No More Celibacy

Friday, August 10, 2007

Question

I'm a woman in my forties and have always considered myself bisexual, but I've never really explored relationships with women. After my last heartbreaking relationship with a man, I was celibate for five years. Recently, I took up a casual connection with a man, but found that I'm no longer interested in servicing men. This leaves me back to being a hermit with no external sex life—unless I take a plunge into my interest in females. I really don't know if the fact that my basic orientation is lesbian has caused all my problems with relationships, or do I simply make poor choices in male lovers? Is switching orientation going to help me reach the goal of having a long-term relationship? Or at least, what questions do I need to ask myself to figure out this dilemma?

Answer

At this point in your life, you don't know exactly  how strong your interest in other women might be. You've thought of yourself as  bisexual, but without more experience, you'll never be able to find out whether  you are in fact lesbian, or bisexual, or a straight woman who has fantasies  about woman-to-woman sex. It would be so nice if our culture would offer people  a sort of vacation from their past lives so they could explore a new identity to  see if it fit, without any consequences. Unfortunately, there's still quite a  lot of homophobia operating at an institutional and personal level. Proceed with  some caution until you are clear what the next phase of your life is going to be  like

Read up on lesbian literature and politics. Can you imagine yourself  being a part of the community that these books describe? See if you can find a  coming-out support group. These groups are usually run by LGBT community centers  in large towns or cities. Don't worry about your age; it's not unusual for women  to come out or think about coming out in their forties or later. There will  probably be other women in the group in a situation similar to your own. Visit  some lesbian bars, go to events where women musicians or poets are performing,  volunteer for a lesbian or LGBT organization.

Most importantly: Do you look at other women and feel physically and  romantically moved? Have you ever been in love with a woman? Do you have sexual  fantasies about lesbian sex? Does it excite you to think about slow-dancing with  another woman or taking a shower with her? Some people think they are bisexual  just because they're not homophobic. The idea of same-sex relationships or lust  doesn't squick them. But to be a queer person, or at least a happy and fulfilled  queer person, you have to feel same-sex desire. And those feelings have to be  important enough to get you through whatever disapproval, ridicule, or anger  you'll experience from others who won't understand why you are making such a  radical change.

Lesbian relationships are often stereotyped as  intimate, conflict-free, and long-lasting. But I can't promise you a long-term,  committed relationship just because you find another woman who says she loves  you or at least wants to spend the night with you. Sexual minority communities  have the same problems that mainstream culture exhibits—plus a very natural  reaction to the stress or being different and being treated as second-rate  citizens. Queer people are all affected by the fact that a lot of people hate  us. Some of us are able to keep it together and channel our unhappiness and  anger about that into activism. Others have a harder time, and can resort to  drugs or alcohol to dull the pain. We don't always treat each other as well as  we should.

But I don't want to paint an entirely negative  picture of lesbian life. This is a vital and diverse community, full of many  different sorts of lesbian life. There is a lot of courage, artistry, passion,  humor, political fervor, compassion, and adventure there. You could have an  amazing life relating sexually to other women. Unfortunately, you will also  probably encounter a certain amount of crap about being bisexual. Despite all of  the education that bisexual people have tried to do, a lot of gay men and women  still assume that a bisexual is a gay person who is afraid to come out, or a  straight person looking for kinky thrills who is unable to make a serious  commitment to a same-sex partner.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when it was common to hear  that lesbianism was the ultimate form of feminism, I ran into many women who  called themselves "political lesbians." They wanted to be part of the women's  movement vanguard, and they felt that men weren't ready to have relationships  with strong, radical women. But they weren't into pussy, to be blunt. Women's  bodies were not what their libidos wanted. At the time, I didn't have much  sympathy for them, but as I've gotten older, I've come to believe that sexual  orientation has a strong biological or genetic component. You can look at any  sexual practice from the outside, intellectually think that it's cool, and wish  like hell that it made you get wet or hard and took you on a wild ride to the  orgasm of your life. But if you aren't wired that way, it won't work. I've seen  this happen several times to folks who really liked the idea of S/M—the  theatrics and the costumes—but couldn't actually deal with doing any  play.

Then there's that famous dichotomy between fantasy  and reality. I sometimes think that the id is laughing at the rest of the  individual's personality. I've heard from hundreds of people who say that they  fantasize about things they know they would never do. There are gay people with  straight fantasies, dominant men with submissive fantasies, vanilla people with  kinky fantasies, demure and compliant women who vibrate to images of kicking the  shit out of a bevy of male slaves, and a wealth of fantasies that are unsafe,  insane, and nonconsensual. We work out some of our fears about sexuality in our  fantasies. Sometimes they are an excellent predictor of what we really want in  bed—and sometimes they are not.

That's why it is very important for you to get out  of the house and do some footwork, maybe even have a few dates and some casual  sex. (Provided you don't fall madly in love with the first lesbian you meet and  go off to have a 45-year marriage with her. It could happen!)

Men have progressed a bit, often kicking and  screaming all the way. But the fact that you feel pressured to merely service a  male partner sexually is a sad reality for many women. He should be as devoted  to "servicing" your needs as you are to his; not just getting off then rolling  over to snore. There are a hell of a lot of angry heterosexual women out there  who dislike the standard male/female paradigm, and wish that men would update  themselves, stop trying to grab more power or privilege in their intimate  relationships, and realize that there's been a revolution in gender equality.  Try to step aside from all of that crap and just think about how you feel about  the male body. Do you like the way men look, smell, and taste? Do you enjoy  touching men? Are cocks erotic for you, or do you feel neutral about them? Have  you ever enjoyed sex with men, or has it always required you to put on a  performance that didn't shake you up with longing for his touch and melding with  his soul? I'll  be rooting for you to figure this one out. I'm sorry I can't promise you a great  relationship if you change sexual orientations. All I can promise is that you'll  understand yourself a whole lot better once you allow yourself to find out what  that "bisexual" adjective really means for your body, mind, and heart. I think  that's the most important thing we can do in our lifetimes. A true love will  open up those doors with you and rejoice at what you  find.