Dear Patrick: I am a lesbian who likes to watch porn that features men together. Thanks to the Internet, it has gotten easier for me to find this type of material without getting odd looks. But it is still a problem if a girlfriend discovers my “stash” and starts to ask me questions about why this is what I like to look at for private entertainment. Nowadays, I not only get questions about whether I am a lesbian or not, I get questions about whether I am a woman or not, which is really insulting! I have no plans to transition and become a gay man.
Being in my late fifties, I have pretty much stopped hassling myself about the fact that this is part of my sexuality, and a part I am not willing to give up even if it means a potential girlfriend cries, stamps her foot, packs up her toothbrush, and leaves. But I guess I would not mind understanding myself a little better. I also would not mind helping other people to understand me better.
I have gotten letters on this topic from gay and straight men who like lesbian porn, straight women who like either lesbian porn or gay male porn, and people of all genders who like porn that features folks who are visibly transgender. There are probably other anxiety-provoking combos that I’m just not remembering at the moment. As a culture, perhaps we are overly concerned about making everything in our lives fit neatly into predetermined categories that never cause friction with our stated values or identities. As Oscar Wilde is often quoted as saying, consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
The insistence that we prove the genuine nature of our sexuality by being 100% consistent in how we practice it—in fantasy, as well as in deed—may spring from the fact that on some level, we know that most of us are fibbing. As Freud noted, before the penalties and rewards of adult society dominate or govern our conduct, our infantile and childish pleasures are multi-faceted. We human beings are gloriously greedy creatures. We do whatever feels good. Our inspiration is drawn from any source—our own imagination, the experience of a peer, the naughty pictures discovered under a mattress where we have no business peeping, or a show on a cable channel that is available because the V-chip was never activated. And it seems to take a hell of a lot of energy for any society to shape its members into a certain pattern of acceptable behavior.
While this has the benefit of letting everybody know what the rules are, and creating a world where adult behavior is somewhat predictable, it also creates a great deal of hypocrisy about sexual desire and leaves many people performing acts that, despite their forbidden nature, are extremely popular. We have paid for the secrecy of human sexuality with epidemics of unwanted children being born, with sexually-transmitted diseases, and the terrible treatment of vulnerable populations forced into sex work or coerced into marriage.
Even if we never study the history of human sexuality, I think that on some level, we are all aware that our identities have a rather artificial nature. We all have loose ends that we have not tied up when it comes to trying to figure out who we are as sexual beings. Most of us are walking compromises between the whisperings of our libidos and the thundering voice of the cultures we live in. Sometimes there are very good reasons why we do not “go there” when Eros invites us to a party. Sometimes we just don’t want to pay the social price for dancing to a particularly racy piper. Or there may be genuine danger.
Then, too, consistency is overrated as a lifestyle. Desire is a slippery form of energy, and does not respond well to being told what to do. We’ve all noticed how quickly our attention gathers around any person or behavior that is forbidden to us. You know a lot about being a lesbian. It could be that when you are alone and looking for relaxation, it is the most natural thing in the world for your fantasies to head straight for a world that is the very opposite of the place where you live and breathe.
I have met plenty of other women (straight, bisexual, or gay) who liked acting out fantasies about having the total freedom to misbehave that they imagine gay men enjoy. This desire is not necessarily connected to being differently-gendered. Of course, those fantasies don’t involve long hours at the gym, truly desperate shopping for moisturizer lest even the slightest changes in your skin take place, or difficult choices about pleasure versus risks in the realm of health and STDs. The fantasy of being a gay man, I am trying to say, omits a lot of the hard work in keeping up appearances.
Who knows why your sexual fantasies settled into the groove of man-on-man hot sweaty action? One lesbian author who liked to write gay erotic sci-fi, Joanna Russ, speculated that she enjoyed this because the men were equal. When she tried to watch straight erotica, there was too much anxiety or empathy with the female actresses. She never worried about the male characters or actors feeling demeaned or getting injured. She could suspend disbelief and just enjoy the sex.
Because sex is so intense, and because gender determines so many of the aspects of our lives, I think we have fear about both things. Perhaps it makes sense, then, that someone would leap to the conclusion that anything they don’t understand about your sexuality must bring your gender or your sexual orientation into question. I have never understood, however, why lesbians are so eager to question the credentials of other women who are sexually interested in their own sex. It would seem to be that the more the merrier, etc. Instead, there is intense interest in proving that anyone who wants to join the community has legitimate credentials, whatever that means. At your age, surely you have paid your dues. For a potential girlfriend to question your lesbian certification is just plain ridiculous. If she doesn’t know, after sleeping with you, whether you are a woman and a dyke, or not, then she is the one who is confused, not you.
When we run into erotic inconsistency, we have many choices about how to view it. Is it a problem? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just proof that human sexuality is complicated, and we should just giggle and make popcorn or hunt up a new bottle of lube. I think it becomes a problem only if someone feels guilt about it, or if somebody else wants to punish them for not meeting their expectations, or if the person wants to change.
You don’t report any guilt or a desire to change. But you have had people in your life who want to punish you (i.e., leave) because they don’t approve of your choice in erotica. Or they may simply be angry because you want to have some time to yourself, either to masturbate or just draw an unencumbered breath. I’ve found that togetherness works best if it has a lot of space in it, somewhat like Swiss cheese. Being supervised and regulated feels more like being in jail than it does like being in love. But it can be quite difficult to get a new lover to understand that, no matter how deep your passion is, you want time apart. And you don’t want any literary criticism of your reading material, either. Finding a girlfriend who likes to masturbate and use erotica herself would be a big step forward.