Fauxgress Watch: “Born This Way”

My fellow queers and assorted allies: we have got to stop using arguments like “We were born this way!” and “Being queer is not a choice!” as our first line of defense against heterosexists. It might sound like a neat little trick to pull on these people: if we can’t help being queer, then it’s not fair to punish us for something we didn’t do. But in reality, every time we use this argument we are actually weakening our own position. Shouting “Born this way” from the rooftops is the opposite of progress.

The first problem with relying so heavily on this idea is that we don’t actually know for sure if we are born this way. Yes, there does seem to be a growing body of evidence for the idea that sexuality is partially – perhaps largely – genetically determined. But this evidence is very recent and we should not overstate the level of understanding we currently have of how human sexuality works. It is not at all out of the question that our understanding of how human sexuality develops will be radically altered in the future. (Some people clearly do experience their sexuality as fluid, in any case). Relying on the idea that we are “born” queer as the major pillar of our defense is too risky: if one day we get strong evidence that queer sexuality is heavily influenced by easily-alterable environmental factors we are fucking screwed.

The second issue with this argument is that it’s a version of the naturalistic fallacy. The fact of some or all people being genetically coded to do something doesn’t make that thing right or wrong! After all, there is some evidence that serial killers and paedophiles are born that way. To claim that being born with a genetic propensity for something means that thing is good is simply fallacious. It doesn’t fucking matter where a trait comes from, what matters is whether the trait is net good or bad! Argue for or against something based on its merits, not based on its origins.

But I think the most serious problem with this argument is that it reinforces the idea that we need an excuse to be queer. As a result, using this line subtly supports the idea that being queer requires excusing in some way. Don’t use it. Don’t allow straight people to generate an understanding of queer sexuality that sounds like: “Well, of course Bob wouldn’t wish to be queer, but he was born this way. I guess we better give him equal rights – poor Bob, he just can’t help it. We shouldn’t punish him for something he didn’t choose!”

Meanwhile the real reason that you shouldn’t punish Bob for queerness is because there’s nothing wrong with it! It’s the same reason you shouldn’t punish Bob for liking begonias or wanting to become a lawyer. Not because Bob can’t help his desires but because his desires are fine. That is what we should be stressing. The strongest arrows in our quiver here are not our genetic coding, but the fact that a person’s sexuality is nobody else’s business, and that there is nothing wrong with being queer. Focus on the impact that queers embracing their queerness has on ourselves (usually positive!) and on others (none) rather than where it comes from (we don’t know for sure).

There is no serious ethical framework in which consensual same-sex romantic or sexual relationships between adults qualify as moral wrongs. (Obviously I am not counting Abrahamic religions as serious ethical frameworks: any moral code that has a rule against working on the sabbath in the Top 10 Naughty Things list but no rule against slavery or rape in that same list cannot be taken seriously.) Utilitarianism in all its forms finds no fault with any romantic or sexual relationships between mutually consenting adults, and finds fault instead with the bigots who harass these adults. Deontological Ethics and Virtue Ethics – when divorced from Abrahamic religious dogma – cannot find any problem with queer sexuality and can find substantial problem with heterosexism.

Another strong dimension to the argument – much stronger than the “born this way” defense – is the idea that people’s sexualities are not the business of the state or of civil society (when expressed between consenting adults). We would do well to focus on the substantial danger societies are courting when they decide that individuals’ private, consensual arrangements are the business of society or the government. That danger is real and affects everyone: it wasn’t that long ago in some nations that all oral sex was a criminal act. But when you offer an excuse for your sexuality, you are subconsciously caving to the idea that it is other people’s business. After all, if your sexuality is not their business, then where it does or does not come from is also not their business.

Queer people do not need to offer excuses or defend their own existence. If one could become queer by simply waking up one morning and deciding to become queer, for a day, for an hour, it wouldn’t change the fact that being queer is just as good, as valid, as worthy, as being straight. Providing straight people with reasons or excuses for our queerness simply confirms their suspicions that our sexuality really is their business and that we need to justify our existence to them. This allows heterosexists to continue to believe there is something superior about heterosexuality, and that being queer is a deviation from some kind of normal or default sexuality. There isn’t and it’s not.

We don’t need to justify ourselves to anyone. We don’t need a reason to be queer. Maybe we were born this way, maybe we weren’t. Maybe sexuality is fluid for some people and not for others. It’s totally irrelevant either way. The message we need to send to heterosexists is not that our sexuality was foisted upon us and that they should be “tolerant” and “understanding”. The message is: our sexuality is perfectly valid and none of your business, we offer you no excuses, and we are never going away.

Author: Rachael

Rachael is a queer, nerdy, aneurotypical, white cisfemale with a bachelor's degree in economics and a give 'em hell attitude. She has a culturally unacceptable amount of body fat but sometimes "passes", and she accesses some forms of thin privilege but not others. She believes in leveraging the privilege one has in order to smash the kyriarchy. She is a big geek, an atheist, a skeptic, and a fan of science. In her spare time she enjoys meditation, going to therapy, and shouting.

58 thoughts on “Fauxgress Watch: “Born This Way””

  1. Absa-fucking-lutely. I don’t give a shit why I’m lez, & I don’t need a reason, & I don’t need an excuse. Why do you bone dudes?

    Some people’s sexualities are fluid, some people aren’t, and it really fucks me off when someone in either camp decides that everyone else is like them. Or that it really really matters whether you are or not.

  2. Of course, I agree. It’s just another example of letting the conservatives choose field before the match.

    I’d also like to point out the mootness of this ridiculous argument anyway. I read in a Richard Dawkins (I know, I know) book once, where he was discussing how sex in crocodiles is determined. All crocodiles are genetically able to become male or female, but which they develop into is determined by the temperature of the egg during the development of the embreo.

    The sex of crocodiles would, you’d agree, count as being determined by environmental factors rather than genetics. But no one would argue that that knowledge diminishes the validity of those crocodiles’ sex organs. And that’s me speaking as a member of a species that has sex chromosomes!

    Similarly, if someone were to prove conclusively tomorrow that sexuality was determined by environment, that’s no sort of argument against the validity of alternative sexualities.

  3. I love this post, I thought I was the only who disagreed with the born this way, I also think that is a problem for pan/bissexuals who date any gender.
    I really like this blog and will be reading, can I ask if you have a search function in here? If not it could be useful.

    If it’s alright to ask, since this blog doesn’t talk much about it, do you know any source/blog about ableism that is currently being updated? I only know FWD blog that is no longer updated. Thank you and sorry about asking if it bothers you.

    1. I don’t think we do have a search function nor do I know how to get one, but I am not the most technically competent person in SJL so let me check out the options.

      Of course it’s alright to ask! We don’t have a lot of expertise in the area of discussing ableism, but I hope we can give it more attention in the future and get better at discussing it. I don’t know of any blogs that update regularly discussing ableism unfortunately. It certainly doesn’t bother us for you to ask! 🙂 If you feel like it, please come back and comment if you find any good blogs about ableism so that we can put them on our blogroll.

    2. I had been so sure we had a search bar, but turns out we don’t! It’s been added to the top of the right menu now. Thanks for the comment!

    3. Hi Alicia, while FWD may no longer be active, I’m pretty sure the bloggers still are elsewhere.

      I know that s.e. writes sometimes about ableism at Tiger Beatdown (which is an excellent blog). You might want to try looking up what the other ex-FWD bloggers are up to as well.

  4. I agree with most everything that is in this article… except one point. The Abrahamic religions having no rules against rape.

    Explanation; I am a Christian, and I know a great deal about Judaism, sadly I cannot say the same for Islam, but hey.

    Within the ten commandments, there is this little niggle of one that says “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Now, later on this is further expanded and explained by other prophets and/or the Christ to mean “No sexual immorality.”

    Basically that means “Don’t stick your dick in anything that you have a moral obligation against.” moral obligation against, such as things like rape. Or fucking a goat.

    As for the slavery bit, that was more a socially acceptable thing back then. Though thankfully not based on race but on whether or not you owed the person money and couldn’t pay it back, or if you had been captured by a rival tribe/civilization.

    1. Thanks for your comment. It was very respectful, and I hope to disagree vehemently in an equally respectful way. I believe that it is not good enough to have an implicit rule against rape if one hopes to be considered a serious ethical framework. The fact that Christianity classifies rape – and indeed the rape of children – in the same category with consensual sex with other adults outside of marriage is appalling. Any serious moral code must distinguish between these very separate cases.

      Also, the fact that slavery was more acceptable back then is irrelevant to the question of whether Christianity offers us a useful ethical framework. The Bible and the philosophy it contains must be judged on its merits, not on its origins. If the Bible is supposed to contain a moral code that is relevant to humans forever, it has to be “better” than the time it was written. For example, looking back on many of the Buddhist sutras and writings, I believe we can find insights into ethical philosophy, particularly concerning suffering, that is still hugely useful to us – and as far as I know, nowhere do they condone the ownership of slaves, despite being written in the same time as the Bible or even earlier. [Disclaimer: I am not a Buddhist, I only studied Buddhism for 1 semester of university, please correct me if I am wrong.]

      The fact that the Abrahamic religions do not focus on condemning acts such as rape and slavery as especially heinous crimes should disqualify them from contention as moral codes relevant to the future of humanity. Of course, it goes without saying that it is still perfectly valid and legitimate to practice them as a personal faith, but these writings should not be considered relevant to modern philosophical debates about ethics.

      1. Hmmm…

        “The fact that the Abrahamic religions do not focus on condemning acts such as rape and slavery as especially heinous crimes should disqualify them from contention as moral codes relevant to the future of humanity. Of course, it goes without saying that it is still perfectly valid and legitimate to practice them as a personal faith, but these writings should not be considered relevant to modern philosophical debates about ethics.”

        Allow me to respectfully disagree as well. If we are to throw out past philosophical frameworks because they do not “directly address” every possible human sin… that would mean we would have to throw out an awful lot of Philosophical frameworks. Like all of them.

        To be fair, when I was working on my Philosophy degree at SUNY Oneonta I never got a chance to take the Ethics class so maybe I’m overlooking something, but I’m probably not going too far out on a limb in saying that no philosophers ever directly addressed every morally reprehensible human behaviour, such as Rape/Murder/theft/dishonesty/bigotry/etc.

        Now, consider The Bible. The Old Testament tends to consist of codes or rules of “do this/don’t do that”. Many of these codes, I will admit, are beyond useless and in fact rather dangerous (or at least inconvenient) if we were to try following all of them in today’s societies.

        But the New Testament is different (or at least the Gospels are) which has Jesus advancing a more sophisticated moral framework via parables and other means, and this framework, I would argue, is still relevant to us today.

        For example, Jesus said the two most important commandments are to “Love God” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself” with his reason being that their pretty much the same thing. Now let me ask you this, wouldn’t you be violating the most important commandment if you were to rape your neighbour or take your neighbour into slavery? (And for the sake of argument I always assumed “your neighbour” meant “everybody else on the planet” to keep things simple.)

        Just some food for thought.

        1. I apologise, it seems I didn’t express myself clearly: I’m not objecting to not mentioning the crimes, but I am objecting to setting up a moral framework in which these sorts of crimes are not considered any more severe than cheating on your wife with your best friend. So I mean the framework itself doesn’t contain, say, an additional moral penalty for non-consent in one’s extra-marital sexual relations. I feel also that I should put a trigger warning here as my answer will discuss rape.

          So with that clarified, the first issue is whether other philosophies distinguish these crimes in terms of severity from other crimes. To reiterate, I don’t mean that they mention them but I mean that the framework itself has a structure that would separate them from say cheating on your wife with your best friend. In fact virtually all non-religious philosophical schools of ethics DO, because they don’t have ad hoc rules like religions do but rather have stuctures by which one can sort any act. Certainly both consequentialist and deontological schools of ethics do this, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the exact variant one chooses, but say for a consequentialist utilitarian there’s a calculation involved about the harmful aspects and you have to add more for lack of consent etc. So if a married man rapes a woman to whom he is not married, this is a combination of two immoral acts, cheating and rape, and thus more immoral than one, and we then factor in the harm to the other people and conclude that the rape is far, far, far, far (I don’t know how to express how much worse it is, it is so heinous and awful) more harmful than consensual extramarital sex is to the other person, which leads us to condemn it proportionally more in the utilitarian framework. So there’s a good general rule here that appropriately sorts rape into a much worse category than cheating.

          As for Jesus, he also said he “came not to abolish, but to fulfill the law” (referring to the old testament) and that “I came not to send peace but a sword”. So we have some awkward conflicts when we try to love our neighbour but according to the old laws – which Jesus came to fulfill – we also need to shun her if she blasphemes. Then of course there are other times when Jesus said we were allowed to break some of the commandments and old laws (like looking for a sheep on the Sabbath or not stoning an adulterer) so then why did he say he was all into the old law? The whole ethical framework of the New Testament is pretty ad hoc and self-contradictory and doesn’t have a meta-structure, so that in this case, if rape and slavery are not addressed, one is left without much idea of how bad they are relative to cheating on your wife.

          By the way, I’m not trained in ethical philosophy either so if any ethical philosophers wanna come in and school us all we’d be grateful.

          1. I’m not sure I made my point clear either but… well maybe we’re talking different points altogether. Simply put, my point is that I’m not comfortable saying The Bible itself has *no* place in modern discussions of ethics or even law, although in the later we must certainly be extraordinarily careful not to apply it without very careful consideration. I say this because I think there are moral precepts in the New Bible that *I* find useful even though I don’t believe in God or anything. Or to use a cliche, I don’t wish to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

            Also, I was raised Christian and perhaps have a hard time throwing out the beliefs I was raised on in spite of having become an agnostic over time.

            Plus, given the fact that I’ve never studied ethics in depth (it was the one class that I *really* wanted to take as a Philosophy major and never got the chance to) I’ve never found any ethical systems which seemed to be able to cover all cases, which is why I think there is value in considering many different ethical systems depending on the crime or situation in question.

            Certainly this leads to a lot of “picking and choosing” but then I haven’t come across any ethical system that really satisfies me. Ultimately, there are situations that I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable using The Bible for inspiration. Compare for example, Jesus throwing a temper tantrum over people selling stuff in the temple and the activities of the typical televangelist. I mean if they really wanted Biblical law implemented, they should realize their own behaviour would automatically be illegal.

            Unfortunately The Bible has really awful rules when it comes to sexual behaviour (or relationships in general…) an it’s attitudes towards rape are barbaric. But consider how the story of the good Samaritan can be used as a condemnation of the U.S.’s hypocritical immigration policies.

            So basically, rather than advocating that we throw out in entirety The Bible, I say there is no harm in picking and choosing. That’s all.

          2. I can certainly agree with the idea that there are some moral precepts expressed in the Bible that are actually good! I just don’t think that as a whole it provides a good ethical framework. 🙂 I actually love the story of the Good Samaritan, and King Solomon with the two mothers of the children. Oh and the whole “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” is pretty awesome. But yeah, we’d be picking out of it based on some other, more coherent ethical framework, not using it as a basis for picking itself. So I think we are in agreement.

  5. This is a really good article and raises and excellent point! However I did have a small issue with a couple of things you said, for example ‘Providing straight people with reasons or excuses for our queerness simply confirms their suspicions that our sexuality really is their business and that we need to justify our existence to them.’
    To me this seems like a bit of generalisation about ‘straight people’ and suggests that all straight people feel a need to meddle in and control people’s sexuality if they do not have the same sexuality as us. As a straight person I was slightly annoyed at this, because I neither feel that anyone needs to justify their sexuality to me, that my sexuality is superior or that everyone’s sexuality is my business. Apart from this, I loved your article and wholeheartedly agree with you!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I thought from the context that it was clear I was only referring to straight people who ask for such justification. 🙂 However, I think it would also be valid to address straight people as a whole. I am going to try to explain this but it’s hard, so let me know if you want clarification.

      A lot of straight people who are very open minded and progressive still have internalised heterosexism due to their privilege, and have done things to oppress queers without thinking about it. I actually don’t find it offensive when, say, POC rail angrily at “white people” because I recognise as a white person my privilege makes it such that I am very likely to have internalised racism and to have unknowingly done things to oppress POC – so even though I can’t THINK of anything I did, that doesn’t mean I didn’t DO anything, and I recognise their anger as legitimate. This is the same principle. As a straight person (or a person with any kind of privilege) you should recognise you are likely to have unknowingly done things to oppress queer people (or people without privilege) because your privilege means you didn’t have all the information or didn’t know what to do. I don’t think you should prioritise these feelings when you come into queer spaces, where the focus should be on the oppressed rather than the oppressors. I certainly would never come into a space for POC and ask that they not rail so angrily at white people – even though I try to be a white ally, I recognise that I too have oppressed POC despite my good intentions. I would appreciate if straight people took the same attitude towards queers. 🙂

  6. What a fantastic post! I’ve been struggling with this issue for a while.

    “Born this way” is the very easiest and most understandable argument when heteronormative people wonder about other people’s life choices.(I mean the well-intentioned ones, because the others aren’t really open to discussion anyway.)

    It’s so easy to fall into, because their approach is often: If being queer is a choice, and you know in advance that it is a non-acceptable choice to a majority of your environment (legally, morally, religiously, culturally, whatever), then when you make the choice, you take the consequences.

    If your counter-argument is “but the point is, there is nothing wrong with being queer, we don’t need to justify it” you are 100% correct, but it isn’t likely to be a winning argument. They will still say – okay, your choice. So what’s the problem? Deal with it.

    I think part of the problem is letting other people frame the argument from that perspective. Though I haven’t quite figured out how to change the dialogue.

    And I have fallen into that argument myself, not from the “poor Bob” perspective, but in asking people to look at themselves and ask themselves how much choice they feel they have in their heterosexuality — they really can’t say if it’s genetic or not, just that it’s “normal”. So I ask them to stop judging what is “normal” to someone else, just because it’s different. This is how Bob is. Deal with it. It isn’t really your business.

    Not sure how effective that is either, though 🙂

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  8. Personally, I don’t agree. I think that being born this way is a good enough way to argue for our rights. I think that in a sense, you simplified the idea of being born this way, as to mean that we were genetically born this way. I have never taken it in such a way as to put emphasis on genetics. Instead, I argue that I was born in this way as a way of saying that it is not an inherent choice, but something given to me from life.

    Also, I have no idea where to insert Trans people into your idea of “just fine,” not being born this way.

    Also, I think this post is a bit dangerous to the queer activist community. We should all unite as one under the idea that there have been some people who have been born this way, that some have chosen (because it is not such an outrageous thing to desire).

    And my last point, being born is not an excuse, but it helps people feel better, and not to doubt their feeling because of societal pressure. I know that I felt comfort in the idea that I was born this way instead of having decided who I liked.

    1. I’m sorry to be blunt but in the post, I outlined several reasons why it’s not good enough, including an explanation of the naturalistic fallacy, for which you haven’t provided counterarguments. You say my post is dangerous, but my post outlines why your position is dangerous (eg it tacitly reinforces the idea that we owe the world an explanation) and you haven’t explained why you disagree with these arguments.

      You say that you want our community to unite as one, but then you propose simultaneously that we should use the line “born this way” AND acknowledge that some of us have chosen…heterosexists and cissexists find this a very easy argument to knock down. They would use this as ammunition for their idea that they can “save” some of us. This is a weak line of argument at best. If we want to unite, we can unite under a much stronger and more inclusive banner: the It’s None Of Your Business Why We’re LGBTQI, We’re Not Hurting Anyone banner.

      As for your point about the trans* community, actually, many trans* people ARE “born this way”, in that they are born a different gender to their physical sex. But many genderfluid people do not feel they are “born” any which way, and they certainly are just fine. In fact my post defends all trans people, no matter how they feel about where their gender identities come from. But standing behind “born this way” – that does exclude those who feel differently about the source of their gender identity or gender fluidity.

      I’m sure some people take personal, psychological comfort in knowing they can’t change their sexuality and I don’t wish to deny them that comfort. My point is that they should never have to do that. No straight people ever have to do it. We should work towards a world where queers don’t ever have to do that, not in their personal lives, and certainly not in public. We will never cast off “born this way” if we are using it as our armor.

      1. Your post is quite condescending… sorry I’m not an educated feminist who is able to match up to your standards.

        If you would have properly and unbiasedly read my post, however, you would have seen that I am not trying to deny what you are saying, because there definitely is truth in some it, but that I am simply stating my personal view on “born this way,” which is not backed by religion or genetics, or by your perception, but by the fact that I was born who I am. Lady Gaga may think it was God who makes no mistakes, but I think that my body does not make mistakes. Therefore, I was born this way, and I’m not sorry.

        Also, I am proposing that everyone has different views on why they are queer-everyones reason counts… and that we shouldn’t put us all under the “none of your business” clause because people do have their reasons, and because we should all talk about them with each other (if one wants to).
        Whereas you are completely discounting the idea of “born this way,” and the people who believe in it, by relating them to some religious myth which you made up and not everyone even applies to, arguing genetics, when the idea has not been proven or disproven, and relying on your perception of “born this way” to mean something negative-thus equating it to heterosexual homophobia.

        1. Let’s leave the personal attacks about tone out of this please.

          You thinking that your body “makes no mistakes” is a version of the naturalistic fallacy that I described and debunked in my post! I even explained why it is so dangerous to stand behind the naturalistic fallacy – because it allows us to be lumped in with psychopaths and pedophiles, which our opponents will do every chance they get! And we can easily prevent them from doing it by using the arguments I proposed in my post, rather than “born this way”.

          As Connie said, I am not saying that you shouldn’t believe you were born queer. In fact, I myself believe I was born queer and I do not experience my sexuality as fluid. The post is about the kinds of arguments that the community should be putting forward to its detractors in order to effectively defend ourselves. (And to reiterate this key point: I’m not saying no queer people should be religious, I am saying that bringing god and the naturalistic fallacy to the table as our defense makes us easy targets – and what is more, in a secular society in political debates, you are supposed to defend yourself on secular grounds not bring religion into the picture!) I am simply proposing that ‘born this way’ is a bad political defense for our community as a whole and that there are readily available defenses that will protect us a lot better.

          Unrelatedly: is there a reason why someone calling herself “Victoria” who has the same email address as you has posted two more comments now articulating a more moderate version of your argument? I’m not approving them until you explain what is going on with that.

          1. Where do you debunk this theory? Not everyone goes on whether something is “net” “good” or “bad,” if that was the case, homosexuality would most likely be banned in the US, and still is banned in other countries.

            And, plus people will say anything to make homosexuality look bad, Michelle Bachmen stated that saying the word gay was satanic, and then said that homosexuality leads to polyamorous relations, as if saying that polyamorous relationships are bad.
            People destroyed these two theories by arguing for the truth in it, thus saying that it puts queer into that category is irrelevant. No matter how hard you try, and how hard you protest, people will always be ignorant in that and state what they want to change peoples minds. You can’t help it. It sucks, but it happens.

            Honestly, at the beginning of my realization and acceptance of my sexuality, I thought I was making a choice- but why would I make this choice? And I have been struggling with the idea ever since. My problem with your statement is that the fact you assert pride to be lost in explaining your sexuality-and instead provide an argument which sounds more angry than informative- “It’s none of your business,” to me at least, seems to take on the stereotypical views of angry feminists-who didn’t explain anything, but just asserted themselves. Heterosexual people have a right to know why I am homosexual, and I’ll tell them that I was born this way, not through God or through genetics, but through my fluid sexuality, and that will help our cause the most than getting mad at the question.

            ps: Thinking that this was a PSA friendly website, I used another name because I felt uncomfortable…. guess not. Thanks for outing me.

          2. The whole blog post gives three reasons why we shouldn’t use born this way: we don’t know that it is true for everyone, it’s the naturalistic fallacy, and it implies we have to provide reasons/excuses for ourselves. You haven’t addressed any of these. You don’t seem to agree that the idea that “natural = good” is fundamentally illogical, but it is. It is a clear cut logical fallacy.

            I am well aware that not everyone will debate the desirability of an idea or behaviour on its merits, and will resort to appeals to emotion and logical fallacies: but that does not mean we should do the same! In fact, we must point out to people that using these tactics is simply unacceptable. We must work to come to a place where it is simply embarrassing to adult humans to be seen advancing these irrational ideas in what is supposed to be a political debate in secular societies. And as i pointed out, if we examine queerness on its net merits we certainly do not find the case in favour of banning it! That is the entire point of the second part of my post. The point is to shift the debate to the halls of rationality, where queer rights advocates can win every time.

            You say “Heterosexual people have a right to know why I am homosexual” – but you’re wrong. And to say this is to admit defeat before you start. Heterosexists have no right to ask us why we are queer. They assert that they have the right, and they want us to believe they have the right, but they don’t. The more we indulge them, the more they think they have this right, and as long as they think that then they see us as lesser than they are: because they sure as hell don’t think we have any right to ask why they are heterosexual. And that’s because they see us as deviant and themselves as normal. To engage with them on this level is to give in to them, to cede ground before we even debate. This is the core of my argument.

            I’m going to let your comment about angry feminists slide since I assume you did not mean it in a negative way, although since it could come off this way, I wish to inform people reading these comments that SJL is very pro angry feminism. 🙂

            ps) I have googled PSA and gone through four pages of results, but unfortunately I haven’t found anything related to why you would change your name when commenting. If this is a form of social anxiety, I’m very sorry, but SJL cannot allow anyone, blogger or commenter, to post under different names on our website because the debate needs to be kept intellectually honest. You may disengage at any time, simply by saying that you no longer wish to participate as the debate is making you uncomfortable and upset. We all have days like that.

    2. No one is making an argument about whether or not queer people are really “born this way”, whether some are and others aren’t etc. No one is trying to silence people’s experiences of having felt like they WERE both that way. What we are saying is that this argument has no bearing on the issue of granting human rights. Not that it has a negative or positive impact, merely that it is not an argument about merits regardless of which side it comes from ie. The natural vs. unnatural/artificial distinction (which is a fine line anyway) doesn’t actually evaluate whether a course of action is morally right or wrong. Something that is natural is not inherently more morally good than something artificial.

      For example, I would say there is anecdotal evidence that humans are born to be prejudiced against and Other foreign human communities – not that this is genetically encoded, but it is a byproduct of our societal structures. This would fit into your definition of “born this way”. But no one arguing we should treat other humans this way because it’s “natural”. As rational beings we can recognise the moral dimensions of prejudice and discrimination, and not be totally subject to our biological imperatives or whatever you want to call it.

      Edit: I’m also having problems understanding your point about trans identities. Being trans doesn’t hurt anyone an there is nothing morally negative about being trans (or queer generally, which was the thesis of this post). Therefore why does it matter whether people were born into it or not?

  9. Great post. I’d only add one more reason the ‘born this way’ argument is wrong, and also potentially dangerous.

    Say we all agree that we’re born this way. Say we even figure out what it is that influences our development and makes us turn out this way or isolate the markers of the trait. In a world where people make excuses for their queerness, which implies that they would rather *not* be queer but can’t help it, what do you think would happen next?

    Is it unreasonable to think that people would screen for queerness along with all the other fetal abnormalities and conditions they screen for today? And if they thought that queerness was indeed the terrible handicap that we let them think it is/let it be because of inadequate protection and legal inequality, would it be unreasonable to think that some people would either try to ‘fix’ us in utero or get rid of us altogether?

    I know that that sounds over the top and melodramatic now, but if we keep making excuses and allowing the BS line that being queer is bad and wrong and nobody would be queer voluntarily to be perpetuated, who’s to say we won’t be legitimizing our own actual destruction further down the track?

    1. Actually, I completely agree. I know it sounds dramatic, but these things always sound dramatic until they happen…and they have happened to other groups in the past, not exactly the same way, but one needs only to think of all the infanticide of females to get the point. Thanks for your comment.

      1. I don’t understand where making excuses for your sexuality falls under implying that they would rather not be queer? Women need to justify themselves in a patriarchally run world, it doesn’t mean that they were upset at being women. It means they needed to, to make a living. People try to justify themselves in a world which does not accept them. It would only make sense to justify ourselves until we no longer need to be justified. Until everyone fully understands that its a matter of choice to act upon feelings which are inside you.

        For people who do not understand, telling someone that you’re born this way is like saying that you can’t help being who you are, just like heterosexual people can’t help to be who they are- and date people who attract them. Wether they decide to take advantage of the fluidity of their sexuality or not is their choice-but its still in them.

        Personally, I feel that sexuality is something fluid in all of us. People prefer to be with types of people, but generally one day someone could pass you by and catch your eye, and not be the gender/sex which they would be normally interested in. I don’t think it means that they turned queer, it means that it has been in there the whole time, but hasn’t come out till now. We’re all sexual beings by nature; whether that means you have no interest in expressing sexuality with other people, or you would like to express it with the world.
        But, this is my opinion. I’m not telling people what to believe or to stop saying “we’re queer, get used to it,” say it if it best describes how you identify yourself. As for the “born this way” argument… I’ll keep saying it, and be proud of that.

        1. I think you are confusing personal experiences of being queer to platform arguments that must be made as a whole (this post is about the latter). As a matter of practicality, marginalised people do sometimes have to make justifications to protect their personal emotional health and well-being or to just get shit done. But this is a corner we’re backed into by the kyriarchy and certainly should not be the default mode of operating. On a macro platform where the community is being attacked rather than our personal safety, we should aim to use rationally integral arguments when arguing for legal and cultural change.

          The fact that you experience queerness as innate and gender/sexuality as fluid is not an argument about the merits of queerness except that these experiences do not harm anyone and are not morally or ethically bad. These experiences are certainly important as forming part of your queer identity, but not actually significant when applied to arguments about morality.

          Certainly if you think you are born queer it doesn’t mean you wished you were straight. But when that is used as an answer or counter-argument to the assertion that queer is “unnatural” (or chosen), the argument being that unnatural/chosen things are bad, you reinforce the idea that, if it is done, choosing to be queer is bad. Contextually, you are giving a rationally insignificant point weight by engaging with it.

        2. Women have to justify themselves in a patriarchal world, you say? Okay, suppose a woman is to justify herself. How would she, or any of us, do that? Do we march up to men and say “Hey buddy, stop hating on women, we were BORN this way!”?

          No. We don’t. We say “Hey buddy, there’s nothing wrong with being a woman, it’s just as good as being a man!”

  10. I think this is a pretty strong argument, and I agree that queer people deserve rights and recognition regardless of whether queerness is set at birth, and that the state should make decisions using the sorts of bases you outlined. Furthermore, I agree that there’s a sense in which “born this way” represents an apology which ought not proffered.

    But I think that there’s another, important sense in which “born this way” represents not a call for acceptance on the basis of necessity, but the recognition of how deep and integrated queerness is into the self of queer people. “Born this way” is not presented as an excuse, but rather a validation; in the canonical Gaga song, it is tied with “I’m on the right track.” The sentiment, I believe, is that being queer is not merely incidental to the lives of queer people, but vital.

    Now, I think that it’s true that “born this way” is a poor way to express that sentiment, as it relies on an unsupportable notion of teleology. But I don’t think “born this way” can be replaced with “it’s okay no matter what;” though the latter is a strong moral claim (particularly on the state), it doesn’t represent anything about identity.

    Are there, then, other slogans queer people and allies can adopt in order to capture this other sentiment of “born this way,” while shedding its problematic content?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Well, you could always go back to the classics. “We’re queer, we’re here, get used to it.” seems to capture a lot of the validation without getting bogged down in causes. And it also helps tie the queer movement back to its history – it’s an old Queer Nation rallying cry from the 90’s.

    2. You know, I think we need to divest ourselves of the Gaga song. It’s not helping the integrity of the debate (though I don’t deny it may provide comfort). What’s the line? “You’re beautiful in this way / Cause God makes no mistakes”? Really? That’s what we’re going to stand behind? I don’t think it is wise (or indeed makes any sense).

      I agree that it would really help if we could come up with strong rallying cries to replace Born This Way. I like Geoff’s suggested rallying cry! I think it’s a great replacement and harks back to our history as a community.

  11. The problem here seems to be that the author lives in a world where suddenly every Christian, Jew and Muslim is going to wake up and say… “oh you know maybe there’s some silly things in our rules, we better change that.”

    If you argue that sexuality is fluid for all people (as you noted it is for some… myself included, though the fact that I am trans is not) then you give fuel to the people who run ex-gay retreats and church groups who try to deprogram gay people.

    You ignore the fact that many right-wing Christians really do believe we are harming other people… by “influencing” children into an “unhealthy lifestyle.”

    You can say that it “can’t be taken seriously” but it is by millions and that’s not going to change.

    If we switch from “it’s the way I am” to “my choicce is not your buisness”, then we loose all the ground we have made.

    I’m tired of being told that I’m flaunting my lifestyle, and choices in someones face by even mentioning I have a same sex partner…

    Like it or not we’re dealing with the Abrahamic religions as our main opponent and to pretend we’re engaging in a debate using secular ethics a common framework, is just wishful thinking.

    Also as an aside, in all fairness it should be noted that slavery as practiced by the Ancient Jews and the Ancient Romans was something quite different from Early American slavery. And the reason rape isn’t mentioned is because it was a patriachal culture which didn’t hold much value for women, as was the norm in cultures at the time…

    Here’s my personal tactic when dealing with Christians, I come from a Christian background myself, the actual times homosexuality is mentioned in the bible are very sparse… unless you really distort the message of the Soddom and Gamorah story, the only time it’s directly condemmed is in Leviticus (and the meaning isn’t all that clear if you go back to the original Hebrew) and the writings of Paul.

    I find Paul to be in direct conflict with Jesus’ philosophy… and will gleefully point out the ways.

    As for Leviticus… Well if people eat shellfish or pork, I will automatically discount them quoting Leviticus… show me someone other than an Orthadox Jew who follows all those rules. A Christian will usually argue that the rules in leviticus were meant for the people at the time… well if that’s so then don’t quote a single passage at me, while you discard the rest.

    1. Even though religious people are our main opponents, we do not have to engage with them on the level they choose! You can simply point out to a religious person that, as theocracy is abhorrent (ask them if they would like to live in a theocracy based on a religion that is not their own) the laws of the land cannot be based on religious conviction but must be based on philosophy separate to any religion. The debate is therefore firmly in the land of secular philosophy. Actually I think most religious people in democractic nations actually have conceded this point — you’ll notice that in Jim Wallace’s recent ABC Op Ed (which I am not linking to because I dont want to give him the traffic) he never mentioned his religion and had to resort to calling homosexuality “unnatural” and “unhealthy”. Yes, they do believe we are harming people – but that’s not the point! There’s simply no evidence we’re harming people and they are unable to provide it.

      I’m not suggesting all religious people will change, but I am suggesting that you don’t have to be totally cowed by religious people into accepting a field of play, as it were, that is totally and 100% defined by their agenda and not OUR agenda (namely, living in peace free from fear of violence or discrimination).

      That said, I think your tactic can be useful too, and may be helpful to some of our readers, so I have published your comment despite the fact that you misinterpreted what I said and implied that I was delusional. 😛 🙂

    2. Just because our opponents use logical fallacies does not mean that we should also use logical fallacies. In fact by trying refute their argument we send the message that the argument is acceptable to use. Instead we should be trying invalidate and discredit that line of argument altogether.

      I should also note that SJL are in a privileged position to be more or less open with their queerness and this post was intended to apply on a macro level. If someone who was say, living financially dependent on highly religious parents and this was the only argument that convinced them, then I would support personal safety and well-being over integrity of the debate.

    3. The invocation of Judaism is interesting, because I think those parallels are relevant.

      That is, I’ve had extremely hostile confrontations with Christians who believe I should become a Christian, and who believe everyone who doesn’t accept their arguments for their religious lifestyle is going to Hell.

      “Nope, my life and my mind are my own, go away, and also, don’t put your personal religious beliefs in our legal system, I’m not harming anyone” remains valid regardless of why the fundies think I’m a bad person. I’m not sure they have any more respect for liberal Jewishness than they do for queerness, and it’s never occurred to me to argue that we should be treated like people ’cause we can’t help it.

  12. Really good article.

    I think we have been sucker-punched by fundamentalists into this “you prove yourselves” stuff.” Heterosexuals and cisgenders don’t have to prove themselves,why do we? Even if there is irrefutable proof of sexual orientation and gender identity will the fundies ever admit that? And we don’t need their “approval” anyway!!

  13. I had a minute of “Um excuse me, what?” at the beginning of this blog post. It was a really big thing in my head, because how ELSE do we tell people how we are the way we are?

    Then I got through the rest of this and, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised and very impressed at how well-written this was. It takes a lot of guts to poke holes in an argument almost universally accepted by the queer community (the “born this way” argument, I mean), and I think you’re awesome for doing it so well. Thanks for helping to open my eyes, and probably a lot of other people’s too.

  14. Hey there! I really enjoyed the article. Absolutely great points, many of which I hadn’t thought of. 🙂

    However, I just wanted to say we should keep in mind that people who do rally under and empower themselves through the “Born This Way” slogan are also completely correct in doing so. Their expression is no less legitimate than yours.

    It’s not up to any one of us to tell others how to empower themselves, and I think that’s a basic tenet that is often ignored when certain practices of empowerment appear objectionable, as they invariably do.

    We don’t need the approval of anyone. And neither do the people who take up Lady Gaga’s own brand of freak flag.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Now, I must confess I completely disagree with you. While people can surely take personal comfort from having been “born” queer, my argument is that we should not use this in political debates. ‘Born this way’ is a weaker argument to use than many others available to us. It is not actually a legitimate or logical argument at all – it’s a version of the naturalistic fallacy!

      As a result, we set ourselves back when we rally to it. Our movement does not need to be founded on the desire to explain ourselves, especially not on an explanation that invokes a logical fallacy – and why build on shaky foundations when we have such solid ones available to us?

      That’s why I am putting out the message that we should stop using it. My proposal is not to force others to do what I want — I am simply trying to persuade my fellow queers and our allies to stop using “born this way” now. We should use these other arguments that are much stronger, because they will do more to advance our cause than “born this way” ever can.

  15. I completely agree with everything this article says and find it to be moving and well written.

    I also noticed some debating going on; I just wanted to comment on how refreshing it is to see competent, intelligent beings having a healthy exchange of views and ideas without a need for cursing, vulgarity, or putting down the other party’s opinion. I found many things in both Rachael and Jeremy’s argument that were compelling and allowed me to go outside of my usual realm of thought.

    Thanks for that. Really. Glad I discovered this article. And this site!

  16. I have very mixed feelings about ‘born this way’.

    I have used it in one-on-one arguments with Christians and Muslims who are still at the hating/disliking gay people stage, and it’s very useful in this case. It’s almost impossible in half an hour to convince most religious people to see things in terms of secular morality, whereas if you temporarily accept their moral framework and then use ‘born this way’, you can often get them to consider a compassionate ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ approach. That’s not *enough*, but it’s gonna be far better than nothing for the next gay person they come into contact with. I might be wrong about this, but I don’t think people jump straight from ‘gay is disgusting and evil’ to ‘it’s absolutely fine’ … most seem to need to go through the middle stages of ‘it’s unfortunate but they have no choice’ in between. Once they get to that middle stage, they’re willing to have a conversation with their gay neighbour, or get back in touch with that gay relative, and then once those conversations start, they can more further towards realising that gay love just as good as straight love.

    On the other hand, while it’s useful at times, there are loads of problems with ‘born this way’ as an argument. In addition to the points you raise, I think it tends to encourage biphobia: ‘born this way’ in the ‘take pity on me, i have no choice’ sense only works for those who are 100% gay. Those who rely on this argument need people to believe that they have no choice, and any admission that sexuality is a spectrum, or sometimes fluid, may be threatening to them because homophobes would use it to undermine their argument. Hence there is a strong incentive slot everyone into straight and gay and silence the voices of bi/pan or sexually fluid people.

    1. Hence there is a strong incentive slot everyone into straight and gay and silence the voices of bi/pan or sexually fluid people.

      The issue you raise about bisexuality/biphobia is a great point, as is the issue sexual fluidity! I know of and have read stories about people who were once straight and basically did just “wake up gay” (and vice versa for that matter). And the overwhelming sentiment is that both their current and previous sexualities were completely valid and true at that time. They hadn’t been “secretly straight” or “secretly a lesbian” all that time, and I completely agree that the “born this way” argument tends to invalidate those experiences.

  17. Interesting. I like a lot of what this says, but your argument totally breaks down when you dismiss the moral framework of the “Abrahamic religions” as inherently fallacious simply because you don’t like the “top 10 naughty things list.”

    To lump together — I assume — Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as one system of moral code is, in the first place, ludicrous. (For one thing, each of these religions can’t agree within itself what its Moral Code is, let alone all three of them. And not to get all Religious Studies on you, but even insisting that these are three separate, distinct, identifiable religions is problematic.)

    But more importantly, let’s say you CAN pretend like all three of those religions agrees that homosexuality is wrong. (And like, wow, you really can’t.) The issue I really take with your argument is the entire dismissal of these systems of morality because you disagree with their values.

    It’d be great if we could go around ignoring the people who disagree with us, pretending like they’re not there or just assuming that they’re insane. But “othering” people like that is EXACTLY what you’re saying people SHOULDN’T do. The way to win isn’t to pretend like the opposition isn’t there; it’s to work within their framework to beat them anyway.

    Besides. If you can dismiss entire moral frameworks as irrelevant because you doesn’t like them (because they don’t make rules against rape or slavery, which you consider important), then other people can do the same to you. And this refusal to engage is exactly the problem.

    Tirade aside, I think this article makes some very good points. I just wish people wouldn’t go around throwing insults at religion without really weighing the implications of what they’re saying. If homosexuality isn’t inherently wrong, then religion can’t be either.

    (P.S. You seem to assume that everyone agrees that utilitarianism is THE moral standard… and then also you throw around deontological ethics. No consequentialism? No pragmatic ethics? I don’t think you can just dip your toe in ethics just to sound smart. Either really use it or don’t even go there. Sorry if I’m being harsh; I just think you can really strengthen your argument here.)

    1. I’m quite happy to let the religious part of the argument fall to the side – like I said, we don’t actually need to beat them on their turf because we live in secular societies where their ethics are not enough of a reason to make laws. But to be absolutely pedantic, I’m not dismissing frameworks as wrong because I don’t like them, I’m dismissing them as wrong because they have unacceptable implications to our intuition. We are engaged in trying to find the best moral framework. Clearly, one which does not condemn rape and slavery cannot be a candidate. As far as I know this is a standard form of argument in ethical philosophy (Singer does it a lot).

      On a different note: It is pretty awful for you to tell queer people that WE are the problem for “refusing to engage” with heterosexists who want us invisible and celibate at best and dead at worst. As if queers are somehow just as bad as heterosexists if we refuse to engage with their bigotry.

      On a personal level: Your claim that you’re trying to help me strengthen my argument is pretty unconvincing given that you accused me of trying to “sound smart” by “dipping my toe” in ethics. I’m not here to sound smart, I’m here to discuss ideas to the best of my ability. I’m happy to be corrected by experts! I wish ethical philosophers were writing these posts so I wouldn’t have to try and do it. (In fact, you should write one!) But I can’t really “not go there” with regard to ethics in a post about why being queer is not a moral transgression.

      You can be harsh without accusing me of bad faith. I have no problem with you being vehement in your denunciation of my ignorance. I object to your nasty insinuation that I’m trying to sound smart rather than create a solid argument, and it’s this insinuation that makes me doubt you’re really trying to help at all. I hope I’m wrong about that.

  18. unfortunately you missed the point of ‘Born This Way’… Lady Gaga said Born This Way is about constant… daily… hourly… rebirthing of yourself til you get to a more authentic you by the end of your life… so by the time you do… you feel like you are the most you… as if you totally unaffected by social norms etc… ‘Born This Way’ is NOT to be taken literally… not what gaga intended.

    1. I don’t know whether I should despair about how far Gaga fans will go to rationalise her message, or whether I should just be happy that you realise the literal idea of “Born This Way” is problematic. (The literal interpretation is what everyone else intends to convey when they use this phrase, which is why you are the first person to bring this up.) I guess overall I’m just happy that we agree on the second point.

  19. i love Lady Gaga and i am obsessed with her etc… so i would know what her intentions of that song were… YOU ARE BEING REDUCTIVE.

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