Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sorry Gaga, I was *not* born this way

When it comes to the origin of my sexual orientation, my thought process is not all that complex. I prefer to stay away from arguments of nature vs. nurture vs. trauma vs. Madonna. Instead, I go straight to my old school feminist schooling:

Gender is a social construction. 

At birth, Dr. Harry (yes, that was his name) saw that I had a penis and called me a boy. My parents seemed to have agreed and eventually gave me a *boy* name. Although, they might have initially doubted the doctor’s words as they waited seven days to name me.

As I approach my 32nd birthday, I continue to somewhat follow the gender designation I was given at birth. I am, as some would say, a gender-conformist, or a cisgendered person, as my gender identity coincides with the one I was given at birth. Nonetheless, the fact that my penis has biological ties does not make my gender identity a biological fact. If sexual orientation is essentially about what gender(s) one is attracted to, said gender(s) would need to be biological in order for sexual orientation to be biological. Otherwise, how would one be "born" with a biological predisposition to be drawn to something that does not exist biologically? Politically and spiritually, I prefer to center the genesis of my desire(s) on choice. This is my ultimate act of resistance toward systems and mores that seek (and too often succeed) to control our self determination.

As Lady Gaga ignites collective hysteria among the gays (or, her little monsters) with her “Born This Way” single, I notice a sense of pride and defiance among those who chant along with her. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of who you are. I walk the streets wearing the Ricky Martin-inspired “I am a fortunate homosexual man” t-shirt my honey bought me last year. I’m pretty damn proud. Kudos to Gaga for rallying pride (and for getting Ricky Martin to introduce her at the Grammy's!).

However, given that much of the queer experience is now tied to the legislatability of our existence, “Born This Way” comes with its baggage.
Obviously, people have a right to write their own story and assign what belief they find fits best. This post does not intend to undermine said stories. It may very well be that those who believe in a Christian god were, in fact, created gay by said Christian god. Meanwhile, I’m convinced that no god or biological factor made me gay.  To quote a brilliant and loved friend, “many truths are possible.”

Instead, I am drawn toward the reasons behind a relentless move to explain or perhaps justify who we are.

Recently, a friend sent me a link to an NPR story about the blog Born This Way!, which features fabulous childhood pictures of queer adults. The pictures come with great write-ups from the respective contributors. On the surface, I’m loving the blog.

I remember being 7 and prancing (yes, prancing) around the house in my mother’s robe and red church heels. I also remember the disturbed look on my father’s face and how quickly I would straighten up to regain his approval.

I don’t know if I was gay then. Sure, I had tons of crushes on boys, though probably more crushes on girls. Perhaps the question is: Was I bi then? Regardless, my Sunday morning robe-n-heels performances might have had less to do with my sexual orientation than about me playing with gender as I played with play-doh. I was a sissy boy who had crushes on boys and girls, and grew up to be a sissy man who has crushes on men as well as a few women. I still don’t call myself bi and pretty much follow Sophia Petrillo’s advice to “stick to what [I] know.”

Perhaps one day I will submit a photo of myself for the blog, but it wont be with the intent to make the argument that I was born gay. It will be to agree that I was born with the capacity to express. In this case, I was expressing gender, not declaring my desire for men.

The reason for only enjoying the blog superficially boils down to the first quote in the NPR article. The quote is from a man who writes about the picture he submitted: “Looking at it now, as a 31-year-old, it only reaffirms what I've always believed — that my being gay wasn't a choice.” This is where the “born this way” argument gets dangerous.

These days, to try to convince others that I was born gay would be to try to justify part of my essence. I don’t need my desire and love for other men to be justified. I demand it be recognized and affirmed. To date, “born this way” has done neither.

I understand the need to justify a queer existence in order to achieve legal rights and protections. By doing so, however, we carry the burden of a faulty legislative process that too often relies on people's erroneous Christian-centric moral approval (remember that many inhumane atrocities have and continue to be legally sanctioned in the name of misinterpreted moral imperatives). If we succeed at convincing others we were “born this way,” we might succeed at reaching our legislative goals. But at what cost?

Similarly, if my father believed I was “born this way” he might have reacted differently to my Sunday morning voguing. Perhaps we would have bypassed the phone call to inform me I was disowned, and the subsequent two years of silence. Perhaps we believe that convincing the world we were “born this way” will put an end to the violence queer people face on a daily basis. Perhaps all of this is true.

Still, the argument, then, becomes less about pride and more about fear. I have no interest in fueling my identity with a pragmatic fear-driven strategy to convince others of my humanity. That the world is not yet large enough for all of us to exist whole is an indication that something is wrong with the world, not with us.

I'm a stubborn man who believes in the genius and beauty of being queer. I justify my existence to no one. I was not born this wa
y, but I was born. And that's all you need to know to respect me.

So, vogue on little monsters! Strut your stuff to what sounds like a “Lipsync for your life” 80's throwback. Lady Gaga is indeed an icon, and so are you.


  1. ricky's pants were hideous. btw see if u can catch a&e's private sessions with him. better pants and he performs a few songs.

  2. You make a good, nuanced case for the flipside of the argument. And BTW Gaga's new single is crap ;)

  3. Were you born Mexicana/o? Do you similarly feel the drive to unjustify yourself? I didn't listen to her song as a biological affirmation. I only heard it as a proclamation of something that she considered immutable. She is not theoretically queer in a sexual way, but she does recognize her queerness.
    Frankly I'd have thought that your bigger problem with this song would be that she places us within the context of God, going beyond the biological, and giving us street cred simply because this is the way God made us. It still buys into the theater of theism.
    We can't have legitimacy unless we define ourselves within a Judeo-Christian context.
    As nepantla, I find that the more heinous idea.

  4. i'm using your blog in class today :)

  5. Thanks you for this. I love me some Lady Gaga, but this argument drives me bonkers.

    Another serious downside of this argument that you didn't mention is that even if it were to succeed, there are plenty of people ready to argue against letting those "born that way" get born at all .
    The "born that way" argument also elides the radical potential of resisting heterosexuality that some feminists used to talk about. That's so very passé now, I hesitate to even mention it. ;)

  6. Powerful. These lines are especially inspiring: "
    I'm a stubborn man who believes in the genius and beauty of being queer. I justify my existence to no one. I was not born this way, but I was born. And that's all you need to know to respect me."

  7. @Felipe: My issue is actually not with Lady Gaga or her song (although, I have reservations in terms of its quality as a 'single'). Rather, my concerns are around the loaded meaning of "Born this way" as it relates to Gay, Inc.'s homonormative strategy. I don't find her sophisticated or committed enough to pull her words from that strategy. In this, I'd have to agree with those who say she is pandering to the gays (ok, so that was a critique of her). The theologizing of the song is annoying, but not what I was getting at with this post. Last, I suppose the unjustifying of oneself as Mexicana/o would be similar in that it is ultimately about assimilation. That said, I don't feel comfortable comparing racism and homophobia.

  8. Lady Gaga is cheap publicity whore who uses gays and everything and everyone for self-promotion.

  9. "[...] prancing (yes, prancing) around the house in my mother’s robe and red church heels." Lorenzo, I lovelovelove this utterly evocative phrase. I too was a sissy boy. A fat sissy boy, which means that my transgressive behaviors (in my father's eyes) were heightened by a physical voluptuousness. You know where that led...

    I can't explain (nor do I want to explain) what drew me to my mother's wardrobe -- I never, ever felt the least bit compelled to try on my father's clothes. Yes, perhaps my youthful 'cross-dressing' was, in part, driven by the search/need for beauty that sociologists frequently cite as a manifestation of homosexual desire. It's entirely clear, though, that my eight-year-old mind associated beauty with all things female.

    I also know that my being drawn to what are widely viewed as traits of female beauty fueled my father's sexism. To this day he remains silent about my sexuality and about my same-sex relationship.

    So, for now, I'll simply stick to what I know.

    Here's one other thing I know: I am deeply grateful for your fiercely brilliant ways, for your wisdom, and, most of all, for your sharing those so generously. I am so very proud to call you my friend!

  10. (It) del verbo todo, reminds me of la jefa Anzaldua always saying she chose to be lesbian. Que bonito!

    So yes, I was born this way. My being, my energy & my body is essential for the betterment of mother earth and the cosmos. As a muxa, serpiente de mar, two-spirited guerrero I was born this way for a neccesary reason. O que no guerreros!

    Now, I understand the perspective in a more political-activist-community organizer-policy perspective.