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Setting love straight: is sexuality really as simple and exclusive as homo or hetero?

WHENEVER WE SWAP COMING-OUT STORMS WITH LESBIAN OR

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.

Perhaps those

who are "naturally"

heterosexual are

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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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Last Word
Author:Faderman, Lillian
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 17, 1998
Words:777
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Next Article:Sodomy laws and you: we're just one aggressive misguided prosecutor away from arresting gay men and lesbians.
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