Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Born This Way" and "Queer by Choice"

I've started interacting with these ideas, that one's sexuality and gender are innate, or that they are a choice, or some blend of the two. I've been familiar with the "born this way" narrative for some time now--though generally in the format of, "I didn't choose to be [whatever]," uttered in a fiery tone which belies the hurt underneath, "This is terrible; if I could be otherwise I could." The "queer by choice" narrative was a bit less familiar to me, and I ran into it mostly in this collection of quotations.*

What I've noticed, first and foremost, is that my sexuality is kind of a choice. Not as much as some people who are quoted on that page, but I do know how I would go about choosing to be straight or gay or whatever, if I wanted to. I am not capable of controlling my initial reactions to people, but I am usually good at making my feelings stop when I want them to. There have been exactly two exceptions to this rule--I will not go into detail on them beyond that, because on both occasions I made an absolute ass of myself.

I could, if I felt the need, selectively squash my feelings for anyone who was/wasn't a man, or who was/wasn't a woman, or who was/wasn't genderqueer, etc. After a time, I might even find this reflexive. I couldn't say. Outside of individual circumstances--e.g. they're gay/straight/taken and I'm pining--I have never tried to do this. However, I recognize this capacity in myself, and I am choosing not to exercise it. That's a choice. That's my choice.

My circumstance is not universal. Some people do not have any idea how they might go about changing their sexuality--I admit I have an advantage, since my default state is attraction regardless of gender, so I only have to subtract from that. I can imagine trying to nurture an attraction for someone, but I believe it would be more difficult.

My gender fits into this narrative spectrum...differently. I know exactly how I would go about trying to be a cis woman. I also know how I would go about trying to be a trans man. I also know how I would go about trying to have a manly male persona and a feminine female persona and nothing else. I also get the idea.

But I'm not sure I could call refusing to do that a choice. Because I did try. What I found was, I had the choice between being my gender and expressing my gender, or pushing my gender down, never knowing when it might spring back up, and having occasional bouts of detesting (parts of) my body and not knowing why--because I had pushed away the part of me that was in touch enough with my actual gender to figure out why: I only had the part that was trying to be the gender I thought would be easier.

I would...not call this successfully choosing to be another gender. It isn't me making myself another gender; it's me sticking my fingers in my ears and singing, "LALALALALA," when I should probably be saying, "Gender dysphoria."

That seems to tuck neatly into, "born this way," but it doesn't for two reasons. First, I don't think everyone is like me. People have said that they experience their genders in ways different from mine, and I tend to believe them. Unless we are close enough that I can listen to them and think, "You're doing that thing with your right foot that you always do when you don't believe a word you're saying," I don't know why I would do otherwise.

Second...I can't make myself fit one of the molds I tried to fit. But I can affect my gender in an immediate sense. When I was playing a woman in Cabaret, I presented as hypermasculine when out of costume, and this made it much more likely that I would be a woman when in costume. Obviously this doesn't work for everyone, but my gender identity feels like it likes to balance things out, so it worked for me.**

I suppose I'm saying that gender and sexuality are messy. They don't fit into neat boxes, though categorization can be useful. I could never have stopped singing, "LALALALALA," if I hadn't learned the tune to, "Gender dysphoria." We are human. Terms and stories are never useless, even if the only thing they teach is, "Neither of these actually fit quite right." I think bespoke clothing rocks, but I'll wear something off the rack that's in my size before I wear something that's entirely wrong. (Though I admit, I am the sort who will wear something that's entirely wrong before going naked.)
* I found that page because I posted a quotation--from Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg--on my facebook, and I like to google my quotations to see what people would find if they did so. 
** Talking about my gender identity as something separate from me feels artificial. I am my gender. The fact that it is changeable does not mitigate this fact. I felt the phrasing was necessary for this essay, but I did not want that to pass without comment.

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