You Don’t Get to Tell Cynthia Nixon About Her Sexuality, Even if You Mean Well

01/31/2012 11:20 AM |


  • Michael Stewart/

As you have undoubtedly heard, if you are at all interested in that sort of thing, Cynthia Nixon gave everyone a case of the shit flips when said in a New York Times profile that her gayness was a choice. The knicker twisting quote was this one:

“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.”

Yesterday, probably because her supposed allies have been up in her face about it, she issued this clarification/apology:

“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.”

Which, good, great, she’s not a heretic and doesn’t require the ritual cleansing. But this whole kerfuffle has really bugged me. Some of the supposedly pro-LGBTQ folks’ responses have been so shitty and awful, it’s hard to imagine that they care about Cynthia Nixon the person, just how Cynthia Nixon can be used to help the cause.

Well guess what: you DO NOT get to tell anyone that their lived experience is wrong. That is never, ever your right. Not even if you’re gay, not even if your lived experience is different, not even if you think you know better, not even if you’re sure she’s deluded and brainwashed and filled with internalized homophobia. Her experience is hers to describe and if you don’t like that, close your ears.

One thing I’ve heard a lot as I’ve had conversations about the NYT piece is that it’s fine to expect people to understand nuance in family conversations, with people who are already on board with the idea that gay people are people who deserve equal rights, but in the wider world everyone should keep to the party line, lest “they” be able to use statements like Cynthia Nixon’s to hurt the struggle for gay rights. Which is complete and utter bullshit.

Anyone who would use slightly heterodox statements like Cynthia Nixon’s as ammunition against LGBTQ people is not someone who would have been respectful or listened to a damn thing anyone was saying anyway. Some people are assholes, and will continue to be assholes whether you give them “fodder” or not.

But as soon as you start telling someone whose rights you claim to be fighting for that she should shut up, or keep her real feelings to herself, or defend her experience of HER OWN LIFE, you are doing the exact thing the bigots do. You’re denying her humanity, and the richness of her human experience. As she says in her “clarification,” the gay community is not a monolith. If there’s not room in your rainbow for everyone and every way of being gay, then you’re doing it wrong.

Surely, there are ways to have respectful conversations about things. To ask for clarifications and engage with someone. But screaming on the internet until you bully her into semi-retracting her statement and then telling her it’s for her/our own good isn’t that.

For any social justice movement to be successful, every person in the movement needs to have their basic humanity respected, and their lived experience listened to. Any less and you’re just recreating the unjust system you’re trying to dissolve.