Rhetoric and etiological beliefs about sexuality: Reader responses to Cynthia Nixon’s New York Times interview

Adam Jowett, Sophie Barker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

29 Downloads (Pure)


In 2012, the US actress Cynthia Nixon was quoted in New York Times Magazine as having stated that “for me, it [being gay] is a choice. I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me”. The interview attracted international media attention and public criticism by lesbian and gay activists. This paper suggests a rhetorical approach to understanding etiological beliefs and provides a discursive analysis of 198 online comments by readers of Pink News, a gay news website which reported on Nixon’s controversial interview. This paper explores common arguments used in readers’ comments about Nixon and examines the rhetorical construction of sexuality. The analysis examines three themes within the data. Firstly, biological essentialism was treated by many readers as common knowledge; secondly readers suggested that only bisexuals have ‘choice’; and thirdly it was suggested by both Nixon’s critics and her supporters that counter arguments colluded with homophobia. The paper suggests that there is an ideological dilemma whereby both ‘born-this-way’ and ‘choice’ arguments can be understood as colluding with anti-gay prejudice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)766-783
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Homosexuality
Issue number6
Early online date4 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018



  • sexual orientation
  • essentialism
  • etiological beliefs
  • discursive

Cite this