Sunday, March 24, 2013

Not Born This Way

An article from Social (In)Queery challenging the notion that people are "born gay" (or "born straight") recently started circulating among friends of mine and it's given me the kick in butt I needed to finish this post.  Like the above-mentioned post states, although there is essentially no evidence that queerness is genetic, some in the LGBT rights movement (hello HRC) carry a deep belief in the political efficacy of the "born this way" or genetic argument.  So far, the notion that sexuality is immutable has led to some political victories in the way of civil rights for queer folks.  I think it has also led us to put too great an emphasis on marriage as the necessary foundation for the family, rather than providing true critiques of an institution that privileges some families and excludes others, regardless of whether same-sex couples are included or not.

More importantly, if we rely on the yet unproven idea that "gayness" is genetic and unchangeable, we make the wrong arguments about individual freedom and back ourselves into a corner that may hurt a lot of us in the end.  I understand that some LGBT folks feel it's important to present gender identity sexuality as an immutable characteristic because they believe this will make it easier to win civil rights and protections for queer people - likely drawing comparisons to the movement for civil rights for African-Americans.  But sexuality and gender are not the same as race.  What happens if there's not a gay gene?  What happens if it turns out that human gender and sexuality are really inexplicable phenomena - that we're all just made to love each other and express ourselves in all kinds of random, quirky ways?  What if sexuality and gender expression are somehow tangled up with life experience and the choices we make?  If we base the entire argument that queer folks should have certain legal protections on queerness being an immutable characteristic, we're kind of screwed if it turns out there's no way to prove that we're "born this way." And if it turns out there is a "gay gene," will any civil rights we win only be extended to those who can prove they have it?

I'm a staunch believer that consenting adults should have the freedom to do as they please in terms of their bodies and relationships.  Even if there is some kind of genetic explanation for queerness, would we say that someone without the gene (or whatever it might be) shouldn't be permitted to choose a relationship with someone of the same sex if they please?  Or to bend the rules of gender?  Would we force people to undergo tests to prove they're truly queer?  That's not a fight I want any part of.

Whether or not sexuality and gender identity are genetic or changeable isn't the point.  There are rights and protections granted to other categories of identity that are also not biological and are in theory, fluid (like religion or national origin, for instance), but are still protected based on the idea that that people ought not to feel pressured, via discrimination or fear of financial retribution, or any other reason, to change those parts of themselves.  The above-mentioned (In)Queery author provides religion as a prime example.  Why shouldn't the same logic apply to gender and sexuality?  I don't know if I or anyone else was "born this way" or not and I don't care.  I shouldn't be granted rights as a queer person because I "can't help" my queerness, but because I am a person and as a person, should have the right to live my life as best affirms me and the people I surround myself with.

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