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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 point 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.

Getting Old(er)

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Aging has been a topic on my mind a lot recently, because…well…it’s happening, even as I type.

It’s happening to all of us, all the time, albeit in such incremental steps that it tends to creep up on us, unnoticed, until one day we catch a glimpse of ourselves reflected in a storefront window, and think “Who the heck is that?”

When I was younger, I naively thought I might be (at least partially) immune to being sensitive about the changes aging brings on in our looks.  I rationalized all the crap that popular culture tries to sell us: “Age is just a number”, “40 is the new 30”, “50 is the new 40”, etc. Mind over matter and all that.

And, since I have always primarily lived in my mind, rather than solely focused on my body, I thought maybe I would be spared some of the insecurity about appearance that aging often brings.

I was wrong.

Lately, I find myself bothered by the inevitable march of time.  Just this morning, I wasted an hour searching Amazon for “best anti-wrinkle cream”; a precious hour of my life that I can never recover.

Although there is some truth that we perhaps have (at least partial) control over our looks through diet, exercise, clothes, hairstyles, and the myriad anti-aging and beauty products filling the shelves vying for our money and our hope, I fully realize that the bottom line is: I am never going to look the same now as I did in my 30’s.

I could slather 10,000 ounces of the finest anti-wrinkle cream on myself, and guess what? I would still not look 30. Or ~ who am I kidding? ~ not even 40! I would look like a well-moisturized version of my current age.

I am quite obviously not at the acceptance phase of aging yet, and I strongly suspect that it will be an ongoing process with newly discovered issues cropping up on a regular basis.

But: I am in the process of accepting some facts about my age. I have accepted, for instance, that I now have to work out twice as long to get half the results. I have (almost) accepted that I will need to work my ass off (pun intended) for the rest of my life to maintain a healthy weight, particularly since I battle with hypothyroidism. I have not yet accepted the fact that I will need to eat less and drink less than everyone else at the table to maintain a healthy weight; but I now can at least acknowledge the truth in that statement, which is the first step to acceptance.

It helps me to have a supportive partner, who loves me unconditionally and who likes to eat healthy and to also work out herself.  It helps to have a partner who helps me cognitively process that everyone is bound, in varying degrees, by the societal “gender straitjacket” which, among other things, dictates our subconscious opinions of attractive/unattractive, and my partner helps me to always question and challenge all underlying beliefs.

It also helps to constantly realize that aging is certainly better than the alternative.  My friend Debra died when we were only 32 ~ long before it was time to worry about wrinkles. From many conversations with her in the couple years of her illness prior to her death, I know for a fact that if fate had given her the choice, she would have chosen wrinkles over death.

So, I am now trying to focus on the benefits of aging, while simultaneously trying to accept and make the best of the drawbacks.

The best benefit of aging, so far, is my ever-increasing willingness to say what I actually think, rather than walking on eggshells all the time, trying to mollycoddle people’s feelings.

And that is one Hell of a benefit ~ one that I would not trade for the dewy skin of youth.