In a recent New York Times Magazine profile, the actress Cynthia Nixon (of Sex and the City fame) discussed her sexuality, and explained her reaction to some of the attention drawn by her having begun a serious relationship with a woman after ending a fifteen-year relationship with a man. From the piece:
“I gave a speech recently, an empowerment speech to a gay audience, and it included the line ‘I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.” Her face was red and her arms were waving. “As you can tell,” she said, “I am very annoyed about this issue. Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate? It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.”
Those remarks set off such a firestorm, in part from LGBTQ rights advocates, that Nixon later issued a clarification:
My recent comments in The New York Times were about me and my personal story of being gay. I believe we all have different ways we came to the gay community and we can’t and shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into one cultural narrative which can be uninclusive and disempowering. However, to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context I would like to clarify:
While I don’t often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have “chosen” is to be in a gay relationship. As I said in the Times and will say again here, I do, however, believe that most members of our community—as well as the majority of heterosexuals—cannot and do not choose the gender of the persons with whom they seek to have intimate relationships because, unlike me, they are only attracted to one sex.
Our community is not a monolith, thank goodness, any more than America itself is. I look forward to and will continue to work toward the day when America recognizes all of us as full and equal citizens.
A few years back we published a book—some might say the book—on this very issue. In that book, entitled Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, author Lisa Diamond argues against the traditional view of sexual orientation as fixed, presenting instead an understanding of sexual flexibility very much like that described by Nixon. Diamond studied a group of 100 young women as they developed from adolescence to adulthood, collecting valuable data on their sexuality as it developed, rather than later in life as most studies have done. She found that attraction for women is often far more fluid than our society usually acknowledges, and the book, which is full of the voices of those young women, presents the most complete picture we have of the flexibility of sexual attraction.
Aware of the controversy and political manipulation that her findings could incite, Diamond opted to begin the book by addressing some of the most common misconceptions regarding what she terms “sexual fluidity.” An excerpt: