Q I am a middle-aged woman and have three grown-up children. Their father and I divorced eight years ago and I have had a few relationships since then but nothing too serious. Six months ago I went on a walking holiday and met a woman who I became firm friends with. She is bisexual and a few weeks ago we drank too much wine and she kissed me. Since then I have been having sexual fantasies about her but I could not bear the humiliation of having to declare myself a lesbian at this age. It would absolutely horrify my children and yet I can’t stop thinking about her.
A When my identical twins were learning to read I took them to the supermarket and when we got to the biscuit section they immediately spotted their favourite treat. “Chocolate Lesbians, Chocolate Lesbians” they shrieked in innocent unison. The woman standing next to us looked horrified. “Chocolate Leibniz,” I whispered into the awkward silence that had descended over the biscuit aisle. You could have heard a Jaffa Cake drop.
The point I am making, somewhat circuitously, is that labels are for biscuit packets, and since the word “lesbian” still has the power to strike certain people dumb, you should probably avoid it. Besides, you are not a lesbian, you are a woman who has kissed your best friend and that, in itself, does not change your identity in any way. None of the high profile, previously heterosexual women who now have female partners have felt the need to define their sexual orientation. Like you, most explain their metamorphosis as a response to a particular person. Cynthia Nixon for example, has described herself as being “just a woman in love with another woman” and similarly, Mary Portas has said she doesn’t know whether she feels like a lesbian or a straight woman who has fallen in love with another woman.
More women than would care to admit it have experimented with a girlfriend at some point. It is partly curiosity, but it is also to do with the fact that female sexuality is more fluid than male sexuality. It is not necessarily something women are even conscious of. For example, heterosexual women will declare that they have an outright preference for male/female porn when they fill in a questionnaire, yet when genital arousal is measured, they respond as strongly to female/female sexual stimuli as they do to male/female. This is not the case for men who have much more straightforward arousal triggers, ie, straight men like watching straight sex and gay men like watching gay sex.
Having sexual fantasies about the only person you have been physically intimate with for some time does not necessarily mean that you should rush out and buy a pair of dungarees and some Dr Martens, but having said that, you clearly feel very close to your friend, and that’s very significant because female sexuality is context dependent.
When Lisa Michelle Diamond tracked the lives and loves of 100 young women over a ten-year period she concluded that women were “attracted to the person, and not the gender”. Diamond, who is an associate professor of psychology and gender studies, says that many of the women she interviewed said they were moved by non-gender specific personality traits such as kindness, intelligence, and humour but most of all, they longed for an emotional connection and if they found that, sexual orientation didn’t matter.
It does sound as if you may have found that special someone, and if so, fantastic. But it is early days yet and right now you certainly don’t need to declare yourself as anything other than curious. Your grown-up children are presumably busy getting on with their own lives, so you have a wonderful opportunity to explore your emerging sexuality without anyone choking on their custard creams. Take your time. Talk a lot. Be honest. And see where this all leads. It could be the start of something life changing, or you may just have been totally pissed, but there is only one way to find out how this cookie will crumble.