Here’s Why We Need to Chill About Cynthia Nixon’s Identity

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This week in LGBT self-policing, first Christine Quinn bashed actress/activist Cynthia Nixon for running for Governor as an “unqualified lesbian.” This was quickly followed by lots of LGBT media and social accounts reminding everyone that Cynthia Nixon is a bisexual, and anyone who writes otherwise on the internet is committing bi-erasure, biphobia, and lesbian supremacy. Meanwhile, A WOMAN WHO IS DEFINITELY SOME-TYPE-OF-GAY COULD BE THE FIRST-OF-OUR-KIND GOVERNOR IN A STATE THAT MODELS SOME OF THE COUNTRY’S MOST PROGRESSIVE LEGISLATION.

Christine Quinn was the first to potentially misidentify Nixon, saying to the Post:

“Cynthia Nixon was opposed to having a qualified lesbian become mayor of New York City. Now she wants an unqualified lesbian to be the governor of New York. You have to be qualified and have experience. She isn’t qualified to be the governor.” It’s not likely Cynthia Nixon’s objection to Quinn’s campaign for mayor had anything to do with the latter being a lesbian. Who is Quinn dog whistling? The sound bite ‘unqualified lesbian’ isn’t really a deep cut in the reputation of a New Yorker, since the state is not exactly known for its huge population of homophobes.

Nixon seemed to accept the identifier and is quoted in the same article, “Her being a lesbian and my being a lesbian is not the issue.”

Photo by Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Asking over and over for an actress to define her sexuality is the sort of very dull question you think will be very interesting, similar to ‘What’s it like being a female in a male-dominated industry?’ and ‘Who are you wearing?’ And that’s probably why Nixon, who stated she didn’t like the label bisexual, went ahead and used it to describe herself. Then last year in an article on Huffington Post she clarified, “I didn’t really identify as bisexual,” she said, “but people were so insistent that I pick a ― you know, it caused a huge controversy and everyone wanted to graft on to me this narrative ― [that] I felt that I had just simply been mistaken about myself for all these years and finally the veil was lifted and I was a lesbian. And that was not true.”

Asking over and over for an actress to define her sexuality is the sort of very dull question you think will be very interesting, similar to ‘What’s it like being a female in a male-dominated industry?’ and ‘Who are you wearing?’

Nixon has spoken quite eloquently and with nuance on the topic of her sexual identity, saying to the Advocate in 2010 that, “I identify as gay as a political stance,” and further, “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.’ And they tried to get me to change it, because they said it implies that homosexuality can be a choice… And for me, it is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make a litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.”

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Daaaang sounds like someone’s up on their second-wave feminist dialectic, which controversially encouraged women to reject compulsory heterosexuality and embrace lesbianism. I could be wrong but I think the “certain section” of the LGBT community to which she refers is (privileged) gay men, who typically report that their sexual orientation is not a choice. This is a political strategy that allows them to maintain a claim to male privilege (it’s not my fault I was born this way, so don’t try to categorize me as effeminate or demean me the way you do women).

Vera Whisman’s well-sourced Queer by Choice offers first-hand accounts and studies of the different ways men and women report whether they saw their sexuality as inherited at birth, fluid, or chosen. Cynthia Nixon’s account of her sexuality changing over time is not atypical among homosexual and bisexual women, according to Whisman’s studies, which showed women reporting discontinuity of identity over time, and having an element of choice, more than twice as often as men.

Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

LGBT culture brands itself as committed to not naming other people’s experiences for them. But as with people continually calling actual, self-identifying lesbians “queer,” such as every single time Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde’s name is invoked, “the folx” are determined to shrink Nixon’s sexuality into more easily digestible pieces. It’s easier to call her queer than to struggle with the nuance somewhere between ‘bisexual under duress’ and ‘politically gay.’

Our subculture is very tribal. Lesbians, bisexuals, and self-identified queers all want to claim Nixon. We are plagued by lack of representation. That’s exactly why it would be so awesome to have a some-type-of-homo in the penultimate position of power in one of America’s most powerful states.

Our subculture is very tribal. Lesbians, bisexuals, and self-identified queers all want to claim Nixon. We are plagued by lack of representation. That’s exactly why it would be so awesome to have a some-type-of-homo in the penultimate position of power in one of America’s most powerful states. 

Regardless of Cynthia Nixon’s personal identity, she is in a lesbian relationship. You can be a bisexual in a lesbian relationship because lesbian relationships are defined by the fact that they consist of two female people. Cynthia Nixon and wife Christine Marinoni are two females in a marriage. If theirs is some kind of open or polyamorous arrangement and Nixon has male lovers in addition to her wife, it doesn’t make her marriage any less lesbian. She may be a bisexual. Her marriage, like all marriages, is monosexual. As such, anyone who hasn’t been following Cynthia Nixon’s career in depth since 2010 is probably going to assume she’s a lesbian. Nixon is no doubt anticipating the elision and simplification of her identity(ies) in favor of political expediency.

It seems like Nixon is less concerned with having her identity known and understood than having her politics known and understood.

It seems like Nixon is less concerned with having her identity known and understood than having her politics known and understood.

I really hope that the outcome of all of this very typical and tired in-fighting is that people start talking about exactly what sort of qualifications Cynthia Nixon has. Al Franken, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Orange Devil in the White House are some prominent examples of completely theretofore unqualified actors-cum-politicians.

Nixon’s first speech as a candidate blasted Andrew Cuomo for not being a “real Democrat.” She alleged that he’s beholden to corporations and that he and his staff are corrupt and financially benefitting from state development projects. She characterized Albany as a cesspool and blamed Cuomo for not pushing state government to the left. These seem like interesting platform positions. Her platform has already begun to attract Bernie supporters, who say she’s representing a more progressive left than establishment Democrats.

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