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58 Responses

  1. sage
    sage July 20, 2011 at 9:51 pm |

    I used to blame, or praise, almost everything about me on being the youngest of six kids: eating fast, quiet because I could never get a word in, hating crowds… But my oldest daughter has so many of the traits I ascribed to birth order, that now I lean towards genetics and think pretty much everything is innate.

    My parents tried to teach us all to be generous by being generous to us – modelling generosity. Half of us are charitable; the other half have an extraordinary sense of entitlement. We can never know how our teachings will be understood.

    However the questions you ask bring to mind a few of my siblings who paint our childhood as a horrible time of neglect and dysfunction. I tend to see my parents as doing their best with a brood. They did a lot right. I wonder if even that, the tendency toward optimism, is genetic.

    Regarding identification, my folks were outrageously open and accepting for the time, so I spoke of crushes on guys and girls at a pretty young age. Probably in part because I never had to struggle within my family at least, I feel no need to form an identity. I like to dwell in the ambiguity of it all.

  2. Andy
    Andy July 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm |

    I do not believe my sexuality is innate. The idea might resonate with other people, but it’s completely foreign to me. My sexuality is very complex with different types and degrees of sexual, romantic, aesthetic and platonic attraction to different sexes, genders and gender markers. I find it especially strange to think that I have a gene that makes me like certain aspects of gender that are completely socially constructed.

    Now, I don’t think I could purposely set out to alter my patterns of attraction. But they certainly have changed–somehow–over my life. They’re not immutable, like my eye colour, but rather they work in strange and mysterious ways like any other aspect of my personality.

    However, I do think my gender presentation is linked to my sexuality. The messages I received as a child and young teen about how to attract a boy (i.e., how to be a proper woman) went completely over my head because at that time, I was barely interested in boys at all. So I developed a gender presentation that doesn’t really jive with society’s accepted standards for femininity.

  3. Isidore
    Isidore July 20, 2011 at 10:10 pm |

    Yes, gender identity and sexual orientation are two separate issues. But, they intersect for A LOT of people, and I think it stupid to tell someone that talking about it is hurting the LBGT community.

    Also, maybe the “born this way” question sort of lends itself to talking about gender identity, because it usually presents itself at a younger age than sexual orientation? Plus, early sexual memories generally make people uncomfortable…

  4. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. July 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm |

    I’m not so sure really. I’ve changed perspectives so many times over the course of my life, I don’t know if I *feel* as if anything is innate…just part of a shifting landscape if that makes sense.

  5. karak
    karak July 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm |

    I remember when I was about 15 I became very alarmed because all of my friends seemed to desire boyfriends, and boys I knew wanted girlfriends, and I found the idea of kissing anyone with ANY gender or identity outright repulsive. And since I “didn’t like boys” that must have default meant I was gay. And I didn’t even really know what it meant “to be” gay. I mean, what do gay teens *do*? And I told my mom I was worried I might be gay.

    She, wonderful woman, sat me down and explained to me, no, not liking boys didn’t mean I was automatically gay (especially since I was also uninterested in girls), no, it wouldn’t matter if I was, and helped me work out some of my more ignorant/homophobic feelings, and finally advised me to follow who I loved, and let that define me.

    As it turns out, all my significant romantics relationships are with men, I identify as straight. But I thank my mom for letting me CHOOSE that identity, and not letting it assign itself to me.

  6. Li
    Li July 20, 2011 at 10:43 pm |

    The problem I have with the “born this way” thing is that it presumes that sexual orientation is static and that, for instance, being heterosexual before being queer is a result of not knowing your true self, which is kind of bullshit for the large number of queer people who have non-static sexual orientations. I think it’s useful for a lot of queer people to think of themselves as innately queer, but it’s also kind of not-actually-queer-at-all to presume that that’s a universal trait of queer people. Some queer people have sexually fluid histories, and it’s kind of condescending to tell them that they just had false consciousnesses or whatever.

  7. ozymandias
    ozymandias July 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm |

    I grew up with a very heteronormative childhood. There are things I can interpret as signs of my queerness (I remember being attracted to certain female celebrities, I remember asking to be “the boy” in every childhood game) but on the other hand if I hadn’t grown up queer I never would have interpreted it that way– and my attraction to boys made itself known long before my attraction to girls did, and it took me years to accept my gender dysphoria.

  8. Tawny
    Tawny July 20, 2011 at 11:08 pm |

    In high school, I picked on a girl in my class relentlessly. I was unapologetically brutal to her.

    After high school and several years of college, and throwing myself out of the closet as hard as I could, I look back at that under the Two Factor Theory of Emotion from my social psych classes. Since I was raised in an extremely heteronormative environment, I had no schema for “attraction to women”; I simply assumed strong feelings towards her were jealousy, hatred, etc. The whole time I’d just wanted to fuck her, but harangued her instead.

    I’m happy to say though, that we’re now pretty good friends (w/benefits, even!) and have acknowledged our mutual attraction.

    Anyway, that’s the story I always tell people to illustrate my own personal stolen history of queerness.

  9. Pollinia
    Pollinia July 20, 2011 at 11:25 pm |

    When I was 7 or 8, my mom sent in the UPCs from her Salem Slim Lights cigarettes and got a datebook in return. The datebook was filled of picture after picture of women in sexy, dressy clothes, doing sexy things like smoking and shooting sultry gazes at the camera.

    I stole the datebook and kept it in my room. I pored over it every day, ranking and re-ranking the models in order of attractiveness. I even took it to school one day, certain my friends would want to join in on my awesome game. Needless to say, they were less than intrigued, so I went back to appreciating it on my own.

    I don’t know if this means I “was always” a lesbian. But I do know I found those women more attractive, more captivating than I ever found Jonathon Taylor Thomas or any of the other boys I was supposed to find handsome.

  10. Ruthi
    Ruthi July 20, 2011 at 11:27 pm |

    1) This is not related to gender or sexual identity, but when you asked about looking back on childhood, it reminded me of my interest in mathematics. I’m about to start a grad program in pure math, but I didn’t think I was that interested in math until I took a couple of great classes my freshman year of college. In high school and before, I was good at math but had no interest. Looking back now though, there are a lot of things I remember about my childhood (like finding logic problems great fun and asking for deeper explanations) that I think are clearly indicators of my potential interest in pure math. And I find it fascinating that it was there all along.

    2) One thing that bothers me about the stress on being “born this way” is that I feel it draws attention away from accepting queer and other non conformal identities *regardless of whether they are a choice or innate*. Between the lines I feel like it could be read as “Sure, we’d rather be ‘normal’ but we can’t do anything about it”. I do not think this is what is intended nor do I believe being queer is a choice, but I think acceptance, understanding and (self-)love should be demanded regardless.

    That being said, I think there are other things going on too, like finding it to be empowering.

  11. RedRightAnkle
    RedRightAnkle July 20, 2011 at 11:40 pm |

    I don’t know, I found the BTW meme silly, mostly because anytime people equate male people performing femininity and female people performing masculinity with GAY GAY OMG GAY, I get a massive case of side-eye going.

    I mean it’s based on the same premise pearl-clutching right-wingers use to police gender stereotypes, so when I see fellow queer people doing it (even in a relatively positive reclamatory way such as with this meme) I’m just like…WHY. Why buy into it at all. It’s so reductive and binary, and yes there are queer people (myself even) who fit into that narrative to some extent, but there’s also a huge swath of queer people it erases. It really just doesn’t resonate with me at all.

    I’m not queer because I wore overalls and dressed up as Peter Pan one too many times and got in pretend sword fights with people. For every instance of that there’s an other of me in a tutu prancing around to swan lake with a lace table cloth on my head. I’m queer because….I’m queer.

    If anything, and this may sound kind of weird, but as a kinky adult I recognize waaaay more signs of my kinkiness in my proto-sexual adolescence than of my sexual orientation. I can remember being little and reading about dungeons and the middle ages (the stocks! the rack! public flogging!) and searching out all the violent sexy fun bits from the Bible during religion classes, and creating intense soap-opera-esque kidnappings and seductions between my play mobile people.

    And I never really understood why I found it so interesting, or why it made my stomach feel all twisty and warm. I mean I didn’t even really know what sex WAS yet, let alone kinky sex. But as an adult BDSMer I can’t help but look back and see the beginnings of it, from pretty much as far back as I can remember.

  12. Tori
    Tori July 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm |

    The moment I decided that my fundamentalist religious upbringing was wrong was the moment I learned that, according to church doctrine, same-sex attraction was sinful. (This was somewhere in late middle school as this was not addressed in school courses before this time.)

    At that moment, it just struck me as both horribly cruel and jarring with my moral code. First — to my pubescent and perhaps hormonally charged thinking — while I could understand why certain actions might be considered sinful, I truly struggled to accept why a sort of baseline attraction — not even so developed as an emotion or a conscious thought — should be considered a sin. Second, a lot of the dogma I heard was of the “gay as insidious disease variety” — e.g., that people who felt same-sex attraction were more prone to casual sex or being sexual predators, that condoning same-sex attraction was akin to condoning bestiality or rape.

    Even when I didn’t identify as queer or even recognize my own same-sex attraction, I had an overwhelming innate reaction that these teachings were not right. That is, both that they were unjust and that they could not possibly be correct interpretations of the law of the God that had created me.

    A couple of years after that, I admitted to myself that I liked girls. A few years after that, I said as much to select trusted individuals. And several years after that, I started to wonder about how my sexual orientation might be different now if I didn’t grow up in such a heteronormative environment. (In other words, I think a significant reason that I find it easier to enter relationships with men is that I have all kinds of social scripts for how to enter into romantic and/or sexual relationships with men — compared to relatively few for women and almost none for folks who ID outside the gender binary.)

    I’ve moved further away from my religious upbringing for various additional reasons, but I do note that moment as when I started to self-identify.

  13. Paul V.
    Paul V. July 21, 2011 at 2:04 am |

    Hi Brigid,
    Thanks for continuing the discussion. And it’s nice to see such thoughtful and intelligent comments and feedback.

    I’ve had to defend my blog quite a bit since it started in January. Interestingly, none of it (at least that I know of), has come from extremely homophobic people/websites or religious organizations etc. Most criticism I’ve seen has actually come from the gay community itself. Which I understand, on some levels.

    At face value, yes – you can look at the blog and be upset at what appears to only be reinforcing some stereotypes. If one doesn’t actually read the blog, or only sees a few pictures that “scream gay”, I understand that. But on the other hand:

    I also want ALL people to stop and think: “So WHAT if some boys are effeminate and some girls are masculine? Why do we even care so much, or get so rattled and riled up over things like that?” I hope that makes sense.

    I knew that using those words “BORN THIS WAY” – meaning “BORN LGBTQ” – would cause a bit of an uproar. And, that was kind of the point.

    I WANT lots of people to start dialogues about what sexual orientation is about, or varying gender roles (same or opposite), and forms of self-expression. And, to hopefully deconstruct those notions that are basically drilled into our heads from a very early age. IE, “Blue is for boys, pink is for girls. Dolls are for girls, trucks are for boys” kinds of things.

    I mean, I was raised in a completely heterosexual world, but nothing was gonna stop me having my boy-crush on David Cassidy when I was 8 years old! :) And I sure didn’t LEARN that, you know?

    Thus, and in my opinion, I truly do believe that our sexual orientation – and innocent attractions – are indeed wired inside us genetically. While there is absolutely fluidity and grey areas, I think if push came to shove, that we have a stronger preference for either male or female. (Again, my opinion).

    One main thing I wish people would understand about the blog, is that each person ON the blog is simply just telling the world: “Yes, I was born LGBTQ. And this is MY story”

    It’s not trying to say this is science, or even proof (per se). But for each person sharing their story, it IS their nature, and it IS their truth. And if the blog does nothing more than let the world know what it’s like to grow up LGBTQ, and gives people a better understanding and hopefully an empathy of our experiences, then I feel I’ve done my job “gaying it forward” :)

    Best regards,
    Paul V., Born This Way Blog
    http://www.BornThisWayBlog.com

  14. ch
    ch July 21, 2011 at 3:43 am |

    I hope it’s not too derailing to talk about something non-sexuality/gender-related for a moment, but your post really spoke to me because I recently have becoming more and more certain that I have Asperger’s, and I’ve been looking back on and re-evaluating a bunch of childhood experiences in light of that (definitely innate) personality difference. And I see my Asperger’s all over the place in my childhood memories, even though I wasn’t diagnosed and didn’t know what it was. Because I really was born that way, since all reliable scientific studies have shown that ASD is at least in part genetic/biological.

    Sexual orientation, though? So much more complicated. I do trust the people who say that their sexuality feels completely innate, but I think extending that model to everyone who’s queer is really short-sighted and erases a lot of the people whose sexuality is more fluid. Especially since I’m one of those people: I was pretty sure, from ages 12-17, that I was a lesbian or bi-leaning-towards-lesbian. I never came out to anyone, partly because I was still trying to figure out how to label myself and partly because I had a lot of internalized homophobia going on, but I had a bunch of really intense crushes on girls, and a bunch of smaller attractions towards girls, as well (and a few really intense crushes on boys, but the vast majority of boys didn’t really pique my interest at all). I was also (though I didn’t really realize it at the time) not in the least sexual yet; sex didn’t become something I was even interested in until 18 or 19, and all those people I had crushes on, I dreamed about being around them and holding hands, and maybe a bit of kissing and caressing, but not sex, or orgasms, or anything like that.

    So after starting college, my attraction to girls started decreasing, and my sexuality started increasing– these two things are really related in my mind, since these days I do have some romantic/aesthetic attraction to women, but pretty much zero sexual attraction to women (though if Rachel Maddow asked, I would most certainly not refuse). But now, at 23, I am very, very sexual, and all of my sexual attraction is directed at men, so I identify as straight. And I really do think that this is my adult sexual orientation and I will continue to be attracted mostly to men, even though I’m still very young.

    So, for me, most certainly not born this way, though my trajectory does fit into the harmful “oh it’s just a phase” stereotype. Which is why I’m kind of glad I wasn’t open with my struggles over sexual orientation as a teen, because I think the more malicious people out there would use that to pigeonhole me into the “just a phase” group, while for me it’s way more complicated than that. Like @karak, I’m now heterosexual not by default, but because I’ve figured out that that’s what I am. Which is why I know for a fact that “born this way” doesn’t cover every queer person– even though I’m not myself queer (anymore), if I had the trajectory of fluidity that I did, other people must have as well, with different results (that is, ending up identifying as queer… or even identifying as queer briefly, for some period of one’s life).

  15. konkonsn
    konkonsn July 21, 2011 at 4:09 am |

    RedRightAnkle: I explore the gender presentation and sexuality of my younger self in an attempt to reclaim a childhood that I feel was taken from me by heteronormativity. I grieve for what might have been, for the healthier development and stronger sense of self I might have enjoyed if I had known being gay was even possible for me.

    This, so hard. I look back at a lot of events in my life, filled with grief of what could have been if only…it’s complicated by not only my sexual identity, but a mental illness that went untreated for 21 years and made it difficult to accept that I knew I was gay until it was taken care of.

    For example, I got to study abroad in my undergraduate program. It should have been an amazing time of my life, and in some ways, it was. But the stress of being on my own, out of the country for the first time compounded my anxiety disorder. I didn’t sleep right. I was a shitty friend to the people I met over there. I skipped events because my OCD told me I couldn’t go on them. One of the girls I was closest with was gay, and I know I had a huge crush on her. I wonder what kind of relationship I would have with her now.

    It’s hard because I know I will never have something like that again. The scholarships I got from being a student were the only reason I could go abroad. If I ever manage to get overseas again for work, it would still be a very different experience.

    This is just one example. I feel bad when friends want to talk about high school or college experiences because I don’t feel the same nostalgia as them. To me, they were times when all I felt was uncontrolled fear, and where I couldn’t be my best self because of that fear.

  16. konkonsn
    konkonsn July 21, 2011 at 4:10 am |

    Wow, for some reason that quoted the wrong person. Sorry!

  17. Sophia, NOT Loren!
    Sophia, NOT Loren! July 21, 2011 at 5:27 am |

    I often tell people that “I’ve always been attracted to women. Nobody really had a problem with it until I was one.”

    I was raised as a boy, I was comfortable as a boy and never really questioned being a boy until I was almost 28 years old. I’m transgendered, though, and I’m happy living as a woman — one who happens to be attracted primarily to other women.

    From hearing others tell stories about my childhood, and what bits I remember myself, I displayed many traits that would be considered “feminine” — I was crazy about Rainbow Brite, JEM and the Holograms, and Strawberry Shortcake; I played house, dress-up, and loved getting my fingernails painted the few chances I got; my playmates growing up were the girls at school and around the neighborhood. Certainly nobody thought I was gay… I showed plenty of interest in girls, and I didn’t want anything to do with boys, period.

    It’s funny you should mention “But I’m A Cheerleader” — watching that film helped me figure out why so many people would ask, as soon as they learned that I’m transgender, if I had (or was looking for) a boyfriend; it’s the conflation of gender presentation and sexual orientation mentioned above. I too grew up straight, and now know myself to be lesbian… but my looking back isn’t in an attempt to understand my attraction to women. It’s to see bits and pieces of the woman I feel I’ve always been.

  18. Ami Angelwings
    Ami Angelwings July 21, 2011 at 6:38 am |

    Tawny:
    In high school, I picked on a girl in my class relentlessly.I was unapologetically brutal to her.

    After high school and several years of college, and throwing myself out of the closet as hard as I could, I look back at that under the Two Factor Theory of Emotion from my social psych classes.Since I was raised in an extremely heteronormative environment, I had no schema for “attraction to women”; I simply assumed strong feelings towards her were jealousy, hatred, etc.The whole time I’d just wanted to fuck her, but harangued her instead.

    I’m happy to say though, that we’re now pretty good friends (w/benefits, even!) and have acknowledged our mutual attraction.

    Anyway, that’s the story I always tell people to illustrate my own personal stolen history of queerness.

    I actually had a very similar but opposite exp growing up, esp in my teen years :\ Except for me, with no idea that trans ppl existed, or it was possible to be trans, I placed all my feelings around being a woman, and the jealousy i got looking at other women, as being some sort of screwed up attraction and sexual desire -_-;; Now that I’ve transitioned and am no longer depressed and angry, and I’m comfortable w/ myself, all those feelings are gone, and looking back they finally make sense to me.

  19. Rainicorn
    Rainicorn July 21, 2011 at 8:15 am |

    Ruthi:

    2) One thing that bothers me about the stress on being “born this way” is that I feel it draws attention away from accepting queer and other non conformal identities *regardless of whether they are a choice or innate*. Between the lines I feel like it could be read as “Sure, we’d rather be ‘normal’ but we can’t do anything about it”. I do not think this is what is intended nor do I believe being queer is a choice, but I think acceptance, understanding and (self-)love should be demanded regardless.

    This. I can’t remember where I read it, but I saw a comment somewhere on the internet that said:

    “Fuck the doctrinaire. Double fuck rhetorically expedient crypto-essentialism.​ And triple fuck bornthiswayism.”

    Which I love, though it is arguably an overly harsh way of putting it; because, as OP says, we all excavate our past for evidence of our present, and our present determines how we interpret our past. I just think it’s important to be aware of how strongly our circumstances affect who we are. There may or may not be something that makes me “innately” gay, but conceivably I construct this something as being gay *only* because of the circumstances of my life. For example, if I’d been born in ancient Rome, which didn’t construct human sexuality as hetero-/homo-, I probably wouldn’t consider myself gay. (And I’d probably have been married to a man by age 14, so it nobody would care if I did.)

  20. chingona
    chingona July 21, 2011 at 8:25 am |

    As a straight woman who was fairly tomboyish as a kid and a feminist who tends to view gender as mostly socially constructed, I understood immediately what was, to use that over-used word of the feminist blogosphere, problematic about BTW. At the same time, the site seems so sweet, both in intent and in practice (all those cute, dorky kid pictures!), that it’s hard for me to get that bothered by it.

    And yes, I understand that being a straight woman gives me less skin in this fight. But … cute, dorky kid pictures!

  21. W
    W July 21, 2011 at 8:39 am |

    Tawny:
    In high school, I picked on a girl in my class relentlessly.I was unapologetically brutal to her.

    After high school and several years of college, and throwing myself out of the closet as hard as I could, I look back at that under the Two Factor Theory of Emotion from my social psych classes.Since I was raised in an extremely heteronormative environment, I had no schema for “attraction to women”; I simply assumed strong feelings towards her were jealousy, hatred, etc.The whole time I’d just wanted to fuck her, but harangued her instead.

    Oh my god. This, this so hard. I assumed my strong feelings toward girls were jealousy and hatred, but they soo, sooo weren’t. As soon as I accepted that I was queer, it was like a light switch got turned on.

  22. ~s~
    ~s~ July 21, 2011 at 8:50 am |

    RedRightAnkle:

    If anything, and this may sound kind of weird, but as a kinky adult I recognize waaaay more signs of my kinkiness in my proto-sexual adolescence than of my sexual orientation.I can remember being little and reading about dungeons and the middle ages (the stocks! the rack! public flogging!) and searching out all the violent sexy fun bits from the Bible during religion classes, and creating intense soap-opera-esque kidnappings and seductions between my play mobile people.

    AndI never really understood why I found it so interesting, or why it made my stomach feel all twisty and warm.I mean I didn’t even really know what sex WAS yet, let alone kinky sex.But as an adult BDSMer I can’t help but look back and see the beginnings of it, from pretty much as far back as I can remember.

    Um, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. The part where Maleficent kidnaps Prince Philip and chains him to the wall in her dungeon. May or may not be the entire reason why Sleeping Beauty was my favourite Disney movie as a child.

  23. Caitlin
    Caitlin July 21, 2011 at 9:04 am |

    I love that website because of exactly what you’re saying- it allows queer people to claim queer childhoods. We as queer people don’t spring fully-grown into existence at puberty. All children are assumed straight by the dominant culture until they are not, or until it is used as a weapon against children exhibiting behavior assigned to the opposite assumed gender. I work with kids and am constantly remembering/retraining my brain to understand this. I recognize my princess/clothes obsession as a part of my burgeoning femme identity but I’m not saying that every little princess is going to grow up to be a femme dyke!

    I’m not going to weigh in on BTW or not, just to say that I believe as human beings we have the right to define our past and present sexualities, relationships and/or lack thereof and as consenting sexual or asexual people we have the right to participate in sexual activity or not with other consenting individuals and it is no one’s beeswax or right to judge what we are up to.

  24. Andie
    Andie July 21, 2011 at 9:10 am |

    Ruthi:

    2) One thing that bothers me about the stress on being “born this way” is that I feel it draws attention away from accepting queer and other non conformal identities *regardless of whether they are a choice or innate*.

    I think this is what Lisa Wade may have been getting at. The flipside to the argument that “Sexuality is innate, so there is no justification in discrimination” is that if it’s NOT innate, then there just may be justification in discrimination.

    Another thing that bothers me is the conflation of genetic with biological in nature.. that is to say, that there is some kind of ‘gene’ that makes you straight/gay/queer/whathaveyou. It bothers me, because of much of societies desire to *fix* people that are deemed defective rather than simply different. It makes me cringe when people describe (and they have) queerness as “Oh they can’t help it, they have a genetic defect.”

    As others have mentioned, I’m also bothered by the conflation of innate with static, because I do think that although many people remain static in their orientation, others may experience changes in their sexuality over time. In cases like this, it’s also important to note the difference between ‘fluid’ and ‘changeable’. Fluid meaning something that is capable of changing, versus changeable meaning something that can be changed under external forces.

    Something such as sexual preferences can be innate, while still being fluid, but still unchangeable under external pressure.

  25. Jadey
    Jadey July 21, 2011 at 9:46 am |

    On one hand, I can understand the appeal of responding to one over-simplification “Just pick something different, dear!” with a contrary one “I didn’t choose – I am came this way”. While I have made conscious choices about how much to disclose and advertise my sexuality, my various attractions and preferences has come unbidden, and the idea that I would be deliberating orchestrating my sexual preferences sounds both ludicrous and exhausting.

    But the “born this way” meme is an over-simplification and in the long run it’s not a sustainable way to think about sexuality or gender, especially as it lends itself to biological essentialism. Nature vs. nurture debates inevitably come down to the fact that there’s a dynamic process going on between biological, social, and psychological factors that is irreducible to a single experience or gene. How I experience my sexuality is absolutely mediated by the world I live in and while I’m certain that there are biological factors that influence it, it’s not so straightforward as a gay gene or a gay part of my brain. And neither is it something so superficial and artificial that I could choose to change my gut-level attractions.

  26. Jen in Ohio
    Jen in Ohio July 21, 2011 at 9:52 am |

    doing everyone a disservice by perpetuating the stereotype of sissy gay men and butchy lesbians

    There are several social problems with this stereotype but the solution to NONE of them involves insinuating that the sissy gay men and the butchy lesbians ought to pipe down while exploring their own experiences of their own identities. If she can’t bring herself to celebrate what they’re doing, then at least she could aim for the more constructive approach of encouraging everyone else to pipe the fuck UP about their different experiences, so we can start to get a better and broader understanding of the complexities and varieties of queer identities.

    Lisa attempted to support her position that “a biological argument for acceptance” is “shortsighted” by showing a photograph of Franklin D. Roosevelt as a young child, in long hair and a dress. She pointed out that it would be ridiculous to assume from the picture that FDR is gay, claiming to show that “the idea that wearing a dress or seeming girly is a sign that one is gay is also completely ahistorical.”

    While I agree that “a {purely} biological argument for acceptance” is “shortsighted” (I think the argument should be bigger and broader but not exclude the biological), I also think that’s a ridiculous comparison. If I posted a picture of my great-grandfather, whom I never met, looking queer — as he definitely would to the modern eye — and said, “Clearly this is a gay man,” yeah, that would be bullshit. It would be bullshit because I suspect he was gay, but I don’t know. I never met him. He died 25 years before I was born. I have little information about his identity, and I don’t have any nuanced understanding of his time/place/cultural influences.

    *trigger warning/child abuse*

    But if I posted a picture of my own tomboi self at ages two and three, as soon as I was allowed to dress myself and how I did it very differently than my mother was doing it, as early evidence of my own queer identity package emerging, that’d be a whole different thing. My memories go back that far, and I know the context of those pictures more intimately and completely than anyone else in this world. I know for a fact that my homophobic normative-obsessed mother was already berating me and hitting me for my boyish expressions and freaking the fuck out over the fact that I was bringing home girlfriends from preschool (in 1974, heh). I’m not guessing at the meaning of any part of those pictures, they are my own memories of my own experiences of my own identity! I was both queer and genderqueer by age 3, if not before then, and I was also ready to rumble over the aspects of it that I could articulate. My mother abused me routinely and harshly about it throughout my entire childhood.

    That said, I don’t necessarily think I was “born this way”. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. I don’t think neuroscience or genetics can speak intelligently to those kinds of questions yet, these fields are still in their infancy, and I have a healthy respect for sociology — I happen to live with a sociologist who has two master’s degrees in the field and knows her shit. But I don’t think the considerable power of social construction necessarily gestures at a tabula rasa departure point, and it’s pretty damn clear that our biological construction at least influences a lot of our behaviors and aspects of identity, and of course, “influence” does not mean “control to the exclusion of all other factors”. I’m also a giant science nerd, so if there is some kind of biological component going on beneath sexual and gender identities (all of them), I want to know how it works and all about it, because I’m curious like that. Also because I believe knowledge is power, even when some bigoted asshole tries to use it against you.

    As to the quiz portion of the post, I think it’s not a universal phenomenon, I think there’s a lot of each-to-each differences. For some people, it seems that their experience with sexual and/or gender identities is very hardwired, there from the beginning, and not changeable no matter what they do, or what horrors are done to them, while for others there seems to be a considerable range of fluidity present and a lot of flux going on. I don’t think large chunks of these people are lying or deluded, I think it’s just a different experience for different people.

    I can, for example, compare my personal experience of handedness to my personal experience of queerness. I think it’s still broadly accepted in the scientific community that handedness is innate, but all it took to change me from a lefty to a righty was two weeks in a scary ass Old School first grade teacher’s classroom. She rapped me on the knuckles with a ruler and told me that writing with my left hand was WRONGITY WRONG, and I switched instantaneously and permanently. Contrast that with my own mother beating me, controlling me, and humiliating me throughout my entire childhood about my gender and sexuality, culminating with changing the locks on the door and throwing me into the street at age 16 over it; the first shrink I found at age 18 to help me work through the child abuse listened for an hour to me talking about my mother abusing me for my entire childhood and then he said, “We’ll start by fixing this lesbian pathology you have….” And here I am now, in my 40s, still queer, still genderqueer, still writing right-handed pretty much illegibly and super grateful for keyboards.

    tl;dr

    Both/and/more is generally a better investigative approach to a complex issue than is either/or; let’s not cap on our allies just because we might disagree; and let’s not assume this stuff works the same way universally for everyone, k?

  27. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos July 21, 2011 at 10:13 am |

    These arguments often annoy me because basic biology and psychology these days would argue the question of nature v. nurture involves dynamic interactions of both. I’m not certain that picking sides in the debate matter from a social justice perspective. The biological roots of deafness never stopped demands that Deaf people conform to hearing culture. Homosexuality has been stigmatized on both behavioral and biological grounds.

    On the other hand, because children are assumed to be heterosexual and cisgender until proven otherwise, framing our autobiography in light of our current sexual identity strikes me as appropriate. Witness all the controversy over parents who don’t make their children’s physical sex a matter of public comment.

  28. Marlene
    Marlene July 21, 2011 at 10:31 am |

    Yeah. Biological determinism = bullshit.

    The “born this way” thing has always felt like an excuse to me, or an oversimplification for people who can’t be comfortable with “it’s complicated, we don’t know why we are how we are”. I suppose that discomfort is where most religion comes from too.

    I’ve done lots of digging in to my childhood for a variety of reasons. Some related to my gender and sexuality, some related to other things, but all in service of trying to care for the unhappy kid whose memories I have to live with.

  29. Marlene
    Marlene July 21, 2011 at 10:32 am |

    Whoops!

    I left out the most important part: Thanks! This post is awesome!

  30. Danielle
    Danielle July 21, 2011 at 10:36 am |

    Years ago, when my wife and I were cleaning out many things left behind by my parents when they moved from a house and we moved into it, I found two US legal-size sheets of notepad paper that bore my mother’s handwriting. They were pages of a journal she had been keeping when I was very young. Neither make any mention of more than one child (I have a sibling who is a couple months less than three years younger than me) so I’m inclined to draw a conclusion from that: I was at most 2 when these were written.

    In one, they were trying to potty train me and hit upon what they thought was a brilliant idea – offering to buy me underwear like my father wore if I did. Mom recorded my response as, “not thanks, I prefer pantyhose.”

    It’s tempting to read a lot into that but, really, it’s probably too much to do so. I did know my gender at a young age, though, long before I even had words to describe it.

  31. samanthab
    samanthab July 21, 2011 at 11:28 am |

    a Andy,
    However, I do think my gender presentation is linked to my sexuality. The messages I received as a child and young teen about how to attract a boy (i.e., how to be a proper woman) went completely over my head because at that time, I was barely interested in boys at all. So I developed a gender presentation that doesn’t really jive with society’s accepted standards for femininity.
    Time to re-read your “Whipping Girl.” It doesn’t follow that everyone with a “feminine” gender presentation is trying to attract a dude. I’m a cis, hetero lady, but I’ve felt more comfortable in dressy dresses longer than I can remember, long before I was attracted to boys. I was raised in a feminist household. It certainly wasn’t how my mother or father preferred that I dress. It’s just what feels right, and it has been for as long as I can remember. Your implication that “feminine” gender presentation goes hand in hand with manipulation, and that the only reason one would be “feminine” is to attract a man, is pretty problematic.

    In fact in my own life, most men that I’ve been with laugh about how “feminine” I am. It really is not the done “thing” in the type of progressive, intellectual-ish circles I’ve always been in, to be hyper-”feminine.” But I do it and have always done it because it fucking feels right. That doesn’t make me some kind of would be-Circe, luring men to their doom with my lady wiles. It makes me me.
    Honestly, this comes up again and again on feminist websites, this derision for the “feminine.” It gets boring, and self-identified feminists ought to know better by now. It’s not 1967! There are no excuses at this point in history for that particular bigotry. I get that there are women that might have felt societal pressures towards “femininity” to be highly oppressive, but that doesn’t make it okay for anyone to become bigoted in their own right.

  32. ~s~
    ~s~ July 21, 2011 at 11:29 am |

    I think one of the problems with this project is that we don’t know the people who are posting the pictures and the stories. We don’t know how if they actually see part of their adult identity coming out in these childhood pictures, or if they just see themselves doing something gender-nonconforming or stereotypically gay as a child.

    One of the points that Lisa is trying to argue, I think, is that not conforming to gender norms in your childhood doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your adult life. That’s a very individual question, but BTW seems to imply that it’s a universal experience for LGBTQ kids.

    I mean, there are tons of pictures of me as a kid running around in hockey jerseys, playing with fire trucks, making Creepy Crawlers, playing soccer with the boys in the neighbourhood, etc. However, as an adult I am very feminine. Because I’m a straight cis woman nobody reads anything into the fact that I was a tomboy as a kid. But the same experiences would probably be interpreted differently if I were anything other than straight even if they had about the same influence on my adult identity (not much).

  33. EmilyM
    EmilyM July 21, 2011 at 11:30 am |

    I guess I’m hypocritical. I think born-this-way-ism is silly, but I totally do it too. I don’t think we can help it: you settle on a narrative for your life and then confirmation bias makes you remember the parts of your life that fit the narrative. As Brigid points out, that’s how we construct everything about our identities, but nobody complains except when LGBTQ people do it.

    It really makes me queasy, though, when it comes across as endorsing stereotypes. “I know I was always gay because I refused to wear dresses,” helps to marginalize gay women who did wear dresses and straight women who didn’t. I get that some people experience the two as connected, but I don’t think that justifies the harm those stereotypes cause.

  34. Logoskaieros
    Logoskaieros July 21, 2011 at 11:38 am |

    It’s strange how “born this way” has been used both to pathologize, and to undermine a pathological theory. (Perhaps based on whether you’re taking “born this way” to be a biological, genetic, or theological statement?)

    Thanks for pointing out that either extreme–sexuality as totally constructed or totally innate–misses a lot of important complexities.

    Also, your article drives home for me that it SHOULDNT MATTER whether sexuality is constructed or innate. If it deserves to be respected and not legally controlled, then it does in and of itself.

  35. Ellie
    Ellie July 21, 2011 at 11:39 am |

    After reading all the comments above, I’m not going to bother digging through for the correct quotes. But:

    1) Recently I’ve been hearing a lot in the argument over queer rights about whether or not it’s a “choice”. If you’re Born This Way, we may not want to punish you, but you aren’t allowed to choose; that’s what I’m getting out of the argument. I don’t know if I was born this way, but if I just decided at the age of 23 that I wanted to be a lesbian, what business is it of yours, and how is that less valid or less acceptable than if I was this way since birth?

    2) Everyone talking about kink and children’s stories above, yes, this. This. I was writing kinky Disney fanfic in my head before I could even write anything on paper or had the slightest inkling about what real sex was. I don’t know if I was born queer or not, but I don’t think I could possibly deny being born kinky.

  36. matlun
    matlun July 21, 2011 at 12:20 pm |

    I agree (I think) with quite a few people above that trying to oversimplify sexuality to be either nature OR nurture is just the logical fallacy of the excluded middle.

    I also do not see that homosexuality being accepted as innate would really help with acceptance. There are many conditions that are biologically innate that we still see as illnesses and disorders in need of treatment.

    The point is that it should be accepted that this is NOT a disorder, which means that the question as to whether it is innate or not is irrelevant. The question should not be if we can choose to change our sexuality, but rather why we should want to.

  37. Frank M
    Frank M July 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm |

    I think it’s an understandable reaction to a society that’s still in the process of shaking off a view of homosexuality as a contagious disease or a lifestyle choice. Going by discourse on blogs, it’s being slowly replaced by a more nuanced understanding, but it’s something in a process of development.

    There’s even more pressure on trans people to find early ‘evidence’ of their trans status, from both inside and outside the community. Particularly with binary-gendered trans people seeking medical transition – and with so many documentaries being made about transsexual children – they’re often seen as somehow less legitimate if they don’t realise from a very early age. The ongoing argument over the etiology of transsexuality really doesn’t help, especially when there’s such large divides between different parts of the group of people covered by the so-called ‘trans umbrella’.

    Anyway, back to the other topic – If gender nonconformity is seen as an early indicator of homosexuality, what of trans people who identify as gay after realising they’re trans? Only speaking from personal experience here, but being a gay trans man, I was too busy angrily resisting imposed femininity as a child (without much clue of why I felt impelled to do so, other than plain old sexism) to have much chance to embrace any potential juvenile swishiness. That only got more confusing when I was older and trying to reconcile my strong attraction to men with my own masculinity – I had no pre-existing template to fit into.

  38. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin July 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm |

    I always related more heavily to female characters than to male characters while reading books as a child. There was always something about their thought processes and means of responding to situations that closely resembled my own. But I was ignorant of aspects of myself like genderqueer, so while on one level I appreciated it, on another, I never fully allowed myself to examine it.

    Now, years later, I understand. I used the psychoanalytic term “splitting” for lots of things. That was my preferred coping mechanism to deal with not being heterosexual. I deliberately did not connect experience to greater insight out of fear of being thought effeminate, either within my own head or by others.

  39. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 21, 2011 at 2:26 pm |

    I was as a kid, as I am now. I’m everything and nothing.

    I was a mud-flinging, tree-climbing, horror-obsessed boygirl until I was eight, and my boobs came in. I didn’t associate with the other girls in my street, who were all either older or younger than I was, and were particularly horrible to me, OTOH there were 5 boys my age, right there, so we caught bees and made camps in the woods together. My one girl friend like her Sindy dolls as much as I did, but I wanted to weave narratives around them (“And then, she walks into her house and sees a strange man sitting there with a black suit on! And her baby is gone!”), not just dress them up. She didn’t like that at all.

    I read Judy, and Bunty, and Tracey, and Whizzer and Chips, Topper and Beezer. I liked ‘girly’ clothes, and longed for jeans, wanted red mary-janes, and loved my black boots. No two pictures of me show the same kid.

    When I wrote stories from a first-person perspective it was from a male voice, third-person (but about me) was female. My teachers put this down to creativity, and not the fact that it just happened unconsciously.

    The one constant undercurrent though, that’s never changed, was my obsession with women. At four I went to the ballet, and was mesmerised by one dancer who had larger boobs than the rest. Page 3 was an endless source of fascination for me, and more than once I was told off for colouring the model’s nipples in when I was painting, rather than using the newspaper to stop paint getting on the table! Oh, and I used to drag my brother up, I thought he looked better in a dress and lipstick.

    I got crushes on new girls, and wrote their surnames at the end of my name in my books. I could never understand heterosexuality, I used to ask “Why can’t I marry a girl?” and “I don’t have to marry a man and have babies, do I?”. But, as a presumed-heterosexual, evangelical christian, this was brushed off as curiousity.

    I was 21 when I finally managed to start coming out, after a very complicated mental voyage. I still don’t understand the dynamics of heterosexuality though, the social/physical structures baffle me a bit. I’m also of smooshed-gender, I have bloke days and not-bloke days, but oddly I feel at my most blokey with hair on and full makeup, and matching bra and pants, and lovely perfume and after my face is all smooth. If I’m having a womany day it’s if I have no hair on, no makeup, stubble, and pyjamas.

    I really think I was ‘born this way’, I think some people end up this way, and I don’t think it matters how we get here – just that we do it however’s best for us.

  40. chingona
    chingona July 21, 2011 at 2:34 pm |

    ~s~: We don’t know how if they actually see part of their adult identity coming out in these childhood pictures, or if they just see themselves doing something gender-nonconforming or stereotypically gay as a child.

    This is a strange objection, given that each photo is accompanied by a narrative from the person who submitted it.

  41. Andy
    Andy July 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm |

    samanthab: Time to re-read your “Whipping Girl.” It doesn’t follow that everyone with a “feminine” gender presentation is trying to attract a dude. I’m a cis, hetero lady, but I’ve felt more comfortable in dressy dresses longer than I can remember, long before I was attracted to boys. I was raised in a feminist household. It certainly wasn’t how my mother or father preferred that I dress. It’s just what feels right, and it has been for as long as I can remember. Your implication that “feminine” gender presentation goes hand in hand with manipulation, and that the only reason one would be “feminine” is to attract a man, is pretty problematic.

    I never said that everyone with a feminine gender presentation is trying to attract a man. I said that I feel *my* PERSONAL gender presentation is linked to my sexuality.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who like wearing dresses/makeup/shaving their legs for the sake of wearing dress/wearing makeup/shaving their legs. There are also definitely women out there who do not like any of those things but grudgingly do them because the media says they have to or because they rightly or wrongly feel they won’t attract a partner or will be otherwise discriminated against if they don’t. I can’t count the number of times my mother asked me to do x, y and z with the idea of being more attractive to boys when I went out. Since I didn’t care about being attractive to boys, I didn’t do x, y and z.

    On the other hand, I love pink and Care Bears, boys or no boys.

    There are MANY reasons to be feminine. For some people, the reason IS, “This feels right.” I never said it wasn’t. This is not the case *for me.* I need some outside motivation. For instance, I don’t like skirts. But if someone points out, “You know, you’d be cooler in a skirt than in long jeans on a day like today when it’s 93850985 degrees out,” I would definitely take that into consideration. On the other hand, if someone says, “You know, you’d be more attractive to boys in a skirt than in long jeans,” I just wouldn’t care.

    (And yes, before someone else pounces on me, there are plenty of boys who like girls in jeans, too. But my own personal thought process would go, “So?” because it moved on to, “I don’t believe that.”)

  42. Elena
    Elena July 21, 2011 at 4:00 pm |

    I grew up with the idea that I was straight, because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be. I thought I’d marry a guy, even though I remember having crushes on girls. I just didn’t acknowledge them as such.

    When I got older, I literally chose guys to have crushes on. It was so pathetic…as I got older I just thought “Well, I’m pansexual. I like boys and girls and everyone in between.”
    I’d never really thought that gay was wrong or anything, I was basically raised by my mom and gay men, more than half my neighborhood is gay…

    anyway, the more I thought about actually being with a guy, it kind of turned me off. I really considered actual sex with a guy, and all I could think was “eeeeeeeehhhhhhhhh noooooooooooooo”

    This other girl at school who I was friendly with was rumored to be a lesbian, so I invited her over to my house to get ready for homecoming. We talked and stuff, and since then we’ve been best friends (and only friends–she has a gf, and we’re just not into each other that way). She really helped me through a lot of stuff, and I think I helped her too. She encouraged me to come out to my mom, which I did.

    I definetely think I was “born this way”…I probably wouldn’t have chosen to be a lesbian, and I was in denial for so long…plus it’s a pain in the butt. If I were straight, I wouldn’t have to explain my sexuality to anyone.

  43. Andy
    Andy July 21, 2011 at 4:01 pm |

    *before it moved on to

  44. Doctress Julia
    Doctress Julia July 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm |

    I think I’ve always been bisexual- like almost 50/50. I was much like paraxeni upthread: mu-flinging, camping in the woods, fishing, etc. I had long pigtails until the millionth time I came home with fleas and lice, and my mom cut if off. I was happy with that!

    Now, I am a sort-of-genderqueer, bisexual adult who doesn’t know what the hell to do with herself. :(

  45. Doctress Julia
    Doctress Julia July 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm |

    MUD, I meant, not mu! lol

  46. Paul V.
    Paul V. July 21, 2011 at 7:13 pm |

    ~s~:
    I think one of the problems with this project is that we don’t know the people who are posting the pictures and the stories.We don’t know how if they actually see part of their adult identity coming out in these childhood pictures, or if they just see themselves doing something gender-nonconforming or stereotypically gay as a child.

    One of the points that Lisa is trying to argue, I think, is that not conforming to gender norms in your childhood doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with your adult life. That’s a very individual question, but BTW seems to imply that it’s a universal experience for LGBTQ kids.

    I mean, there are tons of pictures of me as a kid running around in hockey jerseys, playing with fire trucks, making Creepy Crawlers, playing soccer with the boys in the neighbourhood, etc.However, as an adult I am very feminine. Because I’m a straight cis woman nobody reads anything into the fact that I was a tomboy as a kid. But the same experiences would probably be interpreted differently if I were anything other than straight even if they had about the same influence on my adult identity (not much).

    The photos on my blog are about 10% of what each submission is about. The other 90% is the accompanying STORY, written by each person themselves. The level or amount of what they cite or share from their childhood in shaping them as adults, is up to each person.

    So can I PLEASE reiterate this:
    The blog pictures are not saying “Look at me, as a girl in overalls. I must be a lesbian” or “Here I am, a boy playing with Barbies. This proves I’m gay”. It’s the reverse, really. They share their story, AND share a self pic of their own choosing, that they feel best represents them as an LGBTQ kid.

    Paul – http://www.BornThisWayBlog.com

  47. Asinknits
    Asinknits July 21, 2011 at 8:40 pm |

    I was a tomboy as a kid. I loved lego, sandpits, being outdoors, tree climbing and school (especially all the maths and science there). I hated cooking, sewing, playing with dolls, and sitting still.

    As an adult I knit, sew, cook, walk everywhere, go to the gym a lot, and work as a scientist. Whilst I may do more things now which are ‘feminine’, I have always been just about as cis/het as they come.

    My gender performance has little to do with my orientation. I don’t feel comfortable linking gender performance with orientation, my partner does not feel comfortable performing the he man role but he is attracted to me.

  48. ~s~
    ~s~ July 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm |

    Like a bad researcher, I went and read the original Sociological Images post (which kind of made it sound like it was all about the pictures) but didn’t actually check out Born This Way. Sorry! *shameface* recanting parts of my earlier post.

    To restate the part of my earlier post I do still agree with, I think the fear is that while this is a collection of individual voices and personal memories, it might get misinterpreted as some kind of hegemonic “this is what a queer childhood looks like!” (And, in fact, I think Lisa herself kind of took it in that way, which and then produced a misinformed analysis.)

  49. Athenia
    Athenia July 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm |

    I think I was born a feminist.

    Of course, I didn’t come out spouting bell hooks, but I think there’s something innate about me being a feminist–or, I guess, being a moralistic person.

  50. Something gay to talk about… | Soulfully Gay, Part II Blog - Spirituality, Religion, Politics, Culture

    [...] (Feministe) — Who cares if we’re ‘born this way’? But I am invested in constructing a queer identity. That changes everything. These bits and pieces [...]

  51. womononajourney
    womononajourney July 22, 2011 at 11:33 am |

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments to this thread.

    I think what happens to make someone lesbian or gay (at least in many cases) is that they display behaviors that aren’t typical for boys or girls. Then other people start calling them lesbian or gay and they internalize this.

    Speaking from experience, this is what happened with me, though I used to insist I was “born that way” and would come up with evidence from my childhood, like wanting to marry my girlhood best friend, that “proved” I was born-that-way.

    There’s no way this can be possible for the reasons many folks have outline above. Homosexuality didn’t even become seen as a stable, lifelong identity until fairly recently. I recommend the website Queer By Choice for more on why being L or G cannot be be biological.

  52. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni July 22, 2011 at 11:53 am |

    Doctress Julia – here’s what to do – have fun with it. Life is short, and hard, and we might as well do whatever we can to make ourselves happy!

    The way I see it, I can no more be not-a-dyke than I can have orange eyes. I have no experience of being straight, so I have no straight-envy. I’m me, and Me just happens to be a gynephile in a (presumably) XX body. Other than that, I’m rather average really. My little beloved and I, we’re geeknerds and crips, and that contributes more to our personality than our sexuality does. Friday nights will find us eating pizza and watching Sherlock, not out in bars. We’re more likely to be discussing which software update to install on our tablets, than going clubbing.

    I used to hate my beard *and* my boobs, now I love them both equally. On ‘boy’ days when I shave my ‘Jason’ off (yeah, I named me facial hair!) I feel a bit sad, until OOH! Glitter lip-gloss! Then I’ll switch back to ‘girl’ mode and be glad the makeup is off, the bra is off, and I can lie around naked and bald again, with chin-scruff.

    I just can’t seem to get my brain to understand that usually, bra+pants+hair+makeup =/= bloke, so I’ve stopped trying. Everything’s queered up there, and since I stopped caring about that, I stopped feeling so anxious about appearing ‘normal’, I stopped trying to fashion myself into something the world would accept, and it made me happy.

    I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but once I washing the religious stains out of my metaphorical hair, my personality properly clicked into place. My sexuality, gender, disabilities, illnesses – they stopped being ‘tests’ or ‘punishments’, and became things that just were, and were not about to go away.

    Just be whatever your mind tells you you are, and live for yourself as much as you’re able to. If I’d known at 21 what I do now, I’d have had a riot with it!

  53. DouglasG
    DouglasG July 22, 2011 at 10:44 pm |

    It’s great to read all the sincere personal testimonies. Doing so does seem to support my hope that there isn’t an ultimate answer. I’d feel like the game of checkers, finally being – bleh! – “solved”. Then more than likely from solved it would be a short step to “fixed” – triple bleh!!!

  54. Jadey
    Jadey July 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm |

    Paraxeni: yeah, I named me facial hair!

    You are my hero.

  55. Cagey
    Cagey July 23, 2011 at 12:56 pm |

    I really think Lisa is reaching, assuming these people are speaking for, or even attempting to speak for the majority of LGBT people, as opposed to telling *their* specific stories. Accusing it of being a disservice reaks of the same “flamboyant gay men make it bad for the rest of us” bullshit some people in the LGBT community like to toss out (often also as an excuse for their own effemephobia). Furthermore, while I am highly sympathetic to the point that this kind of thinking might suggest that discrimination is okay if it’s not based on innate characteristics, but that is once again trying to take one person’s own view of their history and make it about the group they identify with. Generally speaking, unless otherwise stated, when people are talking about their sexuality, it’s a good idea to assume they are indeed talking about *their* sexuality, and not everyone’s. What I also think is being ignored by those kinds of analysis are the fact that what they are doing is queering childhood. The notion of LGBT children seems to confuse and frighten most of society. Their heteronormative views can only visualize queer people as adults and teens because they are prone to sexualizing queer people, and they distinctly divide sex and children into two separate categories mentally (as if kids don’t have urges, experiment, get curious, etc.) So introducing the idea that hey, not only are their queer people, but a lot of us were queer from an early age and we probably would have said it had we not been barred from learning that other options beyond heteronormativity and gender binaries exist until after we had grown up. It also nicely introduces the next phase: your kids can be queer and they may even know it, even if they don’t know what to call it, so stop reinforcing heteronormativity and homophobia, because you are fucking your kids up when you close off those avenues before they’ve even had a chance to feel them out.

    I don’t doubt that there is a certain level of confirmation bias though, where the things that don’t fit into the narrative of who we are now get obscured or rationalized away, but I wonder how much of that is a result of feeling as if we have to conform perfectly to a notion, such that anything that might seemingly contradict it is ignored because otherwise we feel like liars, as opposed to it just making us complex and multifaceted human beings.

  56. Cagey
    Cagey July 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm |

    womononajourney:
    I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments to this thread.

    I think what happens to make someone lesbian or gay (at least in many cases) is that they display behaviors that aren’t typical for boys or girls. Then other people start calling them lesbian or gay and they internalize this.

    Speaking from experience, this is what happened with me, though I used to insist I was “born that way” and would come up with evidence from my childhood, like wanting to marry my girlhood best friend, that “proved” I was born-that-way.

    There’s no way this can be possible for the reasons many folks have outline above. Homosexuality didn’t even become seen as a stable, lifelong identity until fairly recently. Irecommend the website Queer By Choice for more on why being L or G cannot be be biological.

    See, I distinctly remember having feelings that I couldn’t quite explain until I got introduced to the concept and it just clicked for me. (I would later find this concept as it was introduced too limiting for what I would later learn about myself). So, yes, the concept of a “homosexual” as an identity is certainly new, but the existence of people with attractions to the same-sex are not recent creations. Culture shapes how those attractions can and can’t manifest, but I doubt they can generate them from scratch. This is not to say that there aren’t people who are queer by choice or that this isn’t valid, but that the lived experience of many people shows us that for them, there is something about their sexuality that has been consistent for a long time and in some cases it is despite their best efforts to change it.

  57. Treefinger
    Treefinger July 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm |

    “How have you consciously constructed your own past? What childhood experiences do you understand differently because of your present identity or later experiences? ”

    Sorry, but none. I was 100% gender conforming as a child, and puberty changed it all. To look back and try to twist what happened to help fit the narrative would be mental gymnastics and an exercise in vanity. What is, is, and what was, was. I don’t see why you think everybody does this in unison, trying to make the randomness of everyday life into a coherent narrative.

  58. Radical Feminist Seminar: Professor Dines Brings It On « A place for everywomon

    [...] degrade or Other women. Although biological determinism, in all its forms–whether that be the Born This Way campaign or the idea some people are “born with” mental illness– are all the rage [...]

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