Roderick Cook | Beyond "Born This Way"
What's the T? | The acceptance of queer and trans people shouldn’t be dependent on an “inability” to change
February 20, 2014, 5:55 pm · Updated February 21, 2014, 1:06 am·
I h a ve no idea if I was born this way.
Lady Gaga’s LGBT “anthem” sounds loud at pride parades and in the hearts of queer and trans youth, and for good reason. She empowers us to embrace our identities and be who we are. A more recent song, “Same Love,” features a beautiful chorus that says, “I can’t change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to.” These words remind queer and trans people, as well as everyone else, that we cannot change who we are, so you should accept and love us.
But perhaps this mindset does more harm than good.
Part of this message is important: Queer and trans people should be loved and embraced for who we are. However, when we add the disclaimer “because we can’t change,” it seems to imply that, if our sexuality and gender were not things that we were born with, it would be OK to hate and oppress us for those qualities.
This type of thinking is dangerous. This reinforces hierarchies so that being straight and cisgender is always seen as preferable. Cisgender straight people are never asked to justify their identity by proving they were born that way. It’s only when we get away from the “norm” and toward what people see as undesirable identities that we are treated in this way. It essentially says to society that although you may not be comfortable with us, it’s not our fault and you will just have to accept it.
Further, this mindset also leaves out people whose identities change over time. It seems to imply that sexuality and gender are set at birth and there is no room for fluidity. While for some people this may be the case, for others it is not.
Unfortunately, many people both within and outside the LGBTQ community look down on sexual and gender fluidity and write it off as something that people do to be different or for attention. Those experimenting with gender or sexuality are often accused of just trying to be “trendy.”
“Just stop for a minute and think about how much gender is forced on you from birth,” College sophomore Kate Campbell said. “Is it really that weird that after becoming more educated about these issues, people are self-reflexively realizing that they’ve spent their lives identifying a certain way because they were told to?”
Kate’s point rings true for me and for some of my friends and acquaintances within the Penn LGBTQ community. Since coming to Penn, my personal definitions of both my gender and sexuality have changed a lot. This is not because I have tried to “fit in,” but because I have met people who have opened up discussions and brought forth ideas about gender and sexuality that I was simply not exposed to before.
Having grown up surrounded by straight and cisgender people all of my life, I wasn’t really given an opportunity to critically engage with my sexual and gender identities. My family and friends were extremely supportive of me and were true allies to my community, but it wasn’t until I met queer and trans people that I was able to talk about these parts of my identity with people who had similar experiences. My identity is not simple enough to be something I’ve known since birth.
This type of “born this way” thinking usually corresponds with certain types of words surrounding sexuality and gender: things like “acceptance” and “tolerance.” We sometimes throw around this language with the best of intentions, but what are we really saying here? We are perpetuating the idea that queer and trans identities are things that we need to be OK with, but things that objectively are not good.
I want to encourage all of us, regardless of how we currently see our sexuality and gender, to move toward ways of speaking and thinking about those parts of our life that show that queerness and transness are not things that we need to tolerate, but rather things that we should embrace.
Roderick Cook is a College sophomore from Nesquehoning, Pa., studying gender, sexuality and women’s studies. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.