Big Brother’s Frankie: “lesbians choose to become lesbians”

Big Brother's cast had a surprisingly progressive conversation about sexuality

The Big Brother houseguests had a lengthy conversation about a question they were asked during casting, leading Frankie Grande to lecture the others about sexual orientation while angering some viewers who thought he said that lesbians choose to be gay. He said that, but did he mean it?

The conversation, which you can watch on the live feeds, apparently begins when Donny talks about his concern that he answered a question wrong during casting about whether being gay is a choice or not. In the middle of the conversation, the producers tell the houseguests: “You’re not allowed to talk about production.”

Later, when Donny says his answer to the question “haunted” him for “that whole day … because I didn’t want to do nothing wrong,” the feed is momentarily cut, because certainly that would ruin the show if they talked about casting and had an interesting discussion. The houseguests pretty much ignored the directive, though, and appeared to reveal that they were at least screened about their perceptions of others, perhaps as a way to prevent against last summer’s bigotry fest.

In the middle of the conversation, Donny, impressive as always, tells the others, “Whether I was 12 or 10 or 14, there was never a time in my life that I said, ‘I want to choose to be heterosexual,’ so that’s where I know that it’s not a choice. I didn’t have to choose it.”

End of discussion, right? But no, Frankie had to lecture. He started the discussion of nature versus nurture by saying, “I know that there’s science behind it that men are born with genetic predisposition towards being attracted to other men.” Then he added: “I believe that society can change you.”

I gladly will jump on a reality star’s ignorance about sexual orientation, gender, and identity, but I’m not really sure that Frankie, who’s gay (of course), is really arguing that one can “change” sexual orientations.  Look carefully at what he also said during the conversation:

“I think that you can be born with a predisposition towards being homosexual, but the way society influences you as you’re raised could make a person choose to go against their genetic markers.”

I might be giving Frankie way too much credit here, but it seems like he’s awkwardly saying that a person can be born gay yet choose to not act on it in any way. However, in doing so, he’s mistakenly and wrongly confusing and conflating sexual orientation and behavior.

Someone who’s gay doesn’t choose to be straight because of society, but they may choose not to act on their gayness because of their society’s condemnation of their sexual orientation. For example, a closeted gay man can be in a relationship with a woman and even have children, but that doesn’t make him any less gay, and explains why some men in that situation come out later in life.

With that in mind, read what Frankie also said:

“Many lesbians choose to become lesbians later in life. Women who have been with man after man after man after man, choose to become a lesbian later in life. Gay men, it doesn’t work so much that way. It’s usually, they’re like, Oh, okay, no, I’m gay. Just like a lot of gay men choose to be hetereosxual for the rest of their life.”

His highly unfortunate and offensive phrasing (“lesbians choose to become lesbians”) is, you know, offensive. But it also appears to just be a reiteration of what he said earlier: some people suppress their genetic sexual orientations because of society.

Then again, he also says men are more likely to embrace their sexuality earlier, and I’m not sure what evidence he has that gay men are somehow more advanced than lesbians who hop around from man to man until they decide that they’d like to be with a woman. He also totally ignores bisexuality.

Donny, worried about his answer to the screening question, was reassured by Frankie, who correctly said that “there’s no answer to nature versus nurture.” But then he added, “I also think that it does have a lot to do with the way that you’re raised whether or not you can embrace that nature. Say you’re born gay but you’re raised in a society or culture where there’s no such thing as gay people. What happens? … You suppress your urges, sure but are you gay? If you don’t have sex with other men, are you gay?

Victoria says, “Yes, because you still want to be with a man.”

Yes. Thank you, Victoria.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.