All of us probably know, or at least likely know of, a lesbian who initially married a man, had children (or not), and later (sometimes even much later), finally came out of the closet. I have known a few myself, and I have heard many other such lesbian-coming-out stories over the years.
Many people also apparently mistook our posts to exclude these women in these scenarios from the category of lesbian, when that is not the case at all.
Although we previously addressed the topic of “behavior versus orientation” a few times in various posts, we neglected to do a entire post focusing on this specific subject. I belatedly realized, thanks to a commenter, Shine Brightly, that we needed to clarify this aspect of the topic a bit more, because it seems to be a major points of confusion.
So I will attempt to answer this question in this post by using an explanation based on a compilation of all the stories I have heard over the years of various lesbians who came out later-in-life.
So: what is the difference between a lesbian in this scenario mentioned above, versus a “Straightbian“?
The difference is actually quite simple, but the explanation is more complicated.
The key factor is the difference between behavior versus orientation.
In the scenario mentioned above, the woman in question is indeed a lesbian, and she always was.
This woman grew up internalizing all the messages that everyone gets from family, friends, school, church, community, and society in general that being straight is the only acceptable route.
She is likely, although not necessarily, an over-achiever, a “good girl”, an extrovert, and/or a people-pleaser, and she likely received a lot of reinforcement while growing up for meeting other people’s expectations.
She likely felt “different” while growing up, but maybe could not pinpoint why. She probably had close friendships and attachments with other girls, and likely preferred their company to that of boys.
She likely married young, perhaps to her high school or college boyfriend; and she married him not because she was passionately, head-over-heels in love/lust with him, but because he felt safe, and because marriage was the expected next step in life.
She may or may not have children, but regardless, she really tries to be straight. She tries to be everything that society expects, she tries to be a “good wife”, and she tries very hard to be happy with the life she has chosen.
She ignores feelings of emptiness, boredom, and ennui and sublimates her energy into work, family, volunteering, crafts, church, home projects, etc.
She may stay in this holding pattern for a relatively short time, or she may stay there for a very long time.
She may have some conscious awareness of her attraction to women, or she may be so practiced in shoving her own feelings down so deep that even she has difficulty excavating them.
Then, at some point, for some reason (and the reasons will vary), she wakes up and she just cannot do it anymore.
She cannot continue to pretend to be something she is not.
She realizes (or has always known on some level, but is just now admitting it for the first time) that her true romantic/sexual orientation is to women.
She starts the process of making the changes needed to move toward an authentic lesbian life.
And even though it is the right path for her, the journey will almost certainly not be easy. Often the process will be fraught with pain and difficulty. Many people that she cares about will likely feel hurt, confused, or betrayed. She will likely lose people she thought she could always count on.
There will likely be much resistance, anger, heartbreak, and angst along the way, but her need to live an authentic lesbian is a more powerful force than the backlash she encounters.
So, yes, the woman in this scenario is indeed a lesbian, despite whether she was married to a man for a couple of months or for 30+ years (or anywhere in between).
There will obviously be variations between lesbians’ individual unique stories, because of each lesbian’s unique circumstances, temperament, background, and situation.
But the general story is universal in such scenarios: genuinely trying to “do the right thing” (that is, what is deemed “right” by society’s standards) by initially attempting to live a heterosexual life before eventually deciding to be true to herself and coming out as a lesbian.
Also, the coming-out process itself will be different for each lesbian, and will be based on individual circumstances and personality characteristics. Some lesbians come out right away and relatively easily, while others may take months or even years to complete the coming-out process. Some may need therapy to help them sort out a variety of issues like guilt about not meeting expectations, dealing with internalized homophobia, learning self-acceptance, etc.
Again, the key factor to always consider is the difference between behavior and orientation.
In this scenario discussed above, the woman’s behavior (initially) appears to suggest that she is straight (after all, she married a man!). But: this woman’s true romantic/sexual orientation is really toward women. This woman found intimacy, closeness, love, and “rightness” with a woman that they never even remotely felt with a man, and she moved toward her true lesbian orientation when she was ready to come to terms with it. She did not marry a man for true love, attraction, or lust, but rather for such reasons as familial demands, societal expectations, security, a desire for approval, convenience, religious convictions, companionship, etc.
In contrast, a “Straightbian” is someone who is actually heterosexual but she has chosen to partner with females due to a variety of potential reasons, including, but not limited to: political reasons, being sick of dating men, curiosity, thinking “the grass is greener on the other side”, trauma, mistaking friendship for love, rebelliousness, etc. The “Straightbian’s” behavior appears to suggest that she is a lesbian (after all, she is dating a woman!). But: The “Straightbian’s” true romantic/sexual orientation is toward males, regardless of her behavior.
I hope this post helped to explain the difference between lesbians who come out later in life, after experience with men, versus “Straightbians”. I realize that it is a complicated topic because no two stories are exactly alike, but the underlying answer is actually quite simple: it’s not what you do, it is who you are.