Queer By Choice and Ex-gay

I have always been sick of the born-this-way rhetoric that mainstream gay activism has so proudly spread all over the U.S. I don’t have anything against those who were born gay or born whatever, but feeling that one was born gay and saying so are two different things.

I understand that the born-this-way rhetoric has served many of the causes for social justice for most gay and lesbian people (and to a lesser degree, transgender people, too) especially during the AIDS panic where the gay-by-choice rhetoric was used against homosexuals as an excuse for the government’s taking no action about the epidemic.

But it also has created another dividing line between queers, between those with coherent identities and those who experience no such thing. And I fall into the latter category. I have been 100% straight. I have been 100% gay. I have been somewhat bi. I have been definitely bi. I have been “probably bi.” I have been somewhat genderqueer. I have been comfortable and uncomfortable around my assigned gender. I have felt lesbian. And I don’t know what I will be in a 3-year, 5-year, 10-years time.

Whenever someone says homosexuality is something that you’re born with, I feel left out. Me feeling left out is probably nothing important to mainstream gay activists, but I can see that we are going to have a problem if we stick to the born-gay rhetoric just because it comes handy at this moment in this culture. My take on nature vs. nurture is that asking the nature-or-nurture question is itself homophobic most of the time. If it’s nature, so what? If it’s nurture, so what? I mean, anti-gay folks have used both of those rhetorics to attack gays!

And I’m telling you, and all other by-choice queers are telling you, that not every gay is born gay. Just fucking accept that and stop saying “we are born gay” as if it were a universal truth.

I don’t buy the by-choice idea, either, to tell the truth. I don’t think our sexuality is that easy to control. By intentionally, consciously trying to change one’s sexuality, she or he may be able to eventually change it some day, but such effort is just one factor that influences his or her sexuality among other things like upbringing, media representations and languages that she or he has been exposed to, etc. etc. I’m not queer by nature or by choice. I just like what I like and I don’t care if that’s based on my biological disposition or environmental influence, and I won’t let anyone to attack me for loving what I love.

I said I’m not queer by nature or by choice, but I was gay by choice during high school. I (stupid me) thought identifying as gay would open a door for me to mainstream (read: white) New Zealander culture. But it turned out that being gay didn’t cancel out my racial difference, but only added crap to my life. So I stopped identifying as gay. So I could probably be classified as ex-gay, even. But I’m definitely queer in its most vague sense. And I didn’t choose to be queer, nor my queerness is something I was born with.

So my understanding of sexuality and gender identity is pretty much in favor of “right now, right here,” which means what one describes herself or himself as, who they feel like they are at the moment. And this has also led me to be shocked by comments made by pro-gay people to attack ex-gay movement.

A lot of anti-ex-gay people say there’s no such thing as ex-gay, and that if someone is gay he’ll always be so (and I’m using the male pronoun here because lesbians are rarely talked about in this kind of context). So, in their view, ex-gays either are liars (gone back in to the closet) or were straight all along since the day they were born. And I DON’T FUCKING CARE!

The reason why ex-gay movement sucks is not because they’re in the closet or they are straight or they identify as ex-gay, but because their politics sucks, their movement is harmful, and their paternalistic view on sexual diversity is annoying. So just stop saying ex-gays are liars, stop denying what they now identify as, and just focus on criticizing their politics, not their identities!

Don’t you remember the time when homosexuals were called liars just because they didn’t come out to everyone they met? Don’t you realize that calling someone’s identity fake is such a hurtful thing to do with which many transgender people have unfortunately been so familiar? I don’t know – some ex-gays might still be gay, or maybe most of them are still gay. They might be liars. But hiding in the closet is not wrong. Most of us have been there, and are still there. What’s wrong about ex-gay movement is what they do by using the ex-gay identity i.e. attacking homosexuals.

By nature or by nurture, exposed or hidden, our (and everyone else’s) identities should not be denied. Scrutinizing identities, whether to find out what’s causing them or to expose the “truth” to the public and humiliate others, is not the direction that I would like queer activism to go. Acceptance is a big word in mainstream LGBT activism today. But I find it hypocritical if we are not accepting of other people’s identities (that may change over time). I really hope that we will soon live in a world where even ex-gays join queer activism and fight for queer rights i.e. a world where people who used to be gay do not get questioned by other queers but can live as our fellow queers who have experienced a “queer” (in the original sense of the word) history of sexual preference changes.

My Coming Out Story… or a lack thereof!

This piece of writing was submitted to the Office for LGBTQ Student Affairs at the University of Chicago as part of their OUTober: Coming Out Stories Project. The original text can be found in the project website under “Masaki.”

Published Text

Name: Masaki
Affiliation (Staff, Faculty, Alumni, Student): Student
Division/Office/School/Program: MAPSS
Coming Out Story:

I will come out tomorrow. I will come out to new friends, their families, faculty members, and colleagues. I will come out tomorrow. I will come out the day after. I will be coming out next month, next year, ten years later unless someone hateful of queers kills me by that time. Coming out is not beautiful. Love is. Acceptance is. I’d do anything to be loved and accepted. And that’s why I come out, exchanging my coming out for love and acceptance. But when will we live in a society where we can be neither in or out of the closet, where no one cares about our sexualities and identities and we are not degraded at all? I will come out tomorrow, because I want to be loved and accepted. I won’t stop, because otherwise my sexuality and identity would never find a home in this world. They would wander about, scattered, sliced into pieces, so tiny that no one could see them. I won’t stop, because I’m weak and always in need of love and acceptance. It’s the reverse of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell——today’s (at least) urban queers face Do Tell, but We Won’t Ask, the slightly altered, liberal version that together with DADT stems from the whole closet system.

I’m not sure what, or who, or how, or where I am. I am not L or G or B or T or Q, but I’m in no way what’s usually seen as non-LGBTQ. But I’m not interested in “I” anymore. Here’s my note for you, reader; stop reading this as soon as possible, and start thinking about the entire system that is homophobic, transphobic, misogynous, racist, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-abortion, ethnocentric, able-ist, and classist that we have in the United States of fu*king America and beyond. I’m sure coming out stories are insightful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes heart-breaking, and by and large meaningful in our larger queer politics. But, let us not focus on what WE have to say to the world, but what YOU can do, either individually or collectively, no matter what sexuality or identity you may have, to change the world. Please, oh please! Writing this piece so far has already taken me a good 2 hours. And tonight I will most likely dream of a society where no queer person has to write a coming out story for the rest of the world. No offence; I’m glad you’re reading this. Thank you for your time. The only thing I would like you to remember when you go home and watch TV and take a shower and go to bed and wake up tomorrow morning and leave your house and go to school/work/etc. and chat with your friends/coworkers/et al., is, please thank us, at least to some extent, for taking our time writing these stories, which required all of us to go back to memories that are not always pleasurable to recall.

(491 words)

I Want To Drown

When I first got that name, “gay,” I felt jubilant. I accepted the name and told people that I was gay. Since I was also bisexual from time to time, I sometimes called myself a “part-time bisexual.” At that time, I lived in the country where I was recognized as racial minority, which already made me “different.” So, through gayness, I thought I could become part of mainstream culture. I put myself out to the public as gay, rather than Asian. That was my assimilation tactics.

After I moved to another country, I learned that people look at gay Asians as nothing but gay ASIANS. Nobody would see me as simply gay. The I-am-gay strategy was supposed to help me integrate into the majority, but I soon realized that all I had done was dig down deep and descend into the status of minority within the minority. That was shocking to know. It followed that when I moved back to Japan to transfer to a university there, I hated the name, “gei,” a ridiculously simple equivalent to the English word, “gay.” Every time I saw the word in Japanese, it reminded me of the visual images typically displayed on the front cover of gay Asian porn DVDs targeted at caucasian populations that I had seen back in San Francisco. “I do not belong to this category,” I thought. Or more precisely, I thought, “I would do anything to avoid being called that name.” Which, also, brought to me the most horrifying idea, which I had always vaguely imagined, that all the people I had met in New Zealand and the United States only saw me as “one of those Asians, who happens to be gay.”

I still see the English word, “gay,” as something positive, something I can relate to. But I loathe the word,“gei.” I wanted to become “just gay,” not “Asian gay.” I still crave the status of “no sign” or “no name,” which is, of course, based on the racist idea that whiteness means transparency and colors carry meanings. Advocates who use such rhetorical expressions as “we are normal” or “we are just the same as you” are the last thing that I want to become, but when it comes to race, I still haven’t found a way to settle and accept my own non-white body.

So the racist me sees the word, “gei,” in a very Orientalist way, while I hold the fear that when I say I am gay, people automatically supplement that statement with the word, “Asian.” I don’t want people to read me as Asian, nor do I intend to reveal my racial category to people who, luckily to me, do not know it. When someone IMs to me knowing nothing about my race, that’s the only time I feel safe to say I am gay. It’s the moment of “ascending” into the status of phantasmic “gayness,” in which the only difference I am forced to take for granted about myself is gayness, and I can say “yeah we’re different, so what?” But when the other person becomes conscious of my race, I shrink and descend. I do not hold Asian pride, I guess. I feel like a suck-up assimilationist who looks down upon other Asians because “they are not as white as me.”

Since gayness was introduced to my life as a potential bridge to mainstream culture, it means nothing more than just an option, something I can easily adopt and belong to, or discard. It is a choice. And choices do not have anything to do with my body. So, to me, gayness is an unreachable holy land (which, probably, no one has ever reached; what’s more, it’s probably just my imagination that there be such a thing). It’s just an useful name. It never gets in my way when I deviate from it. I mean, me and gayness are far too apart in the first place, and there’s no way I can deviate from it in any noticeable way. So, unlike the name, “Asian,” which is strongly associated with my body, I do not hold abhorrence or dread against the name, “gay.” “So what?” would be my stand, and that actually describes my true feelings pretty well. But no matter how many times I tell people that I am gay or gei, I can see that expression’s reflection in the mirror with the contours of my body being freakin’ Asian. Thousands of thousands of words, repeated and paraphrased, will never get me where I feel I should belong, where I can be “just gay.” As soon as people see me, hear me, or touch me, the totality of “I” falls apart. So I hide. I hide behind the closet doors. And when I successfully have my body disappear from the visual field at the scene (like, in email or something like that), that’s when I do communication in somewhat satisfactory way. I get to assume the kind of body that I want.

I hate identity politics. I hate it when people label me. I also hate it when “liberal” people let me choose from labels. I mean, not all names are equal. And if you choose wrong, that name is a one-way ticket to hell. And refusing to choose means you’re nothing. Nameless. Sometimes people even decline your choice, saying, “that’s not what your body is, honey.” And the biggest reason why I hate identity politics is because I am, as I have explained, a twisted white supremacist. I feel torn apart every time someone pronounces that my body isn’t white. It makes me feel like I am less, and thus need to be fixed with better care and more efforts. It also makes me feel exhausted and helpless, thinking back on my enthusiasm to approximate to whiteness which never bore fruit. Saying I am white would only help the world feel less sorry and guilty for labeling me “crazy.” If I were white, and if people saw me as white, I’d be happy to be gay. Gay activism based on identity politics would not bother me, because it’d sound just so irrelevant that I don’t care. And that’s because I chose, and am still choosing, the name, “gay,” based on my own decision. I second Foucault who said being gay isn’t about sex but lifestyle. I enjoy being gay but it doesn’t define me. I have been straight, gay, bisexual and everything in-between in my teen years, so I first-handedly know that sexuality flows and changes. So I play with sexual categories. But race, oh race! Why would I want to “come out and express myself” when it’s not what I want to be and it’s the only racial category to which I seem to have the right to belong?

To live in a society/community strongly influenced by Western modernism (including the West) means to be forced to pay penalty when you fail to follow the categorical imperatives based on the academic discipline of biology. In a queer context, it would be to pay penalty for not acting, identifying and performing sex like you’re supposed to in biological senses.1 But not all cultures have adopted Western modernism, or at least, there have been modifications at the time of introduction. The same is true for seemingly Western regions like the U.S. and Western Europe. When I was a high school student in a town called Ojai, CA, it felt as if there had not been categorical imperatives based on race. The town is mostly populated by caucasians and I only knew one Japanese resident a few miles away from the dormitory. Nobody spoke Japanese. But I felt more accepted and free than I did in Bay Area where I went to college. Friends groups were not divided along the racial lines. Classmates were more curious and respectful about cultures
that were not of their own. They saw differences and accepted them, while also finding joy in having things in common with other races. I wouldn’t say things were perfect in Ojai, but surely much better than any place else I’ve been to. It was as if my being Asian had been put aside, invisible, but called for when it was convenient for me. Being Asian was, for the short one-year period of time that I spent in Ojai, shrunken to the size of being gay. I could control the display of Asian-ness, sometimes disavowing it, and sometimes summoning it, just like I would be able to with my gayness if I were white (or so I wish).

I’m not saying I am human before I’m gay or Asian. All I’m saying is that no single label can override others and triumph as the defining feature of the person that I am. I want my features to be detachable, or at least controllable in terms of output flows. But reflection in the mirror moves the slider up on the mixer, resulting in the amplifiers blowing up. Life is like a cheap mp3 player; you never hear details but high frequency tones, superficial and ornamental. And ordinary people don’t bother getting a set of high quality headphones for their p2p-shared free music. My highest tone is racial. It’s what people notice first. I mean, I know there’re so many positive messages out there about being Asian. For example, I admire Margaret Cho and Dr. Christina Yang (Sandra Oh). Sometimes I wish I were more like them. Asian pride seems like a beautiful thing to embrace. I wish I were proud of my race. It’s not entirely because of societal racism that I’m not proud. The deep-rooted cause for self-degradation is my own racism. I mean, why else do I want to be “just gay” while I completely understand that “just gay” means “white gay” and that that idea is based on racist bullshit? Like I said, being “gay” is a detachable part of me. I chose it. I bet on it. It’s a label that does not represent me. It never speaks for me. If I detect some unexpected noise from it, I’m happy to discard it. It’s a mask that I wear. Never tells what’s behind it. Race, on the other hand, seems to travel through the speakers, randomly hit the walls and come back at me even louder, so loud I can’t hear myself.

Categories of human beings are partly the aftermath of the Enlightenment. Like I said, we are forced to pay penalty when we fail to follow the categorical imperatives. But they also kindly offer you “different” categories, into which to classify you when conventional categories do not seem to work for you. The Western thoughts, especially those of Christianity, pretty much require you to have an identity, deep-seated yet explicable, waiting to come out. Good identities and bad identities: bad ones only need to be confessed and corrected. But I don’t believe in identity. Sexuality flows. Gender identity changes over time. Bodies grow and age. I swirl in the sea of melting pot. But there’s one thing attached to my leg, an anchor, weighing me down so that I won’t drown. And that thing… is race. It doesn’t seem to let go of me. It seems static. Never changes. Reminds me of who I am supposed to be, who I don’t want to be. I want to drown.

Now, let me ask you this again; why would I want to come out?


  1. But biology itself is a set of ideas constituted through language. Biologists, just like other natural scientists, gather up data that are diverse and scattered, in order to get a larger picture of overall tendencies or divide them up into categories that they give names to and study the tendency of each of them. I do not hold anything against scientific methodologies, because they sometimes bring good to society (like medicine). But people seem to believe in biology more than biologists themselves do, thinking that biology is the language that describes nature precisely. Which causes me so much trouble personally. I am too tired to get up my ass and talk back when someone says, “hey, that’s what biologists say,” grinning like they are guaranteed victory. 

Don’t leave ’em alone, but don’t bother, either.

At Below the Belt, Someone (I’m sorry but I can’t find their name) posted an entry on class divisions and the invisible working-class in queer community. Granted, economic disparity within queer community, or at least gay community, isn’t really represented in the media or quite existent in our urban-washed cultural consciousness, and that’s a problem, no doubt. I, however, do not necessarily find it attractive to have scientific data covering those who do not fit with the stereotypic gay image.

There are so many reasons why some people’s faces do no appear in our vision. Like the original blogger says, some may find it impossible to come out at work or school or in their rural town where homophobia and transphobia prevail. Some may fear stigma and violence. Hence the original poster’s comment, “if the working class person does not live in an area that is accepting, s/he is more likely to not publicly identify, even if they privately do so.”

But there are dozens of other reasons, too. They may be too poor and thus busy to care in the first place. They may be happy enough in the closet. They may not identify as L or G or B or T or Q or anything that derives from the urban imaginary. They may cherish the local and choose it over things urban, thus not inclined to migrate to urban areas. They may find everyday negotiation with friends, families and colleagues more attractive, bringing richness to their life as a working-class person with working-class people surrounding them. Or they simply don’t like the gay culture at all and prefer more countryside-ish social occasions where homosociality does not always lead to homophobia (I guess we all know that, don’t we?).

I am not saying urban queer politics should not intervene in local struggles faced by queer people, but it seems very wrong to frame them in the urban imaginary where being out is a privilege and remaining in the closet is a sign of restriction or oppression. What underlies our struggles as queer individuals, rural or suburban or urban, is not that some of us cannot come out, but that we need to identify and come out as a comprehensible name in the first place to become visible and understandable. To me, that’s one of the big issues that we queers are collectively confronted with. If we fail to acknowledge this kind of collectivity that hovers over all of us, the term “queer” starts to seem meaningless, failing to bind together sexual/gender minority peoples coming from diverse economic/ethnic/disability/etc. backgrounds, because that’s how diverse we are.

So, while it’s important for some of us to attempt to take into account the invisible queers in our scientific research, which will richen the literature which people will have access to and learn from, we should nevertheless use our imagination to think about local contexts that shape the invisible queers’ identities, allows ways of negotiation that are different from urban ways of negotiation, and provides them with different ways of enjoying life. This of course has its own dangers, because it easily slips into mere cultural relativism and pluralism, making little room for understanding of inter-regional interactions. But my point is, it is precisely that very inter-regionality that we must look closely at as a site of construction of urban/rural dichotomy. Every time we say things like “queers in rural areas have less freedom,” and especially when we say them in the presence of rural audiences (e.g. on TV) i.e. at the site of inter-regional interaction, it becomes a part of the construction of urban/rural dichotomy. My point rejects both the idea that each region has its own context and the idea that it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re queer. Refusing to go neither way, we should create a path that leads us to a kind of collectivity that works for everyone no matter where they are–and that “no matter where they are” doesn’t mean we’ll preserve and extend the urban framework to understand ourselves, but we’ll somehow undermine the urban imaginary itself, destroy it to some extent, to really account for our diverse experiences as queer–no matter how little “queer” means to us.

Unhappy Queer In Denial – I Am Not Who I Am And That’s Fine, Thank You Very Much

People say, “happiness is all that matters,” “it’s fine as long as you’re happy,” “I just want you to be happy,” “you gotta make yourself happy,” and all that shit. Don’t get me wrong, I know what they mean. They’re nice people, probably the nicest kind of human beings. But it just annoys me when they say such things as if we had to be happy to gain freedom. I feel the same kind of aversion towards the Be-Who-You-Are discourse. Why can’t we just have the right to pretend like something else AND be free?

Look, I’m not happy. I don’t like who I am. And that’s fine. Period.

I wonder what makes them assume the right to decide whether or not it is okay for us to live depending on the level of happiness that derives from our life. Failing to prove happy will always lead to an educational, paternalistic lecture on how we should be proud of ourselves, how our life can be “healthier” if we listen to them. I think they, rather than we, have problems with life. I want to say, “mind your business,” precisely because they apparently gain something through lecturing us–and I think what exactly they get is a covering that obscures their own unhappiness.

The epitome of such discourses of theirs is when they comment on sex work. Lots of people say they think it’s okay to do sex work as long as the sex worker feels comfortable doing the kind of work they do. But how many people in our society feel totally comfortable at work, with no complaint or any kind of risks they take? I am not saying that work is always accompanied by sweat or (physical/psychological) damage, nor am I saying that we shouldn’t enjoy working. I think improvements in work environment and social security are very important no matter where you work. I also think that work isn’t necessarily a beautiful thing to do, and I believe in basic income. All I want to say is that they should just back off and think about the very line they’re trying to draw between sex work and other kinds of work before they start to venture to judge sex work as if they had the right to do so.

In the queer context, lots of coming-out narratives tell us that “cool” people say they don’t mind because they’re happy for us being happy and who we are. So if we’re not happy, or if we aren’t in actuality who we are (e.g. in denial), will they not accept us as whole beings? We do have the right to be queer AND unhappy. We do have the right to be queer AND in denial (of, say, racial categories we’re assigned). We do have those rights, just like everyone else.