Saturday, 11 May 2013

When did you choose? Every day, thanks.

Lots of my friends are posting this on Facebook at the moment:

And I get the point, really, that being "born like this" is one way many queer people experience our sexuality, and that, on the strength of this film, lots of straight people believe they are born straight.

But it feels too simplistic to me, and too invisibilising of quite how messy and complicated desire and love are, for lots of people.  Maybe we cling to identity certainty around that because it makes us feel safer.

Because we grow up surrounded by heterosexuality, by images of lust and love being different-gendered, with opposite-sex sex education (if any) in schools, with opposite-sex love stories in music, in film, in books, on television.  Of course most heterosexual people don't feel like they have "chosen" to be heterosexual.  If your desires fit into the dominant forms of desires around you, why would you even think about it?

I know plenty of heterosexual people who have chosen not to act on same-sex desires.  Ask any queer person how often we've had our straight friends drunkenly tell us "I've thought about it....." often followed by clumsy invitations which, at least to me, haven't been that appealing.

I know plenty of people who acknowledge the fluidity of their desires, because their identity has changed from one part of their life to the next.  Phrases like "hasbian" and "on the train to gaytown", while intrinsically disrespectful of people's ability to define our own identity at each moment in time - and explicitly biphobic - illustrate the fact that identities which feel definitive and important to us at one point of our life can feel just plain wrong at others.

For me, the construction of "born this way" as the dominant way of thinking about sexuality is intrinsically conservative, intrinsically seeking solidity around emotions and desires.  Of course many, many people will have identities that remain constant throughout their lives, and of course queer people have different access to that because we have to buck compulsory heterosexuality to name who we want to shag and love.

But what about those of us who don't?  What about people whose identity fluctuates, based on the social contexts they are in?  What about the people who make choices not to follow desires, because it would be too hard for them, for whatever reason? 

Desire is frequently confusing.  Ever been attracted to someone, then freaked out when their gender is different from what matches your monosexual identity?  If you're a straight woman or a gay man who fancies Justin Bieber you might not want to click on the link.

I've claimed a solid identity around being bisexual for 24 years.  The reality of how complex that is for me is something I rarely talk about, because of quite how fragile the respect available to people who identify as bisexual can be.  Since I started knowing I could love women, that's being pretty constant.  My attraction to things masculine is much more ephemeral and context, and masculine person, dependent.  I believe that's mostly about the patriarchy, but it may well also reflect that I just fundamentally on average find hot women hotter than hot men - who knows?

And I've never - before or after I came out - fallen in love with a man.  Never actually even that close. 

Some people would no doubt argue that makes me "really" lesbian.  I know many lesbians who would and do describe their desires quite similarly to mine, but we identify differently because desire, lust and love are complicated things that mean different things to different people.

So my Facebook friends sharing this film, by all means let's encourage heterosexual people to interrogate heterosexuality - and in particular the privileges that come from being the norm, like being able to sleep with your lover when you're paying money to stay somewhere.

But please, please, please let's not shut the door on the delights of nuanced understandings and experiences of desire and love as changing, fluid aspects of our identity.  We lose something when we oversimplify such complex aspects of human experience.


Yvie said...

I imagine those who post the clip above to their FB pages do so because their sexuality experiences/struggles are not complex and complicated. I fit into this category. I am lesbian on a scale so extreme that it has never been a matter of choice. Those of us who sit on this part of the continuum (or love someone who does) will always post clips like this because it reflects our truth and thats ok. I realise this isn't the case for all but then I'm sure like yourself, they would choose not to share. The complicating parts for me were in coming out to a world and family where being a lesbian was illegal and detested.

LudditeJourno said...

Hey Yvie,
my friends who have been posting this are mostly (though not exclusively) straight, interestingly enough - and thoughtful about sexuality obviously. But I take your point about your truth, and also about the complicated part of coming out. Thanks for sharing, LJ