A lot of people make the argument that people are born a certain sexuality. Even after taking a class with me, many well meaning students are still employing this rhetoric. I know where my students are coming from on this—if you can naturalize a behavior/identity you can justify it. But the argument that queer people are born that way is problematic because it rests its claim on a problematic binary between natural and social while also reinforcing a colonialist, racist, classist, cissexist, sexist, ableist understanding of “nature”. It also reproduces a victim narrative—one can’t help it, they were born that way. That is not the affirming kind of way that I’d like to think about my sexuality.
The perpetuation of this discourse of being “born this way” is tied to a liberal politics, connected to groups like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other groups interested in liberal reforms such as gay marriage. By trying to convince everyone that gayness is “natural” they can pursue rights for gays that conform to other normative ideals that have also been produced as “natural”, though none of them actually are. And there is a larger contradiction to this discourse: arguing for the naturalness of homo/bi/gay/lesbian sexuality ironically reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is always already natural. It therefore completely disregards sexuality as a political structure, institution or force and allows people to continue to think of sexuality as an individual depoliticized event.
Obviously, we must move away homophobia and from an understanding of sexuality through pathology and normalcy, and at first glance the “born this way” argument appears to be useful in fighting this. But it does so only by re-securing certain gays as natural normal citizens. How useful could this discourse be when it based upon the unchecked naturalness of heterosexuality? We must also ask, what kind of gays get to have their sexuality interpreted as natural and normal through this discourse? What kind of sex gets to be interpreted as natural and normal? Where are the limits drawn for whom will be placed at the margins? As long as people perpetuate the discourse of valuing and accepting “natural” sexual orientations, they will continue to push to the margins the racialized, classed, disabled and trans bodies that will never be understood as “natural” and are so obviously already pushed out by liberal organizations like HRC.
What must happen, then, is to fight against participation in this discourse. As long as it remains necessary to reinforce some sexualities as natural, others will be produced as unnatural, and this is inextricably tied to other privileges. We need to reject this debate, and raise new questions and start new politics.
Although most mainstream LGBT politics subscribe to the rhetoric of being “born this way”, most queer theory deconstructs the naturalness of any sexuality—gay or straight or otherwise. Going back to Freud, any sexual object choice is a question worthy of investigation and no sexual object choice is without its social context—there is no innate instinct on either side. Sexual identity, especially cannot be understood as instinct or natural, as it is produced through discourse and language, and forms of epistemic violence—it could never be effectively argued to be “natural”. Sexuality, more broadly defined than identity, is socially produced through relations, and although materialized through bodies, that body need not be understood as natural either (I’ll save that for another blog post). Reducing sexuality to a natural orientation takes all the fun out of sexuality. Where is the space to understand sexuality as pleasure, desire, touch, feel, lust, pain, sweat, fantasy and tingles? As long as the discourse around sexuality remains situated in a “born this way” argument, society will never have an adequate understanding of sexuality that would allow us to fully experience our bodies through it and will continue to perpetuate heterosexuality as natural and central to human existence.
Readings on my mind:
Butler, Judith P. Gender Trouble: Tenth Anniversary Edition. Psychology Press, 1990. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 1st ed. Trans. Brian Massumi. University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. Three Essays On The Theory Of Sexuality. Revised. Basic Books, 2000. Print.