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.