Queer by Choice, Not by Chance: Against Being 'Born This Way'

By Lindsay Miller

Whether or not I deserve the same rights as straight people has nothing to do with whether I chose to be the way I am today

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I am a queer woman planning to get married next year in a state where my marriage will not be legally recognized. It will probably not surprise you to learn that, sometimes, being gay is not easy. Coming out to your family is nervewracking, people yell slurs and threats when you hold hands on the street, and most lesbian movies are just terrible. With all those drawbacks, those of us who spend our lives with a partner of the same sex must really have no choice in the matter -- or so goes the prevailing wisdom of the gay rights movement. It's not our decision; it's genetic; we can't help to whom we're attracted. If it were up to us, wouldn't we turn our backs on all the abuse and discrimination and get nice and legally married without a second thought?

If there's one thing to be said about lesbian relationships, it's this: You always start from equal footing.

Well, no. Not all of us anyway. Some of us have figured out that, despite being underrepresented in Western culture at almost every level, despite facing homophobia and transphobia and gender policing and the disapproval of our families, being gay can actually be fantastic.

In direct opposition to both the mainstream gay movement and Lady Gaga, I would like to state for the record that I was not born this way. I have dated both men and women in the past, and when I've been with men, I never had to lie back and think of Megan Fox. I still notice attractive men on the street and on television. If I were terrified of the stigma associated with homosexuality, it would have been easy enough to date men exclusively and stay in the closet my whole life.

Obviously, no one sits down and makes a rational decision about who to fall in love with, but I get frustrated with the veiled condescension of straight people who believe that queers "can't help it," and thus should be treated with tolerance and pity. To say "I was born this way" is to apologize for the person I am and for whom I love. It's like saying I would be different if I could. I wouldn't.

My partner is worried about how a relationship can change once a couple has children. "Even when the father is this totally supportive, feminist partner, once the baby comes the woman ends up doing all the child-rearing -- and working at the same time."

I nod; I've watched this dynamic unfold more than once in the partnerships of others. "It's just really unfair," my partner continues.

"But baby," I say, "it's not going to be like that for us."

"How can you be sure?"

I smile. "Because neither of us are guys."

If there's one thing to be said about lesbian relationships, it's this: You always start from equal footing. It is never assumed that one partner is genetically predisposed to enjoy doing laundry. Bizarrely, I actually do enjoy doing laundry, or at least prefer it to most other household necessities; my partner, on the other hand, is a skilled and enthusiastic cook. So I provide clean sheets and folded undershirts, and in return I get homemade pear-gorgonzola pizza and lemon-roasted asparagus. I also do more of the housework right now because my partner is working full-time while I'm in graduate school. We divide up the chores based on who can realistically do what, and arrive at the best possible arrangement for the two of us and our relationship. We don't have ready-made roles to step into -- the breadwinner, the housewife. We're just us, trying to do what we can for each other.

Neither of us was raised with male privilege. Neither of us was raised to believe, on some subconscious level, that the way we perceive the world is the default setting, and everyone else is deviant. Neither of us assumes that our career is more important, or makes decisions without consulting the other. This is not meant to be male-bashing: I know a lot of wonderful straight men who have done the work of breaking down their internalized sexism and developing a more nuanced way of relating to women, but it's just that. It's work. Men and women begin from different levels of entitlement, and it takes a concerted effort to meet in the middle. For millions of heterosexual couples, that effort is rewarding and completely worth it, but you couldn't pay me to go back to that kind of relationship.

And that's even before we start talking about the sex. Interestingly, some of the only people who don't think gays and lesbians are set in our ways from birth are the right-wing fundamentalists who want to "fix" us. They frequently claim that the reason we turn to the queer side in the first place is because our animal lust gets the better of us. Of course, if you give it a little thought, what they're really saying is that anyone who lacked their moral strength would change teams -- the temptation is that overwhelming. To think like this in the first place, they pretty much have to be working from the assumption that gay sex is better than straight sex.

Which, it turns out, is totally accurate. Or at least it was in the late 1970s, when Masters and Johnson conducted their studies. In Homosexuality in Perspective, the two sex researchers revealed that of all the people they convinced to get it on in a laboratory, the best sex was being had by gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships. Homosexuals tended to be less "goal-oriented" in the way they went at it; they took their time enjoying the process instead of racing toward orgasm; they communicated better than the straight couples. They also enjoyed what Masters described as "gender empathy," or knowing how best to stimulate their partners based on their own analogous bodies. In contrast, when straight men caressed straight women the way they themselves wanted to be touched, the results were successful -- nearly everyone in the study had orgasms every time -- but, from a qualitative standpoint, nowhere near spectacular. My own history, and those of many of my queer friends, supports these findings: There's nothing like the moment you realize that you may never again have to help somebody locate the clitoris.

So why would I want to be any other way?

The answer, of course, is that I wouldn't -- and, more importantly, that it shouldn't matter. The "born this way" argument is frequently used in defense of gay rights, but whether or not I deserve the same rights as straight people has nothing to do with whether I chose to be the way I am. I deserve equal rights because I'm an equal. I'm a human being sharing my life with the person I love. The life I have now is not something I ended up with because I had no other options. Make no mistake -- it's a life I chose.

Image: REUTERS/Demond Boylan.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/09/queer-by-choice-not-by-chance-against-being-born-this-way/244898/