Going with the flow: Sexual fluidity, bisexuals, lesbians and “hasbians” in pop culture

But what about women who specifically identify as lesbians and later decide to date a man? They receive much more scrutiny, as we’ve seen in the reaction of many lesbians to Lisa Cholodenko‘s film The Kids Are All Right. Though one of the lead characters has an affair with a man, she does not consider herself anything other than “gay.”

In 1997, Chasing Amy became a hit indie film and jump-started the careers of Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee. The film followed Ben’s character as he attempted to bed lesbian Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) and he eventually succeeded. Though in the end she resumed being gay, many lesbians were not happy with the storyline and how Alyssa could so easily be swayed.

Shortly after Chasing Amy debuted, Kissing Jessica Stein‘s title character fell for a woman but ended up back with her ex-boyfriend. Many more variations on this theme have popped up in entertainment since (Puccini for Beginners, South of Nowhere, Bad Girls, etc.).

On The L Word, Tina broke up with partner Bette for a man she met online. But she still considered herself a lesbian which her friends found “disgusting.” They told her there was no way she could still identify as a lesbian if she had sex with a man. By the end of the series, however, all was right in the L Word universe because Tina and Bette resolved their issues and reunited.

“It saddens me with how hard we have fought as lesbians to
protect our own rights to love who we want to love,” Diamond said. “It’s tragic in after
fighting that fight we turn against women who are trying to find their
own truth if that truth is unfamiliar to us, or something we can’t
relate to. As lesbians, we’ve all known other people not understanding
the people we love or the people we’re attracted to; having to explain
it and justify it and make it acceptable. So how sort of ironic or
tragic if we are then so judgmental of women who find erotic something
we can’t understand or relate to. We’re either advocating for sexual
freedom and self-determination or we’re not.”

Ironically, if a woman chooses to date a woman after spending much of her life dating men, we often consider this a win — a sudden identification of the gay gene she’s always had in her. But when it comes to queer women who fall for a man at a point in their lives, we are less accepting as a community.

Seeing these issues unfold on film and TV continues to anger many of us, especially when the scenario is so often depicted. That is exactly the sort of storyline that sparks arguments about The Kids Are All Right or can cause a woman to question her friendship with someone who is a “hasbian” in real life — the consistent (and arguably disproportionate) portrayals of lesbians who end up leaving women for men in pop culture.

Diamond said the reason there’s a word like “hasbian” is because it’s a response to something the lesbian community “has already taken note of.”

Frankly it’s sort of a side effect of the fact that contrary to a lot of our stereotypes, it is far more common for women to be attracted to both sexes than be exclusively 100 percent attracted to women. Even women who would identify themselves as 95 percent attracted to women, if she happens to meet that one guy, with that 5 percent, that can turn your life upside down.

It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I don’t think it invalidates at all her lesbian fornication and identity. Those anomalies and sometimes exceptional experiences are simply complicated parts of life. And so I think we do a disservice to those women when we call them a derogatory term like hasbian because often they maintain very strong social ties to the community. But the truth is sexuality is complicated and there are more women with bisexual tendencies and attractions, even if they’re bisexual but mainly lesbian. That’s just a reality.

We didn’t really used to know that before but now we have really, really good data from multiple countries and cultures around the world and it’s just the truth of the matter. Instead of stigmatizing these women, we have to say “This is the diversity of our community” and accept that’s going to lead some women into patterns of attraction and behavior they might never have expected.

Walsh agreed, saying, “The more we understand sexual fluidity, the more we see that things
aren’t so black and white. If you’re with women for 20 years and then
you have a relationship with a man, it does not cancel out the 20 years
with women any more than if someone lived in England for 20 years and
then moved to Canada, they’d still have spent that time in
England. Both things can be true: that someone was having a fulfilling
and true intimate relationship with one person, and now is doing so with
someone else. ”

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