When Sexual Fluidity Is Turned Against Us

For the first time in decades, the “Born this way” approach to sexual identity is losing its popularity among queer folks. Many of us don’t believe that sexuality is innate and stagnant. We believe that certain things, environments, and people can influence the way that we express and identify sexually. We’re also beginning to believe that sexuality is fluid. It can grow and evolve over the course of one’s lifetime.

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Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

In my opinion, the reason why the born this way approach to sexual orientation is falling out of fashion among queer folks, is because the LGBT movement has made huge strides since the Stonewall Riots. While there are undoubtedly homophobes out there, including our vice president-elect Mike Pence, being queer, in general, is more accepted. We now have the right to marry, among other protections to make sure we are not injured or discriminated against for our sexuality. There are also more progressive and liberal havens  for queer folks than just SF and NY.

But during the Gay Rights Movement of the late 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s, before the LGBT community had any rights whatsoever, our humanity — our basic sense of personhood — was denied. Because of this, the AIDS epidemic spread and political officials/medical professionals didn’t care that the virus was spreading, because it was a “gay disease.” So the gay movement needed to have an immediate argument to embrace why it was okay to be gay. They needed to have a reason that straight people should care that gay men were dying at an alarming rate.

Hence “the born this way” approach to sexuality gained popularity. It illustrated that being gay is natural, innate, and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. Therefore, you anti-LGBT folks should accept and help us. The born this way approach also discouraged conversion camps and other anti-LGBT therapies that attempted to switch a gay/queer person’s sexual orientation, by revealing that it would be a futile attempt to convert a man’s sexual orientation.

The issue with the born this way approach now, is that we, as a community, have progressed. We no longer want to say, “Look I didn’t choose to be gay, so treat me with respect.” We, the queer community, want to say, “What if I chose to be queer? Let’s say I did. What’s wrong with that?” The answer of course, is nothing. We’re living in a time where we no longer want to justify our gayness, we would to embrace our queerness.

Now I do believe that the vast majority of gay men and women are indeed born this way. I think there is something genetic, hormonal, or in another way biological. However, for sexually fluid folks, I can’t confidently make the same claim. I could make the argument that there’s a biological underpinning that allows sexually fluid people to be open, but I’m not sold that there is a “bi gene.” I think upbringing and environment do a play a large role. Research from Dr. Michael Bailey and Dr. Lisa Diamond, which has looked at sexual fluidity, supports the idea that sexuality is flexible and influenced by one’s environment.

The issue now, is that anti-LGBT groups, of course, still believe that same-sex attractions are immoral. And the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity (ATSCI, the network of ex-gay therapists formerly known as NARTH) is using the notion of sexual fluidity as justification to engage in a new version of conversion therapy. They’re calling it: “Sexual Attraction Fluidity Exploration in Therapy” (SAFE-T). They’re looking at some of the work from Dr. Diamond, which has illustrated that sexuality isn’t immutable for all people, especially women. Never mind that Dr. Diamond never wanted her research to be used this way, as a means to “change” people’s sexual orientation. She simply wanted a world that was less stringent about labels. She wanted queer folks to have the freedom to pursue relationships with people of any gender without nicely fitting into neat gay, bi, and lesbian boxes. Nevertheless, the ATSCI is using Dr. Diamond’s research as justification to attempt to sway gay and bi people’s attractions to be more heterosexual.

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Photo by Daniel Tobias

The ATSCI obviously doesn’t realize, that while sexuality is fluid, it doesn’t mean you can force your attractions. Sexual fluidity evolves over time and manifests itself in ways we can’t predict or expect. We don’t actively choose the person we’re going to fall in love with. We simply fall in love. Speaking to a therapist, who will shame us for our same-sex attractions, won’t change that.

And I can say from first hand experience, that actively suppressing same-sex attractions does not work. I tried for years to be straight. I dated and loved many women over that time, but I was miserable while I was in denial. I’d lay awake at night in bed, crying, confused, hating myself. Only once I came out and accepted that I was bi, was I able to be happy. I was then able to love myself.

So fluidity does not mean you can choose to actively suppress an aspect of your identity. Nothing about the definition of sexually fluid begins to imply that.

The ATSCI new attempt at conversion therapy will be a failure. It will be damaging and harmful to gay and bi people, like all the other attempts at conversion therapy.

There needs to be a paradigm shift in the way that LGBT people fight for equality. It should no longer be, “I was born this way.” It should be, “I don’t care if I was born this way, but it’s who I am now.” Only then, can we fully embrace the notion of sexual fluidity. Only then, can we fight against the anti-LGBT groups who are using the notion of sexually fluidity against us.

Zachary Zane
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Zachary Zane is a modern day Carrie Bradshaw from Los Angeles. His writing focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, dating, and relationships. He's currently a contributor at Cosmopolitan, Bustle, PRIDE, and Huffington Post Queer Voices. He's working on a novel, which explores the modern relationship between masculinity, vulnerability, and sexuality.