Setting love straight: is sexuality really as simple and exclusive as homo or hetero?
gay friends, my partner, Phyllis, tells about how a
straight woman made her a lesbian. As a college freshman
Phyllis had quiet crushes on both boys and girls but was
still as innocent as a cabbage, she says. The woman W6
brought out her lesbianism, Jan, was her roommate. Jan was
three years older and had boyfriends in droves--though I'm
sure none of them was as cute as Phyllis. Jan must have
thought so too: Even though she was "straight," one
night, on a camping trip, in a shared sleeping bag, she acted
as though she weren't. In fact, for the next three semesters,
she acted as though she were a dyed-in-the-wool dyke. It
was Jan, Phyllis says, who had made all the moves, sexual
and otherwise. Then, without much warning or a cessation
of the moves, Jan got engaged to an accounting major and
got married. And Phyllis got me--after many years and
several other lesbian relationships. "She was only amusing
herself until the right guy came along," friends usually say
about Jan with a bitterness born of personal experience.
Then they launch into their own disgusted tales of straights
who stopped at their gay way stations on the road to Mr.
(or Mrs.) Right. In their renderings these friends are the
true homosexuals, and the vamps who went off to the
straight life are true heterosexuals. What lesbian or gay man
who has been around for a while doesn't have a story or
two like that?
But I'm less convinced than many of my friends that
everyone is a true something in terms of sexuality. As a
historian I'm fascinated by same-sex institutions such as
boarding schools or women's colleges of other eras, in which
love affairs among students were universal. In women's
colleges of the late 19th--early 20th century, for example,
they were so common that all sorts of nouns and verbs were
coined to describe them, such as crush, smash, pash, rave,
flame. The impulse hasn't entirely disappeared on some
campuses even today--which has occasioned the
coining of still another term, LUG (Lesbian Until
Graduation). In other institutions, such as prisons,
same-sex relationships are common. In women's
prisons it's not unusual for pairs to settle into a
commitment around which they form a family life.
who are "naturally"
just making do in such situations. Or perhaps when the opposite
sex isn't around, they feel a tacit permission to act
on a potential that's simply (though its existence
in birds--like female gulls who form dyads
with other female gulls--would suggest it's avian
too). My two female terriers are always acting out that
potential with each other. Alfred Kinsey's famous 0-6
scale speaks to that mammalian potential. I suppose
there are some people who are strictly 0, but it seems
not unusual for self-identified heterosexuals to be 1, 2,
or 3. Conversely, the lesbian community has been
rocked from time to time by revelations that certain
community leaders are not 6 but rather 4 or 5 or have
found permanent bliss with a male mate.
For large numbers of people, is sexuality really as simple
and exclusive as homo or hetero? If a "heterosexual" person
reciprocates to whatever extent in a homosexual
relationship, is that person a "heterosexual"? Don't
categories such as "straight" or "gay". Describe one's
subjective identity rather than facts of behavior or feelings?
I think often about Jan not because she was my
love's first love but because it seems to me that her story--which
has no doubt been repeated countless times--offers a
clue to what the categories "gay" or "straight" might mean
and not mean. Phyllis (happily for me) calls herself gay.
Jan, when the topic comes up, says she's heterosexual.
Once in a while they have lunch together. Last week, at my
prodding, Phyllis asked Jan why she seduced her those
many years ago.
"Because I fell in love with you," was Jan's answer.
"Then why did you marry Marvin?"
"Because I'm heterosexual," she insisted.
If she'd said "because I prefer to live a heterosexual
lifestyle" or "because I want to call myself a heterosexual"
(or, better still, "because I fell in love with Marvin"),
her answer might ring true. But if you're a
woman who falls in love with or makes love with
another woman--or a man who falls in love with
or makes love with another man--are you a
heterosexual? Except as a sociopolitical identity,
do categories such as "straight" or "gay" have any
usefulness other than obfuscation? Don't they
simply blind us to the possibility of
being able to understand the realities
of human behavior?
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|Title Annotation:||Last Word|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Feb 17, 1998|
|Previous Article:||Jazz master.|
|Next Article:||Sodomy laws and you: we're just one aggressive misguided prosecutor away from arresting gay men and lesbians.|