“ELLE” takes on late-in-life lesbianism

 
 

This month’s issue of Elle has Lea Michele on the cover, promising insight into “Life after Cory.” Glee fans will enjoy the interview but they will also find that the writer, Lizzy Goodman, has another piece in the issue called “Leaving it All Or Having it All? A Closer Look at Once Straight Women Who Are Leaving Their Husbands for Other Women.”

Lizzy, a self-professed straight girl who writes she had a “same-sex dalliance in college,” interviews women that she knows whose view of their own sexuality has shifted in their lives. Most of them were previously exclusive with men and have now moved on to long-term relationships with women. Interestingly it seems like they all tried to think of think practically about their feelings, one woman even planning to “stay married until I was in my sixties, and one day I’d meet some woman and she and I would adopt old dogs and, like, live on a ranch.” Luckily that woman had a friend/psychotherapist say to her, “Well, Nicole, that’s a really long time.”

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Citing celebrities like Cynthia Nixon and J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons who have publicly left men for another woman, Goodman makes great pains to let readers know she’s straight (“I’m more turned on by men, drawn to their foreignness. There’s something about the juxtaposition of hard, cool maleness and my opposite impulses that makes me feel calm and settled in the world.”) but that she understands “the impulse” to want to be with a woman. Unfortunately, that is a poor choice of words, especially for someone who seems to have a lot of queer women in her life. This may feel like a trend to non-queer women, but fluid sexuality is a very real fact of life, not some fun whim we react to upon meeting a woman we just want to have sleepovers with.

Strangely the idea of lesbianism is portrayed more like an easy friendship than a romantic or sexual want. From the article:

“Many hetero women will talk about things with their friends that they don’t with their husbands,” says Evergreen State College history and family studies professor Stephanie Coontz. “Women tend to get more dissatisfied with marriage over time than men do. Women spend a lot more time doing the emotional work in marriage, and that’s tiring.” And then there’s just the work work, she continues. “We’re socialized to want to marry, but then once we get there, we’re like, Huh, why am I doing so much housework?” Now, this I can relate to. Not the housework per se—my boyfriends have generally been more into cooking and cleaning than I am—but the broader existential worry that what I think I want from a relationship might not actually satisfy me.

I know I don’t speak for all lesbians, but I am not married to my wife because we have a great witty repartee when it comes to housework. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. (She thinks I’m a “straightener” while she does the “cleaning.”)

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Lizzy writes about her friend Maria, who she says “is gay enough to be harassed on the street but not gay enough to feel totally comfortable in the lesbian community.” I’m very curious about what this means—”gay enough?” Nonetheless, here’s what she writes about late-in-life lesbian Maria:

“[My partner] Debbie calls it ‘lynch mobbish,’ ” Maria says of the threatened feeling they can get when they’re out together. “We’ve been in that situation where I hear someone whisper, ‘Hey, look at the two dykes.’ She’ll say, ‘Oh, this is lynch mobbish, don’t hold my hand.’ That was the luxury of being in a hetero relationship—I’d never felt that before.”

…“I haven’t always been gay, so I don’t have these great coming-out stories, and I can’t connect to certain things,” Maria says. “Take that movie The Kids Are All Right. All the lesbians I spoke to said, Well, of course the lesbian has got to be cheating with a man.  And I said, I get that: She was cheating with the father of her children, even though she was artificially inseminated. I’m always the one with the dissenting opinion.”

Here’s the thing that ELLE doesn’t convey with this piece, which should be the overall point when it comes to any kind of factual story about women’s varying sexualities and lesbian relationships: There is no one way to be a lesbian. There is no one opinion on ANYTHING, even (especially?) The Kids Are All Right. Another friend of Lizzy’s that left her husband for a woman had an experience I have never even heard of happening with any queer women I know, though I do not doubt her experience or discount it:

“I was so goddamn distrusted,” she says. “Everybody thought I was out to steal their girlfriend. I’d walk into a bar and people would get icy.” It was like she was both fresh meat—bait to tempt your loyal girlfriend—and a predator, eyeing the crowd for the most appealing target. “I’d cry myself to sleep because I was like, How am I going to have friends?” It took a while, but the iciness thawed and “half the community,” she says, attended the couple’s wedding last fall.

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Lizzy writes that her friends had mixed reactions to her writing an article about this topic:

A gay friend of mine rolled her eyes at the cliché of yet another straight girl getting curious about lesbianism. Another friend objected to what she perceived as any suggestion that homosexuality is a choice.

And yet some (like Maria and Sachs above) contributed their ideas and experiences for a piece that has a few nice plusses but unfortunately just as many fails when it comes to discussing (or what really feels like explaining) why a woman would choose to be in a relationship with another woman. It appears the issue is not with the unbelievability the writer assumes the audience has but the lack of validity she gives it herself. Doth she protest too much?

ELLE has done a fantastic job of including out women in other pieces, with recent profiles of Kim Stolz, Brittney Griner and NYC Mayoral Hopeful Christine Quinn. In the same issue as this Goodman piece is a spread on eight women who are making big moves in the art world, which includes three queer-identified artists and the names of their partners or children’s mothers: Julie Mehretu, Dominique Levy and Mickalene Thomas. Again, speaking for myself but I can only say that as an out gay woman, I’m much more interested in being represented among the other woman included for what they do well than as a case study for a writer’s dissenting ideas of lesbian fascination.

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Here’s the thing, straight gals: If you’re not interested in women, that doesn’t mean you will be later in life. That also doesn’t mean you won’t be later in life. And if you meet a woman who you fall in love with, it doesn’t mean anything other than you found something in another person that you connected with, and I doubt it has anything to do with housework.

 
 

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