Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Orientations, Preferences, and Mother Monster

Born this way? Chose this way? Why does it matter and do we really  know?

I woke up singing Lady Gaga this morning. Never a good sign.
And of course, don't be a drag. Just be a queen. Right? Baby you were born this way. Right? But now that implies a choice now doesn't it? What a minute. Your Lebanese or Orient? Did you have a choice where you were born. Wait a minute. What's going on here.
...and have I lost my mind quoting Lady Gaga?

Nature versus nurture. Essentialist vs. social constructionist. Much ink has been spilt about this very topic. Are we a product of our genes? Do we have choice and free will? How do our genes and choice intersect.

Why does it matter? Why are pop icons like Lady Gaga and political figures like Michelle Bachmann entering into the fray and discussing this. More importantly, why are we having a dialogue about any of this in the absence of reasoned scholarship--or at least without some reference to reasoned scholarship?

It matters because it's political. Born this way arguments are used as a political tool to justify the need for human rights. "I'm okay because I was born this way" can make a powerful political argument. Likewise, the political forces represented by Michelle Bachmann and others use the choice argument as an equally as powerful political argument. "You are marking a choice to do something we consider bad, something that we don't approve of."

Both sides, left and right, progressive and conservative, present powerful arguments that have virtually no connection to reasoned, thoughtful scholarship and scientific evidence. The simple answer here is that there is no strong, clear, and convincing evidence that supports the conclusion that identity is something that is a thing that is "born this way." There isn't any evidence that suggests identity is only a choice. Identity is infinitely more complex than that.

We are a product of genetics, environment, experiences, and choices. It's demeaning to suggest complex human behaviors are only be genetics. It's also ridiculous to think that the range of our behaviors are not somewhat rooted in our genetics. It's both: born this way and choice.

If we rewind the clock of history a bit it gets even more interested. Gay and Lesbian rights were birthed within the context of the liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. At that time many brave people stood up and declared their choice: they chose to be gay. It was political. It was disruptive. It was enlivening and liberating.

Fast forward a few decades and the political polarities of left and right have twisted that message of liberation. Rather than a strong statement of liberation, choice has become and argument that the right attacks the left with. Choice is an argument that the left attacks its own with. Have you ever tried talking about choice within the context of some queer communities? You'd be run out of town with pitch forks and burning torches.

To borrow a line from Lady Gaga, the pendulum of choice began its dance. It began its dance a long time ago. It's important to know that it's a dance, and to know why there is a dance.

It's important to question why we even ask these questions. Why does it matter if someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, or something else? Is there something wrong with any category of sexual experience?


Lady Gaga got something right though, and it is what has made her video so hot that it caught on fire and has been redone hundreds of times by fans on YouTube. It's why Google Chrome picked it up and made a white hot commercial out of it.

The song validates. You are beautiful. You are on the right track. Rejoice and love yourself today. You are all superstars. There is nothing wrong with who you are.

I will always fall on the side of validation. Remember, validation does not imply agreement or "rightness." Validation is the simple act of recognizing the experiences of another. Said another way, to validate is to acknowledge and accept the unique identity and individuality of another.

It costs me nothing to recognize your experience. In the end, that's what will move our culture and society forward. Try it. Try to recognize the experience of another without disagreement, without modification, without opinion. Take in and recognize the experience of someone you don't agree with. You will be transformed. They will have the potential to transform.

It'll be just like magic. I promise. You can immediately transform a situation into one of possibility rather than one that forecloses potential.

...and as for me having lost my mind. That happened a long time ago.

I'm on the right track baby. Wanna join me?

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