Gayle Madwin

Founder, and The QueerByChoice Mailing List

AOL Instant Messenger Name: QBC101

Born: July 20, 1976
Current Residence: Sacramento Valley, California, USA

This page contains excerpts from my earliest posts to the QueerByChoice Mailing List.

5/19/99: I turned queer on approximately April 8, 1992—I didn't think to write down the day until a month or so later, so I'm not positive which day it was, but that's my best guess—at the age of 15. For me there was absolutely never any doubt that it was a choice. It was an incredibly mind-opening experience, and I doubt that I'll ever make another choice quite as brilliant and life-changing as that one.

I was the first queer I ever met (as far as I knew), and I didn't meet any queers except myself for almost two full years—and for most of that time, I didn't have any access to queer books or music either. I couldn't go to the library unless my mother drove me, and if she drove me then she'd want to know what books I got, so I couldn't get any queer books. I did listen to an awful lot of queer bands (Is there really such a thing as a hetero alternative band? I can't think of any offhand), but I didn't know, at that time, that any of them were queer. So really the only information I had about other queers for those two years was the TV news, and everything on TV was about queers saying they were "born that way" and "couldn't help it." (1992-94 was a big era for studies that the media claimed as "proof" that queerness was genetic. Simon LeVay, Laura Allen and Dean Hamer, among others, all came out with studies one after another.) I found it very hard to believe that all the other queers in the world saw things in such an entirely different way from me. I constantly debated with myself over whether those were real queers on TV or just some cardboard cutouts with all their words prerecorded for them by straight reporters. They just all seemed so different from me that I couldn't believe we were all grouped under the single term of "queer."

In college I became very active in the queer community. Unlike the queers I'd seen on TV, the queers I met in real life did not spend 59 out of every 60 minutes repeating over and over "I can't help it! I was born this way!" In fact, they never brought up the subject of "causes" for queerness at all—really, there are other things to talk about!—and so I didn't bring it up either. I was anxious to fit in with my newfound community.

But in my senior year I took a psychology class on homosexuality and the professor there was exactly like the cardboard cutouts on TV. He lectured us about how queerness had been "proven" to be genetic, citing statistics such as "50% of the identical twins of gay men are also gay"—to which I responded:

(A) If being gay is not genetic, if becoming gay is just a matter of recognizing within oneself the ability of all humans to be attracted to members of our own sex, then if you're the identical twin of a gay man and you live in a society where everybody's convinced that queerness is genetic, then wouldn't that make you an awful lot more likely to search within yourself for a sign of potential gayness? If you search, you will find. I think everybody has the potential to be queer, it's just that only a talented few actually discover and develop the potential. And
(B) 50% of the identical twins of gay men are not gay. Which proves right there that queerness can't be wholly genetic.

Anyway, this professor made me angry over and over all semester. (He was also of the opinion, by the way, that bisexuals and trannies are all just homosexuals in denial!) I might have dropped the class, except I knew that would have made him happy. So I stuck around and complained instead. He actually told me I was the only queer in the world who claimed to have chosen it! So I became determined to show him how wrong he was. I wrote him a big long term paper all about what it's like to be queer by choice in a world which refuses to acknowledge such a possibility. The term paper also included a survey of what various queers consider to have "caused" their queerness, and the survey proved that I was not the ONLY one (in addition to which, of course, I cited Vera Whisman's book Queer by Choice: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Politics of Identity, as well as various books by John P. De Cecco and similar researchers).

So that was my college experience. Now about what's happened since then. In March, when I finally got an apartment of my own for the first time, I went online in a much bigger way than I had been before. I discovered a website that hosted free mailing lists and suddenly realized that I could start my own mailing list about anything in the world! I ran a search on several different websites that list mailing lists, and I couldn't find a single mailing list anywhere that was about choosing to be queer, so I started a list of my own.

7/13/99: I had never questioned the idea that people are born hetero until the day it suddenly popped into my mind that my friend's feelings for me might not be strictly platonic. This idea about my friend prompted me to consider whether I could return the feelings, and since I'd already been painfully rejected by the opposite sex far too many times (well, I was only 15 so it can't really have been that many times at all—but to a 15-year-old, three rejections can seem like a hundred), I was very reluctant to reject someone else as painfully as I had myself been rejected. Especially someone I really liked. And I immediately realized that the "born that way" theory didn't convince me—I wanted so much to be able to return the feelings that I refused to believe that any kind of biology could be cruel enough to stand in my way. And the idea that I might have been born predisposed to queerness just seemed so absurd that I never really even gave it a glance—because . . . I just absolutely did not feel like I'd had queer feelings before and repressed them. I just felt like if I of all people could learn to feel queer feelings, then certainly anybody could. This may not have been the most objective reasoning in the world, but it was how I felt.

And although I found out the very next morning at 8:00 sharp that my friend's feelings did not go beyond the platonic after all, I realized that my newfound belief that I and anyone else could become queer had set me apart from the rest of the world, made me "different," and I saw that for a heterosexual to know they were capable of being queer was somehow not appropriate, and that if I ever told anyone I'd realized this, they'd probably suspect me of not being heterosexual, and maybe they were right to do so. And anyway, I had a thesis to prove, about whether I could really turn queer like I thought I could, so the scientist in me took over from there.  :)

5/31/99: From the very first day I made that choice, I've identified as "queer by choice" first and foremost (the phrase I started out with was "I chose to be bisexual," but the emphasis on choice was the same), and "queer" (or bisexual) sort of secondarily. I think it's because the "by choice" part is what I always felt most alone about. Even though I didn't meet any other queers (knowingly, I mean, of course) for the first two years after I turned queer, I still knew, at least, that there were other queers somewhere. Whereas I didn't really know that there were other queers-by-choice anywhere. And after I did start (knowingly) meeting other queers by the dozens, I still didn't (knowingly) meet any other queers-by-choice. For years I didn't meet any. So choice is a very central part of my queer identity. Each and every time I've come out to anyone, I've had to make a very conscious decision about (1) do I really care whether this person understands what I mean by "queer," or can I just leave out the "by choice" part of it? and (2) if I'm going to try to explain the "by choice" part of it, what am I going to do when they look at me like I'm crazy and tell me "But it was proven to be genetic, didn't you hear about Simon LeVay?"

So the choice thing was always a big issue for me. I can't even talk about being queer much at all without dealing with that issue, because if I start talking about the past at all, people ask me things like "When did you realize you were gay?" or worse "When did you come out to yourself?" and if I say "I turned queer at 15" then people start looking at me funny. And then it gets even more complicated when I try to talk about queers in general, because then I can't use "turned queer" or "realized they were queer" because I know it doesn't apply to all of us. So I have to work out all these weird phrases like "started considering themselves queer." It's awkward phrasing sometimes.

And there have actually been some people, both het and queer, who had the nerve to tell me flat out that they don't believe I could have chosen it. Well, what do they think happened to me that day in April 1992? I can't imagine what it was if it wasn't a choice. It sure felt like a choice to me. If it wasn't a choice I'll have to stop believing in free will altogether, because if that wasn't a choice then the "choices" I make about what to wear and what to eat and who to vote for are definitely not choices either. So I get pretty weirded-out by people who tell me that.

5/21/99: I remember the time I first found out what "gay" meant. I was in first grade, I think, and we had some kind of old-fashioned reading book . . . or perhaps it was one of our spelling sentences . . . anyhow, we had some kind of lesson in which the word "gay" was used to mean "happy." And I heard a girl sitting nearby say to another girl, "I bet you don't know what 'gay' means."

Girl #2: "Yes I do, it means 'happy.'"
Girl #1: "No it doesn't. It means you want to marry another girl."
Girl #2 (with her eyes growing round): "That doesn't happen."
Girl #1: "Yes it does. And boys who want to marry boys."
Girl #2 (uncertainly): "That doesn't happen."

None of this conversation, by the way, was spoken in a particularly homophobic tone. It was a tone of wonderment more than anything else. But I guess my point is that I have to say that I was on the side of Girl #2. I mean, if it were possible for boys to want to marry boys or girls to marry girls, then surely I'd have met or at least heard about some boys or girls who'd done it. I'd heard about a whole lot of married couples in my six long years of life, but every one of them consisted of one boy and one girl. So it was just too absurd to imagine that there were a bunch of other couples hidden away somewhere that everyone I knew had avoided mentioning to me. I concluded that girls and boys were biologically programmed to marry heterosexually, and that gay people could not possibly exist.

That's the only thing I remember hearing about gayness until around sixth grade, when "fag" became virtually the only word in everyone's vocabulary (except, of course, that they all spelled it "phag" because nobody knew it was short for anything and we were all convinced it had to be four-letter word). Personally I thought everyone was being pathetically ignorant, since it was still obvious to me that gay people were just a myth that people had invented in order to provide themselves with more effective ways to insult each other. Also I remember being slightly paranoid that people might think I was gay, because I'd been very vocal about not liking the opposite sex (puberty hadn't hit me yet) and because I never called anybody else a 'phag.' However, there was never any questioning about "well, what if I am gay?" because it was so obvious to me that there was no such thing as a real gay person.

The one thing that did surprise me was when I was around 13 and I told my mother I really liked this song by Elton John (it was "The Club at the End of the Street") and she looked taken aback and mumbled something about how she could never bring herself to like Elton John, just because all she could think of when she heard him was the fact that he'd said he was bisexual. Well, the idea of anyone calling himself queer was pretty intriguing, but it was awfully hard to believe and I suspected that my mother had got the story wrong. The story did cause me to modify my opinion to "Gay people probably don't exist" or maybe even "I wonder if gay people do exist." But I never really gave any serious thought to the possibility of gay people's existence until 10th grade, when I began to think that a friend of mine was gay. The friend turned out not to be, but in the course of my serious thought I decided that I could see no real reason to believe anyone couldn't fall in love with anybody they wanted to. I was aware that it had become popular on television to say that gayness was genetic, and so when I decided I didn't believe that, it seemed like if I was going to disagree with all those people on TV I ought to at least get some evidence and make sure I really knew what I was talking about. And I guess there's always something alluring about the prospect of becoming a mythical figure. To become gay . . . it was like becoming a minotaur, a griffin, a chimera. It was a fabulously daring adventure and it brought new meaning to my life.

5/23/99: Now I'm going to try to answer the question about what I mean by the word "choice" when I say "I chose to be queer."

It was a very sudden thing, a very particular moment in time, in the evening of April 8, 1992. I suppose it was like . . . imagine a sudden flash of light going off in your mind, a flash of insight, and suddenly this gigantic abyss opens up in front of you, and in that yawning abyss you see the all the twinkling lights of a city skyline at night, and the city is called The Gay Life. Now then, you're not actually in the city, you're just a little suburban kid in a little suburban house with your two parents and 1.5 siblings. But you're looking into the abyss, and you can grasp the edges of it and feel that it's real, and if you chose to climb into it then you could. So you're sitting there in your pink or blue bedroom, and you're like, "Oh my god what am I going to do about this abyss here, what if my parents come in, how am I going to explain this gigantic abyss suddenly opening up right in the middle of my room?" Because even though you're not actually in the abyss, you know you're not supposed to even see it. You don't fit in anymore. In order to fit in as a straight person, you're not supposed to know you have any alternative. And besides that, now that you know you have an alternative, how can you just ignore it without making the tiniest effort to find out what the alternative really is? You don't know what it's like to be gay. So how can you turn it down without wondering, for the rest of your life, what you're missing out on just because you were too much of a coward to climb into the abyss and explore?

So I didn't have a choice about seeing the abyss open up. I suppose it was an unconscious choice, but it wasn't a conscious one. And once it opened up, I could not in good conscience have passed it by. But I was aware of making a choice, of grasping the edges of the abyss and climbing through. I don't think I completely understood, in that instant of climbing through, exactly how permanent my decision was—but I do think I had some idea. I wasn't totally counting on it being temporary. And the instant after I climbed through, when I let go of the edges and felt myself falling—well, it was a long way down. I knew before I hit the ground that I'd fallen too far to ever be able to climb out again. And it was scary, you know, because ever since that moment I've never been able to see my parents except as distant faces peering through the hole in the sky. It was very isolating for the first couple of years because I didn't know anybody at all down here. But eventually I did get to know the inhabitants of the city, in fact I even bought a house here, and I'm very much at home. I'm satisfied that I got a better deal in this city than most people get in the world I came from.

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Quotes from list members are © 1999-2009 by their authors.
The rest of the site is © 1999-2009 by Gayle Madwin. All rights reserved.