Although it might appear chic and fashionable to be able to claim this status, I am not a late blooming lesbian, although it might appear so to some who have only known me for the last thirty-five years.  I don’t deny it just because I don’t fancy being part of a trend or a statistic (how idealistically high can one fly?) though that has happened plenty, certainly as a highly educated baby boomer African American woman who married outside her ethnic group to a European American at a time when, as a couple, we drew disapproving stares and taunts from everyone.

Although when such statistical validation is the case, I do take a tremendously foolish pride for something over which I had no real control. And the role of ‘statistic’ will continue as I meander toward my destiny of centenarian along with a multitude of forefront Baby Boomers intent on being standard bearers on all fronts.  Currently I’m an outwardly living lesbian who could not have fathomed doing so forty years ago without feelings of guilt and shame, without experiencing discrimination, repulsion and retribution by others. I ramble…

What, you ask, kicked off this burst of ruminating, reflecting…confessing? Recently, my girlfriend forwarded to me an article from a dear friend of hers called “It’s Never to Late to be a Lesbian”, written by Kira Cochrane and published more than three years ago. Cochrane’s thesis statement was that “More and more women are discovering after years of marriage to men, and having had children, that they are lesbians”. Now, doesn’t that sound like a trendy and fun sort of ‘social movement’ —avant-garde even—whose band wagon is sweeping the ranks for new recruits eager to hop aboard?  Seriously, I found the article quite interesting, provocative even…to witness, the foregoing ‘discourse’. This got me to thinking, for one, about the evolution of human sexuality, a subject that has always courted my fascination. I know. Volumes have been written on it already….

I do cherish any unique aspect of my being and, although I don’t consider myself rebellious,  have never truly felt a need to blend in.  I’ve tended to be a mild-mannered under-the-radar maverick who trots towards conformity when it makes good moral, ethical or righteous sense to me. I was out of the closet—albeit within limited intersecting circles (which included selected family members only)—hundreds of moons ago while in graduate school. I had come out very slowly over a number of years as I groped my way through boyfriends and what amounted to obligatory booty calls until I could no longer abide the fleas. It wasn’t who I was, to lie beneath or sit astride a man’s hips and enjoy it. Eventually, however, I had to reinvent my life (sexuality?) and retreat to the closet in order to enjoy the happiness and benefits of a mainstream heterosexual union…with children.  This provided for a host of friends and acquaintances—from my marriage days spanning nearly three decades—who had no idea that I was a lesbian, not born again but born...  Or was I bisexual? After all, I was married to a man…

In August 2010 at a session billed as “Sexual Fluidity and Late-Blooming Lesbians”, the “American Psychological Association's annual convention in San Diego showcased a range of research” on the subject. Wanting to explore the notion, Christan Moran, a presenting researcher from Southern Connecticut University, suggested that "a heterosexual woman might make a full transition to a singular lesbian identity . . . In other words, they might actually change their sexual orientation."  I recall a ground breaking study hitting the media waves about six years ago, rivaling for attention with the crash of the markets, revealing findings that confirmed the long-suspected sexually fluid nature of women. As research is an ongoing machine feeding ineluctably upon itself (…and others), the study led inevitably to “researchers…[starting] to investigate whether sexuality is [even]more fluid and shifting than [has] often [been]suspected”.  In my opinion, this does not make (feminine) sexuality any less biological or grounded in nature. Just as some expressions of a person’s biology lie dormant until the ‘right’ stimulus sparks some form of manifestation, this aspect of sexuality could well operate in the same manner.  I’m just saying… 

So, just what is a “late blooming lesbian”?  Cochrane describes this phenomenon as  “…women who discover or declare same-sex feelings in their thirties and beyond,”  many after having had children. Since we are presumably wired to know at least from the onset of puberty to whom we are attracted—presumably, again, for the rest of our lives— this appears to be a groundbreaking discovery. 

Throughout my young adult life I had openly proclaimed that I did not want children because I would not ever do such disservice as to bring any human being into our corrupt and dangerous world. I held firmly to that conviction for nearly a decade and a half from the late nineteen-sixties early into nineteen-seventy-eight when I handed in my dissertation in exchange for a PhD.  Emerging from the exigencies of academic hibernation, my biological clock went off loud and clear. At the age of thirty-one, I emerged dumbfounded, disoriented. The urge, the hunger to reproduce my own genetics was strong enough that I hardly understood it. I found myself desperate to make natural parenthood a factual state of my being. Even so, I figured I had to be bisexual if I could couple and have a baby with a man—because at the time, unless you had the financial means, there was no other way but the ‘natural’ way of reproduction—although I had no idea how that would come about. From straight woman to lesbian to bisexual to lesbian in the course of several decades… In retrospect, I understand how that experience contributes to why I don’t fancy placing labels beneath my mug shot even though I do consider myself a bona fide lesbian, certain there will be no more flip-flopping. Really…?

I stopped having sex with my ex-husband three years before I divorced him, and only after two brutally difficult attempts at excising my existence from his own—I understood what financial securities I was sacrificing and how much I was hurting him—I succeeded in following through with divorce. After being a tax deductable dependent for half my life? “Tu parles!”, as the French would say. I did not experience what Laura Manning did, where “…the intensity of feeling in my relationship with [my ex] overcame and blanketed my desires for women." On the contrary, I found myself daydreaming about same sex partners early on in my 27-year marriage. I loved my husband, just not in ‘that’ way. When I planned and executed my escape, it was not without the rending of heart, soul and flesh. And yet I did it. Not because I wanted to, but because I had no choice.

Dr. Lisa Diamond, professor of psychology and gender studies, has a hunch that the possibility of moving across sexual boundaries increases as people age. Perhaps there is a biological component to that. I pose the question: Does living longer increase the chances of a complete sexual identity change taking place? Does increasing longevity bear upon the prospect of multiple, distinct, and viable sexual identities?  And if so, in what way? Maybe Nature—blindfolded mother of us all and great equalizer—keeps us huffing puffing and laboring under mandate until we’ve done our ostensible duty—procreation, and therefore perpetuation of our species, saving the joys of real intimacy for the end. Hello…?

I’ve been around long enough to remember when gays could be quite defensive when it came to just why we were gay, years before the currently accepted ‘gender rainbow spectrum’. No one wanted to be on a slippery slope and if you weren’t as firmly anchored as heterosexuals who claim that’s the way nature created them, then the possibility of sliding down into the muck and mire of mental illness, degenerateness, immorality, was a most assured outcome. We were offended when anyone suggested it was a choice. So it had to be an all or none situation: We were born either heterosexual or homosexual. As uncountable genetic stops exist between ‘heterosexuality’ and ‘homosexuality’, there are as many people whose gender identity genetic material has fallen, fall , and will continue to fall everywhere along that path.

In the ‘old days’, many gay women denigrated bisexuality, seeing its practitioners as someone who was not able to make up her mind, and no respectful lesbian would have anything to do with a woman who couldn’t commit, someone who slept with the ‘enemy’.  We knew that our natural right to love one another would continue to be fought by church and state. And we tended to stay in the closet—whether that closet was while in the arms of our same sex lover or the asylum of a mainstream and universally recognized heterosexual partnership. That reality was back in the day—and continues to stretch thinner and thinner, hopefully—back when you were either male or female, smart or dumb, a success or failure, black or white, wise or foolish… It appears that science is proving that there is truly no one answer as to why one might be homosexual. Reasons why span their own spectrum from nature to nurture, from no choice to freedom of choice. Why should it matter? It’s okay for it to be dictated by nature/genetic makeup from conception or later in life, or chosen as a considered and informed outcome of a set of life experiences. Why would either path or choice be devalued?

This discursive bit of exposition has been both a personal response to the article and commentary on certain points made within. Both were thoughtfully monitored. One of the study’s subjects “…thought she was the only married woman ever to have fallen in love with another woman”. Such naivety is difficult to understand in this day and age. You need only to plug into the information highway and search for answers. However, this woman learned it by accidentally stumbling upon and reading Strock’s book...not by experience, personal or removed to any degree. Married Women Who Love Women prevented this woman from committing suicide. What came to my mind was how much we can learn simply by reading. In Book Savvy, which I’ve read recently, Cynthia L. Katona makes a strong case for reading for knowledge of oneself as well as of the world, and it doesn’t have to come from science journals, history textbooks, or encyclopedias.

Two final thoughts: Answers to some of my questions might have come and gone, but some questions can never be revisited too often. And, just as Sara Lawrence Lightfoot’s The Third Chapter reveals, living longer makes many things unforeseen possible.



12/06/2013 01:22

Especially liked your insights about longevity and sexual orientation.

Dinah deSpenza
12/06/2013 10:46

Very very interesting self-reflecting you've done. I applaud your unapologetic boldness! Keep writing...keep expressing...stay true to your authentic self-expression.

Brenda Usher-Carpino
12/07/2013 13:03

Thank you, Dinah. Your appreciation of my "authentic self-expression" is great validation and supportive in my effort to do what I feel I must with my writing.

12/17/2013 01:26

Beautiful. I think of something my grandmother told me, "Honey, you live long enough and you will come to understand a lot about life." Thanks for this. It gives me hope and courage to keep on going. Congratulations on arriving and taking that step to live out loud in truth of your true self. It is a true inspiration! I echo Dinah's sentiment.


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