Why being “born this way” shouldn’t matter

“If you don’t have any shadows, you’re not in the light” – LG

In 2011 Lady Gaga wrote a song that has become a bit on an anthem for the LGBT movement. Though Madonna would like to point out that she helped with the tune, Born This Way is a pretty amazing song for using and normalising terms like bisexual and transgender within a popular realm (plus just generally encouraging the listener to feel empowered). It seems that in this song Gaga is promoting the political line that people should be respected because their attributes are predetermined.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that this is a valuable sentiment and has certainly been a central argument for LGBT activists for some time now. There are already a number of people out there writing about how we aren’t “born” but rather “made” (i.e. socialised into being) and I’m not here to make that contention. My problem isn’t so much with the idea itself, but why we need to make it in the first place.

I just don’t think we should have to argue that someone was genetically pre-determined to be XYZ, in order to accept them as the human being that they are. It just seems silly. Plus this line of reasoning inevitably leads to lynch-mobbing as soon as one LGBT activist says, “well, actually I personally don’t feel I was born this way” (see the Cynthia Nixon debacle). Admittedly the biggest factor beind the born-this-way line of reasoning is probably that it is a reaction to the crazy bucketloads of homophobia and hatred based on the notion that being gay is “immoral” or “unnatural”. And who wouldn’t react to such violent exclusion with an argument that says, I can’t help it, it’s science.

But if we keep trying to win all of our arguments on the basis that it’s science, what happens if one day (some how) they “prove” that sexuality isn’t pre-determined? What then? Do we just chuck out all of our politics? If this ever happened, one way to turn it around would be to say… “so I guess being born ‘straight’ isn’t a thing either…?” And the whole question of the natural versus the unnatural would be turned on its head.

At the end of the day, people should be respected as the human beings that they are. Full stop.

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Total synthesis and the cult of the natural

"Unaltered" food is a big selling point

Yesterday, I got into a discussion about genetically modified crops. My perspective was that while one might have ethical concerns about the practices of companies such as Monsanto, this is different from having an issue with genetic modification (GM) itself. This apparent blurring of lines between the science of GM and the corporatisation of GM products was most clearly evidenced in July 2011, when Greenpeace activists whipper-snipped a GM field trial in Canberra. Despite CSIRO publicly stating that they have no known links to Monsanto, Greenpeace defended their actions on the basis of possible dangers to humans.

But it seems to me that there is a fear underlying the GM debate that is about more than concerns for human health. In a time when many people are anxious over the future fate of the planet,  it seems we’ve also developed a fetish for the natural. On the surface of things, this doesn’t sound bad. In fact, words that might spring to mind when we think of “natural” include healthy, normal, organic, green and well being, not to mention those mental images of makeup-less women standing under waterfalls in luscious rainforests. This is probably somewhat due to the plethora of advertisements that claim their products are good for you because they are “100% natural“. Ironically, by definition something can be deemed all-natural, even if produced through an entirely synthetic process (chemical synthesis of organic molecules).

But chemicals aside, how can we ever grasp a rigid definition of the natural?

Railing against the purportedly unnatural is often brought up in arguments against bodily modification such as plastic surgery, including sex affirmation surgery. In these debates, surgery is posited as a mutilative act. Apart from the religious idea that the “body is a temple“, I’m not sure where this idea of the sanctity of the body comes from. We alter our bodies and appearance on a daily basis- we put makeup on, we cut our hair, we wear different clothes, do or don’t exercise, eat different foods, pierce our ears, or even put coloured contacts in our eyes. While these effects may not be as skin deep as surgery (with tattooing as a modificatory middle-ground), our appearance and the way that we intentionally shape it are an important part of who we are in the world- who we show ourselves to be, for others to perceive.

Corsets: body modification back in the day

The differences between GM soybean crops and having a mastectomy for sex affirmation are obviously very very vast.  Some people may have radically different opinions about GM versus surgery. Granted, there are also ethical considerations to be made on these subjects that warrant discussion. However, I think that public reactions to these issues often reveal deep-seated sentiments about what is natural (and whether that is good), which need to be acknowledged as separate biases.

One day I imagine that we will be able to grow our own spare body parts, making modifications all that much easier. And perhaps by definition, through this act of synthesis we will consider it natural…