Truth & “Later-In-Life” Lesbians

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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.

Some of the objections to recent posts regarding the question of “Can any woman become a lesbian?” have used this scenario to suggest that it is possible.

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.

20 thoughts on “Truth & “Later-In-Life” Lesbians

  1. This is pretty much what I’ve been thinking. And it’s perfectly stated! I have had very, very similar experiences. The only difference is that my interest in men goes a step further. I DO enjoy the platonic companionship of the right men, on occasion. I sometimes find men good-looking, I don’t mind being hugged or kissed by men I really trust and I could see myself enjoying a dinner date with particular types of men, talking, sharing a slice of our lives in the city…a hug and a kiss later, we go back to our separate lives. Maybe some romantic chemistry, some flirting, but not sexual chemistry and certainly not sexual activity. But WOMEN? Totally different, much more elite level of interest. There’s not always a way to tell who is who, but it’s helpful to look at patterns. If a self-professed lesbian dates a couple girls in college, but then goes on to marry and have children with a man? How is that not a straighbian? Obviously, stigma did not prevent her from coming out. And she obviously doesn’t have a substantial enough interest with women or lesbians to really even be bi. It’s like…who are you kidding?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Joanna, Thanks as always for your comments! If I understand correctly, it sounds like you occasionally enjoy the companionship of men, and the energy you feel at those times, but it sounds like you are not actually interested in a serious or sexual relationship with a man. You used the word “platonic” which is an important distinction, IMHO. I have known many lesbians who initially had married men who told me similar things; for instance, they had a lot in common with their husbands, they enjoyed traveling or other interests/activities with them, they enjoyed going to parties or dinners, etc., but they did not feel “overwhelmed” with sexual chemistry as they did when they finally came out. Your point about looking at patterns is excellent. It is always obvious that a woman was “going through a phase” when she promptly marries a man and becomes a soccer mom after a brief bout of alleged “lesbianism” in college. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Despite thinking this is a great post, I do once again want to question the need to label (and judge) those who did not come have the same experience. It is possible to have a ‘college experience’ that feelsl ife changing, and yet still return to the wold of heterosexual privledge because you aren’t yet prepared to accept or acknowledge that what you felt was so much more.

        I know this, because that is partially my experience. The man who would one day become my husband knew and supported my desire to date women and I did date a bit while in university, however after i graduated, I met a woman that changed my life. We both had male partners and we dated each other for over two years, in fact we were dating the day I got married (and the day she got married too). She made me feel things I didn’t know were possible and I loved her with all my heart. But never once did I stop to question the decision to keep a man in my life as well. It was easy to slap on a bisexual label, continue my traditional relationship where everyone could see and love and lust for a woman on the side. And that worked for all of us, kind of.

        Fast forward 10 years, I’ve left my husband and I am in an amazing relationship with a woman who makes me heart sing. That amazing, happy and fulfilled feeling that I had all but forgotten has come back…

        Does the fact that I didn’t CHOOSE to follow my heart and desire for women and instead got married to a man mean that it was a phase? Is it a phase now too? I don’t think so.

        I understand I am not the ‘classic case’ and I don’t fit into stereotypical boxes (I never have in any aspecct of my life) but my point is simply why do we need to keep making those boxes and trying to shove people in them?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hi again, and thanks as always for your comments! I am sorry if labeling is painful or uncomfortable to you (or to anyone else), but as a lesbian who has been out a long time and has witnessed many lesbians being hurt because of women using the label “lesbian” incorrectly and misleadingly, I truly do believe in the importance of being incredibly clear in language. In other words, the word “lesbian” matters. Who I am matters, and I feel strongly that the word “lesbian” should not be diluted to mean ANY woman who dates another woman. Just because I would not apply the “label” of “lesbian” to ANY woman who dates another woman does NOT denigrate or deny the importance of the connections between those women. Nor do I mean to imply that women shouldn’t partner with whomever they choose to, as long as everyone involved are consenting and informed adults. But, again, I stand by my stance that the word “lesbian” means something very specific, and to deny that is to deny our existence. To suggest that sexuality is simply fluid or changeable suggests that lesbians could choose our orientation and we cannot. Language matters greatly. So I guess we will have to respectfully agree to disagree on this point…:-)

          Liked by 2 people

        • Valid points Saye – I certainly understand your view and to be honest have and (certainly will) continue to spend countless hours pondering where I ‘fit’ and how I can possibly accurately label my sexuality.

          I agree that it’s disrespectful and hurtful to ‘try on’ labels and I take that seriously because who you are, fundamentally is not a choice and the act of ‘trying it on’ presumes that it is. I think we agree on that.

          But I also think that imposing labels on other people and presuming to know their journey and their experience is also fraught with disrespect and hurt. In no way do I mean to downplay your personal (or your friends) experience being hurt by inauthentic people (because that’s truly a terrible thing) but there’s still no need to paint everyone with the same brush as far as I’m concerned.

          As for me, who I am just doesn’t easily fit into any box, and for now I’m trying to live my life and let that clarity come to me and that is ok by both my partner and I, which is all that truly matters.

          As always, thanks for some serious food for thought and brain food on a difficult topic. I appreciate the opportunity to speak freely, these discussions help me on my personal journey of self understanding.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Hi again, I can’t help but think that somehow maybe we are misunderstanding each other a bit, because all I am basically saying is that unless a woman truly knows she is a lesbian, she shouldn’t say she is.

          I am not saying that it is wrong to be anything else, or to be in the process of discovery, etc.

          What I am saying is that if someone is on a personal journey and in the process of discovering who they are, that is a valid situation — and that is what they should say when/if needed (as in, with potential partners).

          And: there’s no need for people to define themselves AT ALL if they do not feel that they “fit into a box”. And again, if that is the situation, I feel that is what the person should say, when/if needed, such as with potential partners.

          What I am saying is that people shouldn’t define themselves as a lesbian (or anything else, for that matter), unless that is what they truly are.

          Making that distinction is not being judgmental. It is just saying that language matters.

          This is the same principle as I am using when I wouldn’t say I am Hispanic, or a male, or a poodle, or 23 years old, or a Republican, because I am none of those things.

          To define something (anything) is not to judge it. There’s nothing wrong with being a poodle, but I am not one.

          It’s also not “painting everybody with the same brush”. All lesbians are not alike by any means, and our stories/journeys differ greatly. But we are all lesbians. Same with straight people, same with men, etc. We are not all alike, but we have an underlying defining characteristic in common.

          So, my point is that what I am trying to say isn’t so very different from what you are saying. You said “As for me, who I am just doesn’t easily fit into any box, and for now I’m trying to live my life and let that clarity come to me and that is ok by both my partner and I, which is all that truly matters.”

          Yes, I agree that is all that matters. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • I think you’re right, we are saying the same thing in different ways…I agree that one should certainly not presume to label themselves as a lesbian if it’s not true. Openness and honesty in a relationship are top priority.

          Liked by 2 people

      • Heh…maybe I am a lesbian after all LOL.

        In all seriousness, I have fantasized about sex with men on a number of occasions and sometimes still do. I have had intense (but short-lived) infatuation with men (twice in my life both between the ages of 15-20). However, anytime I get remotely close to the real thing? Blech! To me, it’s like fantasizing about tea time with the Malfoys from Harry Potter (fictional villains with a lot of wealth and political influence). It’s fun to pretend but in real life, I wouldn’t be caught dead with that kind of company.

        When talking about straightbians, I realized a lot of things about my “bisexuality.” I tend to be “stone femme” in my fantasies with men. I never initiate or reciprocate. Either that or I picture myself as the male partner serving a woman I find attractive (I was transgendered as a child/teen btw).

        Even in my fantasies, there are overtures of coersion and dominance that I would NEVER tolerate IRL. I think this is my way of dealing with my trauma because at the healthiest points in my life, I don’t have these fantasies. Furthermore, the Times in life I was infatuated with a whopping two men in my whole life? I was young, economically vulnerable, in some kind of turmoil and being mentally disabled, couldn’t always parse serious friendship, admiration, love or lust. Since settling into mental stability, economic security, and a mature sexual identity, these fantasies all but disappeared. And thru all of that? Women were STILL my primary fixation, as a child, a teen, and a young adult.

        I read “The Man that would be Queen” and it gave me some insight into people that claim bisexuality. A lot of gay men in the research sample loved straight pornography because they loved watching the male partner in action and pretending to be the woman being serviced in that scenario. Straight men in prison who engage in gay sex fantasize about their girlfriends while being service by men and they tend to use feminine men precisely because fantasizing about the girlfriend is easier with a femme partner.

        Liked by 1 person

        • LOL! Maybe. 🙂 I haven’t read “The Man That Would Be Queen” yet, but plan to. Sounds interesting, I had heard about it before, but I have just been too darn busy lately to follow up on much of anything. Interesting about your fantasies of coercion and dominance disappearing with time and with feeling more stable…sounds like they served a purpose at that time, to deal with trauma, that you no longer need now…

          Liked by 1 person

      • You are understanding me perfectly. Maybe I am a lesbian after all lol.

        In all seriousness, I have had maybe three intense hetero crushes my whole life, all between the ages of 15-20, and like I described earlier, they all fit my restricted “type.” Even then I would have never married or had sex with them. I fantasized about it a lot and I loved it, but I also loved the Death Eaters from Harry Potter.;) Fantasy isn’t real life. It’s also worth mentioning that my crushes with men were very juvenile and school girlish in nature and were fleeting. The longest one lasted a college semester during the classes I took with him, but I was usually able to “put him away” outside of class. Once that semester ended and the stimulus was gone…meh. Lastly, these crushes all occurred between me and older men during a time when I was young, naive, economically and situationally vulnerable and mentally ill…Gee, wonder what THAT was about. Compare that to my situation with women throughout my life and especially today, then it’s pretty clear where my “loyalty” is. My feelings for women have been around since toddlerhood and they are far more intense, more mature, and they last much longer than a few months. And they are *reciprocal.* (With men, they had to do everything because, duh, it wasn’t coming naturally to me.)

        Well, I’m not going to use your blog to discuss my sexual issues but I wanted to confirm that yes, you get me. Men are great friends and fun to go out with, but I do not, and have never had, a real life desire for het sex or het marriage.

        However, until, or if, I decide to “pick a team” and stay there, I feel bisexual is the honest way to describe myself. Gay/lesbian terminology is bastardized enough and I don’t need to add to it. Oh, and I’m celibate, so my ID “crisis” only affects me. I guess I have this radical idea that it’s okay to be joyfully single, some of us are meant to be single, that sex is not what life is about. I think that once you know who you are and what you want, you will find that someone. In any case, sexual relationships are not the appropriate place to parse that stuff and maybe you should stay single and become whole first on your own before using someone else to fill a void they can’t possibly fill and might not know even exists.

        In other words? No real lesbians were harmed in the production of this psychodrama.;)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I totally agree with what you’re saying ~ too often, people tend to rush or feel pressured to find a relationship when it is so much better to, as you said so well, “become whole on your own first”. Also love the “no real lesbians were harmed in the production” comment, LOL! As you know that is my main concern! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for taking the time to put this post together, i think it brings a lot of authenticity to those individuals who have walked a different path to ultimately arrive at the same destination with regard to sexuality and I think it clarifies a lot of the questions that your last post raised for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That last comment is left is repetitive because instead of cut I used copy…ugh. I wrote several drafts of my comments because I want to talk without sounding stupid and, well…just ignore the repetitive parts and go to the fresh material. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: UnStraightening Lesbian-Removing the Heterosexual Lens (Part 2) | Saye Bennett

  5. Pingback: Unstraightening Lesbian: Removing the Heterosexual Lens: Joan Nestle | Saye Bennett

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