9 Famous Queer Ladies Who Figured it Out A Little Later

The traditional lesbian narrative goes something like this: in girlhood, the protagonist encounters a series of “signs” that suggest homosexuality is afoot. The protagonist feels nothing for boys, and so many things for girls, usually culminating in a crush on a straight best friend during adolescence. Often, intolerant parents and friends will encourage the protagonist to be straight, thus repressing the protagonist’s desire. Usually by the time the protagonist graduates high school, the question isn’t if they wanted to live the life of a lez, but when they’d have the chance to start living the life of a lez. Even the coming out stories I knew in popular culture — Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Melissa Etheridge — tended to be people who always knew, and often lived gay lives, but were careful about when they revealed that information to the public. My own journey just wasn’t that clear-cut, and I’m certainly not alone in that.

At A-Camp, we end up with a lot of campers in their late 20s, 30s and 40s who have just recently come out, or just recently realized they were gay at all, sometimes after marriage and kids. At Camp 4.0, we decided to have a discussion group to address the “Later in Life” ladies, and we’re doing something similar at this camp.

It’s complicated to determine, with celebrities, who falls into this category, because they have an extra step that the rest of us don’t — there’s family, friends, work… and then the ENTIRE F*CKING WORLD. The list of celebrities who came out to the world as adults because they weren’t ready when they were younger is a very long one, including recent debuts like Robin Roberts, Jodie Foster, Joanna Johnson and Krissy McNichol. This list isn’t for those stories. This list is women who were past their twenties by the time they not only came out to the ENTIRE F*CKING WORLD, but also by the time they came out to themselves or their family or even knew they were queer at all.

 


Photo via Glamour

Photo via Glamour

1. Jenna Lyons, Executive Creative Director of J. Crew

J.Crew President and Creative Director Jenna Lyons was married to Vincent Mazeau for nine years, and after their divorce, Lyons fell in love with Courtney Crangi, the sister and business partner of jewler Philip Crangi, and the relationship became public knowledge in 2011. In 2013, when Lyons was 44, she publicly acknowledged her relationship with Crangi in her Glamour Magazine Woman of the Year acceptance speech. Jenna has revitalized the J.Crew brand and become one of our top fashion icons with a classy and professional tomboy femme style.


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2. Meredith Baxter, Actress

“I am a lesbian, and it was a later-in-life recognition. I got involved with someone I never expected to get involved with, and it was that kind of awakening. I never fought it because it was like, oh, I understand why I had the issues I had early in life. I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with men in relationships.”

Famous Family Ties actress Meredith Baxter came out to herself in 2002 (and to us in 2009), after three marriages and a brief lesbian affair in 1996 that she didn’t take seriously at the time. She was married to Robert Lewis Bush, with whom she had two children, from 1966-1971, and then married David Birney in 1974, and had three children with him, including twins. They divorced in 1989. Her third marriage, to actor Michael Blodgett, spanned from 1995-2000. She began dating her now-partner, Nancy Locke, in 2005, and rumors began swirling about her sexuality after she appeared on a Sweet Cruise in November 2009. She told The Today Show that it was a same-sex relationship in 2002 that changed her everything: “It was that kind of awakening. I never fought it because it was like, oh, I understand why I had the issues I had early in life. I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with men in relationships.” She married Nancy Locke in 2013.


Carlease_Burke

3. Carlease Burke, Actress

“I knew what a lesbian was, but there were no role models. I was raised in the black Baptist church, and there were gay guys who were choir directors, but they weren’t talked about. Deep down inside, I’d think that’s who I am, but I didn’t have the nerve to pursue that. All along I had lesbian and gay friends, but I couldn’t see myself going down that route due to fear. I started meeting more women while working as a comic, met a young lady in 1994 who caught my eye. It didn’t end up being a good relationship, but I grew up a lot … I started being more free and flirty in comedy clubs. From that moment on, it gave me a lot to talk about.”

Carleease Burke has been out for over two decades, but as a young person, she didn’t see herself pursuing a lesbian life. She got her first role, in a TV movie, in 1989, and has been working as an actress ever since. In 1994, she met a special lady, and thus at the age of 40, in her first relationship, she came out to her mother. She told AfterEllen in 2007 that she felt “25 in dyke years, because I came out so late.” Burke recently played Ms. Rose on Switched at Birth, you may also recognize her from In Her Shoes, Get Shorty, Shameless and pretty much every TV show, ever. Seriously, she has been in every single TV show ever.


kelly

4. Kelly McGillis, Actress

“Life is a freaking journey, and it’s about growing and changing, and coming to terms with who and what you are, and loving who and what you are.”

Julliard graduate Kelly McGillis was an enormously successful actress in the ’80s, memorably starring opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun and playing leading roles in Witness and The Accused. She married a man named Boyd Black in 1979, but they were divorced by 1982. McGillis was also wrestling with her sexuality and haunted by her feeling that being gay was wrong. Things took an especially tragic turn in 1982, when two men broke into the home she shared with her then-secret girlfriend, attacked and sexually assaulted both women. McGillis thought the incident was G-d punishing her for being gay, and she struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in ensuing years. In 1989, she married millionaire Fred Tillman and had two daughters with him, they divorced in 2002. McGillis took a break from acting and the public eye after that, returning to television in 2006 in a TV movie a 2007 stint on The L Word. In 2009, she came out in an interview with SheWired — and when she married music company executive Melanie Leis in 2010, it was the first time she publicly acknowledged their relationship. She had met Melanie in 2000, when she bartended at the restaurant McGillis and her husband co-owned. McGillis now teaches acting in Asheville, North Carolina.


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5. Cynthia Nixon, Actress

I never felt like there was an unconscious part of me around that woke up or that came out of the closet; there wasn’t a struggle, there wasn’t an attempt to suppress. I met this woman, I fell in love with her, and I’m a public figure.”

Cynthia Nixon and her long-time partner, Danny Mozes, with whom she’d had two children, split up in 2003, and then Nixon met Christine Marinoni, a public-school advocate. Nixon fell in love, and then, around the same time her landmark television series Sex and the City was wrapping up, rumors began flying. Emily Nussbaum said the following about Nixon’s coming-out process:

The truth is, Cynthia Nixon has managed to do something perversely radical with her gossip emergency: She’s made her own coming-out story boring. She mentions her girlfriend in conversation, but in a way that makes it at once not a big deal and nobody’s business. She is both evasive and open, the way anyone sane would be with a stranger asking nosy questions. (And she’s very skilled at making me feel like a jerk for asking the more prying ones, with another facial expression: No, no, no, no.)


ab-chao

6. AB Chao, Design Blogger

“I’ve described coming to the realization that I’m gay as having a void in my life, not knowing what it was, and trying to fill it with everything I could find: writing, decorating, career paths, expensive jeans, all of the bourbon… And then, one sunny fall day, getting on a roller coaster, careening down to the stomach-dropping part of the ride, and finally, finally understanding, “Oh. THIS is what that was.”

The youngest human on this list, design blogger AB Chao was in her 30s, had a daughter heading off to college and had recently separated from her husband of nearly 15 years when she came out in 2013 on her blog, noting “Y’all, I am real gay. For ladies. I know. I KNOW. It was a surprise to me, too.” AB will be joining us at A-Camp and participating in the “Right In Time” workshop that inspired this list!


Leifer's son Bruno, her partner Lori Wolf and Carol Leifer herself with their eight rescue dogs, via life after 50

Leifer’s son Bruno, her partner Lori Wolf and Carol Leifer herself with their eight rescue dogs, via life after 50

7. Carol Leifer, Comedian, Writer & Actress

I’m finding, especially with women, a couple of different kinds of gays. I’ve met people who say, “I knew I was gay my whole life, and I lived this lie, and then I finally came out.” My kind of gay is like the late-breaking-lesbian kind of gay. I mean, I was attracted to boys. My first crush was on Davy Jones. My kind of gay, meeting a woman and falling in love, is a different experience because it wasn’t anything about “Oh, I’ve always been gay and I’m breaking the chains.” The whole experience spun me around. I really thought this was going to be a fun fling, and I had no idea that it would become this finding my soul mate, the love-of-my-life sort of deal. It does make you feel reticent about talking about it at the beginning because you’re not sure if it’s real, if it’s going to stick.

Leifer only dated men until she met her now-partner, Lori Wolf, at the age of 40. In fact, Leifer quite famously dated Jerry Seinfeld before the show and was not only an inspiration for the character of Elaine, but eventually joined the show’s writing team. Leifer has been doing stand-up for decades, writes for The Academy Awards, and was involved in shoes including The Ellen Show and The Larry Sanders Show. She’s also written two books, When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win, in which she discusses her relationships, and How to Succeed In Business Without Really Crying.


 

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8. Wanda Sykes, Comedian & Actress

“I’m proud to be a woman. I’m proud to be a black woman, and I’m proud to be gay. We are so together now and we all want the same thing and we shouldn’t have to settle for less.”

Wanda Sykes says she can trace back sneaking suspicions that she might be a total homo to childhood, but she repressed those emotions and didn’t start confronting them after her 1998 divorce from record producer Dave Hall, who she’d been married to for seven years. She came out to her parents at age 40 — it didn’t go well, but they’ve been coming around as of late — and four years later, in 2008, came out to the world at a same-sex marriage rally. She married her partner Alex, who she met in 2006, in 2008, before Prop 8 passed. They have two children.


maria-bello-037-07

9. Maria Bello, Actress

46-year old actress and activist Maria Bello had a soul-searching moment reading old journals in her garden, which she described for a New York Times‘ Modern Love column in December 2013, when she realized that her long-time best friend, Claire Munn, was somebody she could love romantically. “What had I been waiting for all of these years?” Bello wondered. “She is the person I like being with the most, the one with whom I am most myself.” Bello described her new “modern family” in “Modern Love” which includes a close friendship with her ex, TV Executive Dan McDermott, who is the father of her son.


 

Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1747 articles for us.

88 Comments

  1. Thumb up 22

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    I’m always looking for these stories, and they always kind of frustrate me by…not being what I’m hoping they’d be, I guess? Later in life queer women often seem to go for the breezy, no big deal, the oh gosh I had no idea, the oh well gender doesn’t matter, oh I guess I just forgot to mention it…and then I’m disappointed. Which is kind of stupid, because people are themselves and don’t exist to reflect my experience.

    But also! Then! I remember how I edit my own story, always, out of shame and embarrassment and feeling like a second or third-class queer person. I don’t ever honestly talk or write about my life, so why do I expect anybody else to do it for me?

    So instead of complaining I’ll just try to find some compassion for all of these amazing women, and maybe, eventually, for myself. (Talking about it here is actually kind of a big deal for me. I’ve commented more here today than I have in a year, maybe two. So…yay? Maybe?)

    • Thumb up 12

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      You do you, luv. It’s your story and it starts with you accepting yourself. With these ladies especially (since they’re public figures) we’re getting an extremely polished version of a window into their experience. Everyone does their own version of processing/coming to terms/accepting/growing into their sexuality/identity/orientation. We’ll never how many sleepless nights or walks alone or glasses of something it took them to become who they are. I think it’s great that we have some other narratives going on, though. So yay for Riese and A/S for bringing them to us.

  2. Thumb up 18

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    thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. I wish I was going to A-Camp, just to be part of the group that is focusing on this. I am 33 and have been sort of questioning my sexuality for years, but still haven’t a clue, and at this rate will never figure it out. I constantly search and search for stories for people like me, who can’t look back at their childhood and see the “aha” moments like most of my friends (and mom).

    Please post more thoughts/resources/anything on the later in life coming out (and recognition more importantly)! Most of the later in life coming out stories I read are from women who got married just because that is what you do, and that is not the generation I come from, nor my experience.

    Thank you.

  3. Thumb up 9

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    I’ve felt like I was weird for truly grasping that I’m queer right before I turned 22…

    Turns out this stuff is complex sometimes, especially when you like many genders and haven’t been many relationships yet…

    • Thumb up 2

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      Yes, this…while I’ve known that I was gender non-conforming since looooong before I knew that there was a term for it – since I was a little kid – I didn’t figure out that I was attracted to people other than men until I was 25.

  4. Thumb up 16

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    I really appreciate being able to read about these women’s stories. I don’t often hear these kinds of narratives so similar to my own.

    There is so much about my own story that I still don’t understand (part of the reason that I’ve never chosen to use a label). Yes, there were clues, but I only noticed them in retrospect. I’ve always prided myself on being able to know and understand my own emotions, motivations etc. very well, so how could I have gone for so long without cluing in? I know I had genuine, ardent, long-lasting infatuations for men, so why hasn’t there been the slightest spark for any man whatsoever since I fully acknowledged my attraction to women about 6 years ago? If I had clued in earlier, would the way I identify myself now be different? I wish I knew.

  5. Thumb up 8

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    Great post! It was really neat to read all of their different stories. I always appreciate hearing about the very diverse ways in which people have come out (to themselves and to others). I think so often we hear about the “I always just knew” narrative, and while that’s absolutely something that happens for a lot of people, it isn’t the case for everyone…and it can feel a bit alienating if you’re someone who didn’t always know.

    I mean, I’m 22 and I’ve been out to myself as bisexual for over a year or so now, and while some things from my past make sense, I didn’t always know. I was only 21 when I came out to myself, but even at that age I felt like I was way too old…which is silly, of course, but you go through all sorts of confusing feelings and personally I kept trying to sort of invalidate myself: “oh, you’re too old for this,” “everyone else you knew figured themselves out in high school,” and so on. Eventually I was able to accept myself, but it took a while…and I think if maybe I’d heard stories from people whose experiences were a bit more like mine, I wouldn’t have struggled quite as much.

    Anyway, sorry for the ramble, but I guess it just hit home!

    • Thumb up 3

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      Thank god. I really relate to this. I didn’t figure it out until 23/24 and on the one hand it wasn’t a huge epiphany/revelation but on the other I felt the need to wait to see if it stuck before I was allowed to claim it as an identity. Even when I was majorly crushing on my queer lady co-worker, I had to ask myself how many nights I had to lose sleep over this woman before I felt it was legitimate to call myself queer – because, what IF I come out to everyone and build a queer community for myself, and THEN, as a bi-woman, end up having my first relationship with a man? Is everyone going to be scandalized, and feel like I lied to them, or I was just straight and confused all along? As a biracial woman, I my racial identity is questioned by a lot of folks – am I destined to have to my sexuality put under scrutiny as well? I felt like I had to meet some quota – I had to either actually be with a woman, or achieve some adequate ratio of women/men crushes before I could be ‘queer enough’ to be out about it.

      Still a single, bisexual virgin, but I got over the compulsion to put off ‘coming out’ until I found a more familiar narrative because all of the reasons.

      But it is so great to hear others talking about it.

  6. Thumb up 15

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    I love hearing about stories other than the “I-always-knew” ones, since that’s never been my story either. I spent a long time trying to make my life fit a narrative that didn’t fit at all!

    If you want to read more stories like these, I highly highly recommend “Dear John, I love Jane: Women Write about Leaving Men for Women” edited by Candace Walsh. It’s got a huge diversity of experiences with sexual identity in there (from women who’ve only ever dated one woman, to bi women, to women realizing they were lesbians later) and the writing is really great!

  7. Thumb up 3

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    I got to the part about AB Chao and I briefly misread that as AB CHO, which was a one-off jpop unit starring Rika Ishikawa and Hitomi Yoshizawa (formerly of Morning Musume). I was all, “FUCKING FINALLY!!” before I realized what that actually said.

    Still. Those two are totally gay for each other and nothing will ever convince me otherwise.

    • Thumb up 4

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      Oh wow. Great article. I came out to myself right after coming off birth control too… ! I obviously don’t think it can change a person’s orientation, but I do wonder if it maybe suppresses libido enough to mask it, or something.

      • Thumb up 2

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        I wouldn’t be surprised! Before I went on it for health reasons in high school I was seriously scared about my sexuality. I then proceed to seriously over-compensate for a few years. A year after I stop taking it, gay gay gay.

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          Whoa. I also come out about 6 mos after going off the pill. I dropped it because it was giving me migraines, but now I want to do a study.

    • Thumb up 1

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      Using birth control suppresses libido indeed. So any sexual attraction you have potential to experience cannot express itself in full might when your sex drive is weak.

      Of course it leaves romantic attraction, but for example sex researcher Lisa Diamond doesn’t think that it’s really part of sexual orientation (since as her studies showed, preferences in this are are extremely unsolid).

  8. Thumb up 8

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    I imagine the “It just didn’t click with guys” part of the narrative probably wasn’t the case for plenty of bi queers or even lesbian ones. (Cynthia Nixon is bi and some of the others in this list may be.) I have an ex who was married to man, came out as a lesbian in her mid-20s, then came out as bi in her mid-30s. So yeah, the process of realizing you’re queer and the particulars of what that is for you has no prescribed path or timeline.

    To Dawn: For plenty of people everything looks hopelessly cloudy before coming out to oneself in whatever form that takes. For me it was only in hindsight that everything became obvious. I remember being 19 watching various kinds of porn to figure out what I was. “Am I more attracted to A or B or do I like X or Y?” I didn’t feel there was a tell with any of it, which was so frustrating. And my best friend (an out gay man) would sneak up behind me and whisper “vagina” and I’d jump five feet in the air. Once I came out things many things did indeed click into place.

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      I don’t know if this reply is meant for me or not, but I’ll respond anyway ;) The thing is I’ve been thinking about my sexuality on and off for 10 years, and only because a friend kissed me in college, though for a year i didn’t even think twice about it, was all like “Sorry, i’m straight, i just like to cuddle, my bad.” So, i’ve been looking into my past for clues, and i’ve talked to all my gay friends ad nauseum about this, and i really don’t have anything where i felt different (no more so than the average teen) or look back on a friendship and realize something more was there feeling-wise for me.

      One of my friends said once she went into a gay bar, she felt right…and i was mostly just felt awkward in one, so who knows. Right now i’m on a really great streak of no intimacy in my life, and has been for 10 years.

  9. Thumb up 15

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    This was the week I was looking for later in life stories. This was the week I was going to declare myself celibate because i had no idea anymore. This was the week I realized I couldn’t relate to bi narratives and had no idea what to do. This was the week I asked around my gay friends and they all knew in middle or high school and I didn’t know how to relate. This was the week I needed, NEEDED these stories.

    Autostraddle, you just fucking get me.

  10. Thumb up 5

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    Thanks for sharing. I appreciate hearing these stories. All of these women’s stories have shown how complex and complicated it is to find out whether you either identify yourself as bi, lesbian, or queer. It makes me feel no so alone in this world when thinking of my journey in accepting myself.

  11. Thumb up 14

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    Thank you thank you so much for this article!
    I am about to visit my parents who live abroad and come out to them, aged 33.
    I’m pretty scared and there are so few resources for people coming out later in life. I’ll try the “it’s no big deal” approach but I doubt my folks will agree… wish me luck…

    • Thumb up 2

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      Have a look at this, it might help: http://www.galyic.org.uk/support/1in10.html

      Also, remember that parents often go through a similar coming out process as we do, this might help you to empathise with them.

      Remember, too, that the same system which made you internalise homophobia made your parents internalise it as well.

      If you are interested in how the system works, take a look at my free, on-line, awareness training on You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcpqW_sZMQgoxLxvFVINVhIqyDZ0SdvE0

      One final point: do you know anyone near your parents who are aware and supportive and who might be able to provide them with a listening ear and support?

      Good luck.

      • Thumb up 1

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        Thank you for your kind words and the helpful links!
        I have absolutely no concept of how they will react. They do have friends and family nearby but whether they’ll choose to share the news of their lesbo daughter is anyone’s guess.
        This time next week it’ll be behind me and hopefully I’ll feel less anxious…

    • Thumb up 3

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      The problem with the “it’s no big deal” approach is that it means you have moved past the point where your sexuality is a big deal while your parents have to make the adjustment, and if you shrug it off too much it might create a bigger rift. If you want to open dialogue, it’s best to try to relate to their experience; I imagine it’s a huge deal for parents regardless of whether or not they accept their child.

      I came out at 25, and my parents were confused. It took them time to understand. My parents are accepting but it’s still a big deal for them, and a big adjustment, but I know they’re trying to overcome their prejudices, so I do my best to engage them when they have questions or concerns. But it will never not be a big deal at first.

      I hope it goes well!

      • Thumb up 2

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        Thank you for your encouragement. I’m so worried/excited/terrified right now I really appreciate advice from people who’ve been there/done that.
        Of course it will be a big deal.
        I’ll report back next week…

  12. Thumb up 12

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    Guh, this article. My heart. Thank you!

    I ended a 7-year relationship with a guy a few years ago and came out to my family right before I turned 29. I’d always identified as bi, but eventually come to terms with the fact that, while I loved hanging out with guys, I just wasn’t interested in them romantically. It was a bad year, and I felt like an idiot for coming out so late – I mean, it wasn’t 1992, why was this so hard? You weren’t supposed to be ashamed anymore.

    I was surrounded by happy early-20’s queers at work with great stories of their accepting families, and I just couldn’t relate at all. I think Autostraddle literally saved my life at that point.

    Lately though, I’ve felt so disconnected… Sometimes it seems like every article is about being 23 and smoking weed. Which is great, just not a reason to read the site for me. So this article really hit home :)

    And the comments! You guys. I need you in my life.

  13. Thumb up 2

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    This. This article tells my story. Finally. I was 31 when I came out as a lesbian. In my large group of lesbian friends, I am the only one with a child (who’s 7 and from a relationship with a man). I hardly know anyone who didn’t know they were gay in high school. For me, when I kissed a girl for the first time, it was like a train hit me. And at that moment, everything I had been missing in all my previous relationships, I found.

  14. Thumb up 9

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    I identified as straight until I was 33. I was passionately in love with a man for 15 years. I didn’t even have ONE fantasy about being close with a woman.

    Then I met a woman and we became very good friends. About a month into the friendship, whilst we were cooking dinner together (clams, no lie!), I looked at her beautiful face and realised I was in love with her.

    And now… not one of my fantasies involves a man!

    I think Lisa Diamond needs to interview me.

    • Thumb up 1

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      I’ve read Lisa Diamond’s book and studies, and she pointed out that some people have “person based attractions”. That they’re only sexually attracted to people they developed romantic feelings for. I believe it’s popularly called “demisexuality” nowadays.

      On the other hand, some bisexuals have such “phases”, when they feel only attracted to one sex.

      It all depends on whether you feel (sexual) attraction only to the woman you love, or women in general.

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        I feel sexual attraction to women in general now. I think falling in love with said woman ‘triggered’ something in me, and I didn’t hold back at all, and it feels very right for me.

        I’m personally not keen on the bisexual label for myself, as it suggests a polarity, which is just not how it is for me now.

        But, in retrospect, I do believe that I had a person based attraction to that one male for such a long time, that it blinded me to noticing women (or anyone else for that matter).

        Female sexual fluidity is very interesting.

        • Thumb up 1

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          That’s possible, since judging from the ideas Diamond presented in her book, it seems to be based on two things: on average lower sex drive (check out that discussion about birth control in comments above) and bigger amount of hormones associated with ‘love’ feelings among women. And she doesn’t believe that romantic preferences are hardwired, that they’re component of sexual orientation. She also pointed out that many women don’t see clear difference between romantic and sexual attraction, so it explains that “fluidity”.

          Though I hate the term “sexual fluidity”, because it implies that sexual orientation could change, and you probably know well that Diamond dismisses such idea.

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          I think that’s how I feel now. I was never “boy crazy”; it was specific men that I liked and found attractive. And my attraction to women always bubbled under the surface. I just never acted on it because of fear of repercussions. It was the first sexual experience I had with a woman that actually had me walking along streets thinking, “Sex with women is awesome! I want to climb on top of all these women. Yes!!!” I felt like I had this crazy little stallion in me, going, “Mares! Mares for my herd!” So it wasn’t one special woman that I fell in love with and who reciprocated and I would never stray from her. It was more like one woman gave me a chance and I wanted more from more women. Does that make sense. Or does it just make me a weirdo who uses horses as metaphors?

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      Your story is so relevant! For me, it was 17 years, marriage and settling down, then BAM! I fall in love with a woman, and it all came tumbling down. 15 years on, it all seems so nuts, being a gay is so “me.”

      Amelia’s comment on person – based sexuality hits home for my first marriage.

  15. Thumb up 9

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    I really needed to see this article on Autostraddle. It’s great to see younger people who always knew and who decided to live out of the closet from an early age, even if it meant disapproval; I admire their courage. But on the other hand, this article shows it’s not always so simple as “I always knew and I couldn’t hide it.” Not all of us are goldstar lesbians. My own story is a case in point.

    I realized as a teenager in the early 1980s that I was attracted to other women and I read up on lesbian history. I was so thrilled to go off to a Seven Sisters college with a lesbian community. Finally, I’d get to meet Real!Live!Lesbians! Maybe I’d get a really cute feminine girlfriend! Then I met the other lesbians there and I felt like an outsider. I wasn’t as experienced, politically aware, confident and butch as these women. I was a feminine woman whose only nod to lesbian presentation was wearing a necktie like Radclyffe Hall. Seriously. I already felt like an outsider among straight peers, so I truly felt as if I lived in a no woman’s land. I was friendly with the lesbians, but felt like they thought I was too naive, too insecure and high strung, and no one indicated a romantic interest in me. Things didn’t get better when I developed a strong, really obsessive crush on a gay male friend of mine who was struggling with his own coming out process. The one gay girl who was my type–feminine, sweet-natured–came into my life at the worst part of the crush and I turned her down because I just couldn’t get beyond my crazy love for the guy.

    I ended up taking my crush on this guy as a sign that maybe I wasn’t lesbian; maybe I was really bisexual. I ended up going out with men and having sex with them and I started to think that maybe I was the kind of woman who had sexless “girl crushes” and that I was really heterosexual.

    I married in graduate school. I loved my husband and enjoyed sex with him. I wasn’t doing it because I felt like it was my duty or I owed him. I genuinely enjoyed it. I had a son with him, and other troubles led to our divorce. I met a fellow divorced mom, and wow, the old feelings of tenderness and protectiveness returned, but I never acted on it. She seemed pretty straight and I didn’t want to lose the friendship. So I dated more men, had some pretty amazing sex with one or two of them, and thought bisexuality or lesbianism was part of my past.

    I didn’t start dating women until my mid forties. It was a mix of curiosity, greater security with myself, and other factors. I did the online dating thing. I posted myself as bisexual, not because I was equally open to guys, but because my hetero past had been pretty pleasant. Calling myself lesbian seemed like it was ignoring that past. But going out into the dating world seemed like College Lesbianism, part two. Many lesbians my age either weren’t into bisexual women (I changed my sexual orientation on my profile, feeling a little dishonest)or didn’t want to be my first. Finally someone took an interest in (or pity on)me, and Wow. Just yeah. Let’s leave it at that.
    I’ve been seeing someone exclusively for almost eight months now. Even if we break up, I know that I only want to be in relationships with women from now on. These kinds of stories of women coming out later in life really matter to me, and others like me. Some of us shoved that queer part of us down because of our location, parents, upbringing. Some of us genuinely went on our merry way until we were hit with love from an unexpected place. And some of us, like me, jumped out of the closet, didn’t get the reception we expected, and popped back in until the time and place were right.

    I hope I didn’t bore anyone or take over the comments section with my personal narrative, but I believe we learn from posting our stories and reading others. Anyway, I’m glad to put this out.

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      Why do you identify as both lesbian and bisexual then if you had satisfying sex with a man and loved a man? You say that you only want to date women now, but wish is not sexual orientation and many women who expressed exactly your pattern of sexuality ended up in long term relationships with men anyway. I think we should be extra careful with how we call ourselves, because it affects visibility, and there are popular homophobic myths about lesbians (that “they just need a man”).
      I just had a conversation with gay man who doesn’t believe that lesbian sexuality is “real”, like gay men’s. As it turned out, thanks to example of many bisexual women who labelled themselves as lesbians.

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        Amelia,

        Queen of Prussia can identify however she wants. You do you, she does her. Live and let live. One size has never fit all. Her life, self-definition and happiness does not compromise yours. Your life, self-definition and happiness does not compromise hers.

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        And BTW, you describe your feelings for women in such way: “I met a fellow divorced mom, and wow, the old feelings of tenderness and protectiveness returned, but I never acted on it”. You also wrote that earlier: “I started to think that maybe I was the kind of woman who had sexless “girl crushes” and that I was really heterosexual.

        Meanwhile, you describe your past with men in very sexual manner.
        Are you confident now that you are sexually attracted to women, that it’s not only purely emotional crushes?

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          Or maybe it’s a reflection of the heterosexist world we’re raised in that dictates that all girls must be attracted to boys, and that it’s okay for girls to be affectionate with each other because it’s not real attraction? Maybe she’s describing her past in a sexual manner because it’s condoned by society, while her attractions for women are not condoned and can be internalized in a very different manner.

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          You bring up some good points and some common objections I got from some of the gay older women I dated. I’m going to answer them in the spirit that you genuinely want to know. I’m not a sociologist or anthropologist, but I did talk to people and I’ve done a lot of thinking about my personal experience, so here I go.

          I met gay women my age who had married and had kids for various reasons. Some, like my girlfriend, grew up in very conservative religious cultures, where they got the message that gay was sinful. She knew she was gay, but she married her best male friend (at a Christian college)to try to prove to herself that she could still fit in. Another woman I saw briefly identified as lesbian but she married a man because she really wanted to have children. Her primary reason for marrying him? “He seemed like he would be a really good father.” Others I knew fucked around with guys because hey, that’s what you did as a teen or college student in the 1980s. For those women, it took infatuation with another woman or sex with one to make them realize what they really wanted, sexual and romatic relationships with women. So when I put my statements about sex with men, it was to show that I wasn’t tolerating it for other benefits. That’s why I initially identified as bisexual.

          I didn’t want to talk too much about the sexual aspect of my relationships with women because of discretion, but here goes. The first time I had sex with a woman, it was awesome. It was a revelation to me. I left the next morning, thinking “What the hell? I waited 20 years for this?” I was both annoyed with myself (stupid little chickenshit me, I should have gone out with that girl in college. How different would my life have been!) and genuinely happy that I had gone ahead and acted on my desire. As I started posting profiles and meeting more people, I also figured out what I liked and didn’t like. And I came to realize that I was a romantic (I’m a Pisces), who liked to court my lady, who wanted to give her pleasure. If I want an orgasm, I’m pretty damn good at giving one to myself, but I’ve always struggled with coming to orgasm with other people, both men and women. But physical contact with a woman’s body, being active in pleasing her…that’s what I really enjoy. I’m not a stone butch because I do like to be touched, but I definitely prefer the active role. Those earlier feelings of protectiveness and tenderness are still there, but now there’s no fear (Hey, I was kind of a nervous kid when it came to sex in general)and just a good dose of horniness instead.

          As to why I shifted to defining myself now as lesbian rather than bi? Because I really don’t find myself sexually attracted to men now. I don’t want to do anything romantic or sexual with them. If I were to ever leave my girlfriend, it would be for another woman, not a man.

          I hope my answer here addressed your questions. If you still are skeptical or put off, then maybe I ‘d be willing to answer more questions or try to address your objections. It might be that our assumptions, our core beliefs that underpin our ideas about sexual identity (versus gender identification) may be so different that you’d never accept me. That’s cool. I don’t enjoy arguing with people in real life or the internet for the sake of arguing. But I do know this about myself–my attraction to women is real, it is both romantic and sexual in nature, and it took time for me to get to that point. But I got there.

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          It’s not that I don’t believe you when you’re saying that you’re attracted to women (I asked some question about that because your description of your feelings for women appeared to me kinda “asexual” and solely emotional in nature, and since I research this stuff I know that some women confuse emotional feelings for women with attraction), it just looks like you’re not into women only. I know, now you feel like you’re attracted only to women, but you said it yourself that you had both strong crushes on men and enjoyed very much sex with them. You are so sure that there’s no way it could ever come back?

          Maybe you’ve heard of sex researcher Lisa Diamond’s longitudinal studies on a group of sexual minority women? It was interesting because majority of initially lesbian identified women from that research dropped lesbian label, showing “sexual fluidity”. Yet, Diamond dismiss the idea that sexual orientation could really change. That’s because those women’s sexual attraction patterns didn’t really change. Most women defined their orientation by their romantic preferences, and they turned out to be extremely unsolid.
          So, those “hasbians” were always sexually attracted to men to some point, but believed they could only love women. And then they met some “special” guy who was “not like the other men”.

          The only “extremely solid” group of women in that research were women who have always been exclusively sexually attracted to women.

          It’s also important to note that some bisexuals expressed such pattern that they felt like they’re 100% into women at some points of their lives, and then, 100% into men.

          Because of those findings, Lisa Diamond doesn’t think that emotional attraction is really part of sexual orientation, as it’s nothing solid. Only sexual attraction is (“proceptivity” speaking precisely, but it’s topic for longer discussion).

          All of it shows that someone who have ever felt any sexual attraction to men, even if for some reason doesn’t feel it right now, has to be aware that as everything suggests so she has the ability to fall for a man.

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        Amelia, I skimmed through Lisa Diamond’s interview with Troy Williams on her book and I will see if my university has it or if I can get it through interlibrary loan. It sounds like an interesting source. I guess the one thing I am primarily concerned about is being seen as “less than” or “not really” a woman who is sexually attracted to other women. I don’t want to be dismissed because I didn’t come out at 18 and had relationships exclusively with women. If sexual fluidity is a more accurate term for me, so be it. And you’re right; who is to say that I might never fall for a man again? But I don’t actively seek it right now and I don’t see it happening in the foreseeable future.

        If anything, I identify with the people you mentioned who might be exclusively into men at one point in their lives, and into women during another point. And personally, I have no problem with that. I can see how that might irritate people who want to see “lesbian” as a separate identification. I’m fine with mutability; at the risk of sounding like a hippy, I am a Pisces, one of the great mutable signs of the Western zodiac. But that doesn’t help the larger cause or others at the exclusive end of the sexual spectrum. That gay male friend of yours who claimed there were no “real” lesbians, and the concern that that might affect political action on behalf of lesbians, however, make it more complicated.

        I’m kind of rambling now, because two beers, and I’m afraid of sounding like an idiot. So I’m going to stop before I say too much.

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          I guess the main thing that concerns me is I admit to past relationships with men, current ones with women, and no desire or interest in future relationships with me, will I be banned from Autostraddle? If my current relationship were to end, would no queer women be interested in me? Do I have to return my toaster?

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          Someone who wouldn’t want to have anything to do with you because of that would be a simple biphobe and I know I wouldn’t want to date such woman.

          Yes, I admit that I have somewhat selfish concerns. There are homophobic stereotypes about lesbian sexuality, that “we just need a d*ck”, or “the right guy” that will turn us. It is really damaging and dangerous, both mentally (as in my case, it affects my OCD) and physically, as it encourages men.
          Every woman who after coming out as lesbian “goes back to men” (or just falls for a man), serves as an evidence that those damaging stereotypes are right. That’s why I wish people were more careful when deciding on label, because we don’t live in vacuum, you guys affect visibility of us all.

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      Queen Of Prussia. No, you do NOT need to return your toaster. Some of us do not fit neatly into boxes and there are SO MANY factors to consider when considering a woman’s sexuality.

      You said: “who is to say that I might never fall for a man again? But I don’t actively seek it right now and I don’t see it happening in the foreseeable future.”

      And I would totally agree with you on that, from my own experiences. I just don’t see myself falling in love with a man again, I love everything (I mean EVERYTHING) about women. But, who am I to completely rule out that possibility? It has happened before! However, it is up to ME to decide on what label (if any) fits me right now.

      Society SCREAMS for people to be put into boxes. Just follow your heart – there are no rules.

      I have read “Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love And Desire” by Lisa Diamond, and I highly recommend it.

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        Queen of Prussia and Kikiwi,

        Is there a Secret Toaster Club that I need to be aware of? Where does one get one’s Toaster serviced? Who services? Where do I get a new Toaster? Can you have more than one Toaster at the same time without hurting the first (Primary) Toaster? Is there a market for Second Hand Toasters?

        I’m Toaster confused, seriously. What is this “Toaster”? injoke? Did I go to the wrong school????

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          Annalou, the toaster joke refers back to straight people’s fears that LGBT people were dangerous because they were always looking to recruit people. LGBT people turned it into a joke by saying that they got a toaster as an incentive for recruiting a straight person. It goes back to the olden days when banks offered incentives like small appliances to new customers opening new accounts. Kind of when we take the homophobic fear of “the gay agenda” and say stuff like, “What’s on the gay agenda today?” “Let me see.” Take out purple notebook with glitter rainbow stickers and unicorns on the cover. “Hmmm, we both have to go to work and afterwards I’m supposed to get groceries while you get the car serviced.” Click book shut. “That’s the gay agenda!”

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          Hahahaha I’m laughing out loud! – I believe this is an American joke, and you live down under, so it may be why you’ve not heard it.

          Something like if you ‘recruit’ a new person into the LGBT community, you get a toaster. Not too sure why exactly it’s a toaster… but hey! You can never have enough toasters… or toast!

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          LOL!!!
          Oh my god Melissa Etheridge “signing up” new Lesbian Laura Dern for Team Lesbian for Ellen DeGeneres. Ok. Thankyou Fikri and Queen of Prussia. I never saw this episode or had heard of the active LGBT recruiting joke. Things are making sense!

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          I recommend it as well, though KikiKiwi description could be rather misleading, since I’ve read the same book and have to disagree with her conclusions. Diamond actually seeks for “rules” and puts people in “boxes”, as scientists do (well, she’s psychologist).

          Maybe I’ll explain what “sexual fluidity” means in her theory.

          Like I said earlier here, Diamond doesn’t believe that sexual orientation could really change – for her, sexual orientation is “proceptivity” alone, which is specific type of sexual attraction (motivation to have sex with _a_ person of desired gender, sexual lust for men and/or women generally, NOT attraction to specific person).

          And that means that romantic/emotional preferences according to Diamond are not component of sexual orientation. It’s based on finding that majority of lesbian identified women in her study labelled themselves as gay because they believed they can only love women, but they felt some sexual attraction to men too. Through the course of the study, most of them fell in love with some “special and not like the other men” guy, much to their surprise. Meanwhile, like I noted above, women who have always been exclusively sexually attracted to women were “extremely solid group”.

          Diamond even pointed out that “lesbian” label was treated far less strictly than “straight” label by most women.

          Diamond mentioned different study which showed that most women define their sexuality first of all by their romantic preferences. Men – by sexual ones. And if romantic preferences are nothing solid, while sexual preferences are the only thing that reflects sexual orientation, it explains why men seem to be more “fixed”.

          In Diamond’s theory, “fluidity potential” is yet another thing. I mentioned “proceptivity” before. There’s also “arousability”, or “receptivity” (fun fact – she took those terms from studies on animal sexuality). It’s basically ability to react in sexual way to some situation or advances (not on your own desire). Typical reflection of that in her studies was situation when a woman fell in love with someone, and only then she started feeling attraction to person of that gender – and only to that person alone, not to the gender as a whole.

          So, Diamond theoreticizes that “fluidity potential” is not part of sexual orientation either. In my opinion it’s the most far-fetched point in her theory, since there were women in her studies that have always been attracted to women only and they were “extremely solid”, but Diamond dodges those questions by assuming that people’s sexuality is composed of sexual orientation (based on proceptivity) and fluidity potential (based on arousability), from non-existent to high.
          In other words, those lesbians who have always been exclusively into women were homosexual women with non-existant fluidity potential.

          Whether it’s true or not, it leaves important point to emphasize. You could be lesbian and be attracted to men according to Diamond’s ideas, but it would mean you can’t feel generalized sexual attraction to men (that would mean you have bisexual orientation) – you could only feel attraction to one specific man (most likely, in reaction to falling in love with him) and generalized attraction to women.

          Diamond also emphasized fact that for many women the line between sexual and romantic attraction was very blurred, which probably is caused by the fact that on average women have weaker sex drive than men and bigger amount of hormones that are associated with love feelings.
          And if sexual orientation is based only on generalized lust, it cannot express itself fully when you are not horny enough, to put it bluntly. That’s probably the main reason of so much confusion among many women.

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    Amelia, thanks for the discussion of Diamond’s findings. I really appreciate that you took the time to write such a thoughtful explanation. It is a lot to digest. I feel both better informed and a little depressed. I’m having a hard time articulating why, and it’s getting late. But I’ve learned a lot from you,and I appreciate that.

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      I’m sorry if it made you feel depressed. It’s worth to emphasize that regardless of all of her ideas about the nature of sexual orientation and attraction, her theory assumes that we all can potentially fall in love with anyone and it’s not any less real.
      Look for example at Cynthia Nixon. Judging from her words alone, by Lisa Diamond’s ideas she seems to be generally straight woman with “fluidity potential”. She fell for specific woman. But her feelings for her are not less valid because of it. And it’s solid – they’re together since 2004.

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        I know you didn’t intend to. You wanted to give an accurate version of Diamond’s conclusions and I really appreciate that. I also see how sexual fluidity (or bisexual people claiming gay or lesbian identity) can affect the queer community’s attempts to make changes in perception, society and politics in negative ways. For example, if I can change from relationships with men to relationships with women, does that mean sexual orientation or behavior is really a choice? Can a homophobe then claim that people choose to be exclusively gay, when they are really bi and should give hetero relationships a chance? That’s not a position I support and I don’t want to be the posterchild for such a mindset.

        I guess I struggle with the problem more accurate representation or “labeling” does for me personally. Bisexual, because of my past relationships with men, might be more accurate. Just because I don’t want to date men now, I have exhibited a past interest in them, and who knows if that interest will return? But when I put “bisexual” in my online profile or explained it to lesbians on first dates, I didn’t get encouraging feedback. I got couples who wanted a threesome (or polyamorous relationship)or lesbians who told me that they didn’t get involved with bi women and they didn’t know any of their friends or acquaintances that would. That hurt. I wish I could just say, “Fuck labels! This is who I am and what I want!” but it seems like so many people do need and want those labels for themselves and others, and are suspicious of those who don’t fit neat, defined categories.

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