Who Do You Love?

When a lesbian falls for a guy, is it bravery or betrayal?

| May / June 2003

Hollywood seems finally to be catching on. Women who are mostly straight sometimes explore a same-sex liaison as a valid relationship option for themselves?and not merely as sexual titillation for male viewers. Consider Frida?s matter-of-fact (albeit steamy) depiction of Kahlo?s bisexuality or Kissing Jessica Stein?s it?s-not-working-with-the-boys-so-let?s-try-it-with-each-other premise. Why the increasing legitimacy? The Gay and Lesbian Review (Sept./Oct. 2002) sees the silver screen echoing the trend among college-age people to explore bisexuality. Placing characters in bi situations, though not going so far as to label them as bi, is a hip?and probably more marketable?way to introduce queer themes to mainstream audiences. Let?s face it: The hard-core dyke who has sworn off men for all time isn?t likely to have much cross-over appeal.

But just as the bi or ?bi-curious? character is establishing herself as a new on-screen presence, real-life women who have taken both male and female lovers are struggling with how to present their identity to the public. As Robyn Ochs, editor of the Bisexual Resource Guide, has noted, many such women are refusing the bisexual label. Some reject any sort of label; others object to the ?sex? in bisexual with its connotation of promiscuity; still others don?t want to reinforce the ?bi? notion that there are only two genders, thus ruling out the possibility of attraction to a transgender person.

And then there are the politics surrounding bisexuality within the lesbian community itself. Turns out it isn?t just straight women who do some experimenting on the side. Sometimes it?s the presumably hard-core dyke who ends up?surprise!?falling for a guy. What then? As Sabrina Margarita Sandata of the zine Bamboo Girl (www.bamboogirl.com) writes after getting hitched to a guy, ?Just because you get married doesn?t mean that your queerdom evaporates like water or was never there in the first place.?

Perhaps it shouldn?t be surprising that the ?defection? of a lesbian to a straight relationship might be viewed, by a community that often feels embattled, as tantamount to betrayal. Still, as Athena Douris and Diane Anderson-Minshall report in Bitch (Fall 2002), the punishment often meted out?banishment?can be severe. Such was the fate that befell JoAnn Loulan, who for 20 years was the world?s leading lesbian sex therapist and a renowned lesbian author?until she fell in love with a man. Now she?s branded a ?hasbian.? Her best friend stopped talking to her, speaking engagements disappeared, and book sales declined.

So why is a woman who is open to having same-sex, opposite-sex, and transgender partners viewed as such a threat? According to Douris and Anderson-Minshall, an argument long used in support of gay rights?that you?re either ?born gay? or you?re not?may be partly to blame. Think about it: To say that queers can?t help but love who they love because their sexuality is biologically determined pretty much removes choice from the equation. And bisexuals (or, if you prefer, ?pansexuals? or ?polysexuals?) bring the question of free will?of participating in creating and defining one?s own sexual orientation?right to the forefront.

That love regularly spills out of the neat categories in which we try to contain it really shouldn?t be a revelation. We could decide that folks whose ways of loving don?t fit inside our predetermined notions present us with a gift?the opportunity to broaden our thinking about who we love and why.

The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide (formerly The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review) is a bimonthly magazine 'for enlightened discussion of issues and ideas of importance to lesbians and gay men.' Subscriptions: $29.70 from Box 180300, Boston, MA 02118; www.glreview.com.

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