February 21, 2012

Cynthia Nixon Processes (bi)Sexual Identity

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Guest blogger John Sylla gives his take on bisexual stigma and identity

Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon stumbled into a thicket of bisexual issues, all in a single week last month.  Bisexual herself, she didn’t exactly step up to the plate for bisexual visibility and acceptance.

Gay by Choice?

Nixon, who is presently in a relationship with another woman, told The New York Times Sunday Magazine  that for her, homosexuality is a choice.  And in a recent speech, she said: “I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.”

She rejected criticism that if we have a choice, society might tell us how to choose.

I volunteer with a charity called the American Institute of Bisexuality, which supports research and education about bisexuality.  So I naturally read between the lines of the interview.

In the interview, Ms. Nixon defends the validity of her previous straight relationships, saying she didn’t just wake up gay one day and realize she had been mistaken about liking men.  To me, that implies bisexuality.  Bisexuals, however defined, do have some choice.  They can generally enter into relationships with either a man or a woman.  However, journalists and bloggers seized on the implication that people can choose whether or not to be gay.

The idea it’s a choice rubs some gay rights activists the wrong way, of course.  Many gay people experience no choice about whether they are attracted to men or women, and point out that most straight people never chose to be straight.  They just are “born that way,” as Lady Gaga sings.

Not Pulling Out Bisexuality?

Within a few days, Nixon clarified her statement in an interview by Kevin Sessums in TheDailyBeast.  But, I found her statements even more troubling.

Speaking about people who are not 100% straight and not 100% gay, Nixon said, “I don’t pull out the ‘bisexual’ word because nobody likes the bisexuals.  Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.”  Then, told there is a “B” in LGBT, Nixon replied “I know, but we get no respect.”

At this point, I had mixed feelings.  Using the word “we,” Nixon acknowledges she is bisexual. On the other hand, she states the uncomfortable truth that many bisexuals feel unsupported, misunderstood, marginalized, invalidated or ignored by the straight and gay mainstreams.  And I wasn’t sure she was speaking out against these forms of “bignorance.”  In fact, she seems to be caving in to them, resigned to it not getting better for bisexuals.

Later in Sessum’s interview, Ms. Nixon re-asserts that she is still the same person she was when she was in love and lust with men.  She says she just “doesn’t like to pull out that word.” (Bisexuality.)

So what does that say to bisexuals?  We can behave and/or identify bisexually, but at least one potential role model wants none of it, and won’t be out and proud because she thinks nobody likes us and everybody dumps on us.  Thanks a lot.

At Last, “I’m Bi.”

After more personal scrutiny and confusing media reports, Nixon finally released a statement in the Advocate saying :

“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….I look forward to and will continue to work toward the day when America recognizes all of us as full and equal citizens.”

I don’t want to be overly critical of Ms. Nixon, and on balance her arms-length embrace of bisexuality is better than none at all.  But if we hesitate to use the word bisexual, we all lose sight of how it’s a normal, valid and stable sexual orientation.  Instead of hemming and hawing, it would be nice it we could just say “Yep, I’m bi.”

— John R. Sylla (J.D., M.B.A.) is a venture capital lawyer, entrepreneur and teacher.  He serves on the board of directors of American Institute of Bisexuality, whose mission is to encourage, support and assist research and education about bisexuality, through programs likely to make a material difference and enhance public knowledge and awareness. 

Read more about research on bisexuality as an orientation, and a recent post by Ian Kerner on “fluidity” of women’s sexual orientation.  (Is ‘sexual fluidity’ a new euphemism for bisexuality in women? -JB)