nixon's choice

Sex In the City star Cynthia Nixon recently gave the hornet’s nest a swift kick in the wasp when she was quoted in a New York Times Sunday Magazine profile:
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.
When that didn’t go over well, she issued a clarification in the Advocate:
My recent comments in The New York Times were about me and my personal story of being gay. I believe we all have different ways we came to the gay community and we can't and shouldn't be pigeon-holed into one cultural narrative which can be uninclusive and disempowering. However, to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context I would like to clarify:
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.
For all the howling protest by an offended LGBT community worried that Nixon’s comments cede ground on the biological inevitability of sexual orientation and, consequently, fuels the anti-LGBT crusade, a crucial ethical consideration is missing. And that consideration is the moral status of homosexual/lesbian sex. 

Attempts to reduce the question to biology to a large extent mask the issue, although the argument is persuasive. If sexual orientation isn’t a matter of choice, then it’s unfair to condemn someone for something that’s not in their control to change. It’s an argument, incidentally, that doesn’t necessarily lead to celebrating expressions of sexual orientation, or other contentious characteristic. After all, we could argue that psychopathy is not a product of choice, yet we would not encourage its expression nor fail to restrain psychopathic individuals. In any case, the science does suggest a biological basis, raising the issue of sexual fluidity (cue Dr. Kinsey), but it all seems rather fuzzy.

Yet the fact that everything about us, including sexual orientation, results from the intersection and overlap of biology and culture doesn’t tell us anything about the morality of homosexual, or heterosexual for that matter,  sex itself.

Consider that if a man gets into a boxing ring with another man, we judge nothing immoral in the fact that they hit, even bloody, each other. Or if a person goes to the physical therapist, there’s nothing immoral in his/her being touched, massaged, and exercised. Why? Because these are consensual activities. Without getting into an academic discussion of ethics, we can keep things simple by recognizing that moral judgments must take into account harm and consent in determining what is moral and immoral. Where there is consent, there usually isn’t harm, and what constitutes harm can in some situations be open to interpretation. In S&M, for example, or combat sports like boxing, pain and minor injuries aren’t typically interpreted as harm, whereas a mugger’s assault with a knife or gun would unquestionably be seen as harmful. Another example is how consent is a key distinction between sex and rape.

On the morality of gay people being attracted to each other, and acting on that attraction through sex and/or a loving relationship, the moral reasoning is this: If there is consent, and no violence is involved, then there is no basis for making an argument that homosexuality is harmful and, by extension, immoral. So if there’s nothing wrong with being gay, what does it matter if it’s by choice or biology?

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