Posts tagged ‘choice’

November 2, 2011

The gay lifestyle

I’ve seen other criticisms of the ‘born this way’ argument advanced by many gay, lesbians, queers, and trans folk. This is my ontological exploration and/or criticism of the argument (as I’m not quite criticizing the notion of being born ‘fill in blank.’ Also, for the sake of the argument, I’m just gonna use ‘queer’ even if it applies to other identities because it is better than writing ‘something.’).

First, there is a distinct difference between being queer and living as a queer. Strangely, I think this distinction is at the heart of the ex-gay philosophy and why queers and conservatives seem to be discussing this issue in parallel universes. A conservative will always say, ‘you don’t have to choose this lifestyle’ and a queer will respond, ‘it isn’t a choice, I was born this way.’ Both parties fail to realize that they are *both* right.

How you live your life, ultimately, is up to you. Just as you can become an engineer so can you decide to live as a gay man. Gay is, after all, a lived experience. If you have homosexual desires and attractions but are happily married to a woman, you ain’t living this experience. More importantly, there is no moral imperative for you to do otherwise. Some people will say that you have to be true to yourself: as if you were a one dimensional person who must prioritize their sexuality over religion, family, or any other competing value.

To a certain extent, passing is a privilege afforded to these, often, invisible identities. It is true that a person is equally born Brown but rarely can chose not to live as a Brown person. But, as a Black friend recently told me, she is often said to talk ‘white.’ Whatever that means. Part of what it means is that there are cultural norms that go along with any identity. Rejecting the norms is tantamount to rejecting the identity.

Now, this isn’t wholly accurate, since you remain gay or Brown even if you reject the cultural norms. Until we create cultural identities so broad that they really can include everyone, however, it will be difficult to reject the norms without the identity. It is the norms and stereotypes that allow a person to become ‘ex-gay.’ Is there space in the gay community for a christian man abstaining from gay sex or homo-romantic love and married to a woman? Not really. We don’t accept this as ‘gay.’ Not really. We are, as a community, responsible for contributing to the conditions wherein being ‘ex-gay’ is both plausible and real.

More importantly, we can only use the outward expressions of a person’s identity to apprehend what that identity might be. This culture is always obsessed with some deeper ontological reality, being born this way, and often rejects these outward expressions as being indicative of the lived experience and identity of people. This is most dramatically, and hatefully, used against trans* people.

While it is true that there are times when our outward expressions conflict with our inner realities, the only real disjunct happens when we essentialize identities. We don’t like to believe that the woman with a deeper voice and who shaves is a woman because ‘women’ don’t do that. Just as gay men don’t marry women for love.

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September 24, 2011

The oppressive dialogue of choice

I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since I had a really intense debate with a friend regarding the nature of choice.

I’ll say straight off that I did a really bad job of expressing my position. Partially because I didn’t have the right vocabulary and words to express it.

My friend has always been a great advocate for the importance of choice in life. She believes that everything in life is about choice. She also, as a consequence, believes that we ultimately are responsible for our lives, since everything is about the choices we make.

Now my friend is intelligent and knows there is inequality in the world and that everyone does not have the same choices available to them. However, her position is that there are always choices that people can make to better their lives. To survive. I’ll certainly grant her that.

However, when I read stories like this, where people, in order to survive are eating cow shit, I think the entire argument is flawed and prevents real change from happening. I’m sure for every person eating cow shit to take their medication there are those who are holding on to their dignity as human beings and dying because they won’t eat cow shit to survive. I want to live in a world where no human being ever has to face a choice like this.

Pointing to a few exceptional people who have not only managed to survive but thrive in oppressive conditions and saying that they made better choices helps absolutely no one. It is very similar to how the model minority myth has continued to be used to oppress both Asians and other people of colour. How it is used to erase the realities that people are living in. How we make the oppression of marginalized people their own fault, because they could have made better choices.

I did agree with my friend that there are always choices, but I disagree that no one is trapped by circumstances. The people of Swaziland are trapped. They have the choice to eat cow shit so their HIV medication works or die of AIDS. What else can you call a situation where there are no good choices available other than being trapped by circumstances?