt disgusted. I had a good childhood and apart from bullying when I was in high school (which came from girls and wasn’t related to my sexual orientation) I never experienced anything that could have put me off men or could have “made” me gay. The moment I met the first woman who I would fall in love with I knew that had absolutely nothing to do with how I felt about boys and I also felt sexually attracted to her. It was like an eureka moment for me, I finally understood I wasn’t a weirdo who didn’t wanna have sex, I just didn’t want to have sex with men, and this was when I was 18 years old. When I talk about my experience with the LGBT friends I have, they all sort of knew from much earlier on or they knew all along, and I just didn’t. Now looking back I can relate how I felt about my female friends in school and high school sometimes as misguided infatuation maybe, but only in retrospect: in the moment I felt those feelings I was not aware of them.

    So for me it’s easy to believe I was born this way, because although I wasn’t in touch with my feelings from the start, I did feel very inadequate and weird and awful until I realized this was the “issue” all along. I came out and slowly but surely 95% of my issues went away, and after the first girl it took me years to feel something strong for anyone again, but I did, and it’s another girl. But at the same time I do wonder about all those 18 years of my life I thought I liked boys, I was that kid that had 4 boyfriends at the same time in school and I was always, frequently crushing on some guy all through high school, and the worst thing is that I can’t even blame that on social or peer pressure because I never spoke about who I was crushing on with anyone so it wasn’t like I was getting approval from my group. I attributed not wanting to have sex with them with not being ready to have sex in general, but then at 18 I was suddenly ready for everything with a girl.

    I don’t feel right now like I can ever like a guy, but I remember being 14 and being asked if I was gay by my mom (bless her) and also feeling utterly disgusted by the thought of kissing one. So I guess sometimes I do wonder.

    Anyway, sorry for rambling!

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    Thank you thank you thank you. How some can even fathom empirically explaining “the feels” is beyond me. However you feels, you feels, and the undermining or negation of one’s feelings is absolutely, 100%, wrong.

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    SO MUCH YES.

    I totally understand that “born this way” fits for many queer people. I also understand its role in our movement at this point in time.

    However, I think it (and monosexism in general) is part of the reason I had this whole weird narrative in my head whereby I was gay for a few years in adolescence and then mysteriously changed to being straight, so weird, who knows how that happened — instead of being comfortable with just being a BIG OLD FLUID BI.

    I would like to conclude with a favorite tweet by Lindsay King-Miller (who wrote the article on Willow’s fluidity): My ideal gay rights movement: less “I was born this way,” more “I woke up like this.” So perfect.

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    The author of this article needs to better understand how the choice issue is such an underpinning of religion-dervied animus toward the LGBT community – especially youth and families. Urvashi Vaid apparently never understood this and her mindset that “who cares what conservative religious folks think because they aren’t going to accept us anyway” – is the reason marriage equality is yet a reality in the U.S., a majority of states have no workplace protection for LGBT employees and why so many young kids have been put through sheer hell for many years because their parents and pastors told them they had a choice in the matter. When advocating a particular personal opinion, we should all remember what’s at stake in the broader picture. If we agree with those who seek to harm our young or our personal opinion serves to assist those who persecute us, perhaps we should reconsider making public such an opinion. Sure it shouldn’t matter but the fact remains that it DOES matter. Failing to recognize that reality has done great harm to LGBT youth and families and it will continue to for many years to come. If we have the attitude that “I care nothing about religion”, then you really don’t care much about achieving full equality. Because religious opposition is THE opposition to full equality. And it is THE reason the number of suicides and other at-risk behaviors are dramatically higher among LGBT youth than heterosexual youth.

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      This! Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but it absolutely does. It matters a lot. It has real, measurable impacts on the safety and well-being of queer people in the world when the narrative is that we chose our queerness, because then we can just as easily decide not to choose it. Who can judge parents who send their children to gay conversation camps if queerness a choice? Parents try to influence their children’s choices all the time, so trying to influence this choice is perfectly acceptable.

      One of my biggest issues with this whole argument from other queer people is that it’s always framed as queerness as a choice. It just reinforces the stereotype that heterosexuality is real and innate and queerness is not. Heterosexuality is the norm, and queerness is a chosen aberration. Heterosexuality is fixed, while queerness can be switched on and off. It’s such a dangerous idea to have floating around the world for those of us who don’t have the luxury of these things not mattering.

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        I don’t agree that saying that queerness can be a choice reinforces the stereotype that heterosexuality is real/innate and queerness is not. It’s not that heterosexuality is fixed and queerness is not fixed – it’s that sexuality itself isn’t fixed for some of us.

        Also: It is entirely valid and important to acknowledge the importance of the “innateness” argument for winning over straight people and gaining protection from overt hatred. AND, and, and, it can be true at the exact same time that the innateness argument is problematic and feels untrue for many of us (though not all of us). Is arguing that queer people are just “born this way” important/necessary in some situations? Yes, I suppose so. Does that mean it’s appropriate in all situations? No. As someone who is bisexual, I feel pretty invalidated by the idea that there’s no choice involved in sexuality. While this is not the case for everyone, I could have chosen to live my life as a “straight” person – and I deliberately chose not to. That is valuable and important too, and I think it’s okay to have a forum like Autostraddle, far away from the battlefields where we must resort to essentialist arguments to survive, to express these truths.

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    I think read it somewhere that solutions should be based on the reality of the situation and not based on an ideal.

    What is queer culture? Is there queer performativity? I had a humbling conversation with my aunt who is really religious, Nigerian and does not understand why I’m “still living the lifestyle.” I used to get exhausted talking to her about it but given she is a really smart lady she admitted something to me that stopped me in a my tracks.

    “Why is that being gay you must do the opposite of everything?” I have heard this a lot with people and wondered if queerness was essentially oppositional. Being black AND queer it fucked with my head because in me being queer (choice or no choice) is oppositional to what? Hetero-normatively? Me being black is *seen* in certain spaces as oppositional to what? Whiteness? Me being black and queer still, is oppositional to what? The whole fucking Cis Hetero White Supremacist Patriarchy? Fuck me.

    I’m going nuts thinking about the implications of that living in a Western (US) society and born this way seems like a “get out of jail card” but it’s not, it’s a “let’s get assimilated!!!!” but to what? Heteronormativity? Whitness? The whole fucking thing? I really don’t know. So yeah for *me* born this way is politically limiting because of the assimilation issue and the implications of that. It is in that assimilation I try to look for and listen to non-monosexual voices in this matter because I as a monosexual person do not feel I can really fully see the implications of “born this way” and I am thankful to those who spoke upon this issue!

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    Like others have said, why are we justifying our experience and the depth of our love of the same sex to people who don’t understand it?/or don’t think our love is valid? It doesn’t matter how we arrive at queer.

    Being queer for me is both desire and solidarity with people who are accepting and encouraging. I am sexually attracted to women, I am much less sexually attracted to men. I am much more into women.

    My theory. I knew I was sexually attracted to girls/women at about age 10. Boys I also liked but kind of as friends. I didn’t really prove this out until I left a 10 year relationship with a man who I loved, but felt as though my love for him had become less desire/passion/enthusiasm/curiousity and more I know I am a lesbian what the hell am I doing with this guy, still?

    So I then had a relationships in my mid 30’s with women, and I am forever grateful to each partner I have had for what she has shared with me, even though the relationships moved on and dissolved.

    I have a choice. My choice is happiness. My happiness happens to occur more frequently with women. I would not choose to be less than happy. Was I born this way? No. It is who I am. It is who I have decided to be. Did I have to accept myself as lesbian and love myself anyway despite social pressures to present as straight and heterosexual? Yes. of course. However, my choice is worth it. Nothing is predetermined. All is choice.

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      Totes. We don’t choose whom we are into (whether we are born with the predisposition to be into those people or grow into it or wake up in the morning with it — whatever). However, we choose how to identify. Even a Kinsey 6 totally homosexual person could choose to identify as straight, and sadly many do. However, choosing an identity is NOT the same as choosing whom we are into. And furthermore, not-choosing something is also not the same as being born with something.

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      Ah the unwritten assumption that I forgot to explicitly state in my experience of being lesbian queer, is, that I came out to very loving parents and friends. And workplaces. I was and am lucky. this is not the fortune of everyone coming out, plus, many of us have plenty of challenges where intersectionality of race/religion/socioeconomic status/gender/cis or trans status has equal if not more impact than being “merely” queer.

      For whatever fucked up and bigoted reason, the religious right feel that it matters to have an explanation for why someone would “choose” to be queer. My only rebuttal is civil rights for everyone. I steer clear of the born this way argument because it plays into a binary of religious right determined preference for cis heterosexual legitimacy versus homosexuals and homosexual pervertedness. Fuck that. The world is a bigger place and human beings are being human in whatever way they want as consenting adults. Fuck fuck fuck the religious right.

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      It could be a matter of what we define by being queer/lesbian etc.
      For me, all that matters is attraction. Identity is not orientation. So I don’t see how anyone could choose to feel attraction. It doesn’t necessarily means that we were born with this attraction (it’s different scientific findings that strongly imply that), only that the only choice we have is whether we decide to act on it or not.

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        Attraction has to come down to who we are into.

        This is what I know.

        I am female, this lifetime. From a reincarnational point of view, I have been male and female through various lifetimes and have gotten to know and have developed intimacy with a close knit, yet expanding, group of souls who reincarnate alongside me where *various* relationships have been shared amongst us (with person X I have shared sibling-sibling, parent-child, child-parent, friend-friend, comrade in arms-comrade in arms, jailer-jailed, husband-wife, wife-husband, wife-wife, husband-husband, – any variety of relationship).

        We have been male and female, of any race, of any ethnic makeup, of any religion, of any wealth/poverty class, of any educational achievement.

        The point is, to learn how to choose, and to choose how to learn. Some people who I have reincarnated with, in one example, I have reincarnated with a task companion, (my current ex wife), for 148 of my 251 lifetimes. I have known “her”, for one third of my lifetimes for my current grand cycle as human. We have been male gay. We have been female lesbian. We have been straight. You name it, we’ve done it. We know each other inside out and still love each other for it. The big karmas, with her, are mainly out of the way. We do not do “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, much now, as we can choose more loving lessons to address/atone old issues, if we choose.

        My point is, we love who we love because most of the time they are from our reincarnational family, and we have business with them. So I have developed intimacy with for example, my task companion because she has been around me, knows my capabilities, my history, and still loves me and can laugh at me, at this stage in our old cycle. So hence, I do not care about trivial concerns pandering to the religious heteronormative right. The bigger picture is sexier and more interesting, for me.

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      A fact is not justification. The medical and scientific community have come to a consensus that people cannot choose their attractions. You were born with a certain capacity for sexual attraction. Your personal opinion is not going to gain anyone rights and protections. Statements of gayness being a choice are a gross disrespect to everyone that has ever suffered from homophobia.

      And before you say homophobia is not my fault. You are actively choosing to add to the very “justifications” homophobia is built around.

      Society has the right to condemn choices.

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        Homophobic people are not going to like one’s answer if one is homosexual, no matter how they lesbian gay bisexual person arrived there. I am attracted to women more than men, and I don’t have much choice in that. I cannot control my attraction to be half half, much as I would like to. I have tried and failed. My attraction is to women much more frequently than men.
        I would hate it if my reasons were used to persecute other gay peoples who thought that they were born gay/lesbian/bisexual. However I stick by my experience, which is, that I am attracted to whatever gender my close reincarnational buddies are this lifetime. I don’t want anyone damned or condemned for simply being who they are, but I will be true to myself as well.

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    What’s ironic is that Lisa Diamond, the same sex researcher who stands behind “sexual fluidity theory”, did a study on sexual motivation around the time of ovulation of sexual minority women. Apart from comparing lesbians with bisexuals, she compared women who were sure that they were “born this way” with those who thought that choice had something to do with their sexuality.

    And as it turned out, “born this way” women expressed much bigger increase in motivation to have sex with women during the time around ovulation (which is generally connected to increased sex drive, as it’s fertile days) than those that “choose” it.

    Here’s the study:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20464467

    Interesting conclusion: “The findings suggest that women with consistent versus inconsistent patterns of same-sex sexuality might be experiencing different types of same-sex desires influenced by different factors.”

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        That’s not really about the same subject, because it’s about mate preferences, and Diamond only studied if they wanted sex with women more. As it has been shown in data, that time was connected to increased sex drive in studied women.

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          Fair enough. I guess the findings about libido are on stronger ground than the findings about mate preference? Anyway, my point was that non theoretically motivated hypothesis + tiny sample = higher a priori probability of type I error, i.e. getting a significant result even though the prediction is wrong. But maybe it is theoretically motivated.

          Also note that it wasn’t just choice vs. no choice that affected her results. Stable bisexuals looked the same as fluid people. It was just the stable lesbians who had the different pattern. (Which actually makes sense to me because I think it could be tough to distinguish bis and fluid people empirically.) Also I think the stuff noted in her discussion section about how exactly people in different groups are interpreting the question about “choice” is a relevant concern. In a way that seems related to the OP we are commenting on, in fact.

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        BTW, Purple, you are aware that Diamond thinks sexual orientation is solid, and that it’s separated thing from “fluidity potential”?

        That’s apparently where here insinuations in conclusion of that study come from.

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    As important and true for many of us as the “born this way” idea is, it does not resonate for me. In fact, the longer I live as a queer person, the more I realize how much the assumption that the “born this way” narrative is the only right narrative prevented me from acknowledging and believing in my queerness. I heard so many stories about people knowing for sure from the time they were very young. Whenever I would start to think that maybe I liked girls, I would tell myself, “no – if you REALLY liked girls, you would know it. You wouldn’t be confused about it. You would have known long ago.” And since I believed that sexuality was essential and immutable, there was no point in questioning my own sexuality further – I must be straight, and that was the end of it. I would look at my queer friends and feel this sense of identification and of longing, but because I assumed that there was no way I could be queer too, I couldn’t understand why. I felt cut off from them, and from the community more generally. I felt like I was pretending, like I was just trying to be trendy, like I was imagining things. I deeply internalized the biphobic notion that because my desires weren’t easily defined and categorized, they weren’t real or valid. I lost so much time to these assumptions. I would never contradict the experiences of people who feel they were “born this way,” but I am so glad that we are shedding light on other, equally true narratives.

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      Jane- Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your story. It really resonated with me. Though I understand the “born this way” narrative and won’t tell anyone who feels that they were born gay that their feelings are anything but valid, this narrative did also hinder me from accepting my queerness. I had crushes on girls as a teenager but dismissed them because I felt attracted to men, too, and had gay friends who would express shock when I confided my confusion and say, “how could you not know? I always knew!” It took me until I was 22 or 23 to entertain the notion that I might be bi and many more years to feel comfortable with it. I’m now very happy I’m bi and wouldn’t be any other way. I do encounter a lot of biphobia and am glad this author raised the issue of continuing to try to make ourselves more visible and understood.

      Thanks to the author and many commenters for starting and having this conversation!

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    It’s such a messy issue for me. I feel like I was born a blank slate. I wasn’t born gay, but I certainly wasn’t born straight. I feel mostly asexual most of the time, and slightly more gay than bisexual. I have two pie charts for my sexuality:

    I don’t know how else to describe it. That’s it. That’s all I got. I’m not quite asexual, not quite gay, not quite bisexual. I guess I would fall into the “queer” category, but even that seems off. I don’t know, it’s too vague. It’s too specific. I’m not attracted to someone until I’m attracted to them, and those people are more frequently female than male, but I’ve been celibate for a year now, and it doesn’t seem uncomfortable or comfortable. It just is. I don’t know how I got this way or why. I don’t know if I was born vague and fluid and with a “no thanks” attitude, or if something molded me to be this way.

    In other news, that picture of Mae Martin reminds me of King Joffery and I’m not feeling okay about that.

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    I really want to agree, but I feel the reasoning behind saying that sexual orientation is something you’re born with isn’t just to convince people that we can’t just choose to be straight. I feel like, based on some internet arguments I have been unfortunate enough to see, it’s also helpful when convincing people that it isn’t, you know, catchy. Being exposed to gay people won’t turn other people gay, and making same-gender relationships acceptable won’t cause the extinction of humanity.

    Due to all that, while I think there are a lot of problems with the “born this way” argument, I don’t know if it’s something we should try to get rid of just yet, because I think there are some people who are won over by it. If things settle down more, people stop worrying about all that stuff, and everybody is protected from discrimination in both employment and in marriage, then we can try to get people to accept that there are some people who feel that they have chosen their sexual orientation, and that’s just fine.

    As for me personally, I have no idea. I rarely ever feel attracted to anyone, and having strong romantic feelings for people is even more of a rarity, so I can’t say for sure how I felt when I was younger. I’m fairly sure I was similarly uninterested for most of that time. My first big crush was on a girl, but that wasn’t until I was 13. Prior to that, I did occasionally feel sort of more attached to some people (girls and guys), but I’m still not sure if that was me already being bi/pan, or if I was just really good friends with them and assumed it was a crush because that was the closest I had come to having one at that point. The fact that I was fairly affectionate towards everyone when I was younger doesn’t exactly help anything either.

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    There two things being discussed: (1) What is true individually for people (2) Projections or statements made about a broader group of people and what political or personal rationales could be driving that.

    I’d be wary of conflating the two as believing something about yourself does not inherently mean you think it of the larger group. That’s where we get into either/or statements and people assign political motives to personal statements or imply personal statements are global ones.

    For (1) whatever it is for a person, it is. (2) The broader group is made of individual for whom (1) is true so (2) is that It’s different for different people, all are valid, none makes it less or more acceptable to be you.

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      Great point. I see plenty of potential for confusion in conflating the two. However, this discussion has also got me thinking about the intersection of identity and political discourse, and wishing I was more informed on the matter. ie something along the lines of the personal always being political. just in these comments I see trends of personal narratives determined by cultural realities

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      This is a useful distinction, but they are not as separate as I think you are making them out to be. Individuals who are in the middle of figuring out their own personal narratives don’t have an already established narrative to fall back on. Unless they happen to have friends who have not only gone through exactly what they are going through but also shared the experience in detail, all they have is the broader, generalized narrative. And when it doesn’t fit, that can be a confusing and marginalizing experience. (I am NOT SAYING that this confusion and this marginalization are worse than or not offset by the outward-facing benefits of adopting these kinds of generalized narratives. But they are real.)

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    I don’t think I was necessarily “born gay”
    I also don’t feel like I need to somehow define how/why I am gay
    But I do think it’s problematic to assert that you can choose to be gay/bisexual/pansexual in that I don’t think attraction to an individual or certain characteristic or certain gender is in any way under our control
    I think, yes, we choose to be courageous and choose to embrace these attractions and choose the people and spaces with which we surround ourselves, but I don’t think most queer folks wake up and say “hey I’m gonna be gay today” I think it’s more along the lines of “hey I’m gonna be myself today”

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    I feel limited by the “born this way” rhetoric, although I do understand it. It’s an easily defendable argument that has been necessary to show the legitimacy of queer lives to the heterosexual world. “I was born this way. I am natural.” And I think that is a totally valid to want to express that to others, and to believe it for yourself. However, I feel constricted by these notions within the queer community. I don’t know how I was born. My sexuality has grown and evolved with my life. I don’t know if it’s a “choice” per see, at least in that my sexual and emotional attractions feel out of my control. But would it really be so bad if it was a choice? Being human isn’t the same thing as being a person. We are born human. In that we have no choice. But you become a person. Becoming a person is the sum total of millions choices, big and small. Ultimately, I think fighting for the freedom to choose our lives is a grander quest than pandering for legitimacy in a heterosexual world.

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