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.

A Talk with Prof. Chalidaporn Songsamphan

This article appeared in CGS Newsletter, Issue 12, Center for Gender Studies, International Christian University. HTML / PDF

Pornography

Chico Masak (CGS staff, CM)

What would you say your stand on pornography is?

Prof. Chalidaporn (SC)

I think we should look at pornography as a form of sexual fantasy, which each individual should have the right in their private time to enjoy. But the problem is, when you look at pornography in detail, you’ll see complex relationships between pornography and so many other things. And pornography itself is so diverse. So it is very difficult to have a stand on it. Instead, you have to look at particular cases and details. You’ll probably have a different stand on each one. We tend to want some kind of theory or explanation to which all similar cases can be reduced. But it doesn’t work that way. We have to be very specific with everything.

CM

Do you think there should be any difference between the way we see pornography and its problems and the way we see other forms of art like painting?

SC

For me, there should be no difference. But the problem is, sex has a very special meaning in our culture. Pornography is looked at very differently, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. Remember Foucault’s example of punching someone in the face and inserting a penis into a vagina. These two acts have totally different meanings because of the position of sexuality in our cultural consciousness.

Defining Pornography?

CM

But pornography itself can be quite fuzzy in definition. For instance, it is not clear if the comic genre, boys love a.k.a. BL or what’s called slash, is pornography or not. It certainly serves that function for some people. So there’s always this demarcation problem of what’s porn and what’s not.

SC

The line, constituted through our understanding and interpretation, is actually moving all the time. Whether something is pornographic or not totally depends on how you look at it. Anything could be pornographic.

CM

But how do we negotiate with other views on pornography?

SC

We should acknowledge that various different interpretations exist. People like Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin tend to prescribe certain beliefs, saying, this is good and this should be like this. We should stop being judgmental and recognize the differences first, and then, the question is, how are we going to live with those differences?

State Power v. Critique

CM

Legally speaking, do you think there should be any state intervention in the distribution of pornography?

SC

The problem is, the state would need a very clear definition of what is porn and a strong idea about what we should do about it. When you have this kind of clarity, it closes the doors to other possible interpretations. That’s the problem with law. No debate. No negotiation. What a dangerous society! People should be able to talk about sex as a social activity. We should leave room for argument and discussion.

CM

Then what can we do as individuals to fight such representational injustices?

SC

I think the most important thing is to express your opinion and disagreement with the particular phenomenon. Just because you respect freedom of speech, it doesn’t mean you cannot say anything against pornography. You probably want to take an element or two from the work in question and express your discomfort with them. As for child pornography, some people say they don’t agree with the element of forced sex. And if someone disagrees with you, then they have to come up with their own argument, some reason, against you.

Child Pornography and Feminism

CM

I wonder what difference there is between the anti-child pornography that’s going around today and the anti-heterosexual pornography movement by MacKinnon and Dworkin. When I wrote the article, “Child Pornography and Feminism” (CGS Newsletter 011), I said that we were sort of jumping on the bandwagon to search for a quick, legal solution to child pornography. And there’s not as much opposition to it as there was to Dworkin and MacKinnon when people thought that there was no problem in pornography. Today, when it comes to child pornography, we sort of assume that it’s something inherently bad and we don’t really question our thinking. We should ask ourselves, is representation problematic or not?

SC

Yes, but you have to look at this issue very carefully. The existence of child pornography aggravates many middle-class people because the middle-class sexuality believes in the category of “children” as sexless, so pure and sexually innocent that they need to be protected in order to mature–and that’s a myth. Many laws have been passed because they were allegedly for the purpose of protecting children from sexual abuse by adults. The problem is, no one really cares about how we define the category. Feminists have been questioned numerous times to the extent that the identity category of “woman” itself has ceased to be convincing. We should question the category of children, too, asking, how do we differentiate between children and adults? There is no clear-cut definition or indicator that we could agree on. So when you talk about child pornography or child sexual abuse, people at the same table most likely disagree on many points. They probably have totally different images of children. Going into details like this can be a very threatening experience for the middle-class, and that is why it is so easy to put forth policies and laws “for the good of children” because you’ll most likely convince the middle-class.

CM

Yeah, like Megan’s Law and Jessica’s Law in California. By the way, when I think of child abuse, I always think of the law in the U.S. back in the 1890s, which said that a wife had to serve their husband sexually whenever they were required to. I think the motivation for working towards the prohibition of child pornography is the concern for the power relation between adults and children. Then, why shouldn’t it have been illegal for men to have sex with women when there was a huge difference between what men had and what women had in terms of power…

SC

I think, to them, consent is the most important indicator for differentiating forced sex from consensual sex.

CM

But if we accept that children cannot consent because of adult-child power relations, women must also have had no ability to consent due to harsh gender inequality.

SC

Actually, liberal thinkers and philosophers did not really think that women could consent. John Locke, for example, said women and children did not have the ability to reason, and that they must be represented by the male head of the household. It must not even have been a tiny problem for those liberal thinkers because they were not looking at women as the right bearers in the first place.

CM

It’s very interesting because now we understand that children and women are both put into the same category as immature, deprived of rights, and nonconsensual, but…

What Kind of Sexual Diversity Are You For?

Naomi Suzuki (CGS staff, NS)

But women have no protection from the middle-class. What could be the difference…?

SC

What you said is another concrete example of the diversity of the ways people look at sexuality, because many people can accept many things that may contradict the hegemonic sexuality, but there are so many other things that they are still upholding. So when people say they are for sexual diversity, you should ask them what kind of diversity they’re talking about. People say heterosexual pornography is a form of sexual fantasy, and that we should allow individuals in our society to have the right to freedom of expression and freedom to consume it. But as soon as those individuals start to prefer child pornography, they are denied the same right. Many of us fail to see the contradiction here.

Activism of Our Time

NS

To me, it seems like you two have very similar takes on this issue. What would you say is the difference between both your approaches? Like when you actually take action…

SC

If we have to decide to take action, our stands might be different or very similar–it depends on the specific case. The point I’ve tried to make today is that we can be inconsistent because when you look at pornography in a very specific way, each case has its own meaning since each case has its own details. You cannot use the same theory to explain them all. You can be anti-censorship AND disagree with the acts you see in child pornography. I think that’s one of the strengths of social movements of our time–people can work together when they agree with each other, but when they don’t, they don’t have to, or they can still agree to disagree. Given such flexibility, we have to think carefully, define what we are talking about, and ask other people what they mean by, let’s say, “child pornography” because they might be thinking of different things when they seem to be talking about the same thing.

NS

The World Congress III and advocate groups seem strongly united with one another. But each member of these groups must have different opinions and definitions of child pornography, right?

SC

When they do political activism, they may suppress different ideas within themselves. But if you just let them work on that and draft a certain law, the differences will come up anyway. When their ideas become concrete about the issue, they will start fighting because drafting a law creates lots of debates. And at that stage, people cannot overlook the obvious disagreement among them.

CM

Well, it’s been very fun talking to you, Dr. Chalidaporn.

SC

It’s been fun. Thank you!