Frank Bruni on Whether We're "Born This Way"

Over the weekend, Frank Bruni at The New York Times weighed in on the internal LGBT community scuffle that Cynthia Nixon set off last week. Why are people gay? Nature, nurture, culture, choice, or some fluid combination thereof? I laid out my point of view here last week: Given that researchers have found women's sexuality to be more fluid than men's and that sexuality is defined and organized differently in different times and places, I wondered whether, in our time, men's appears more fixed because they face the fierce cultural pressure of the masculinity patrol

Bruni writes

Born this way. 

That has long been one of the rallying cries of a movement, and sometimes the gist of its argument. Across decades of widespread ostracism, followed by years of patchwork acceptance and, most recently, moments of heady triumph, gay people invoked that phrase to explain why homophobia was unwarranted and discrimination senseless....

But is it the right mantra to cling to? The best tack to take?... there are problems with some gay advocates’ insistence that homosexuality be discussed and regarded as something ingrained at the first breath.

By hinging a whole movement on a conclusion that hasn’t been — and perhaps won’t be — scientifically pinpointed and proved beyond all doubt, they hitch it to a moving target.

It's a decent exploration of the politics of that line. I was amused, however, by the fact that the one research study he notes was done only on ... men. Do gay men ever notice that lesbians have had very different experiences in their lives than the boys have? 

 

Comments

Do gay men ever notice that lesbians have had very different experiences in their lives than the boys have?

Yes, gay men do notice that lesbians have different experiences than gay men do. But I think the topic of the differences bewteen gay men and lesbian women's experiences and resulting perspectives is one of the glbt community's most taboo topics.

I think about my experience a few years back in organizing an event with limited time and money and wanting to offer an event for the whole lgbt community. Again and again, we found ourselves wandering into a minefield in which no one could talk with one another and we just talked past one another. It got messier and messier until we finally just started avoiding the topic. The women felt slighted, the men frustrated.

It comes back to what my lesbian friends have been saying forever - that they experience more discrimination as women than as lesbian - and my gay male friends saying they experience more discrimination because they're gay than for any other part of their lives. (I have a friend who says, "No one ever says a word about me being Mexican but nobody can shut up about me being gay.")

For my lesbian friends, a conversation about sexual orientation feels as if it isn't acknowledging what they experience as women; for my gay male friends, focusing on gender feels as if fails to recognize what they experience due to being gay. As a gay man, people are far more interested in and focused on my sexual orientation than they ever are in any other aspect of my identity. When I'm in the larger sexual minority community, I want a space in which sexual orientation can be discussed away from assumptions about heterosexuality. At least from what I've seen, lots of my lesbian friends would prefer to not discuss sexual orientation or to claim their identity as lesbians as the primary focus. Like Cynthia Nixon, they're not saying they chose their orientation, they're saying they choose how to identify. In some ways it feels, as a gay man, I have no choice but to accept the identity of gay first and foremost; other things (i.e. in an interracial relationship, Irish, well educated, avid swimmer, etc) come much much later. Does that make any sense?

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