Cynthia Nixon: Gay Bi Choice?

This originally appeared in BCN issue 111.

American actress Cynthia Nixon, best known for her role in Sex & The City, set the cat amongst the chattering LGBT pigeons this January with a throwaway comment about her sexual orientation.

Nixon came out in 2004 about her relationship with a woman – having previously been in relationships with men.

The fresh palaver started with an interview in the New York Times where she said, “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.’ They tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice.”

Now, I’d have to say, for me the idea that “gay is better” doesn’t sit well – nor bi for that matter.  The old phrase “GAY = Good As You” comes to mind: that your sexual orientation doesn’t make you better or worse, just different.

However, that wasn’t what seemed to upset people.  Any notion that there is choice over your sexual orientation does seem to meet particular hostility in the USA – perhaps because of the stronger homophobic social institutions there: if it’s a choice, you can choose to be ‘normal’, and therefore (the logic runs) you should and you must.

The outrage seemed especially accented by Nixon’s record of campaigning for gay rights, which won her the 2010 GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) award for a gay media professional who has promoted equal rights for the gay community.

That led to an interview in the Daily Beasr where her past relationships with both men and women were raised.  The interviewer asked if she was: “a lesbian in a heterosexual relationship? Or a heterosexual in a lesbian relationship?”

Nixon said, “I think for gay people who feel 100 percent gay, it doesn’t make any sense. And for straight people who feel 100 percent straight, it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t pull out the ‘bisexual’ word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.”
Of course, her interviewer says, there is a B in LGBT. She tells him, “I know. But we get no respect.”

‘We?’ The interviewer leaps on that particular – ahem – choice of word.  Does that mean she’s bisexual?

“I just don’t like to pull out that word. But I do completely feel that when I was in relationships with men, I was in love and in

lust with those men. And then I met Christine and I fell in love and lust with her. I am completely the same person and I was not walking around in some kind of fog. I just responded to the people in front of me the way I truly felt.”

She goes on to say:

“Look, I understand for political reasons why some people want to kind of squelch this idea that being gay might be a choice, because a lot of the rights we want are posited on the supposition that why are you denying me my rights any more than if I were created a different colour? But I don’t feel the need to cede the definition of what a gay person is to the bigots. They don’t get to define who I am.”

Within days she was making things clearer again, saying that she is bisexual and that she meant she had chosen to be in a ‘gay’ relationship, but that being bisexual was not a choice, and neither was being gay.

In all the furore about ‘choice’ though, what I wondered was this: where did Cynthia Nixon get the idea that ‘gay’ is the better word for who she is and ‘bisexual’ as a choice of label should be avoided?

If I had a pound for every time someone involved in LGBT equality campaigning has told me that “gay covers all of it” and therefore there’s no need to separately mention bisexuality, I could make a swift donation to BCN that meant this issue would be in full colour.

Perhaps all those years of “oh we don’t need to mention the bis” finally bit all those people on the proverbial behinds. If you do keep telling people that ‘just saying gay is enough’ to cover the different strands of LGBT, sooner or later someone’s going to start believing you and talking like you’re right.

Then they might well say that gay people might have relationships regardless of gender, and that still makes them gay, because ‘gay’ means all of those things, from ‘gold star lesbian’ to ‘mostly straight’.

And so the “don’t mention bisexuals” school of thought comes unstuck.

It’s interesting going back to a 2010 Advocate magazine interview where Cynthia talked about her relationship with her girlfriend. She says “I identify as gay as a political stance” and “If anybody, prior to my meeting and falling in love with Christine, had asked me about what I think about sexuality, I would have said I think we’re all bisexual. But I had that point of view without ever having felt attracted to a woman.”

If and when we tackle the biphobia in the gay / LGBT movement and wider scene, people like Cynthia might not need to perform the intellectual pirouettes they are pressed into.

Finally: if I were really cynical I’d notice that this all got her reams of press attention just as her new play comes out.  Well, maybe, but it has all served to get one of the largely unspoken faultlines of LGBT talked about.