Quotes on the Cultural Implications
of Choosing to Be Queer

Make no mistake about it. It is more destructive to homosexuals to be considered 'sick' than simply 'bad.' To be pitied is weakening; to be disliked often rallies defenses.
—"Well-wisher," letter to the editor of the lesbian periodical The Ladder, Vol. 7 No. 9, 1963, p.25
Inherent in [the "we can't help it" response to homophobia] is the implication that if we could help it, we would. Even when that isn't what we mean, it's what a fair number of straight people hear, including some of our allies. It's easier for some of them to pity us as bearers of a genetic flaw than to respect us as equals. Not challenging them might gain us some votes, but in the long run it means that we're subtly putting the word out that it's O.K. to regard us as sexually defective.
—Lindsy Van Gelder, "The 'Born That Way' Trap," Ms., Vol. 1 No. 6, May/June 1991
First of all, it essentially cedes the moral debate on homosexuality to the homophobes by avoiding the debate altogether. I don't think the message sent to homophobes is [even so much] "I won't argue this" as it is "We don't know how to argue that homosexual behavior isn't immoral." I think it *validates* the underlying sense that there's some wrong in gay sex.
     Secondly, validating homosexuality on the basis of biology practically invites the homophobes to assert that it is essentially a disease, an illness, an aberration of nature. "We're treating other genetic conditions," they might say, "why not homosexuality?"
—Keith M. Ellis, posted on MSN Chatterbox, May 30, 2001
Every time I make an allusion to the idea that we choose our sexual orientations, I get flooded with pissed off mail. That's pretty interesting to me, because it's not like I'm saying, 'Sexual orientation is a choice, and if you choose gay, that's bad.' All I'm saying is, 'We choose.' . . . I am thrilled to have chosen lesbianhood. I consider myself a gay activist. I feel like I am privileged to be gay.
—Jennifer Vanasco, "Choosing the Road Less Traveled: Don't Ostracize Lesbians Who Turn to Men. Most People Are Bisexual and Choose to Be Gay or Straight" from Southern Voice, Friday, February 11, 2005
Many who identify as "gay" (male) or "lesbian" have heterosexual pasts, which they sometimes try to discount.
     But can a long-term relationship simply be written off as a "mistake" just because it is over now? ("I didn't know who I was then.") The same question could be asked of the "straight" and "normal" who "experimented" with members of their own gender in the past.
—a gay rights activist, quoted on the Erotica Readers Association website
Two major camps have evolved around sexual identity. The essentialists believe that genetics and biological forces are responsible for sexual, affection and gender identities. Constructionists believe that social forces are the responsible agents. . . . Most instructors of sexual orientation, either in police or business arenas, take an essentialist perspective saying that sexual orientation is not a choice. This is a simple answer that limits discussion and removes sexual choices from moral consideration. However, it is incorrect. The often-quoted Kinsey study, biological twin study and paternal brother study, are used as evidence that approximately 8 to 10% of "mankind" is homosexual. These studies attempt to say the research is universal, but it is not. Their measurements were made in societies that hate and condemn homosexuals, places where gays and lesbians have a vested interest in staying hidden. If 10% of "mankind" is homosexual, then in other cultures the same percentage should be found. That is not the case. There are whole societies in which everyone engages in homosexual relationships from about age 8 to age 30, at which time they are expected to get heterosexually married and bear children (although they may continue homosexual behaviors). In these cultures, homosexuality is institutionalized for everyone, and the Western concepts of sexuality make no sense. Cross-cultural analysis is important and demonstrates how sexuality is contextually based.
—Chuck Stewart, Ph.D., "Appendix F: Comprehensive Program and Instructional Model for 'Training on Socially Stigmatized Communities,'" University of Southern California, School of Education, Department of Administration and Policy, 1995
Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality. But finding this difficult, and preferring not to admit it, it invented a pariah state, a leper colony for the incorrigible whose very existence, when tolerated openly, was admonition to all. We queers keep everyone straight as whores keep matrons virtuous.
—Kate Millett, Flying, part 1, 1974
Love is . . . about accepting. It's unconditional. It's not about what you can get out of it. Our 20th century obsession with "me" has taken us away from what relationships are meant to be about, or can be about. . . . A modern homosexual man can have an affair with a heterosexual woman. Maybe it's a blossom that lasts only one night, like one of those exotic flowers in the Caribbean, but it reveals that humankind is much more malleable than society wants to own up to. We're not as defined as we think. . . . There are interesting possibilities in life that we resist because of our endless obsession with pigeonholing. As such, we too are like free-range chickens. We live in a slightly-larger box, but it is still a box.
—Rupert Everett, "20 Questions Interview," Playboy, January 2000
A lot of gay people think, "I was just automatically gay. There was no decision involved," but that's not really true. They've made their first big decision by just saying, "I'm going to live a gay life." And if they can make that kind of move it's an indication that the potential exists for something more. Now, a lot of them don't ever do anything about it because it's just as easy to get lost in this gay world as it is in the straight world. But if somebody really wants something different they can really do it on an independent, searching basis through being homosexual.
—Tom Rauffenbart, The Ninth Street Center Journal, Vol. 2, 1974
[W]hy do glbt activists feel compelled to frame their sexuality in what is, utimately, a het[ero]sexist frame in which one's sexuality is natural, biological, given, outside of the social? Why do they feel that this is the only way to present the issue on the lit they write—especially for PFLAG, an organization addressing itself to people who aren't glbt, who they think they have to convince of the "okay-ness" of their loved one's "sexuality" because, by gum, it's the only way they can be? Why is this? Why this political strategy that asks for 'acceptance' and tolerance rather than a fucking change in a social system that demands that sexuality be framed in this way, as either/or.
—Kelley, in a post to the LBO-Talk (Left Business Observer Talk) mailing list, February 8, 2000
Another classically inauthentic mode is to say that one cannot help what one is. This reduces the individual to a person incapable of free choice or responsibility. People can tell their parents for instance that they are biologically homosexual ergo not responsible. This is fine to keep financial support flowing, but not as the basis of an authentic loving relationship. It has two other problems, one is that a typical response would be that one cannot choose one's sexual orientation, but one can refrain from engaging in sin. The other is especially deleterious to those who are not only attempting to deceive others, but themselves as well, namely that it virtually concedes that homoeroticism, or at least the practice of homosexuality, is bad in some way. This means that not only is the person who takes refuge in this flight from freedom bad, but it is an essential property of theirs that is bad. This can be psychologically devastating.
—David M. Munsey, "The Love That Need Not Name its Speaker," The National Journal of Sexual Orientation Law, Vol. 2 No.1, 1996
What I am saying is that gay is good because it is, not because we can't help it. Love is good because it's love, not because we can't choose to love in any other fashion.
—Cory Kerens, 1999
I am told that in order for me to fight for queer rights that I should tell people that my sexuality is biologically determined, that I was "born this way." I can't. That is like saying that I was born with an unwanted affliction and assumes that it is necessary and even desirable to become heterosexual. Sexuality is not an innate orientation as most would believe, but rather a preference that in some way biology may play a role in defining.
—Daryl Vocat, 2000
Perhaps you've seen the posters that say "I chose to be myself" and continue "I chose to be..." things like "rejected by my friends," "kicked out of my house," "ridiculed," "harassed," "persecuted by religion," "to lose my civil rights," "be beaten," and "killed," and ends "I chose to be gay," with the obvious implication that "no one would choose all this shit, obviously being gay isn't a choice." At the same time, it occurs to me that all of the above statements would have been equally true of the early Christians. But then, no one CHOSE to be a Christian, either.
—John Sherck, "Thought of the Day," December 9, 1998
But of course, people 'convert' from straight to gay all the time. Many people live seemingly comfortable heterosexual lives, then come to believe that their sexual identity is quite different. Perhaps we want to say that these people were gay 'all along'—but surely it would be churlish to assume that all their prior heterosexual attractions were insincere or false. Moreover, some people change orientation more than once. I don't understand the drive to dogmatically assert that sexual orientation is inevitably fixed from birth. Many people may indeed be wired this way, but there are clearly others for whom sexual orientation remains remarkably plastic. Why is this such a problem?
—Daily Analyst, posted on MSN Chatterbox, May 30, 2001
How women move from heterosexuality to homosexuality has been little studied. The possibility that such women might be rejecting heterosexuality as unsatisfying and have consciously or unconsciously gone in search of a different kind of love has been little explored, in contrast with the never-ending attempts to find some biological component in sexual preference.
—Germaine Greer, The Whole Woman, 1999
That a woman can spend half her adult life seeing herself as a heterosexual, marrying and bearing children, and then, in mid-life, become a lesbian puzzles most observers and quite often the woman herself. Yet from rural Idaho to Metropolitan New York, women are redefining their sexuality and becoming lesbians in mid-life.
     What are the social dynamics involved in this process of change? We will discuss this question in light of a survey of over 30 American women who had recently changed their sexual identity. Their experiences challenge the common assumption that sexuality is "set" at an early stage of the life cycle. . . . Several women followed what we might call a "feminist path" to lesbianism, a pattern for "coming out" that has been known since the early days of the women's movement. For these women, becoming a lesbian was a direct and conscious outgrowth of their commitment to feminism. For them, lesbianism was a deliberate choice, the logical last step in the process of political analysis.
—Claudette Charbonneau and Patricia Slade Lander, "Redefining Sexuality: Women Becoming Lesbian at Mid-Life," Lesbians at Midlife: The Creative Transition, edited by Barabara Sang, Joyce Warshow and Adrienne J. Smith, 1991
And the gay rights movement has . . . adopted largely an identity politics; we were born this way, we can't help it, and we should have civil rights just like anyone else. But the born-lesbian/lesbian-as-identity politics of the gay movements erases precisely what is most radically political about being a lesbian: that we are women resisting heterosexist patriarchy and valuing women as human beings—and that other women can choose to do this too.
—Jennie Ruby, "Is the Lesbian Future Feminist?" off our backs: a women's news journal, Vol. 26, October 1, 1996
CHOICE is Crucial to the fabric of being fully HUMAN and FREE. Choosing to be bi-sexual, homosexual, transvestite—whatever—is a form of "revolutionary" evolution in this patriarchal society.
—Sheila Garden, "On Gay Marriage and Being Fully Human," Queer Notions, Vol. 1, 1996
Why is everybody freaking out about it being a choice? It's a great choice. I don't know why the genetics argument is going to help us. It didn't help blacks. I think it is a pathetic argument to say "I can't help it."
—JoAnn Loulan, lesbian activist, therapist, and author of the books Lesbian Sex and Lesbian Passion: Loving Ourselves and Each Other, quoted in "The Sexual Blur" by Ted Gideonse, from The Advocate, June 24, 1997
I was thinking back to how much are we born with knowing and being. How much of the basic personality, the basic self, is there genetically—is just born? And how much of it has been taught, especially about sexuality and being female and being Chicana, being white, being whatever class. I got to thinking that there's got to be a middle road, and this thinking has been since Borderlands. There has to be a middle way, that you can't get polarized between "You are born into this world as a blank slate and everything that's written on your body has been put there by society, including your sexual preference" and the other extreme that "You are born female and therefore you're nurturing and you're giving and you're peaceful; you don't kill, you don't violate." I wasn't a dumb person: I knew who was getting the strokes and who was getting the slaps; the boys would always be privileged. Heterosexuality was a patriarchal institution and the woman would always have to constantly struggle, even if she was coupled with a very progressive feminist-oriented male. His training would be to be the macho, and however much he would fight it some of it would bleed through, just like we fight against the passivity and all the things we were told we were. As a thinking woman, I looked at the model of the heterosexual couple. I would never be able to stand putting up with that kind of shit from a man. Or if I did put up with it I would be very ashamed of myself and feel very bad about myself.
     So the only viable choice for me was lesbianism. Because in lesbianism there would be some power things—if my lover happened to be white she would have some privilege; if I was older I'd have some power—but I had more of a chance to have a meaningful relationship with a woman than I would with a man. This is common sense. You look at all the countries on the planet and how the heterosexual model is the ruling model and how some men have four or five wives and the wife never has power unless she's an upper-class woman, and then she has to do other things to keep that power—manipulate and conform. Or a businesswoman who's an executive has to play the game in order to obtain that position, and it's a very rare woman who can keep her gender identity female as traditional female identity. So the women who've become equal to men in terms of power, it's been at a great cost to them, and they negate a lot of stuff. Sometimes they repress feelings, you know? They get ulcers . . . not that the men have it that easy, but across the planet hetero-sexuality benefits the male, so isn't it logical for you to want a different relationship?
—Gloria Anzaldúa, interviewed by AnnLouise Keating October 25-26, 1991, published in Frontiers, September 22, 1993
This whole debate about choice in itself really bugs me; as if choice is something that can't be defended, is irresponsible . . . and that sexuality (actually we're really talking only about homosexuality because het sex isn't seen as a choice anyway) that sex is only legitimate if you can't help it, if you're compelled by nature to feel how you feel, if you have no control over your desire. (The Devil made me do it! No, I'm just fooling.) Of course there's chemistry and attraction is still a magical mystery, but perhaps desire is partly genetic and partly conditioned. Same-sex loving deserves defense, but we can advocate for it in this broader context of women's rights and sexual liberation for all, and NOT cede our right to choice.
     Choice is an important American freedom. Yes it can lead to uncertainty, especially since right now our ways of relating, of relationships—of family and marriage and community, and even nation, are all in flux, all in need of being re-defined. But that just means we need to teach loyalty with respect for diversity, to teach conflict resolution with the need for finding common ground.
     If we don't defend choice we let them divide us, we let them destroy the unity of our larger strength. Let me give you two examples. One is the example of the notorious Mayor of St. Paul. The Mayors of the Twin Cities have supported the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Day celebrations there for years. But two years ago the new mayor of St. Paul balked. He said he could support a recognition of lesbian and gay rights, "because they didn't have any choice, they were born that way," but that he couldn't support a pride festival inclusive of bisexuals and transgenders too because these people were just being stubborn and "could change if they wanted to." That belief is an insult to all of us working for sexual liberation and has to be challenged. Another example of the importance, for ALL people of defending bisexual rights, is that these reparative therapists who claim they can "change someone back to straight," often get an edge into our consciousness by appealing to our parents in a falsely well-meaning way. For instance a lot of PFLAG folk have the attitude that parents should accept their kids if they're truly gay but that if their kids tell them they're bisexual, then that kid always really means he or she is gay. Or should be made straight? NOT!
I even heard a story about a PFLAG mom in Long Beach who decided after many years of working with PFLAG that she herself, my god, might be bi, and was told by the PFLAGers that she shouldn't come out as a bi PFLAG parent because that might muddy the waters too much—after all, we all know that PARENTS are straight and KIDS are GAY, right?!!
     We use the term monosexual to mean all non-bisexuals, those who are only attracted to ONE (mono) sex, whether it be the same-sex or the opposite sex. We do this to emphasis that straight people and gay people have a lot in common if they'd just see it that way. But I don't mean to disrespect or minimize monosexuality, just to question its supremacy as a paradigm. I argue that we can defend BOTH fate and choice, that BOTH fate and choice deserve protection. Some people need their sexual identity defended BECAUSE they can't choose, didn't choose it, they just are unchangeably who they are, and some people need their sexual identity defended because they CAN choose. Maybe some people's identities are based more on self-discovery of an inner essence and some more on freedom to experiment and explore different expressions.
—Loraine Hutchins, "Bisexual Fools in Love—All Acts of Love & Pleasure in Her Name," Penn State University, 1996
The point is, we are not set at birth with some sexuality which neither we nor our environments have the ability to affect. And, yet, we can consciously choose to be queer.
     We can decide that we reject gender and its social implications. By doing so, we begin to pry the grasp of patriarchy from our throats, and from our crotches.
     Rejecting gender, however, does not mean ignoring it. In our society it is the case that gender is a very real thing, however contrived it may be in truth. Gender is used as a weapon by the Establishment. Gender, by dividing us, facilitates colonization and exploitation. Those who are victimized by gender and its inherent sexism must be recognized as victims. They must become empowered, even though that means highlighting, instead of down playing, gender issues in the process. By consciously rejecting gender, we move toward freeing ourselves from it. As people, as revolutionists, we drop those weapons which serve to defeat each other; in turn, we take up those arms which serve to defeat the Establishment. Queer consciousness is one such weapon.
     Anyone can be queer. If we are to make revolution—not just economic or political revolution, but holistic revolution which delves into the interpersonal realm, too—we must all become queer.
—August(ine) Parsons, "Making Love and Revolution Revisited," Fucktooth, No. 22, 1998
In our culture it is well-known that very young girls may go through a period of falling in love with another girl or an older, admired woman. Usually we treat this as a more or less harmless phase of adolescence. Boys too may go through a period when they feel closest to someone of their own sex, but we treat such relationships, especially if they involve sexual experimentation, much more gingerly.
     For the most part, men and women conform quite easily to the customs within which they were reared, and confine themselves to a heterosexual choice of lovers, companions and mates. So the question is never asked whether, as adults, they could fall in love with a member of their own sex, and the question of bisexuality in sexual choice is ignored.
     But now the Gay Liberation Movement, by its protests and demands, has brought into full light of day the problems of men and women who, following deep personal preference, do choose members of their own sex as loves and living companions. This, I think, should open our minds to a clearer understanding not only of homosexuality but also of our human capacity to love members of both sexes. . . . Even a superficial look at other societies and some groups in our own society should be enough to convince us that a very large number of human beings—probably a majority—are bisexual in their potential capacity for love. Whether they will become exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual for all their lives and in all circumstances, or whether they will be able to enter in to sexual and love relationships with members of both sexes is, in fact, a consequence of the way they have been brought up, of the particular beliefs and prejudices of the society they live in and, to some extent, of their own life history.
—Margaret Mead, Redbook Magazine, January 1975
Contrary to today's bio-belief, the heterosexual/homosexual binary is not in nature, but is socially constructed, therefore deconstructable.
     In other words, human beings make their own different arrangements of reproduction and production, of sex differences and eroticism, their own history of pleasure and happiness.
—Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality, p. 190
[Jonathan Ned] Katz will . . . be challenged by lesbian and gay "essentialists" who believe that sexual identity is fixed, perhaps inborn. Understandably, these advocates of equality believe that their kind of argument works better against the conservatives who would banish them from the earth. If lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are born, not made, then the wish to ban or punish them is itself against nature and thus wrong as well as mean.
     But such arguments are short-sighted as well as a-historical. All they can win is tolerance for a supposedly fixed minority called "lesbian" and "gay." What they can't do is change the notion that "heterosexuality" is "normal" for the vast majority of people, and shift social, cultural, and political practices based on that assumption. Nor can they destabilize the rigid notions of gender that underlie sexual identity categories.
—Lisa Duggan, "Afterword" to The Invention of Heterosexuality, edited by Jonathan Ned Katz, p. 195
[W]hat gets lost in all of this discussion of evolutionary advantage is the simple fact that, for primates, the stimulation of genitals is pleasureable. . . . The question, then, is not why certain individuals enjoy participating in sexual pleasure with another person of the same sex but why certain individuals would limit this pleasureable activity of genital stimulation solely to the other sex. [Since] the evidence suggests that most people in most cultures (for which we have information) can enjoy sex with both sexes, then a bisexual potential is the true human norm. . . .
     What is even more important for anthropologists to understand is why a minority of cultures stigmatize this pleasureable genital stimulation between persons of the same sex. Thus, as I have written elsewhere, it is not homosexual behavior which most needs to be analyzed by anthropologists but homophobia. . . . In contemporary society fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic churchmen commonly state that "the only purpose of sex is reproduction." Anthropologists above all others need to publicize the falsity of this statement. There are many purposes of sex, far more complex than procreative concerns.
—Walter L. Williams, commentary on "The Evolution of Human Homosexual Behavior" by R. C. Kirkpatrick, from Current Anthropology, Vol. 41 No. 3, June 2000
In fact, we know next to nothing about the influences and accidents which lead to erotic love for one's own sex. And of heterosexuality, we know only that it has had a biological function [although the insistence on exclusive heterosexuality has not], and that enormous social pressure has appeared to be necessary to maintain it, an institutionalized compulsion far beyond the present biological needs of the species. Why men choose men instead of women for sexual gratification, or as life-partners, is a question which cannot be answered simplistically in terms of fifth-century Athens; nor in terms of the "effeminizing" of sons by mothers who want to "hold on" to them.
—Adrienne Rich, Of Women Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, 1976
[A] vocal minority of lesbians (and a small number of gay men) explain their sexual orientation in political terms, as a means of escaping exploitative gender relations. . . . This concept of "political lesbianism" calls into question both medical and popular understandings of homosexuality by challenging the view of homosexuality as an intrapersonal issue, medical flaw, or mental illness. It therefore seems a critical issue for textbooks to discuss, whether the authors agree or disagree with this analysis. Yet [in a study of 27 psychology and sociology textbooks in print in 1995, all of which were first published between 1980 and 1995] only two of the textbooks—one from the 1980s and one from the 1990s, and both in sociology—mention this topic.
—Rose Weitz and Karl Bryant, "The Portrayal of Homosexuality in Abnormal Psychology and Sociology of Deviance Textbooks," Deviant Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 18, 1997, pp. 33-34
i can't recall which [email] list it was, but a woman wrote in to a list recently, obviously a bit confused and uncertain, looking for some help. she wrote something about wondering if she wanted to become a lesbian, detailed her "history" and reasons why she was thinking about lately—why she was starting to allow herself to explore her feelings re a friend, but not really sure because she did enjoy being with men, and wasn't sure how she'd feel about a "relationship" as opposed to the obvious interest she had in having sex with a woman she was interested in, blah blah. you know the rave. i unsubscribed because the avalanche of responses was something on the order of "you don't just decide you want to be a lesbian" "women who are bi-curious make me sick" "you're just horny and want to get laid." "don't use another woman because you want to be 'cool'" and "lipstick lesbians are hip these days" ad nauseum. i unsubbed after the 100th flame of this poor woman. seems to me that the dominant response was to demand that sexuality be framed as natural, a force that exerts a power over you beyond all reason, ad nauseum . . . queerness or whatever you want to call it has to fall into the same patterns as het normativity—you either are or you aren't and no room for anything in between or anything that doesn't follow the het/homo by nature reasoning.
—Kelley, in a post to the LBO-Talk mailing list (Left Business Observer), February 7, 2000
A lot of the time I see everyone as gay. I guess, you know, we identify with whatever little kernel of ourselves there is in whomever we see, and most of the time, I respond to the however slight, that gay spark in most people.
—a gay man, quoted in Vera Whisman's Queer by Choice: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Politics of Identity, 1996
What else should I be?
All apologies.
What else could I say?
Everyone is gay.
—Kurt Cobain, "All Apologies," 1993
I think all women are lesbians, definitely.
—Rosie O'Donnell, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, 1994
Of course. Who hasn't? Good God! If anyone had ever told me that he hadn't, I'd have told him he was lying. But then, of course, people tend to "forget" their encounters.
—Arthur C. Clarke, in answer to the question of whether he'd ever had same-sex sexual experiences, Playboy, 1986
The question of whether someone was "really" straight or "really" gay misrecognizes the nature of sexuality, which is fluid, not fixed, a narrative that changes over time. . . . It reveals sexuality to be a process of growth, transformation, and surprise, not a stable and knowable state of being."
—Marjorie Garber, Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life, 1995
The classification of sexual behavior as masturbatory, heterosexual, or homosexual, is, therefore, unfortunate if it suggests that only different types of persons seek out or accept each kind of sexual activity.
—Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, and Paul H. Gebhard, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 1953, pp. 446
I think so much of the work that has been done on sexuality has already shown that so many of the people we think of as straight have actually had sexual relations with people, at some point in their life, who are of the same sex. There are—so many of the people who we think of as gay have actually had sex with people that are of the opposite sex, so that these very categories are much more fluid than anyone in our culture wants us to believe, and I think one of the tensions is that people are struggling with the question of identity politics precisely because we know both the limitations of identity, but we're not sure how you organize, what are the organizing principles. If we say there is no fixed sexual identity that we can call 'gay' or 'straight,' then what then becomes the experiences and the understandings collectively that allow people to politically organize for gay rights? Now ostensibly we should be able to imagine that the critique of patriarchy and heterosexism, and a commitment to ending it, would be enough to galvanize people to push for gay rights, irrespective of what they actually do with their bodies sexually. I think as long as we act as though its only meaningful to militantly fight for a cause if it directly affects you, we're constantly talking about so much of the status quo staying intact. If the only people who should be concerned about racism are black people, then we're only ever talking about white supremacy staying the same. If we're only talking about gay people being concerned about gay rights, we're talking about a certain heterosexism remaining constant in our lives. And so until we really begin to talk about different ways that we can organize, different ways that we can come together for issues that may not directly effect us, but different principles on which one bonds politically, we will always have a ghettoization of concerns that should be collective concerns. Gay rights should be the collective concern of all politically progressive people in our society, as should ending white supremacy. But we continually act as though they are special interest groups. Identity politics can be dangerous in that it can reinforce the construction of them as special interests. At the same time, so far, we've relied deeply on identity politics as a source for bonding and organizing. We would be naive to surrender that basis for organizing without first coming up with new strategies for organizing.
—bell hooks, "An Interview with bell hooks: The Ripple Talks with One of America's Leading Feminists" by Marlene Smith & Julie Petrarca, Washington Ripple, Vol. 9 No. 2, March 1995
That human beings differ, often markedly, from one another in their sexual tastes in a great variety of ways (of which the liking for a sexual partner of a specific sex is only one, and not necessarily the most significant one) is an unexceptionable and, indeed, an ancient observation; but it is not immediately evident that differences in sexual preference are by their very nature more revealing about the temperament of individual human beings, more significant determinants of personal identity, than, for example, differences in dietary preference. And yet, it would never occur to us to refer a person's dietary object-choice to some innate, characterological disposition or to see in his or her strongly expressed and even unvarying preference for the white meat of chicken the symptom of a profound psychophysical orientation, leading us to identify him or her in contexts quite removed from that of the eating of food as, say, a "pectoriphage" or a "stethovore" (to continue the practice of combining Greek and Latin roots [as in the word "homosexual"]); nor would we be likely to inquire further, making nicer discriminations according to whether an individual's predilection for chicken breasts expressed itself in a tendency to eat them quickly or slowly, seldom or often, alone or in company, under normal circumstances or only in periods of great stress, with a clear or guilty conscience ("ego-dystonic pectoriphagia"), beginning in earliest childhood or originating with a gastronomic trauma suffered in adolescence. If such questions did occur to us, moreover, I very much doubt whether we would turn to the academic disciplines of anatomy, neurology, clinical psychology, or genetics in the hope of obtaining a clear causal solution to them. That is because (1) we regard the liking for certain foods as a matter of taste; (2) we currently lack a theory of taste; and (3) in the absence of a theory we do not normally subject our behavior to intense scientific scrutiny.
     In the same way, it never occurred to premodern cultures to ascribe a person's sexual tastes to some positive, structural, or constitutive feature of his or her personality. Just as we tend to assume that human beings are not individuated at the level of dietary preference and that we all, despite many pronounced and frankly acknowledged differences from one another in dietary habits, share the same fundamental set of alimentary appetites, and hence the same "dieticity" or "edility," so most premodern and non-Western cultures, despite an awareness of the range of possible variations in human sexual behavior, refuse to individuate human beings at the level of sexual preference and assume, instead, that we all share the same fundamental set of sexual appetites, the same "sexuality." [The idea that different people have different fundamental "sexualities"] seems to be a uniquely modern, Western, even bourgeois production—one of those cultural fictions that in every society give human beings access to themselves as meaningful actors in their world, and that are thereby objectivated.
—David M. Halperin, One Hundred Years of Homosexuality, and Other Essays on Greek Love, 1990
[T]here is no such thing as a homosexual or heterosexual person. There are only homo- or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices, and what anyone does with a willing partner is of no social or cosmic significance. So why all the fuss? In order for a ruling class to rule, there must be arbitrary prohibitions. Of all prohibitions, sexual taboo is the most useful because sex involves everyone. To be able to lock someone up or deprive him of employment because of his sex life is a very great power indeed.
—Gore Vidal, "Tennessee Williams: Someone to Laugh at the Squares With," The New York Review of Books, June 13, 1985
[T]hose terms, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, are 20th century terms which, for me, really have very little meaning. I've never, myself, in watching other people, watching life, been able to discern exactly where the barriers were.
—James Baldwin, as quoted in "Race, Hate, Sex, and Color: A Conversation with James Baldwin and Cohn MacInnes," by James Mossman, in the book Conversations With James Baldwin, edited by Fred L. Stanley and Louis H. Pratt, 1989, p. 54
I refuse to recognize the terms hetero-, bi- and homo-sexual. Everybody has exactly the same sexual needs. People are just sexual, the prefix is immaterial.
—Morrissey, interview, 1984
So, the choice I have made
may seem strange
to you
but who asked you anyway?
. . . So, the life I have made
may seem wrong
to you
but I've never been surer.
—Morrissey, "Alma Matters," 1997
I think labels are for food.
—Michael Stipe, quoted in John Leland's article "Bisexuality Emerges as a New Sexual Identity," Newsweek, 1995
Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people.
—Martina Navratilova
It would clarify our thinking if the terms [heterosexual and homosexual] could be dropped completely out of our vocabulary.
—Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948, pp. 617
"Gay" only exists because of a ubiquitous social system of discrimination. Absent that, there is no "gay."
—Reader Response to "Why Are We Gay?" survey conducted by The Advocate, July 2001
[N]either homosexuality nor heterosexuality necessarily correspond to any specific mental, somatic or hormonal characteristics; both the gay desire and the desire for the other sex are expressions of our underlying trans-sexual being, in tendency polymorphous, but constrained by oppression to adapt to a monosexuality that mutilates it. But the repressive society only considers one type of monosexuality as 'normal,' the heterosexual kind, and imposes educastration with a view to maintaining an exclusively heterosexual conditioning.
—Mario Mieli, "Homosexual Desire is Universal," c. 1976
CHARLIE ROSE: How hard was it for you to sort of acknowledge bisexuality when you had to do that or did it or what—
MICHAEL STIPE: I resent that term.
CHARLIE ROSE: You resent the term?
MICHAEL STIPE: Not personally—
CHARLIE ROSE: You used it.
MICHAEL STIPE: No, I didn't.
CHARLIE ROSE: You didn't. I thought somebody—you didn't use it?
CHARLIE ROSE: What did you use?
MICHAEL STIPE: No, that would be—if there was a category that I fell into, that would be where I fall because I—because I—I have desire for men and women.
MICHAEL STIPE: That's out. But I resent the categorization of sexuality. I think it's—
CHARLIE ROSE: So, you feel the same way about "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" as well as terms?
MICHAEL STIPE: Yeah, and, I mean, there are people that are very comfortable identifying with one or the other with whatever—which I'm fine with. But I'm not comfortable with that. I think sexuality is more fluid than that. And I feel like—I feel like the era where the need for categorization of something as fluid as desire is behind us.
The Charlie Rose Show, May 7, 1998
The fact that Americans can't face the fact that sex is not a matter of rigid categories but an ongoing continuum for each of us has made me, how to put it politely? a contented traveler in other lands.
—Gore Vidal
[S]exual minorities by definition can never become majorities. The acceptance of homosexuality as a minority experience deliberately emphasizes the ghettoization of homosexual experience and by implication fails to interrogate the inevitability of heterosexuality.
—Jeffrey Weeks, Sexuality and its Discontents: Meanings, Myths, and Modern Sexualities, 1985
A simple test for you boys. Who would you rather hump? Bernard Manning or Kylie Minogue? And for the girls—Brad Pitt or The Queen Mother?
     Fair questions? Hardly. Weighted? Definitely. Useful none the less. Heterosexuals will one day accept that every one has at one time fancied a member of their own gender. Straight stars like Euan MacGregor have—and met with no public derision at all for saying so. And I know lesbians that have sex with their gay boy friends.
     "OK" I hear you cry, "But that doesn't mean I'm straight does it?!" And at this point we realise what a ridiculous collection of words we're labelled with. Straight, gay, bisexual. It's all bollocks.
     People aren't born gay. People are not born straight. There is no gay or bisexual gene. Practising sex with another is neither moral or immoral—but as natural as blowing your nose. Who you chose to sleep with is no one's business but your own. The label is irrelevant. People, when coming out to themselves, don't have neuroses about the sex act itself, but what it's called. A boy might reasonably think, in the current climate, that if he sleeps with a man once, then he will be gay for ever and everyone will see him as such in the future, his image consumed by a statement which says that the most important thing about a person is who they sleep with.
     I like football. I sleep with men. I drink lager. I play chess. I sleep with women. I love The Simpsons, I am a Civil Servant, I eat cheese, I smoke, etc., etc. It is ridiculous to be labelled and judged by just two of the above statements. All some people see, once they know, is a bisexual man. Period.
     Who actually likes the terms 'gay' or 'lesbian' or 'bisexual' or 'transgender' or 'straight' anyway? Do you prefer 'queer' or 'dyke' or 'catflap'?? In the last issue I mentioned a debate on labels that we had had a few years ago at a bisexual conference. Not liking the 'B' word much we were seeking an alternative"and came up with the term 'nice.'
     And there is no nice gene, or even selfish ones. You cannot genetically modify the sexuality of an individual who hasn't even got a sex drive yet. You can't abort a gay foetus because there are no gay foetuses, or straight ones. Nor do foetuses like football, drink lager or play chess.
     It's common sense isn't it?
—Martin Walker, "The Genetically Modified Nice Bit," ScotsGay Magazine, No. 22, 1998
Given the compulsory heterosexuality of the Western-dominated contemporary world, exclusive homosexuality may be a reaction against it. Many people repress their same-sex desires and identify themselves as heterosexuals but others who feel strong same-sex attractions either become depressed or suicidal or rebel against the repression. The rebels flip over to the other extreme to identify themselves as homosexuals/gays/lesbians/transgenders/queers. There are many reasons that particular individuals construct identities of sexual minorities, but in the anonymity of large cities becoming a member of a sexual underground can offer subcultural identification that can assist psychological functioning.
     What this suggests is that, in order to get beyond a binary division of society, it will be necessary for people to destigmatize bisexuality. Anthropologists can be at the forefront of this effort, breaking down prejudices by teaching about the reality of human sexual variation. Of course, we must be careful not to substitute a compulsory bisexuality for everyone, since even nonhomophobic cultures have a minority of individuals who remain totally other-sex-oriented or totally same-sex-oriented. The message must be the reality and advantage of human sexual variation.
—Walter L. Williams, commentary on "The Evolution of Human Homosexual Behavior" by R. C. Kirkpatrick, from Current Anthropology, Vol. 41 No. 3, June 2000
I keep saying to myself, what's wrong with choosing lesbianism. Maybe some of us were born that way and maybe some of us chose it. I keep trying to figure out what's wrong with choosing it. I think it's a fabulous choice. What a great idea!
—JoAnn Loulan, lesbian activist, therapist, and author of the books Lesbian Sex and Lesbian Passion: Loving Ourselves and Each Other
I'm fond of the concept of choice as the basis for sexual orientation. This point of view is unpopular in an era in which every claim for gay rights is based on pseudoscientific sulking about how we can't help being queer; we're just born that way. Thanks, but I don't want to receive my civil rights as charity bequeathed on me by my genetic superiors.
—Patrick Califia-Rice, "Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails," introduction to Rough Stuff: Tales of Gay Men, Sex, and Power, edited by Simon Sheppard and M. Christian, 2000
The failure of queer politics here in Massachusetts—where gay "leaders" shun and scorn the victims of homophobia and campaign for the oppressors—illustrates the fallacies inherent in "identity" politics. Contemporary gay and lesbian political movements are not based on ideas or a commitment to principles of individual freedom. Freedom, especially sexual freedom, is in fact now denounced because it might embarrass the "community." Instead our politics are now based on the dubious genetic notion that we are born that way, can't help it, and therefore must beg the state for protection from discrimination based on our unchosen "orientation." (No one, of course, should be discriminated against because of his or her private consensual sexual behavior. "Orientation" is not the point.) Rights now belong not to individuals but to the "community," and those who do not conform to the values and beliefs of the community—as defined by self-anointed "leaders"—find that they have no rights at all.
—Bob Chatelle, "The Limits to Free Expression and the Problem of Child Pornography"
We're also staking our lives on scientific research that at the moment is a crapshoot. . . . [W]hat if they discover that there's no biological basis to sexual orientation? Are we willing to promise that on that day, we'll give back any gay rights we've managed to win and march off to the psychic showers?
—Lindsy Van Gelder, "The 'Born That Way' Trap," Ms., Vol. 1 No. 6, May/June 1991
In the past century, ever since the invention of a heterosexual-homosexual dichotomy, homosexuals have been the subject of biological, psychiatric, sociological, and anthropological debates ranging from silly to insane. The identity politics of the 'gay rights' movement have created a few scattered ghettos, euphemized as 'the lesbian and gay community,' and have conferred upon us such imaginary attributes as gay 'lifestyles' and 'sensibilities.' We've been exploited as political constituencies, moral footballs, marketing targets, and repositories of people's worst fears about themselves. The heterosexual dream, after all, can only be maintained in counterpoint to a homosexual nightmare. Such acclaimed scholars as Freud, Kinsey, and Foucault have tried to teach us that sexual identities, along with ethnic identities, are social fictions rather than natural facts. They've all argued, in fact, that the only real difference between the people we label gay and those we call straight boils down to a distinction between those who do and those who do not acknowledge their capacity for homoerotic arousal.
—Marty Rochlin, The San Luis Obispo New Times, May 1, 1997
I'm amazed that it's taken this long to destroy what is obviously a totally implausible theory. It is a choice and we should be glad it's that way and celebrate it for ourselves.
—Peter Tatchell, co-founder of the British ACT UP and founder of the British queer rights direct action group OutRage!, commenting on the Ebers & Rice study that refuted evidence for the "gay gene" theory, 1999
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