Monday, January 30, 2012

On Cynthia Nixon and Balancing The Kinsey Scale

We've all heard the same tired, worn-out "Being gay is a choice" arguments before. We have heard it from religion when they want to characterize being gay as sinful, we here it on television when those same religious viewpoints are used to reinforce political ones, and we here it from out parents when they are looking for something...or blame when we come out to them. After all, if it wasn't for our reckless choices or that person who "recruited" us into being gay we would all be straight. Right?....Right? Um........Anybody? I'm being absurd here but the notion that we woke up one day and decided to be gay...or worse...yielded to some form of temptation has led to the emotional and psychological torture of thousands of LGBT people.

Yet not everyone stands with both feel planted fully in the "gay" or "straight" camp. Each persons individual sexuality is a shade somewhere between those two polarities. Alfred Kinsey defined a scale numbered 1-6 with "1" being exclusively heterosexual and "6" being exclusively homosexual. Now...most of us fall somewhere along the length of this line with few of us being on the extreme ends. For myself, I would place myself at about a 5.5. someone who fought his orientation tooth and nail, I see that as an inborn part of myself I could not change if I wanted too. Yet there are those who disagree...

Cynthia Nixon, who did an incredible job of standing up for marriage equality in New York has recently come under fire for comments made in a New York Times article in which she defines her sexuality as a choice. Nixon is currently engaged to be wed to her longtime girlfriend Christine Marinoni after a previous marriage to English professor Danny Mozes. This change is not so unusual, many of us come out later in life or perhaps we sit a little closer to the center of the Kinsey scale and have attractions to both seems to be the case with Cynthia. there issue here is not whether or not Cynthia was being completely honest to her experience of her own sexuality...but in how her account of that experience gives ammo to those who claim that homosexuality is simply a behavior that can and should be changed. Nixon's comments to the NY Times leave a lot of room for debate and heated opinion:

(emphasis mine)
...... “I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.” Her face was red and her arms were waving. “As you can tell,” she said, “I am very annoyed about this issue. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”

There is a  part of me that understands where Cynthia is coming from because we have all heard the arguments(that often come from gay people) that bisexuality isn't real. As if it's just a "phase" they are going through on their way to being fully gay. And while some gay men and women do refer to themselves as bisexual for a while until they become for comfortable with their homosexuality....utterly rejecting the notion of bisexuality seems crazy to me. In rejecting the experience of others, we do to them the same discrimination toward them that we seek to end toward ourselves. It is a failure of empathy.

Additionally, while Cynthia is being totally honest to how she views her own experience I am one of those people who did a double facepalm when I read it. So here is Cynthia Nixon with the ability to feel attraction to both men and women looking to her own experiences and acknowledging that she made a choice to follow the ones that made the most sense to her....I get it. But......the problem lies with the self same bigots that Nixon doesn't want to concede the ability to control the conversation.

See...just as Cynthia won't use the term "bisexual" for herself because she claims they get "dumped on" she is making a conscious choice to use labels or not use labels as they benefit her. The problem is that many of us though we may be sprinkled along the continuum of sexuality don't see our sexuality as fluid. We have found something that feels right for us and in most cases we have had to sacrifice the acceptance and love of our biological families to see that through. We have endured the discrimination and disdain of a society that see us as not deserving of equal respect and legal protection under the law. Those very conditions exist because society still struggles with seeing a gay, bisexual, or transgendered person as someone who did not "chose" to be what they are....and in that choice is the implication that we can simply make another choice to be the opposite, which we all know is not true and kills hundreds of kids through ex-gay programs, bullying, and suicide every year. I do not think it is conceding a point to bigots...even if her use of the word "bigot" may have alluded to a portion of the gay community. It is acknowledging the awful on-going damage that is done to LGBT people every year that at best poisons are ability to accept ourselves and be accepted as a part of our communities and at worst can lead to despair and death. We've seen it happen time and again.

Just the notion of their being a word for people who are predominately drawn to the same sex is only as old as the 1880's when sexual acts and those who engaged in them began to come under scientific scrutiny. Before this time there really was no solid state categorization for a gay person other than "sodomite" which focused more on their acts than an orientation. Even sex in the ancient world  was viewed as an appetite with everyone having the potential to engage in heterosexual or homosexual acts with different cultures having their own separate opinions on those same acts. A wealthy or powerful man could be the aggressive sexual partner to anyone below his station....a women, a young man, or a slave, and suffer no judgement because he was of higher status than them....But, being a passive partner could end in fines or imprisonment...even in the days of early Rome. And yet, it was all seen thought the same lens that we commonly use when approaching an all you an eat buffet. It was all regarded as taste and appetite. I think it is that view of sex as a smorgasbord in which we all pick and choose our dishes that we inherit today and manifests in the idea that being gay is a choice. And while Being gay, Bisexual, or transgendered was seen as merely a choice of behaviors we know a little bit more about sex and biology now to know better. We do not get to chose who we are attracted to...we do get to chose whether or not to follow that impulse.

For a young person struggling to accept themselves, that definition of choice can mean all the difference. I respect that Cynthia Nixon was being truthful in her disclosure of how she experiences her own sexuality. The trouble lies in the fact that not everyone else experiences it in the same way. And in a perfect world her story would be accepted as merely her personal experience and not to be applied to others. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen and a young person reading her comments may take them to heart about themselves and go right back into the closet to pray their gay away a little harder. 

I also understand that Cynthia states that for others it simply is not a choice...I don't think anyone is demanding that she change the truth of how she deals with her own sexuality. But we also need to know that the words we use matter. Not only to those who work against us...but to those who one day will be us. I respect Cynthia Nixon a lot...not only for her acting...but also for her activism in New York. She stepped up and put herself on the line to be a face and voice for marriage equality. However, I do wish that she had considered the deep pain so many people have to go through to overcome the notion that we chose to be gay. I do not consider myself a bigot or word nazi for holding that belief...nor do I think less of Cynthia Nixon for hers.

Until next time dear readers......


  1. I don't understand bisexuality because I am not bisexual. I have ALWAYS been sexually attracted to males from an early age-no choice for me. The problem that I have with Cynthia's statement-especially in this heated political time which we ONCE AGAIN are being used as political footballs..(hard to believe it is happening again in 2012) is that the right wing..good "Christian?" pundants will write posts on their blogs and websites like: "Self Proclaimed Out Lesbian Admits that Homosexuality is a Choice." With so many young gay kids still committing suicide because they are told that you can just choose..I think her words could cause harm.

  2. Thank you! I feel the same way (I think). I found myself replying to online discussion saying over and over again, like you did "the orientation (who we're attracted to) is *not* a choice, not for homo, bi, hetero or anyone in between, but how or whether, we chose to act on those attractions is the choice". Why is that so hard for some people on both sides of the issue to understand? :\

    The LGBT online community came at breathing fire in Nixon's general direction in response to this. I understand the pain it could potentially cause (experienced some) and, yes, she should have chosen her words more carefully given that she is in the spotlight. But she did not mean it in an evil way and was in fact speaking from her own experience, which is really, all any of us can do.

    It is difficult to do so sometimes while still keeping her brothers and sisters towards the 6 end of the Kinsey scale in mind.

    She didn't think before she spoke, but I really feel she bore no ill intent toward others who are different.

  3. I agree with you very much, I personally think that she could have chosen her words far more carefully, for one thing yes Bi may come with baggage and is not a perfect description but is gay also comes with lots of baggage and is not a perfect description. The thing is that by using the word choice she not only makes it seem like being gay is a choice (it dose not matter who says so, for me it just rips a giant emotional/psychological scab off in me) But it also makes it sound like Bisexuality is a choice, even more of a choice, when the reality is that the only choice all around is whether or not to fallow your attractions, or to try not to. With the choice of trying not to, being one that is extremely damaging and destructive!

    I can appreciate that she was talking about her self and that it is hard to be in the spot light, but I would hope that she would think more carefully and in a realistic way about how those that she dose not want to dominate the conversation, are going to use this as a weapon against us, and especially against kids that are just starting to come to terms to try to "change them"

    Not only that but I can easily see it being used by the anti marriage equality crowded in states like WA that are on the verge of equality, but where it is almost certain to be put to a referendum and thus a public vote. Unfortunate a quote like that from some one like here that paled a big part in the NY debate, one that so easily can be taken out of contact has the power to be quite damaging.

  4. I don't think a man would say this unless he is truly bisexual. Women often say this or switch back and forth. Remember, a woman doesn't have to 'get it up' for the same or opposite sex. That pretty much determines it for the guys.

  5. Hiyas. Been thinking about the choice argument reciently. Although I believe for most it's not a choice (I'm transgendered and don't believe I had a choice), I'm not sure it matters. Choice or not the argument is or should be there's nothing wrong with being gay, transgendered, lesbian or bi. To say its not a choice sounds like "it's not my fault I'm gay". Well, being gay, lesbian, transgendered or bi harms no one and in fact is just another way to happiness. So I guess my point is... Choice or not, I'm LGBT, I'm happy, get used to it.

  6. So Bryan…

    You’re a Kinsey 5.5? ”Merely” a 5.5? :o) Well, sorry my friend; I’m raising your 5.5 up to (my own) 5.99. Anyone else care to bid? Or are you folding? :-D I’m afraid I’m about as thoroughbred gay as they come. I couldn’t even get my “Mr. Johnson” to salute a naked Pamela Anderson sitting on my lap! :-D Try out-gaying that! :-D

    Seriously though, I’m sure Cynthia intended to speak only for herself and, while I’m willing to believe that she intended no harm to fellow (more authentic) gays, I think the way she put things in fact did harm. And I suspect that privately, she realizes that herself now. Our right wing enemies seem naturally resistant to the reality that sexual orientation isn’t chosen but is largely biologically determined, so Cynthia’s statements play right into their hands. Only by believing it is chosen can homophobes’ belief that people, especially children, can be persuaded to be gay can be seemingly logically justified. And even though Cynthia wondered why it was any less legitimate for gayness to be a choice, the reality is that convincing our homophobic oppressors that orientation is NOT a choice is the only way we can ever hope to be cut any slack as far as achieving equality in rights.

  7. "...the reality is that convincing our homophobic oppressors that orientation is NOT a choice is the only way we can ever hope to be cut any slack as far as achieving equality in rights."- Dave
    Well, that is ONE way. But, the ONLY way? It hasn't really seemed to work so far has it? I agree with Holly. Whether people believe it is a choice or not (which is ultimately a question for NEUROSCIENCE) is not the most important issue.
    As long as the homophobic oppressors see homosexuality (and ultimately any sexually unusual "behavior" between consenting adults) as something to fear and despise then you're out of luck-whether they agree with you that it's a choice or not. As long as the majority see "gayness" as a disease, then you would still have all of your work ahead of you-even if they didn't think it was a choice. This is why the work the Leffew family does on this blog and on YouTube is so important. It shows that the gay "lifestyle" is nothing to fear or be ashamed of.
    In other words, if people were NOT homophobic , then it would no longer matter weather they believed that homosexuality was a choice or not. They would not care. The issue is homophobia, not the fluidity/plasticity of human sexuality.

    1. Hmmm….. Homophobia the real issue and not whether gayness is a choice or not? That’s an interesting point. If there were a lot more Leffew-like families consistently and repeatedly presenting their lives the way Jay and Bryan have, then homophobia would have a much better chance of being gotten rid of. The problem is that Jay and Bryan remain unique and, more importantly, alone in how they’re presenting themselves. They have asked in their videos for other gay families to step forward and show their lives too, but that just isn’t happening yet. Until that changes, as ultra-normal as the Leffew’s lives appear in videos, I’m wondering whether that apparent normalcy will more likely be interpreted by straight viewers as something unique just to them as opposed to more characteristic of gay families in general, which is more what Jay and Bryan intended all along. This is why we need other gay families to step up and show their lives too. Straights need to see normal-looking gay family life as the norm and not the exception.

  8. The problem with the religious right hate machine is that if they admit that sexual orientation is innate then they're admitting that their God made gay people and that gay people acting on their orientations are not sinners after all. If that were to ever happen, what would they do for money?

  9. Though I do think the way Nixion followed up on what she said could have been done way better ( like by adding a bit more of an explanation into what she meant) I’m not really against her statement in itself because, as you mention, it was her truth. And though it does give ammo to the nuts who have nothing better to do than fling hate at everyone else I think this whole situation is actually the perfect example of a huge problem that we helped set up: the perpetuation of the notion that there is this gay/straight dichotomy.

    When you look at it in terms of the Kinsey scale the bulk of our fight (or the voices loudest heard) seems to be focused around the idea of the pure 6: the “I’m gay and was born that way”/ “I have never had a sexual thought about someone of the opposite sex in my life” people, but the problem with that is anyone below that (5.999999……. and under) actually proves to be a perfect argument for the other side. The truth is there’s an infinite number of points in-between 1 and 6 and by not embracing and explaining this the right wing is afforded the opportunity to manipulate the situation and use it against us.

    Technically, even that person who is one trillionth of a percentage point away from that 6, who had maybe just one millisecond of a sexual thought about someone of the opposite gender at some random point in time, can be said to have made a choice not to dwell on it. No matter how much every other ounce of his soul/being clearly was pulling him in the other direction. And though he may be able to go forth all gung ho grouping himself in with the sixes and never giving a second thought to it there are tons of people who are not so far down the line, thus giving the issue of a “choice” more and more validity. Despite the various degrees in people’s sexuality right now it seems the message being put out there to these individuals that are further from the 6 is that it’s wrong for them to be honest about themselves. That they should stick to the “party line” or keep their mouths shut.

    Cynthia Nixon’s “truth” is probably more honest than what a lot of people put forth, though I still think the packaging of her statement was off. It is our UNIQUE personal sexual orientation that is not a choice, it is something we are born with but how we pursue the satisfaction of this portion of ourselves, is a choice. For chunks of us that characteristic really doesn’t leave much of any other option for happiness (for lack of a better word at the moment) because we fall so close to one endpoint of the scale but that’s not the case for everyone. For the people closer to the middle, in the end, I can’t see how it could not boil down to choices because although they may be “Bi-sexual”, anytime they make what may be a final decision on the person they love and want to be with they are choosing to be in a “gay” state or a “straight” state of being. Their sexual orientation is one in which they are attracted to people of both sexes but unless they are going to be polygamous they’re typically going to land on one person who is of one gender or the other. At that point in time, in their life and relationship, they are what their LOVE is. And it seems a little unfair and awkward to expect people to categorize their love and status with something like “I’m Bi but married to a Woman”.

    All in all, in my opinion, until we manage to shift people's perspectives from seeing things as gay/ straight or even gay/bi/straight to noticing it as a spectrum of sexual orientations we’ll constantly wind up shooting ourselves in the foot one way or another. But moments like this, if fully taken advantage of, could be great opportunities for progress because the more that people can look at a statement like Nixion’s and easily see and understand the meaning behind the words and labels, the less effective the whole right wing “it’s a choice” argument will probably be.

  10. all of you have made fantastic arguments that have blown me away. I never expected THIS topic to get so much play but I guess it has touched a nerve. I think the underlying issue with all of this is that we need to find a way to see a a positive and healthy action that says less about our character than the quality of our love. And that the bluring of the lines is not scary, threatening, or proof of any weakness. We must make peace with this action that is at the human core of all of us.


  11. Cynthia Nixon has since modified her statement. In an Advocate interview, she self-identified as bisexual and said her orientation wasn’t a choice, but indicated the “choice” she personally had made was to be in a gay relationship. She also stated that most LGTB’s can’t and don’t choose the gender of their affections because they’re only attracted to one sex, unlike her. So I guess that undoes the damage of her previous statement except in the eyes of right wingers who get off on selective memory. Yet, the point that commenter Mike Hardin made that homophobia is the real issue, not choice or lack thereof in sexual orientation and, once homophobia falls away, the choice issue becomes an irrelevancy because no one by then gives a damn one way or the other seems to stand. But while homophobia still exists, it seems we also need to continue to use the lack of choice argument to help win equal rights because it’s the truth.

    Here’s the link to the Advocate article:

  12. I agree with Phil C in the interpretation of C Nixon's choice statement. I'm bi, I would say between 2 and 2.2. Eventhough that I'm attracted to both sexes, whenever I'm with somebody I'm kind of making a choice about the world I belong to or I relate to (hetero or gay). Even when I'm single and I'm going out with my friends, every time I'm making a choice depending which of my friends I'm going out with. If I go out with my hetero friends it is more likely that I'll dance/chat with the opposite sex and not because they don't know that I'm bisexual (they do). It is because the environment (bars, clubs, cinemas) we are going to depends on the group of friends I'm spending the night with. The 2 world (gay and hetero) are so separated, especially in the night life, that I have to choose between the two world everytime. And this is the same when you fall in love and decide you are going to spend your life with that person. You make your choice between the 2 world. If the other is same sex, you will be considered as gay and the whole gay community will embrace you. If the other person is opposite sex gays will consider you a)in the closet, b)made the easier choice, c)straight. The only way to express your bisexuality on the long term is to live in polygamy. But not everybody is up for that.

    To be honest I've never felt that the LGBT community represents bisexuals. It's more like that they are willing to represent bisexuals but only as long as they are with a same sex partner. I've always felt as an outsider.

    And I 100% agree with Phil C that as long as the world is seen as gay or straight, this will never change.

    1. Bonjour, es-tu "Adamsapplebrx" de Bruxelles???

    2. Si oui tu peux m'écrire sur ->

  13. I for one am Bi, if i had to use the kinsley line, i would say i'm about 4 or so. Anyhow, i do understand in a similar way you do Bryan, but i never think of myself as choosing anything. I consider myself bi, i don't think i choose to be anything else. I do fear that bigots will use the argument to their favor saying, "See, see, it is a choice, they must change now."

    I do hope that people will see that sexuality doesn't matter. The way i see it, We know ourselves and we know our own feelings, no one else and no one should assume anything about us.

  14. Homosexuality is a choice.The first choice in any normal society is Straight.Also Kinsey was a Pedophile who was funded by the Rockefeller foundation and had connections with the the Third Reich.Kinsey was involved in the rape and sexual conditioning of children Statistics were falsified in order to produce inaccurate data which was introduced into the education system and legal systems in post war society.He attempted to get pedophilia accepted into the education and legal systems but has only been successful with Gay rights.I reject all male homosexuality and pedophilia.I only accept my own opinions in relation to sexuality and I am sorry for all these poor people brainwashed to accept perverted sickness.It will never be tolerated by normal people who have an appreciation for truth and normality.A true Conservative.I have nothing against the buggery of a woman or woman on woman.