Oprah Winfrey received an email from a woman, married to a man for twenty-five years, who confessed to having a lesbian affair which lasted nearly three years. She explained that she loved her husband but was not in love with him and said she was bitter that she'd probably stay trapped in her passionless marriage for the rest of her life. Thus began the production of an episode for The Oprah Winfrey Show on “Wives Who Confess They are Gay.”
Queer married men have been addressed on Oprah in the past: In April 2004, a show about men living on the “down low” aired, while in September of this year, former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey appeared on the show to discuss “His Gay Sex Scandal.” On today's show, women had a chance to tell their stories.
Once the producers began conducting research for the show–including interviews with more than one hundred women–they kept hearing the name Joanne Fleisher. Fleisher has a popular website, Lavender Visions, which serves as a resource for women questioning their sexuality. In late 2005, Joanne published her book Living Two Lives: A Married Women's Guide to Loving Women (Alyson Books).
Fleisher, a therapist in the Philadelphia area, received a phone call from an Oprah Winfrey Show producer asking for assistance in finding married women who are lesbians. Fleisher explained that they would have difficulty finding women currently married to men who would be willing to appear on TV if they're in the middle of figuring out their sexuality. But she did agree to post the query on her website's message board and offered to send them a copy of her book.
As the email responses started coming in to Fleisher, she forwarded them to the show's producers. A few days later, she received another call asking if she had ever been interviewed on TV. She had, and sent the Oprah producers a copy of the tape. Shortly thereafter, Fleisher was on a plane headed toward Chicago to serve as the “expert” for the Oprah married lesbians episode.
Prior to her departure, Fleisher had been advised not to appear on the show by some acquaintances who were displeased with the way in which Oprah had handled the “Down Low” episode. Fleisher, who had not seen that show, felt strongly that it was important for her to go so that she might reach isolated women viewers who may be unaware of the resources available to them.
Fleisher herself knew that isolation. In 1979, while living with her husband of twelve years and their two children in the suburbs, her world changed when she found herself in love with another woman. She found few resources for the pain, fear, and confusion she was experiencing.
About four months after she left her husband, when she was 34, she met the woman who would become her long-term partner. Fleisher's daughters were seven and nine at the time. Her partner, with whom Fleisher has been for 28 years, helped raise the girls. Fleisher's ex-husband, who had shared custody, later remarried. They have a friendly relationship now, though there was a great deal of pain at the time of their divorce.