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


With recent studies indicating that sexual fluidity is even more common in women as they get older, there have been numerous references to public figures like Kelly McGillis, Meredith Baxter and Cynthia Nixon as “late-in-life-lesbians.” But some of them will be the first to tell you that they don’t consider themselves “lesbians”; in fact, they don’t really consider themselves anything but in love with another woman.

But what makes “sexual fluidity” different than our notions of bisexuality? And are we putting too much pressure on some of our peers to take on identities that may not suit them?

The term “hasbian” (meaning a “former lesbian”) has been applied (often in a derogatory manner) to celebrities like Anne Heche, who famously dated Ellen DeGeneres in the 1990s. Post-break-up, Heche has reneged on her romantic interest in women, telling the media she “once had an open mind” and “There’s a door, we can close that door. We can go to another door.”

Candace Walsh, co-editor of Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women (Seal Press, Oct. 2010) says she used to see such behavior as a betrayal.

Walsh says, “First it was like, ‘Hey, these hot celebrities get down with chicks! That validates my experience!’ and then, when they recanted, it felt like we lost something significant, when we ultimately really shouldn’t glom onto other people to feel like we’re OK.” She added, “It’s so revolutionary that so many women have been able to come out without it completely tanking their success level. The more that happens, the less it’s relevant if Anne Heche marries a dude or turns up in Fresno offering to take people to heaven in her spaceship.”

Angelina Jolie once spoke frequently about her relationships with women, even while she was involved with men (including her then husband Billy Bob Thornton). But since she has partnered with Brad Pitt, she’s made comments that there is “no room” for bisexuality in her life.

Lisa M. Diamond, Associate Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at the University of Utah, is the author of the book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Her extensive research on women’s sexuality and their understanding of their own desire has made her the go-to person when it comes to discussing the topic.

On one hand, they [celebrities] bring visibility. On the other hand, there’s the ultimate stereotype that celebrities can afford to have these wild, crazy bisexual goings-on because they’re celebrities — they do whatever they want. Then it’s viewed as sexy and hot. I think they bring visibility to those complicated phenomena but I’m doubtful to the degree to which they’re a direct influence. I do people think treat Hollywood as different. I think they do normalize it and a woman will have what she thinks is a really unusual mid-life transition, seeing a public figure going through that could make her feel less different. I do think they make it more visible for women that are already questioning and going through these issues.