Cynthia Nixon Makes Gay Choices

Cynthia Nixon Makes Gay ChoicesCynthia Nixon’s comments on being gay are unapologetic, admirable assertions of her own identity. But what is she talking about?

Cynthia Nixon, in an interview with the New York Times released last Thursday, referred to her homosexuality as “a choice.” She said:

“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…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.”

Nixon received criticism for those comments, especially from articles whose headlines included the phrase “Gay by Choice?” After the work by the LGBT community to combat the idea that “being gay is a choice” and that gay people thus don’t require equal rights, Nixon’s words seem counterproductive. The LGBT community especially cringed; John Aravosis of AmericaBlog said against Nixon, “When the religious right says it’s a choice, they mean you quite literally choose your sexual orientation, you can change it at will, and that’s bull.”

Nixon’s statements are fabulous. Her obstinate assertion of sexual identity pays no attention to the right wing, or anybody else. Who cares if conservatives say being gay is a choice? It is for her! She is absolutely right that no one gets to define or label her sexuality: not her internal experience, and not her outward actions. If Nixon says that her gayness is a choice, it is.

But the problem with Nixon’s defense of her homosexuality as choice is that she doesn’t explain what that word means to her. She only says that homosexuality as choice is legitimate—but what was the choice? We don’t know whether she willed her sexual attraction away from men towards women, or whether she’s always felt bisexual attractions and only now chose to act on the ones for females. Or did she feel, or did she decide on feeling, the attraction toward her partner of eight years, Christine Marinoni?

Of course, Nixon has no need to explain anything, especially her private sexual feelings. But her public assertion of homosexuality risks perpetuating the stigma that gayness is an unnecessary choice, which wouldn’t have been perpetuated if she’d defined what “choice” was for her. In today’s LGBT culture, words are everything—if there’s room for interpretation, they will be spun in dangerous ways. That’s not something the LGBT community, or the small number of LGBT celebrity voices, can afford.

Nixon is similar to gay celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris, whose affects are fairly (conventionally) straight. NPH has a mid-to-deep voice and talks very casually, and not flamboyantly. Obviously, NPH’s relative lack of flamboyancy does not make him any less of a gay man—to be a gay man is to have that sexual identity, and not to have a certain behavior. But NPH is one of the most famous LGBT celebrities, and he is a gay man whose persona radiates like the conventional straight man. His character Barney on How I Met Your Mother is a heterosexual carnivore. We haven’t attained a celebrity culture consisting of LGBT folk whose personas include the gay conventions: effeminacy and flamboyancy in gay men, masculinity and aggression in lesbians. No LGBT person should feel the need to represent any of those conventions, or to be anything other than their self (thank you). But our current gay celebrities reflect an American reservation to worship a masculine, lesbian woman, one that usually plays masculine, lesbian roles.

Cynthia Nixon, whose celebrity is steeped in the flaming heterosexuality of ‘Sex and The City,’ and whose romantic past included mostly men and a heterosexual marriage, is not that masculine lesbian. This is perhaps where the resentment towards Nixon by the LGBT community stems from—a frustration that the commentary on homosexuality is headed now by an LGBT celebrity who has not always been gay in her romances, and who hasn’t “seemed gay.” She is gay–that’s not up for debate. She is because that’s her identity and she says so. Nixon used her voice honestly: she expressed her own experience of sexuality. But we don’t have many gay celebrities who are doing this, and what the LGBT community needs—more than a gay icon who’s always identified as gay—are voices willing to explain their experiences and choices. Nixon publicly spoke about a private experience, but in a vague and thus misleading way. Now the word “choice” is being defined by everyone but her.

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I’m Jackson, and I am obsessed with words. Writing this sentence is a thrill ride. I love talking about poetry, whatever your passion is, and gay mammals. more


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