I’ll admit I did not know much about this particular stance from this particular time when I first heard about it. Upon looking through the site, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the arguments presented there articulate the position of “queer by choice” in a way that somewhat reflects the backbone of arguments being made in the queer community today.
“The reason everyone has the right to be queer is that everyone has the right to control their own mind and body unless it infringes on anyone else’s right to control their own mind and body.”Gayle madwin
“Self-definition and self-determination are about the many varied decisions that we make to compose and journey toward ourselves… It’s OK if your personal definition is in a constant state of flux as you navigate the world.”Janet mock
The use of the word “choice” initially struck me as a bit strange, because I remember staunchly advocating the position that homosexuality is not a choice in a sociology course I took in high school. (I felt that I was homosexual at the time, but I now understand that what I was experiencing was being trans). Queerbychoice dot com definitely comes from a perspective of queer sexuality, as the author appears to be a queer cisgender woman, but don’t let that put you off reading. This site contains a wealth of insight into queer life and the queer zeitgeist of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and is a great resource for exploring the idea of choice in depth. It has a list of resources and quotes on queerness, and it has quality answers to some of the arguments that people espouse against choice. The perspectives offered on the implications that declaring you are queer by choice can have, even to this day, is a bit of the site that has aged particularly well.
One of my favorite pages on the site is under the question, “When you say you chose it, do you just mean it’s a product of your social environment?”. This page contains an answer to the question that is one of the few references to trauma that the site contains.
“Of course you could argue that in a case of severe trauma, environment can produce post-traumatic stress syndrome without a person choosing to experience it. But if we’re talking about a healthy person responding in a healthy manner to a healthy social environment, then we’re usually talking about someone who’s making choices in response to that environment.”Queer By Choice FAQ “When you say ‘chose’ it…”
Upon reflecting on this quote, I realized that I have never been in, seen, or been close with someone from a healthy family environment. I imagine this might contribute to why this thought of “choice” initially struck me as strange. Choice has never been a part of my life, or the lives of literally anyone around me, in a healthy way. Based on this quote above, I am led to think that Gayle has a much more healthy relationship with choice than many people. This may be the reason Gayle found it difficult to “know what it means to be ‘unable to change’…”, in much the same way as I initially did not understand what she meant by choice.
The last quote, and the following quotes are from a conversation between Gayle Madwin and Frank Aqueno: “…when people think that something is not an option it is because they keep questioning incessantly whether it really is one instead of just going with it and TRUSTING that the option is there” – Let’s address this issue of trust by thinking about what these choices represent for some people, and at what age these choices are presented. I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by explaining the collateral damage that can result from expressing your queerness, but I will point out that when it comes to gender queerness many people are forced to make a choice to either explore it, or deny it long before they are confronted with their sexuality.
This is the main reason I think the site falls somewhat short in it’s generalization of it’s arguments to include gender. Gender ups the stakes of one’s choices for almost everyone who wants to explore existences outside of the “norm”. (Here, and throughout, I use the concept of “the norm” to mean the cisgender/heterosexual/white/bourgeois conception of the gender binary that prevails in the majority of mainstream Western culture)
I do not believe you can equate the choices one has around living their sexuality, and living their gender because society has always had much more of a problem with public facing “deviancy” from the established norm. There are so many people that will say things like “I don’t care what you do in private but why do you have to ‘flaunt’ it in public?”. This dichotomy between tacit tolerance of one’s private behavior and the rejection of the public-facing expressions related to these behaviors has plagued every part of the LGBTQ+ community, and thus heavily affected the perceived “choice” one has around being oneself. The thinking behind this statement is what prevented the federal recognition of gay marriage for so long. And it is the same rejection and violence that trans people are still facing today.
Sexual behavior and gendered experiences are heavily related, but I argue that they are functionally different when it comes to this “development of the core” self that Gayle and Frank discuss. I believe the policing and enforcement of gender roles, which are different than the societally prescribed sexual roles, serves as a means of exerting control over the populace in general, in the interest of maintaining certain other societal systems whose frameworks were expressly designed to serve the interests of powerful, white, men. In my experience, this means that the people around you, and society as a whole, has systems in place that work much harder to ensure compliance in this particular aspect of one’s life. I bring this up in the interest of shedding light on a complicating factor to choice that queerbychoice.com does not seem to address in any kind of depth. This complication is the reality that the perception of one’s own freedom heavily influences one’s capacity for choice.
The essence of freedom, and our relationship to it, is the heart of this rhetoric of choice.
When I came out to her, my mother told me “Well, you know it’s always been your choice?”, and I assented vaguely. But in truth, no. I didn’t know that I had a choice. I knew I was never a girl, but I was never told I had the freedom to actively choose the social, public-facing role of manhood. And as for publicly declaring yourself to be anything other than a man or a woman, well, that was just not done, what else could there be? I guess I could have asserted myself, but when you’re a child, your parents and other adults around you determine the limits of your reality, and thus your choices.
Sure I knew what trans people were in a vague sense, and I understood the basics in the abstract by the age of 12 or 13. But no one ever told me that being trans was something that could explain my experience, and I never really saw myself in the limited (and hate-tinged) view of trans people to which I had access. What I am getting at, is that for me, sexual behavior was fairly obvious. However, when I was experimenting with my gender expression and using this to explore my gender as a concept, I was still constantly told that that behavior was ok for “girls”, that all “girls” did this at some point, and “you can be whatever type of woman you are”. Gender was seen as immutable, not as something that can be developed like one’s taste for food.
I’m happy to report that my thinking has evolved beyond this rigidity and I can finally see that, for me, I do have the choice to live as an out and proud trans man. And choosing to live out and proud is freedom. A freedom that deserves to be exercised to the fullest extent it can be. But this change took a ton of personal development, some of which came with age and experience, but the majority of which came from actively choosing to engage in queer media, and open my mind to many other people’s perspectives. So in this aspect, I see the element of choice in the development of my queerness.
After a lot of work to deepen my understanding, I arrived at the conclusion that there is little possible in the way of finding a “rational” explanation for gender, choice or otherwise. I personally think gender can have an essence of innate feeling for many people, and the same goes for sexuality. But even choosing to believe this is a choice isn’t it?
Maybe I feel like there can be something innate and there can be an element of choice because I like to center the idea that every self-conscious being has its own unique perception of it’s existence. I cannot hope to fathom the possibilities for variety that this reality of consciousness provides. Queerbychoice.com has so many examples of people who understand their queerness to be a choice, so who am I to question the personal testimony of so many people? I am only here to hopefully continue this conversation on choice and freedom with the benefit of time and perspective.
If we take the rhetoric of choice to truly be about freedom, we then understand that we need to work on ensuring that freedom is extended to everyone. Queerbychoice dot com expresses this very same idea in it’s response to those who say that the idea of “choice” means that queer people don’t deserve equal rights:
“Perhaps the most important contribution of queer by choice people to the fight against homophobia is that when we say that we chose to be queer, we force people to realize that it’s possible to want to be queer. For too long homophobes have painted us as one-sided creatures who experience nonstop pain. To paint us this way is to paint us as something less than full and well-rounded human beings, and they paint us this way specifically to scare others into repressing their own potential queerness. The reality is that there’s much to enjoy about being a member of the queer community and we who are queer by choice want homophobes to realize and acknowledge that.”
Complement your exploration of this site with a visual history of romantic friendship, or a look into the life of a transformative member of both the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the nascent Gay Rights movement of the ’70s and ’80s.