Is it possible for a heterosexual woman to become a lesbian?

Q: Is it possible for a heterosexual woman to become a lesbian?

A: Short answer? No, yes, and maybe.

The long answer?

No. A heterosexual woman who defines herself as a heterosexual woman and is not interested in women the same way she is interested in men is not going to turn into a lesbian. Her sexual interests, her romantic interests are all about men. Because she is a heterosexual woman it means she is not a homosexual woman, a woman who’s sexual and romantic interests are all about other women. Ergo, she will not become a lesbian.

Yes. Some women start out their romantic, sexual life as heterosexual, only to learn along the way that they are not heterosexual at all, that their sexual and romantic feelings are toward other women and in time, they cease to be heterosexual and become lesbians because they are lesbians. Sometimes this happens when they are in high school or in college, or later out in the working world. Sometimes this happens while they’re living with or married to a man. Sometimes it happens well into a traditional heterosexual life: marriage to a man, kids, dogs. Or later in life, when there are grandchildren. One woman I knew came out when she was 58! She had affairs with women throughout her marriage because coming out any earlier was not, for her, an option. So yes. It can happen, and it happens because these women are not inherently heterosexual. Ergo, it is possible for them to become a lesbian because they are not heterosexual.

Maybe. Sexuality is not as binary as we’d like it to be, not as either/or. In general, today we have this spectrum of sexuality, and greater openness and willingness for different sexual expressions. In general, heterosexuals date/relate romantically and sexually other heterosexuals. In general, homosexuals date/relate romantically and sexually with other homosexuals, and generally, bisexual/pansexual/omnisexual/polyamourous people have more dates and relates than anyone. Seriously, all this micro labelling  is getting quite silly. Suffice it to say that there are some people who are fluid, who go with the flow of what they might say is the sexual energy or the love energy. Then there are those who work with the circumstances and interest at the time. Ergo, maybe it’s possible. Take a look at how that can shake out in a woman’s prison:

  1. lesbians
  2. ‘gay for the stay girls’, and
  3. devout heterosexuals.

It’s possible that something similar is at work in the broader community outside of prison walls. Some of my straight friends have said that if they don’t find a guy soon, they’re thinking that they might start looking for women.

Now, if the question is a sneaky one, the one wanting the recipe to turn turning a heterosexual woman into a lesbian, well, that’s a horse, a dog, a cat, a goldfish, a ferret and a bat of another colour.

Can you change a woman’s sexuality? The answer to that, is NO. If she’s straight and wants to stay straight, it is not possible to turn her into a true, in her heart of hearts lesbian.

Backgrounder to today’s Q+A 

I read a piece on AfterEllen about a woman who’d fallen in love with a so-called straight woman. Of course I had to comment.

Then I looked through the search terms people use that land them here. While there have been some interesting patterns of late — fodder for future posts — questions about turning straight women arrive here every single day. It was that question which prompted the Dumb Question of the Day pages section. It’s frustrating to see the same question asked repeatedly. Think of the customer service representative who is asked the same question dumb 500 times a day: those 500 people don’t know that there are 499 other people asking the same question. At the same time, it’s amusing on a number of levels:

  1. people are lazy: they clearly do not look around here to see if their question has been asked by someone else, and therefore already answered.
  2. sex ed is lacking: people do not know much about their own sexuality or human sexuality, and
  3. people don’t think things through: where exactly is the thinking brain when these questions are asked. Are people thinking? With their brains?

Granted, about sex and love, mixed with fear and confusion perhaps it’s the primitive brain that’s triggered and not the whole brain; a frightened brain is not exactly thinking clearly when it’s wondering about sexuality and where lesbians might come from and where to find lesbians, and oh, can a straight friend be turned into one of those there lesbians. Confusion. Fear. Panic. All clouds thinking straight, um, clearly.

A sexually self-aware heterosexual woman who is happy with being heterosexual, and only wants to be heterosexual is not going to turn into a lesbian. As in: not going to happen unless she decides she is not strictly heterosexual.

Additional thoughts about the dumb question of the day

Is there something else prompting the question? Is there a wondering whether you can  make someone fall in love with you? Sociopaths do it all the time. So I suppose the answer to that is yes, although the mountain of manipulation and pools of power plays hardly seems worth it but then, I’m no sociopath.

Fall in love and live happily ever after with a formerly straight woman? Only if she is not straight.

Is there a wondering about whether you can make a heterosexual woman go to bed with you without drugging her or getting her drunk — which I am certain no card-carrying lesbian would think of doing for fear of being drummed out of the lesbian corps. I suppose all things are possible, if sex is just sex and if she’s game for it and if you’re willing to suffer the consequence of intimacy with someone who just does not feel the same way you do. I think the consequence is spelled H=E=A=R=T=A=C=H=E.

9 Responses to Is it possible for a heterosexual woman to become a lesbian?

  1. Meleny says:

    Always been a slow relationship person. Never long term or live-in situations.
    Now in the late 30’s its evident there is a pattern. Long spans of time between relationships, but deep meaningful connections when they do happen.

    Always have been with guys (good guys but either the relationship faded away or just wound up not working out.) One of them though was a very deep love and I found myself ready for a very happy shared life with him. Then it ended.

    From day one there has never been a physical, visual, or sexual attraction to women. It has always been Men in that context, no doubt.

    Until…enter early/mid-thirties. Was introduced to a woman on a job, it was the typical casual “this person is on the job so you should meet her” situation. From the first day, and long conversations while working, I knew I was falling in love with her.
    For context, she does not identify as lesbian lifestyle wise or visually for that matter, or exhibit any masculine visual traits or habits (that if she had, might explain my attracion)…other than being determined and directed and capable. But she is just a talented typical human being that is a dynamic female who also enjoys being feminine – who has had straight relationships, sans the college “experimental moment”.
    I knew the “falling in love” feeling well, as it happens so infrequently for me. Was completely shocked, as I recognized the depth and magnitude with which it struck. So similar to the “first real love” with the special guy, in my 20’s. Truly interesting and quite confusing.

    It has continued to be mind-boggling since I’ve had solid and deep friendships with both women and men all of my life, and nothing like this with a woman ever before.
    It’s been years now, we are still very close, but no truly sexual boundary has been crossed. It’s frustrating really. We have a very palpable sexual attraction to one another, but a strange boundary, that if we crossed it there would be a necessary adult societal responsibility to call ourselves “lesbians”…as though we had been “closeted” all these years. I just can’t agree with this, and not because of any desire to dodge responsibility.
    I have no “latent tendencies just now bubbling to the surface”. I have loved men deeply and still have no question that if an amazing guy came into my life (or if she had been a man for that matter) while I was single, I would have fallen in love with him just as deeply. She happens to have crossed my path first and now here we are.

    All of this commentary is superficial since the depth of any relationship can not be truly expressed in a few hundred words online, but suffice it to say, it has both of us managing to be completely frustrated and deeply in love with one another and not willing to cross the line to the final step due to the “label” that would be socially applied and all of the b*llsh*t that comes with it. The “witch hunt” convincing that typically ensues, where one or both of us are labeled as “having had this bubbling deep inside all our lives and just NOW it has truly and honestly [come out]”. Oh brother, save the rhetoric!!
    This, for me anyway, it is not. I don’t doubt that other people (men or women) have the aforementioned situation happen, and I am certainly not here to judge or make claims for others. I support people being peaceful and happy first and foremost, however that looks.

    All facts upfront, we are women who both enjoy and love men (and sex with men), and know it would be so enjoyable to have a simple hetero and socially easy situation of a relationship. We both know that we love each other very deeply and it is extremely unique…but we are both very clear that it would be so much more socially “understood” if this amazing relationship were in a hetero context. It is hard to process and feels a bit like living in limbo. Being together is very natural, but its obvious that if “we don’t fully commit to one another (full sexual involvment) we would be safe and free to find an amazing relationship with a guy that look like this. My heart knows this is being idealistic and ignorant, and a sad waste of the beauty that is NOW. But, my mind is working hard to convince me of this truth…and it is with her as well.

    I have no desire for women in any sexual context (except her). She just happens to be a complete anomaly apparently. Completely aroused by her, love the moments we spend, whether in laughter or having to hash through a major argument or heightened emotional disagreement. It all feels worth it, fruitful, and adds depth to the already full relationship. Which makes it even more tough “to get” and explain.

    Women, “fluid in their sexuality”, I suppose so. Can’t deny it at this point. However, it is very exclusive in this case…and in turn, very hard to label.

    Simply put, I love this human being very deeply, would do anything for her, and want nothing more than to see her happy and would love to give her all aspects of pleasure in this world. Yep, it’s definitely hard stuff. Human-ness is truly confusing.

    • FS says:

      Dear M: Thank you for sharing your situation. If I may: hold your heart gently because it’s true: life isn’t always easy, and neither is being human with a heart that feels. Take a deep breath. I’m gonna riff… 🙂

      You don’t have to explain your love, or your life to anyone. Not people who ask, not the lesbian community, not straight friends. Not anyone. You also don’t have to have some deep-seated reason for falling in love with her: you just did and maybe one day you’ll know why, or maybe you never will.

      The post was generic about women coming to discover that they love women. And there’s some science behind women’s fluid sexuality, although let me say at the outset, science is only ONE way of looking at the world, Steven Pinker aside. Having said that, I am not a huge fan of identity politics that states you have to choose a side of straight or gay and stay there forever. Maybe it’s important when we’re coming into our own personhood, but at some point, we do come to understand that we are each more than any single label could ever describe, even if our brains need labels to categorize friends from foes and prey or predator. (I hope you got that sometimes, my posts use hyperbole — so some things are a bit exaggerated.)

      I am not convinced that anyone is required to adopt a label or define themselves in any particular way. Nor am I convinced that just because a woman falls deeply in love with another woman that it automatically defines her as a lesbian for life. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. And contrary to some psychology, I don’t think that a woman involved with another woman yet refusing to define herself as a “lesbian” is a matter of overcompartmentalizing or denial, either. Our language is not keeping up with the reality of human emotions and expression, and besides, in much of the Western world, we label everything to death, don’t we?

      The two of you fell in love. Perhaps love is the only label you need? How you express that love, and whether that love translates into a live-in partner relationship are different issues, because it sounds as if the love you two share is raising red-flag issues of how you’ll deal with others vis-a-vis how to explain the love that dare not speak its name and why you aren’t with men for both of you. Depending on where you are in the world, that can be a huge and necessary aspect to consider. At the same time, you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Love happens. End of story. Let nosey people be nosey. You don’t have to answer a question just because someone asks you one.

      Falling in love with a woman and wanting to be with her is not an indictment of men. (Although some people do think that it is). You don’t have to defend yourself there, either. You are who you are, how you are and you fell in love with a woman. That’s all there is to it. People might want to know things so that they can slot you into a category, but that is THEIR issue, not yours. Unless you make it your issue ;-).

      There aren’t rules for this, falling in love with someone of the same sex. It’s love, whatever THAT is. What’s wonderful is that the two of you are talking. It sounds as if both of you have some internalized views about what it means to be in love with /and in relationship with a woman (what I might notionally suggest is your culture’s views on homosexuality, and about lesbians in particular) that you’re dealing with. But it seems as if you both have landed on the how hard it’ll be to deal with the labels … “if you cross the line.” That could be challenging depending on your world and work, but perhaps some conversation about what the big fear truly is..?

      This is a general question, although it certainly relates: why so much concern about what other people will think? At the end of your life what would you want to be known for: living your own life, or the life you think other people expect you to live? More bluntly: what do you want? What does she want? Is it a passing thing between you? What are you willing to do for what you want?

      In a free world, (where fundamentalists aren’t ruling anything) perhaps love can be conceived of as the energy between two people that can happen along the spectrum of gender and sexuality. In a free world (where fundamentalists aren’t ruling anything) we would not have to declare ourselves as straight, gay, conservative or liberal; we would understand that the thing we call the ‘self’ is not a fixed, permanent identity; that as we grow and interact, we learn things and change, we interact with different people who change us…we are not the same self at 20 that we are at 30, or at 40. We wouldn’t necessarily make decisions based on, “is this consistent with my self identity as a straight person” so much as is my love honest, coming from a good place, etc… In a free world, the two of you would sit down with each other and have that conversation about what the two of you want and are willing to do, or not willing to do or if you have to do anything. Sometimes, love can just be and that’s not something you have to explain to any person straight or gay.

      – end of riff –

      Wishing you peace of mind and courage,


  2. Zona says:

    OK, you are bisexuals. What’s so wrong with that label?
    You are attracted to both women and men.
    You don’t have to be attracted to man and a woman at the same time to be bisexual.
    You can be attracted to any of the two SEXES at any given time, so that means biSEXual.

  3. tomboy says:

    I have read your comments a few times now, and it made me remember this argument I am having with my uncle at the moment. He believes that science explains everything. I believe that, even if it does, it’s almost more ‘romantic’ that we just make up our feelings and lives as we go along.

    Those two women in the book have been together for over 20 years, so I don’t think that anything will go pear-shaped soon. I think that the secret to their success is that they trust one another’s feelings towards each other. The ‘non-lesbian’ may be fibbing herself, or is bi, or something switched at that moment and she fell in love with a women. I’d prefer to believe the last reason, as it fits in with my romantic sensibilities! However, it’s possible that she didn’t even really think about it like we did, and she just accepts it as part of who she was. I think that THAT is what people need to get more mature about. If people accept themselves then nobody else needs to accept them. Straight people don’t accept us, because they don’t understand us. If they realize that we understand ourselves, then they too can get to understand us and then begin to accept us. This is all my own thoughts, which may be a load of claptrap, but actually is me thinking again.

    I used the term ‘average lesbian’ as that’s what I thought I’d find. I knew a lot less about who I was when I started reading the book, and didn’t expect to be so provoked into thinking. I didn’t realize then just how complex sexuality actually is! I suppose I still don’t, but I am getting better.

    • FS says:

      Science is a curious thing: it might answer what, it rarely answers why, and when it does, it is often an educated guess, informed by lots of things including the scientist’s belief system. And, science can often only answer the observable phenomenon — the stuff that’s in people’s minds is less testable, less repeatable, hard to control for, and results subject to interpretation. Science is not definitive, it is a process.. Once upon a time there were scientific theories which held that the earth was the centre of the universe, that black people were intellectually inferior to white people, that women were incapable of making intelligent decisions, that what happened in one’s childhood would be forgotten, that animals do not feel pain, and that you could identify criminal potential by the size of one’s forehead. I happen to love science, but it’s a belief system, and some people are as married to it other people are to religion. That said, science is the best thing we’ve got to look at our world, and great science opens up just how mysterious and magic the world and its inhabitants really are.

      I’ll be quiet about science, and sexuality: I could go on forever. But there are lots of theories, and lots of brain studies going on about love and sex 🙂

      I love the notion of average lesbian

      The women in the story, together 20 years, clearly don’t have an issue with how they understand each other and themselves. Human expression of wants and needs and desires and love and power and fear are complicated, and play out in so many ways, including through our sexuality. Straight people accepting us? I agree: it doesn’t help if we do not accept and understand ourselves. And if I may, any good book, and good story, any great sentence will get you to thinking lots of things. Have fun! ;-).

  4. goodgyal says:

    The whole ‘labelling’ tradition still confuses the hell out of me. So I can’t be only ‘ME’, it has to be ‘heterosexual me’ or ‘gay me’ or ‘lesbian me’ or ‘homosexual me’ or ‘lesbian me’ or ‘bisexual me’ or ‘pansexual me’ or… Where all these labels came from?
    I personally think, that the fluidity of sexuality (especially women!: scientifically proven!) and the liberalisation of the society, demanded branching out from ‘traditional’ binary system. Good! but do we really have to name it?
    Maybe something’s wrong with me… I don’t know!
    I’ve been with boys all my life, always happy (to the extent possible, obviously…), in love, madly in love. And even though I kissed other girls and found them beautiful I’ve never questioned my sexuality…because I’ve never bothered to define it! I always thought girls are good for fun but I couldn’t fall in love with one. (Oh! how wrong I happened to be!) At the age of 24 (when you’d think you kind of found your way in life, following nice n steady path of socially accepted and satisfying life…) I fall in love in the girl I barely knew! Totally platonic yet overwhelming sensation! (they say that ‘only unfulfilled love can be romantic’….well bollocks to that! Only unfulfilled love can be so painful!)
    And yes I must admit I only been with girls since then. But can I be sure that it will stay like that? Do I have a right to restrict my sexuality by sticking a narrow label on it? Not that I want to run after boys all of the sudden, but isn’t it quite obvious that if I’m with you it means that I like you, and the gender isn’t a competition to the feelings we gave for each-other?….
    (P.S. I never had the ‘balls’ to tell this ‘barely known girl’ how much I’ve fallen for her….crazy hey… for all I could guess she wasn’t interested)

    • FS says:

      Hello, GG: I do not think there’s anything wrong with you at all. 🙂

      A very good question about where DO these labels come from? I think there are label elves working away creating ever-increasingly specialized labels. At the same time things require names, apparently. Or at least a flag to say, I was here first!

      A name is required, at least in the beginning. Probably some brain wiring together with socio-cultural reasons, because a thing unnamed does not exist; a thing unnamed cannot be talked about; a thing unnamed, that doesn’t exist, that can’t be talked about, can’t be normalized, and if things can’t be normalized because they can’t be talked about because they don’t exist because they don’t have a name, then it gets tough. BUT: sex and sexuality make people a bit nuts and everyone has a position…

      Lately, I have come to wonder if the name lesbian is falling into the same pit of words women do not want to ever be called that feminist fell into. What does it mean to you to call yourself a lesbian, other than narrowed sexuality? And does it really narrow your sexuality?

      I’m not sure that what we think is obvious is all that obvious. We tend to see not choosing as sitting on the fence, as not claiming a space in the world, as being wishy-washy. Sometimes that’s the case, sometimes it’s not. I think it’s less about sexuality, and more about social pressures, cultures, relationships and the individual partners and their beliefs.

      I do think people would want to know…not only are you there, but that you being there is solid, reliable, dependable. That plans can be made — to the greatest extent possible). I don’t think the lack of label is a huge issue if your partner(s) is/are well-adjusted and secure, not given to jealousy or insecurity.

      I might have a raised eyebrow about being 24 and thinking by that time we have found our way in life. That too, is another myth, and dangerous to women who think that has to be the case. The 20s is a time of life when you find out that all the things you thought about the world and yourself are not exactly congruent with oh, that little thing called reality. But I digress. Unrequited love can be painful, specially if she never knew. Specially if you made assumptions about her lack of interest. ;-).

      No comment on the ‘balls’. 😉 Thanks for popping in!

  5. tomboy says:

    I am reading this book that is a collection of average lesbians’ life-stories. One story really struck me. It was about a lesbian couple who are married with children. The person who writes the story calls herself a lesbian, but her wife doesn’t. This is a quote from the book itself,” I don’t think that she would ever call herself a lesbian -she fell in love with me and there is a space along the continuum of sexuality for just such relationships.” I have been wondering about this for some time, and your piece has prompted me to say this. Do you think we will ever actually understand sexuality? And do you think that the people themselves in that type of relationship understand it themselves? Anyway, it got me thinking.

    • FS says:

      Dear Tomboy: Getting to thinking is good :-). Wow: good questions. Today we understand more than we did 15 years ago about sexuality, including just how crazy people can get about it all on all sides of the discussion. You asked me what I think: you might regret that. So let me just riff on it a bit ’til I run out of steam or have to take the dogs out: whichever comes first. 😉

      I think we might come to understand sex. And we might understand more about how our biology influences us. The nature part of us, as in the soupy mix of chemical and hormones in us and all that good stuff, and science is still trying to find the organic, biological cause, or reason behind variants from heterosexual sex and sexuality. At one time homosexuality was described as a disease and a pathology by the medical establishment — it was only in 1975 that it came out of the big book of medical disorders. My hope is that it stops being something that science feels it needs to look into and come to understand it as just another way of being in the world for a portion of the population.

      But of course, we are so much more than just our biology. Sexual expression — as part of sexuality — has overlays: an individual’s psyche and psychology are strong influences and that has elements of environment (the nurture part), social and political contexts. There is a spectrum of sexuality, no question. But sexuality — and sex — do not exist in a strict vacuum. It’s complicated. There’s no shortage of opinion on that either, anywhere.

      But you asked me what I think, and I think a couple of things: The first thing is about labels. There are a lot of women who do not want to be considered a lesbian who are in relationships with women. Some of them are out, and some of them are closeted. I hope for a day when we do not have labels. However, that means changing the human brain: we seems to be hard wired to put things into categories. In urban centres in North America, the LGBTTQQ2S activist world seem to be struggling — part of identity politics, part of maturing as a social justice movement. Most people just want to live their lives and have equal rights and be free from harassment.

      Getting to that point at some not too distant future means along the way, that it would be helpful for those of us who are gay to self-identify and show the world this is who we are. And until we can get people to not default to thinking of all women as heterosexual, we need a counterpoint, a category called lesbian, or gay. Skipping that step, saying, “well, I love her, but I’m not a lesbian” is a curious thing. I would wonder about that. It’s saying I’m not this thing that you think I am, even though everything in my intimate life is all about that. When you love a woman, how aren’t you being a lesbian? It might not mean you are a lesbian forever, but when you love a woman, when you are sharing your life with a woman, are you not, by definition, being a lesbian? The other thing I think is that it’s all semantics, and the meaning people assign to words. However, where it’s not semantics, it might also come down to values and if it is about values, it’s possible that relationships like that could run into trouble.

      As for whether people in those types of relationships understand it themselves, that’s hard to say. Everyone has a reason for the things they say and do, even if it is not immediately clear to them. Some people can rationalize anything and everything. What I have seen so far in my lesbian world, and in my extended lesbian world is this: every relationship where one woman does not call herself a lesbian is with a woman who labels herself as a lesbian does not last. We can speculate about that, but in the situations I know of, none of the couples have been able to navigate what I believe is a fundamental difference in values.

      The second thing I think is that self-awareness and awareness of others is perhaps the best way to develop an understanding of things: each person draws out different things in us, touches us intellectually, emotionally and sexually in different ways: it’s never the same way twice with different people. And things change as we get older. We change, hopefully in good, healthy ways.

      The third thing I think (because I am listening to a couple of renditions of the song Wicked Game. ;-). Love makes people do strange things they might not otherwise do when their brains are functioning normally.

      There are lots of other things I think as I ponder your question. But it’s time to take the dogs out. Thank you for such a wonderful, provocative question. Oh, and I am keenly interested in the phrase “average lesbian.” Who is she? 🙂

      PS: sorry for the update: I noticed keying mistakes.

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