Mercedes Allen


Filed By Mercedes Allen | September 07, 2010 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics

We spend a lot of time fighting the "choice" meme.

choice.gifWhich is understandable, given the fact that who we're attracted to and who we identify as are not things that we can switch on or off like a light. The idea that everything we are boils down to a whimsical choice gets bandied around flippantly and turned into the club used to try to bash us back into hiding.

But today, I'm owning my choice.

Which is a little scary, because giving any quarter at all to those who hate us always gets exploited and twisted. Any admission of possibly choosing to be trans gets distorted beyond recognition.

Part of the panic raised about us -- the possibility that we might (*gasp*) influence kids as teachers or parents, or the possibility that our ability to communicate who we are in media or openly in public might encourage others to follow our path -- only works if people swallow the idea that our identities and orientations are choices informed by flighty, misguided notions.

Many of the clinicians working to revise sexual-related issues in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual governing mental health in North America still practice choice-based aversion therapies to cure kids who display signs of gender transgression while stating a conviction that if they don't, the kids may one day choose to be gay. And society is still so repulsed by the idea that someone can choose their gender to be different from that decided at birth that many governments require forced sterilization in the form of surgical modification before considering to recognize them legally -- if even then.

(I still strongly believe in the necessity of GRS for those who are in severe distress about their body, but also believe that the choice to have GRS should only have to be made based on that distress, and not from expectations from outside or even within our community.)

Picking and Choosing Those Worthy of Rights

Our understanding of human rights is still based on some concept that some people are deserving of rights and some aren't, with choice being the magical divisor (which is ironic, considering that most of the people repeating this meme expect to be assured rights based on their choice of religion). If the current structure of human rights were to be scrapped, like some of our opponents opine, then it can only be done under one of two pretexts: that either everyone alive deserves rights, or that no one does. The former would seem the sensible alternative, but would mean accepting people regardless of their choices, LGBT people included. It probably won't happen, though, so for now, we need a piece of legislative paper to remind people that it is not acceptable to treat anyone as lesser people for any reason. Including what is perceived to be their life choices.

Because we do make choices. Human behaviour stems from a combination of instinctive drive, influential socialization and conditioning, and choice. Any time we dismiss or denigrate any of the three, we're missing the whole picture. Currently, our society still overemphasizes and distorts the effect of socialization and are just starting to revisit the instinctive. But our collective attitudes about choice are all over the map.

So today, I'm owning my choices.

While growing up, I chose to try to be the person everyone expected me to be. I knew I was different, but perceived that it had to be that either I was wrong or everyone else was. I chose to believe the latter, although I blame society a little for stifling all discussion of anything else, and making it seem like there was little choice available. I also blame society for making difference seem like a character flaw, which became an attack on self-esteem that I still struggle with.

After spending the first 16+ years trying to exorcise myself and living in the eternal ex-gay Jesus-fix-it perpetual emotion machine, I realized god wasn't going to "fix" it, that I couldn't live that cycle any longer. I chose to walk away, and because at that time there was no such thing as an "affirming" church and homophobia and faith were synonymous, I chose to abandon Christianity along with it. Finding no information other than partial answers that led me to believe I'd never be able to afford to transition, I chose to continue trying to play the hand dealt to me and live as a testosterone-fuelled organism for another 20 years, identifying only as bisexual. When I kept hitting the wall of suicide ideation, I finally chose to stop hiding, fighting, and living the lie that was causing me to suffocate.

Yes, that much was a choice. Get over it.

Prejudice Is Presuming to Judge Behaviours, Beliefs, Abilities and Life Choices Based on Assumptions that One Associates With a Trait

We quite commonly hear from people who cry "reverse discrimination" over protections given based on minority traits -- forgetting, of course, that protections based on general terms like "race" actually do include the majority along with the minority, and that the imbalance they perceive happens largely because one of the two really does have a relentless tendency to be bigoted. But many minorities often have a less obvious commonality that the "choice invalidation" argument seeks to undermine.

Are people really discriminating against someone purely because of the colour of their skin, for example, or is colour an indicator that triggers presumptions about one's culture, lifestyle, behaviours and tendencies? Biased people always excuse their bigotry in this way: "I have nothing against X people," you might commonly hear, "but you know what they're like." Prejudiced people are blind to their prejudice because they've seduced themselves into believing that what they're reacting to is not really the trait itself, when they're acting on the unspoken and often inaccurate smorgasbord of inventions that go with it.

And those are inventions that generalize, assume and cast judgment on behaviours, abilities, perceived beliefs, and choices -- some of which may appear at times to hold true because they're driven by common recurring factors like poverty, minority stress and socialization.

Regardless of how we want to couch things, society needs to recognize and respect any life that is lived with care to the safety of others, with responsibility in our interactions, with mutual respect, and with mature and informed consent from those we invite into critical intimate areas of our lives, such as (but not limited to) our sexual behaviours. When people are living within those parameters, it is not acceptable that they should ever be excluded, invalidated or hated -- regardless of how different their choices and lives may be from what we live, ourselves.

As much as homophobia and transphobia are driven by a societal stigmatization of sex and denigration of the shades of feminine gender expression, it is also informed by a shunning of Difference itself, and the persistent use of social engineering to eliminate it. What happens when we magnify the use of choice (as is being done by the far right regarding LGBT people) as the wedge differentiating the acceptable from the unacceptable, and as a tool to be dismissive of entire populations? For that matter, what happens when the elimination of difference by social engineering becomes bolstered with genetic engineering?

The scientific journals are already musing over the moral implications introduced by the possibility that the use of dexamethasone in pregnant women might reduce or eliminate behaviours indicative of lesbianism or transness. To what length is society prepared to go, in order to eliminate difference, and does denigrating choice provide the means to do so?

Part of change rests in owning, respecting and defending choice, and our right to choose.

(Crossposted to DentedBlueMercedes)

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Great to see your writing back up here, Mercedes!

I really liked this post. I'm one of those 'I don't know why I'm queer and I don't care' sort of people, but I wince at the bashing of the idea of choice. It makes me really sad when I hear someone say that given a conscious choice they would never choose to be queer, because I think we're great and I would choose it in a heartbeat. The issue isn't the origins of queerness, it is the equality and worth of queer people. Homophobes and cisexists think that we are evil and inferior, that's really the bottom line. Because, if we are not evil and we are equal human beings, nothing justifies the hate and discrimination.

I've said that if being gay were a choice I'd still choose to be gay. Back when I was a kid and didn't know what gay was or that I had that choice, I just wished I was a boy so I could have a girlfriend and a remote control car and not have to wear dresses.

Beautifully said.

The pushback I got from a few family & friends when I came out was all about the choices I was making, especially my choice of religious belief. At that point I was reconnecting with the Episcopal Church after several years of leaning in more conservative directions. The arguments I heard took a couple forms: I was making lazy/selfish choices, and/or, I had an obligation to live as if others' beliefs trumped my own.

When I was firm about my supposedly wrong choice, a couple folks felt responsible for punishing me.

The same thing is happening at the highest levels, if you ask me. Influential, serious theologians in Catholic, Mormon, Southern Baptist, and other conservative churches have had to re-examine their interpretation of scripture in recent decades. They haven't simply chosen to reject more moderate stances on SO/GI issues, they're working to punish their progressive peers for their "wrong" theological choices.

The message of the Catholic/Mormon hierarchies to pro-equality churches is: We own the public square, and we refuse to share it with you on equal footing. It might look like we have a problem with LGBT people, but it's bigger than that. Our enemy in this culture war is everybody who supports civil equality for LGBT people.

Well of course "choice" is a bad word in our culture. We're much better at assigning blame than we are at fixing problems (look at... well, everything), and the left, at least in the US, indulges in the blame game as well. It's easier to just point and say, "This is your fault! If you didn't mess up, this problem wouldn't exist," than it is to actually find a working solution to something.

It's why there are so many people in prison and any attempt to reduce crime without police and jails is metaphorically tarred and feathered as "soft on crime." Or why standardized testing has swept the nation - the problem isn't large class sizes or overworked teachers or limited resources, it's accountability. Or why so many people buy into the idea that American health care has to be so much more expensive than elsewhere because Americans are less healthy. Etc.

The fun part is that the blame game is fairly easily manipulated when it's about huge, disperse issues like crime. If you have the power to control the discourse, just blame someone you don't like, even if it's not you. It works great - people are always looking for someone to blame for something.

And when it comes to identity, just blame people for choosing to be whatever they are. Only through decades of education are we seeing some turn-around on those basic questions because that sort of mass blame game always favors the powerful.

Choice is a funny word. I didn't choose to crave other men; it was a natural part of my life. When I began to meet gay men after those "tender years" of recognizing that queer wasn't "right," I came to understand that those men were just as manly and nice, etc. as those straight men I'd known. As I began to recognize that my attraction to men was a natural thing - it just happened - I knew that I wasn't "choosing" to be different (not gay yet, but just different, in my parlance). It wasn't an obsession, a thought I had about changing my sexual preference; it was a deeply held need within me.

I chose, for the most part, to be a heterosexual-acting man. I then chose to actively pursue my gayness - to determine just how true these feelings of longing were for me. Little did I anticipate, having grown up rejecting queer, that I'd fit in the category extremely well.

Though it's been a struggle, what with societal mores and taboos, it's as clear as could be that my desire for male companionship and love is not simply a desire, but a natural part of my being. Loving another man is precisely what I was meant to be doing from the start. That I am now living that life did involve choice, though.

I chose not to lie to myself any more.

I have a few comments on this.

When people say I've chosen to be trans, this is what I say. "Okay, I decided to choose a life where I can lose my job, lose my family, lose my church, lose my standing in the community, lose my children, and even lose my life. Oh, yeah, I looked at my life as a secure, middle-income person with a good family and said, 'Hey, why don't I change my sex so I can be vilified and hated by many Americans? That sounds like a great idea!" I choose that'!" In some people, a light actually comes on. However, some people will hate you no matter what, and some in our own "community" hate me no matter what anyway.

I had a choice alright. I had a choice to either live or die. I know for a fact that the direction I was heading for 14 years ago would have sent me to a point where I would have taken my life. I wouldn't be here today, being a thorn in the sides of some people (especially here on Bilerico.) Would my family been happier? Today, they are all happy I'm still here, and they all love me, even my Born-Again-Christian brother.

Also, there is protections for veterans, where they cannot be discriminated for being a veteran. Since a majority of veterans volunteered, it was their choice to serve this country, thus becoming a veteran. Besides religion, becoming a veteran can also be considered a "choice."

@ cat & GrrrlRomeo, I can't say that I ever would have "chosen" to be trans if my sense of self wasn't already female in the first place. It's nice to say that I'd still choose it, but it came with an extremely heavy price.

But the point is that we spend way too much time trying to counter the allegation that who we are is just some spur-of-the-moment, easily-changed whim. On the one hand, we know it's not; on the other, it's irrelevant. By focusing on that argument, we allow our opponents to frame the debate in terms they can twist. Choice? It shouldn't matter if it was.

When the debate is framed this way, I think it helps more to remind people how choice is a part of what is assumed and judged when bias against any trait rears its head. It can't be accepted as an excuse to justify prejudice, because it's an attack on all difference, including immutable difference (regardless of whether our differences are seen to qualify as that).