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So What If I Wasn’t Born This Way

The “born this way” story of queer identity is one most people in modern developed countries know well. It is applied to people of all sexual orientations and to trans people, especially binary trans people, and tells us that the right way to be queer follows a common structure. We have to know we were “different” from early childhood, we have to struggle with our identity and try to become “normal,” we have to realize we cannot change and our difference is intrinsic to our most inner selves, we have to come to peace with that, and then we have to come out. This is how the queer life looks.

This narrative of queerness supports the idea that being different is only okay if you can’t help it. The “born this way” story says that having a sexual orientation other than hetrosexual/heteroromantic attraction is only acceptable if you cannot be straight. It is only okay to be trans if your gender identity is so deeply ingrained in you that you cannot change it no matter what. The utter failure of conversion therapies is seen as evidence that being queer is okay – we tried to change people and make then normal and it didn’t work, so the next best option is to accept people as they are.

The “born this way” narrative supports a structure of cisgender and heterosexual supremacy that does real harm to queer people. It maintains the idea that the world would be better if we were all cisgender, heterosexual, gender conforming, monogamous, etc. Our difference is only begrudgingly acceptable because it cannot be helped.

This idea of ingrained identity is often taken up by people in the polyamorous and BDSM communities with the goal of that same acceptance. There is a belief that if being non-monogamous or kinky is seen as a sexual or romantic orientation like being gay or bi or asexual then perhaps the rest of the world will be more likely to accept us and afford our families and relationships rights that we currently lack. Maybe being poly is okay because we CAN’T be monogamous. Maybe being kinky is okay because we tried, and failed, to be vanilla.

Instead we should support this radical idea: People’s identities deserve respect even if they are not innate.

Being non-straight is okay, even if someone chooses it. Being trans is okay whether their gender is an innate unchanging part of their brain or not. Being non-monogamous is fine even if it is not a permanent part of someone’s identity. Being kinky is okay even if you could give it up tomorrow.

I have no idea if I was born pansexual, trans, poly, and kinky. All of those identities have changed for me over time, just as they do for many people. Some of those identities feel deeply ingrained in me. Some of my life history could certainly be used to support a “born this way” narrative, but I don’t want to be a poster-boy for that idea. So what if I wasn’t born this way? My gender identity, my gender performance, my sexual attractions, my multiple relationships, and my kinks are okay. They’re okay even if I could have been someone else under slightly different circumstances. They’re okay even if I choose them. They’re just simply okay.

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Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes

Benny Vimes is a queer polyamorous transman, curious skeptic, and enthusiastic seeker of knowledge. He's an undergraduate student in his 30's and loves teaching people about alternative sexuality and gender issues.


  1. July 17, 2015 at 8:38 am —

    A friend of mine talked about this a few years ago. They suggested maybe our tastes change over the years, like how I used to hate guacamole but now I love it. In the end, who cares as long as we’re happy?

  2. July 17, 2015 at 10:43 am —

    1000% yes to everything in this post!

  3. July 17, 2015 at 12:17 pm —

    Benny Vimes,

    Great post!

    Another thing you could add to back up your point is the fact that we generally don’t approve of discrimination, even when its based on something that people can help.

    For example people can change their religion, but we wouldn’t think it was okay for a private business owner to put up a sign that said “no Jews, or no Muslims, or no Hindus need apply,” or refused to sell to someone because they were an atheists.

  4. July 18, 2015 at 10:01 am —

    Hey, this is extremely apropos!

    I have long flirted with the label of bisexual, but rejected it. But I have recently been doing some more serious thinking about it, and the fact that the label keeps dogging me- that I keep wondering about myself, really- gave me a jumping off point.

    I finally came to realize that I was not bisexual, I was pansexual. In fact, the first time I understood what that meant, I was like, that’s me! However, I had been actively stifling these things in me, strangling my own desires, because of transphobia and homophobia, because of fear of living as a queer person and loving queer people, and deviating from The Script.

    And, Gods of monkeys’ balls, because of misogyny, first, second and last. Why would I want to date women? Or love them, as friends, lovers, people with political requirements, like equality?

    The sick thing is that I have been a card-carrying pro-all-the-sexuals since day one. My mom is gay and has been as long as I can remember. I am ashamed, and I’m angry.

    I consider my sexuality extremely fluid. I believe if I’d been born to a same sex society, well golly gee, I would have wrapped myself around the trunk of Woman.

    For me, I do and I don’t consider myself born this way. I consider myself born fluid. I claimed pansexual as a title, as I could have continued straight-passing.

  5. July 18, 2015 at 1:13 pm —

    Glad to see posts like this. I’ve long been saying the argument from nature is a dangerous one. I remember as a high schooler seeing and getting into arguments about whether being gay is a choice. While I used to be a vociferous defender of the innateness of sexuality, I realized in college that it’s an argument that works against progressive goals.

    The main argument against queer rights is religious in nature: homosexuality/transgenderism/etc are bad because God says it’s a sin. A sin is something bad you do by choice. Therefore being homosexual must be a choice. People who make the innate argument are just playing into the religious world view: being gay is not a choice, therefore it is not actually a sin (but it would be otherwise). This is a pretty dangerous position to put ourselves in because it means we can’t defend anybody that does choose to engage in healthy, but religiously sinful, behavior.

    As skeptics/humanists/atheists/other, we don’t define good and bad by whether it’s innate. Some people are born tend towards violence more than others. If we were to know for sure that a person’s violent tendencies were innate, would that make them okay? Obviously not.

    Assuming the wellbeing and dignity of all humans is a paramount value, I think there are only three things that determine whether something is moral: intention, a priori responsibility, and post hoc responsibility. As long as someone is not intending to do harm AND does a reasonable job to estimate the consequences of their actions (thus why “intent is not magical”) their actions are moral. They are also under a moral obligation to make amends for the impossible-to-foresee negative consequences.

    This of course is not an iron-clad philosophical framework, but I think we can agree that unless someone’s ONLY reason for their sexual behavior, or gender identity, is to hurt someone (and I’m not sure how that is really even possible), then any type of sex between consenting adults is moral, or at least not immoral. And the same goes for trans identities.

    • July 28, 2015 at 6:58 pm —

      I wouldn’t say that you’ve properly characterised why Catholics are against homosexuality, as there’s both arguments from natural moral philosophy as well as the Bible.

      However I just want to point out that the Catholic Church does not consider homosexuality, by itself, to be sinful. Having desires towards a disordered end, is not a sin. Its when you choose to act on those desires that it becomes a sin.

      • July 28, 2015 at 7:35 pm —

        Stagamancer said absolutely nothing about Catholics here. Why bring it up? They made a general statement about religion, one that is accurate for many religions and religious people including most forms of modern Christianity. Separating “homosexuality” as attraction from the actions of sexual behavior, the types of relationships people have, and other aspects of someone’s LIFE is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous and harmful when churches do it and when you do it.

        Let me be clear here – the idea that queer attraction is okay but queer behavior is not is not an idea that is welcome here. It’s a bogus argument made by religions that are trying desperately to hang onto their bigotry while also not hemorrhaging their members. It is not an argument based in any science or any valid aspect of queer theory.

        • July 29, 2015 at 5:33 am —

          I bring it up because Catholics make up a very large number of religious people, and we don’t hold to what was described.

          I also didn’t seperate sexual attraction from the acts of sex. It would be very odd if people had sex without it. However I’m not sure what’s controversial about the morality of something depending largely on the will and whether a person actually acts or not. If a person feels a sudden desire to rape someone, but doesn’t act on it, that person hasn’t done any moral crime. If the person actually acted on it, then it is a crime.

          Care to explain what’s harmful about people choosing whether to have sex or not?

          I am also not sure what science had to do with my statements either. I made some statements about what the Church argues, which is a study of ecclesiology. That is a science mind you, of history, but I don’t know what you have in mind.

          This distinction is not a new invention, and has been part of Catholic teachings as far back as you care to go.

          I always respect moderators opinions regarding whether I’m welcome or not. If you’re a moderator, I’ll respect that and leave, otherwise I simple posted a short response and saw it waiting for moderator approval. If this place was not meant for discussion, but just for mutual affirmation, then I assumed my comment wouldn’t get through, which it did.

          • July 29, 2015 at 12:05 pm

            I’m going to clarify a few things here:

            1) This is a skeptic blog. Many of the writers and readers here are atheists, myself included, but not all of us are. Nonetheless, arguments based on religion and other pseudoscience are unlikely to be well received.

            2) I am both the author of this post and also an editor on this blog – so yes, I’m a moderator. You’re welcome here. There are certain types of arguments that are unlikely to be well received, but I only remove bullying or abusive comments. Part of being a skeptical writer, for me, is being open to arguing – but this is a queer blog and we generally come from the perspective that being queer is okay. The alternative is not something I am personally interested in entertaining in discussion.

            3) Your question about what’s harmful about the religious pressure to be celibate is a good one, so I’m going to do a whole post on it. It may take me a few days. Thank you for an important question. 🙂 The short answer is that making a personal choice to not have sex is fine – telling other people they SHOULD is what’s harmful. Teaching people that any kind of consensual sex between adults is wrong is deeply harmful.

          • July 29, 2015 at 6:23 pm

            Understood, I’m not here to cause trouble. I just saw a broadsweeping statement about religious people in general, and wanted to lift up a finger and point out that this is not what the Catholic Church stands for. No argument made, just that, a clarification.

            Curious to see the post you’ll write, in particular what limits you’d set on people advocating for their worldview, versus you advocating for your worldview.

            Since you don’t consider these topics to not be under discussion though, I’ll respectfully take my leave. I can’t say I didn’t come here looking for an argument, but I can appreciate it if its unwanted.

        • August 2, 2015 at 11:20 am —

          As a point of pragmatism (considering the hegemony of the norm of “private sexualities”), you are probably correct. As a queer individual, I take issue with logics that always compare queers to heterosexuals (as you have) and assume that queers can do no more than what cis hets can do. It is part of the problem in my view when we queers (and I am telling myself this as much as anyone else) always define ourselves against the normal. Just because cis hets do not have sex in public, does not mean queers should not. Cis hets do not need to do so because cisgender heterosexuality is presumed (until shown otherwise). It is the queer who must expose themself as queer in public in order for other citizens to know they is there. This sexual identification (a form of sexual political expression) is in my view protected by the First Amendment, where infringements upon that freedom must be justified by the ones who believe their consent has been violated. They must demonstrate a “particular, concrete harm” (as a matter of constitutional law).

          Public space will continue to be cis het space until queers claim it as their own (to be sure, space is not only queer space, but public spheres belong to queers as much as anyone else). Queers must speak their sexualities (whether as an utterance or symbolically) in order to express their queerness to others. This is “outspeech.” Outspeech should be protected. If we wait on everyone in the public sphere to consent, heteronormativity and closeted sexualities remain the norm.

          What we must explore are the contours of concrete (actual) harms (not hypothetical harms that the majority of the population claims they will suffer). For example, one potential harms might be in the form of public health safety. But we can regulate the extent to which citizens spread bodily fluids in public (spit, shit, piss, blood, and semen). But if we do all of these in a cup and dispose of them properly (as opposed to leaving it on the seat of the public train), then the public health rationales to prevent stroking without cumming deteriorate. What other particular harms might there be?

          Thanks for indulging me. I am working out these ideas for an article I am writing. It is good just to be able to articulate them in a public forum.


    • August 1, 2015 at 1:36 pm —

      Nicely stated. Limits on queerness should be constrained only by consent. The question becomes how we define consent. We can certainly adopt the yes-means-yes framework, but this is not practical if, for example, I want to express my queerness in public (let’s say, for example, public masturbation: in my own right in the public sphere as opposed to targeted someone). Must I get consent from everyone in the public sphere who claims they are harmed from seeing my queerness?

      I like how you have framed the issue. I’d like to think more about what “consent” means in the public sphere and in public law.

      • August 1, 2015 at 5:24 pm —

        I think there’s a difference between being out and visibly queer, and displaying sexual acts. To be seen as queer our private sexual activity does NOT need to be public, just as cis-het people don’t need to have cis-het sex in the street to be outwardly seen and recognized in their identity. So yes, you must get consent from everyone in the public sphere to masturbate in public.

        Luckily there are plenty of places to be an exhibitionist with the consent of those who would see. 🙂

  6. July 20, 2015 at 9:35 am —

    “Born this way” was a necessary simplification for the PR war. Because your instincts and desires are neither entirely innate nor entirely chosen, nor even entirely a sum of innate and chosen characteristics.

    That’s sadly entirely too complex a thing to be arguing on a public stage. And it resonates strongly with people who never made an active choice to be straight.

    But I’ve never held “born this way” to be an absolute truth, or another excuse to judge people. It was always a simplification.

  7. July 21, 2015 at 4:09 am —

    “This narrative of queerness supports the idea that being different is only okay if you can’t help it…Our difference is only begrudgingly acceptable because it cannot be helped.”

    I have never heard a queer person espouse this viewpoint. In fact, just the opposite. From Stonewall to Harvey Milk to the baths to the drag balls to the dyke marches all the way to Lady Gaga, “born this way” went hand in hand with CHOOSING to be different, simply because we could, and LOVING IT. If you missed how radical it always has been to be out and queer, even though we’ve always been “born this way,” then you simply haven’t been paying attention. Read your history… it goes back farther than the last few seasons of the Kardashians.

    TL;DR: Don’t take on the viewpoint of the oppressors and pretend it’s what your fellow queers are telling you, darling. It’s not a good look.

    • July 21, 2015 at 10:15 am —

      Being snarky doesn’t look good on your, either.

    • July 21, 2015 at 1:37 pm —

      Actually, darling, if you look at the discourse around why people are queer–particularly the discourse around being gay–it’s quite often in the form of “I didn’t choose to be this way”. I have personally heard queer people say that kind of thing many times, and it is rampant in the scientific literature. Further, even if people don’t explicitly say that, when they bring up the “I was born this way” line of thinking, they are implying it.

      Benny is not the only one who has made this argument. If you want to lecture people about reading and being informed, maybe you should do that yourself first.

      And another thing, darling, if you want to be a condescending diva, do it somewhere else. Be more respectful in your comments and engage in good faith arguments, for fuck all the way off. Darling.

      • July 21, 2015 at 9:40 pm —

        Who are you arguing with, hun? It certainly isn’t me. I never contradicted her assertion that we’ve rallied around the “born this way” mantra, simply her absurd absolutist position that we queers think “being different is only okay if you can’t help it.”

        Queers have embraced and championed those who chose to be different pretty much from the time we emerged as a defined community. Just look at any pride parade for evidence of the many chosen colors we like to feature in our rainbow. Leather, poly, dykes on bikes, it’s not we queers who have a problem with how you choose to live your life.

        Also: Tone policing is a really TIRED form of derailment. Check your privilege and sit yo ass DOWN.

        • July 21, 2015 at 9:57 pm —

          Fuck. I did not mean to misgender a transman. That was an honest mistake from reading too quickly and I sincerely apologize. Sorry Benny.

        • July 21, 2015 at 11:15 pm —

          Go back and read your original comment to Benny. Try to look at it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know you at all. Can you see how it is condescending and not in good faith? You assumed that Benny is ignorant about queer history and lecture him to go read. Me calling you out on that and using your own patronizing language back at you is not tone policing. I addressed the substance of your comment and warned you not to comment in such a disrespectful way again–funny how it’s “tone policing” when someone does it to you, but you won’t allow that it’s offensive when you do it to someone else. Also, my comment toward you has nothing to do with privilege, and your use of “check your privilege” is exactly the kind of overuse of that phrase that makes people recoil from important discussions of privilege.

          Anyway, no one is arguing that queer folks have not celebrated difference. You’re arguing against a straw man. Queer folks certainly have rallied around the “born this way” argument–there is a freaking song about it by Lady Gaga that is considered a gay anthem for fuck’s sake. Benny never took an “absolutist position,” but is instead arguing against the absolutist position that the born this way mantra evokes.

  8. August 1, 2015 at 1:21 pm —

    I love this post (and the comments). A recent article on bioethics frames the nature-nurture debate quite well in my view:

    “Being queer may well be the kind of thing that supervenes on a wide assortment of different configurations of natural and social facts, configurations that may vary from person to person and over time within a person’s life. Or maybe there is some very obscure piece of biology—perhaps it’s in the pineal gland—that all queer people share and all straight people lack. But the variety of ways in which a person’s queerness ramifies through her life suggests that even if there were some invariant physical difference, it couldn’t provide the kind of account that could make sense of the whole phenomenon.” (see Nelson, Jamie Lindemann. 2014. “Medicine and Making Sense of Queer Lives.” Hastings Center Report 44 (s4):S12-S16.)

    I’m happy to have found like-minded queers. We have a little work to do yet to get society and the legal system to accept queerness as a social construction, including deliberate choices.

    I am also fond of Richard Thompson Ford (a critical race theorist) who says that whether one is born straight or gay, one must decide to be queer. Queer is an ideology, not an innate condition of being.

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