We were Diversity personified. After all, this IS Toronto, Canada. Well, sort of: I crossed the border into Scarborough, where the jeans are tighter, trucks bigger, eyeshadow bluer and ‘eh’ ends every sentence.
In this Scarborough house we were enjoying good food, good champagne, lively conversation. Plans were in progress for a ski trip to Aspen. There was talk about horsepower and cool cars and a side conversation going on about a trip to Palm Springs. The diverse group? A gay man and some lesbians; our hosts, a straight married couple named Charles and Trudy, and their straight male friend, Paul.
We gathered to celebrate Trudy’s birthday. A gay male friend who could not join us called it in: we got him to play Happy Birthday on his baby grand via speaker phone and we all sang along. Trudy blushed. Pink champagne poured. Glasses gently clinked. Kisses all ’round for the birthday girl. More chatter. And through the chatter, I heard Charles ask his friend a question.
“So Paul, have you ever turned a woman gay?”
Did I hear that right? “Excuse me? I asked. “Turned a woman gay?”
Trudy told me the story. It turns out that before the two of them met — at work in Asia — Charles was involved with a lovely woman who apparently woke up one morning to say, “I think I should tell you that I’m a lesbian.”
He took it hard and grabbed a job that got him out of the country. It all worked out nicely because he met and married Trudy. But he can’t escape what happened. Whenever he calls back home to England his mother asks him, some six years on, “That girl, that Elizabeth? Is she still, you know, GAY?” You’ve gotta know English mothers.
I wondered about TURNING a woman into a lesbian. How, exactly, does a straight man TURN a woman into a lesbian?
Does he put her through the LESB-O-TRON machine? You know, that machine where she walks in as a happy straight woman and exits as a lesbian.
Does he do it by being the world’s worst lover? (Wow. He’s really, really bad: think I’ll switch to women for the rest of my life!)
Does he do it by smelling like beer all the time? (YUCK YUCK YUCK!!!)
I could go on but you get the point.
What’s curious to me is the language, since it reflects what people generally think, if in fact they are thinking at all.
This once-she-was-straight-and-now-she-isn’t thing can be confusing, particularly for people who believe that everything in the world is either/or; that the grey scale exists only for photographers, and that sex is simply the movement and sounds of bodies. But, is TURN gay the term? Is BECOME? Is CHOOSE?
There is a process, many mini decision points along the way, many choices in that long labyrinth that forms a journey to self. These decisions lead to life choices and can be painful ones for some, not easily made.
For those of us who are at some point, straight, the process at a high level generally involves three decision points, and it results in having to make choices.
Decision 1: that point at which we are faced with having to acknowledge (or ignore) to our self that, yes, my emotional attachments, sexual desire and expression is about, for and with women.
Decision point 2: (flow chart anyone?): whether or not to DO anything, to act; that is, to become a practising lesbian because goddess knows, practice makes perfect. Oh wait, isn’t lesbianism a form of religion and practicing it gets you Sapphic points you can redeem in lesbian heaven?
If you decide to be a lesbian who practices, at some point comes Decision point 3: whether or not to come out, to be open about who you are. Coming out is also a statement about who you are not: you are not a single, straight woman waiting for the right guy.
Using TURN or BECOME or CHOOSE can’t describe that process. At the same time, those terms hold certain assumptions. That there’s a cause or reason for homosexuality.
People point to a few notions when wondering what causes a woman to magically turn (Presto!) into a lesbian. One is a bad experience with one or more men. If not that, then it’s the notion that she hasn’t had the right kind of man who can DO IT TO HER RIGHT because clearly, penetration done right cures all female ills, including homosexuality. To our phallo-centric world, a woman who is not straight must seem a huge rejection of the past 7,000 years of male prowess.
If it isn’t a lack of the right man with the right moves then the only OTHER cause has to be some sort of deficiency with the woman, as in not attractive enough to find and keep a guy.
Interestingly, the same illogic — bad experience, bad sex, or can’t find a woman — is not applied to gay men. Why is that?
I wondered if TURN, BECOME and CHOOSE is reductionist, simply boiling everything down to sex and more sex.
It may be a surprise to some, but there is a difference between homosexual behaviour and the state of BEING a homosexual as part of self definition. While often found together, it is not always the case.
Maybe it’s time to dispense with the clinical, biological terms such as heterosexual and homosexual entirely?
But for the record, we don’t just TURN into a lesbian. (Oh my GOD! She’s Turning!). There are classes to attend, tribes to choose from, haircuts to look at. Some women know what and who they are very very early, and never try to be straight.
For others it’s a process of self discovery and a delayering so to speak of what is not necessary or true. As one woman explained to me, “I looked inside and saw me. I needed to be that person. I needed to be who I am. A big part of that is being a lesbian.”
If there’s a turning, it is the turning of that inner ear to listen and hear what’s true inside. Any becoming is toward self. Any choosing is of a life lived that aligns mind, body and soul.
Meanwhile, back at the party, as hard as he thought about it, Paul could not think of one woman he had turned.