I don’t think I was born queer. Does that shock you? My friends and family are shocked every time I assert that. Me of all queers who has always dated girls, always had short hair, barely looked at a “good-looking” boy since puberty — I must have been born this way, right? So am I in denial? Am I a control freak, just wanting desperately to believe I’ve had choices about everything in my life? Or am I cruising to confront some of the stuff queer women don’t like to talk about?
I have always felt “abnormal” because, placed over the templates I was given growing up, that’s exactly what I was. I never liked what I looked like, never felt pretty enough, graceful enough, soft enough compared to the women and girls around me — the real life ones, the Hollywood ones or the ones in books I consumed like candy since I learned to read.
I was heavily affected by being the hairiest girl in the room all the time. It pushed me to align myself with men, to see “pretty” girls as “other,” to seek out a different category for myself. Don’t we do what we are most likely to succeed at? I could tell early on I was going to fail at being a “normal” girl. Like the chicken and egg, which came first? My feeling atypical or my being “queer”?
I bristle when people say, “She can’t help it, she was born that way” as if I don’t love being queer, as if I wouldn’t choose this beautiful and complicated life a thousand times over, as if I think it’s unfortunate. At the very least, we choose the kind of queer we want to be, and we should own those choices with pride. If people believe we would choose differently, aren’t we lending weight to homophobia? Why should anyone choose to love me when I love myself only by default?
I know they’ve found hard evidence that sexuality is biological, which makes me simultaneously excited and afraid. The good news is we can agree then that queerness is perfectly “natural” and just as “legitimate” from a scientific perspective as heterosexuality. The bad news is if they’ve found “the gay gene” you know they’re already working on how to remove it. In the meantime, they might start making decisions about who should be allowed to live with it. I know a parent or two personally who would abort a child they knew would be queer. Biological evidence also removes guilt from all those “What did I do wrong?” parents. It has the potential to fuel the wrong fire — powerful people versus nature itself, fighting queerness like we fight cancer and irritable bowel syndrome. It’s fantastically scary. It could create the born-again heterosexual.
What’s wrong with saying some women choose to be queer? Aren’t there some valid reasons why a woman might, given the state of our society, given the persistent devaluing of women and “second-class” status? Couldn’t it even be considered the smarter choice for women to get together? It might seem at first glance like “chosen queer” women were choosing to subject themselves to discrimination. But maybe the best way for women to improve their status is to learn to rely on each other for everything — sexual pleasure, emotional empowerment, physical security. It might be more important, and more enabling in the long run, to pursue true equality in the private sphere where we rejuvenate, regroup and really plot the course of our lives. Couldn’t one argue that this is a good way to make progress?
People always wonder when I knew I was queer. I wasn’t one of those kids who had crushes on camp counsellors. I didn’t have those quintessential moments where I peed standing up, got married to Suzie who lives down the block or put dad’s clothes on. I think I was born with queer potential. I think things happened during my formative years to confirm that as my best choice.
Classic books blame our mothers, sexual abuse, absent fathers. I wanted the power I watched men enjoy. I lost my sister when I was nine and was left loving someone who wasn’t there. I’ve never had a real crush on a boy, but I decided early on that boys weren’t going to want me. The chances of girls who wanted boys wanting me was more likely. I grew up thinking I had a better chance at happiness playing a boy than I did playing a girl. It wasn’t rocket science.
What harm would it do our community if we were divided into born queers and chosen queers? Don’t we as a group already give less lesbian value to a woman who comes out in her 40s as opposed to one who has known all her life? Why does it matter? Which one would be more comforting for my mother?
The general consensus is that queers are born queers and whether we figure it out sooner or later our sexuality is set. Which is fine, I guess, but why not consider the alternative, too?