More on the Presidential election. The Democrats appeared on a "debate" on gay issues sponsored by Logo TV. (The 'publicans are too chicken to appear before a gay audience ... might catch something ... perhaps they might catch a little sense ... bunch o' fascists.) I say a "debate" because each was questioned separately for 15 minutes. I have not seen the debate, but I read that poor Bill Richardson, a liberal's liberal, got hung up on the question of whether or not homosexuality is a "choice" or "biological." He quickly chimed in that it was a choice.
Oooops, you're not suposed to say that. He later appeared before some editorial board at the Advocate, the granddaddy of gay mags and tried to get himself out of the jam. None of it matters much because he will not be the nominee.
That said, it was a trick question, and a shibboleth. It is one of those silly leftoid dichotomies where you have to pick the right answer or you are a hopeless "racist, sexist, anti-gay, now we've had our cant for the day." Like saying black instead of African American, or wondering aloud if unlimited immigration will drive down the price of unskilled labor.
It's a trick question for two reasons. Firstly, obviously homosexuality is a combination of predilection and decision, that is of biology and choice. I'll return to that below. Secondly, the notion that we deserve rights because we are biologically gay plays right to the notion of sickness. Even if homosexuality were a pure choice, we argue that it is good in and of itself, a positive boon to the individual and to society. The muling reactionaries hate us whether it's inbred or cultivated. They don't care, they just plain hate fags ... dykes too, but they hate fags worse.
In gay liberation, we used to argue that there were three interlocking but inherently contradictory homophobic paradigms ... the criminal, the psychological, and the moral. The biological notion rarely came up in those days. The criminal and the moral shared the notion of choice ... one chooses to commit the crime and one chooses to be immoral. The psychological implies sickness. The bigots circled around the three ... a bunch of filthy criminals, immoral devil worshippers, sick and pustulent ... who cares as long as we lock 'em up.
Now the inheritors of our movement have decided that we are biologically fore-ordained, and that is that. Any argument of choice implies we have the ability to choose otherwise and this, they argue, plays to the hand of the enemy.
Well, that is nonsense. Some of us are obviously gay ... I was gay from my earliest memories, I just didn't know what it meant until I was 13. Lots of gay folks say that. Some people are straight from day one, never vary, can't even imagine a same sex involvement. The difference between those natively strictly straight and those natively strictly gay is that the straight don't have to make a choice ... no one comes out as straight. But every gay man and woman who has ever lived has to "choose" whether or not to come out. Until our movement that exploded in 1969, coming out could easily mean ostracism, danger, physical harm, imprisonment, or death. I constantly harp on the fact that the religious fascists want us to go back there.
But in the current world where we have carved out our space, coming out is the ever-present issue. It is a choice. For every proud gay man living an open life there are two or three or how many we will never know unhappy unfulfilled men living lives of lies. For every dyke living free there are a dozen women squelching themselves for family and appearance and normalcy. That too is a choice, and I do not begrudge such a choice. I think it is a wrong choice, but freedom is the right to make wrong choices.
So even for out gay men and women, our outness is a choice ... a choice that was, and every day is, fraught with anxiety and fear and risk ... a choice that has lost people friends and family and livelihoods and homes. The biological argument belittles the choice of coming out. I choose to be gay ... I choose NOT to be in the closet. (That, by the way, is the locus of error for the bigoted black preachers who have so publicly made common cause with their so recently racist white preacher bro's ... I'll wait for another outburst to address that sorry phenomenon in greater depth.)
But none of this takes into account the vast middle of sexuality of those folks who are not obviously and totally gay or straight. They too have a choice, and it is not the choice to be straight. Being straight is given. The choice at issue is whether to be gay whether for an evening or a week or for years, or off and on, or forever. So there is a predilection, but it is not exclusive, and the choosing is whether to exercise it to some degree.
This is where the frothing religious really live. They don't care about us died-in-the-wool fags ... the biological ones, if you like. We're gonna rot in hell ... they'd like to send us to our date with Beelzebub a little earlier than we plan to go. We are useful to them in the current configuration because they can fulminate and purple-faced-glare and wag their fingers ... oh, and raise money from scared old ladies and cynical Republican operatives. But the notion that the "sexually middle," if I can call them that, might choose to be gay even temporarily fills them with terror ... for their stock-in-trade is to prey upon society through the fear of sexual freedom. When we make the biological predictor argument, we play right into their hands.
Look, every gay guy whose has ever been "on the make" knows about the "sexually middle" ... guys who are gay enough to play around but live a straight life and are very likely to end up married and as monogamous as any other straight guy. I think that the sexually middle outnumber the purely gay ... they might even outnumber the purely straight. And every aspect of their sexual being is tied into choice that revolves around the panopoly of possibilities predicted by their predilections. Biology, for human beings, is just the broad framework. Everything we do is involved in choice.
It is curious on the left that choice in abortion is the right thing, but choice in homosexuality is the wrong thing. Our movement has to eschew the simple slogan and embrace the fullness of life in its complexity and diversity.
I'll close this post with a reference to the great plague that decimated gay men because that too relates to choice. Certainly there was the choice of safe sex once we knew. But also there was the choice to come together as a community, to help our brothers. How we responded to AIDS was the proof of gay liberation. Personally, the low days of the deaths were the most moving in my life. I'm sure I will write about that more in the future.
In Golden Gate Park, there is a National AIDS Memorial Grove. Loki and I walk there pretty much every Saturday now. At the back end is a circle with these engraved words by my old friend, the now deceased poet, Thom Gunn:
walker within this circle pause • although they all died of one cause
remember how their lives were dense • with fine compacted difference
That is about choice, people, our choice. My friends' choice. The choices of our heroes and victims and the ones who lost where we have yet won.
Photos by Arod. The top one was in the store window of an AIDS charity second hand store at California and Polk