Brokeback Marriage

You are a happily married wife and mother when suddenly you find yourself attracted to … another woman? It happens more often than you think, which is why one Chestnut Hill therapist is busier than ever

Culturally, this makes sense. For millennia, women have fallen in line with social expectations; they’re trained from birth to get a man to the altar, reproduce, live happily ever after. The problem is, this isn’t entirely in sync with a woman’s biology. “While men know their sexuality early on, women are late bloomers,” says Eli Coleman, head of the human sexuality program at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “A woman awakens to her own needs and her sexuality around her 30s or 40s” — smack in the middle of building her life. At first blush, the timing may appear hormonal, but no studies point to that.

As if women weren’t complicated enough, there’s another perplexing element: A woman’s libido can shift back and forth between genders, based on emotions and situations, says Lisa Diamond, a psychology professor at the University of Utah and the author of Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. This confirms Kinsey’s research 60 years ago that showed orientation isn’t black-and-white, either/or. Human sexuality, he said, forms a continuum, and the sooner we learn that, the better we’ll understand ourselves. This reality is only recently coming to light, however; for decades, subsequent researchers threw out responses that didn’t fall at either end of the Kinsey scale (0 being straight, 6 being gay), which defeated Kinsey’s point in creating in.

“It doesn’t mean women are bisexual,” Diamond cautions. Rather, it means they can respond to emotions over gender. A woman can be attracted to another woman without being hot for females in general. One potential reason – based on animal studies — is that certain brain circuits that mediate emotional bonding also influence arousal, and women may have more of these love-sexuality circuits than men. Diamond has known die-hard lesbians to jump to the other team in the right circumstances, too — think Anne Heche. None of this is to say one’s sexuality is a choice. Ample scientific evidence proves it’s something we have no control over.

Going back to Dana: While she felt as if her sexuality changed mid-life, it’s a variable that exists within a woman from the beginning, “but is irrelevant to your day-to-day life until a really influential relationship with one particular woman triggers it,” says Diamond.

So, then, are women who find themselves married and attracted to women actually lesbians? Most women have an inherent preference, Fleisher insists, though it may not be clear immediately. “It’s not like ‘Aha, now I’m a lesbian,’” she says. “I didn’t know what I was for a while. If I went to a lesbian event, I felt like a closeted heterosexual. If I went to a PTA meeting, I felt like a closeted something else.” The only thing Fleisher knew was that she’d “experienced something so dramatically better, I could never be with a man again.” This sentiment is echoed repeatedly on Fleisher’s message board.

In researching this story, I interviewed eight local, suburban mothers- who responded to a posting on Fleisher’s message board. Of the five who have come out of the closet, four are struggling; one is happy with her situation. One came out to her husband and is staying with him for now. One is remaining in the closet; her husband agreed to let her have a girlfriend. (She continues to have sex with him, too.) One is hiding behind her soccer-mom life, dating a woman secretly. The experiences varied greatly, but all the women said this: The sex is off the charts, like nothing you can experience with a man. “It’s mind-blowing,” said a soccer mom from West Chester.

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  • Colette
  • Anonymous

    As a husband of a woman who came out in her 50s i can tell you that it is a devastating experience to discover that your life as you knew it has changed completely overnight. I would urge woman to be as honest as possible and to deal with their husband;s before they enter into affairs. The more honest and understanding they can be the friendlier the process of divorce and coparenting. For spouses of gay women I would recommend that they go to for support. It isn’t only the gay spouse who needs help with this crisis although that side of the story tend to be more attractive to journalists.

  • Janet

    I’m the straight ex wife of a closeted gay man, & I don’t think he deliberately lied, but since he lied to himself so well, he lied to me. Straight Spouse Network has been a real help. I just don’t understand how someone can go their whole life and not know who they are. And I got real tired real fast of being told that I was the crazy one because “everyone is a little gay”. I call that kind of thing being Kinsified. I do not understand why gay sexuality is celebrated while mine and the sexuality of straight husbands I know is eviscerated in counseling, sneered at, laughed at, and blamed. Now this appears to be “glamourous” and kids think is is no big deal, but when they get married, they find out that it is more than any of these so called open minded people will let anyone talk about. Why is there never any emphasis in these coming out stories on the true effect on the husband? Is the last word on being married to a lesbian a Howard Stern joke?

  • n/a

    Finally an article which covers this sensitive topic without judgement or drama. Joanne and basically saved my sanity. Robyn, Thank you for sharing Dana’s story and acknowledging Joanne Fleisher’s good work.

  • Maureen

    It is painful for everyone when a married person comes out. The closeted person feels guilty, the left spouse feels betrayed and rejected, the children feel abandoned and confused. I hope that the responsible media begin to cover the whole story.

  • Geoff

    Doesn’t the possibility exist that they were straight at some point an sexuality isn’t completely DNA-based?

  • Andrea

    Amazing, how completely accurate this article is. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    It was so unacceptable to be gay back in the 80’s that it could be completely repressed. As a middle-aged married mother I can tell you that it is not easy to live your life in denial; and frankly, it’s kind of shocking when you come to realize that you have. I’ve made a life with my husband of 20+ years but in the introspection that one is wont to do with age, I’ve come to realize that I am gay. I love my husband very much but am not “in love” with him. What kind of life do I choose to live going forward? What will this realization do to my kids? Will everything feel like a lie to them? It really is not easy.

  • Kathy

    These woman are no different than Tiger Woods. Cheating, is cheating.

  • JP

    How can you compare them to Tiger? Tiger has money and power. Which can not and will never buy you the love of another and certainly does not give you the joy of being a father either. Because the maid changes the diapers 24/7. Instead Tiger has his bithches. Which makes that way different then a woman or a man who have struggled to pay the bills, make a good life for their kids. And, during that time tried to keep an intimiate relationship. Some survive, some stay stuck, and others realize that they are missing something. And, yes, maybe they should just divorce first before they cheat. But, honestly, who knows what makes you happy until you try it or it smacks you right in the face one day. Another person, right in front of you, making you laugh, making you feel things you haven’t felt in years. Another individual fulfilling all those needs. Happiness is what you make it. And, everyone has a right to it, even if it causes you to make a few mistakes along the way.