I’M sick and tired of hearing about people’s “lesbian phases” in the same way I’m sick and tired of hearing bigots claim that sexuality is someone’s fault.
No wonder people think that homosexuality is a choice, or something we’ll “grow out of”, when so much media coverage and discussion centres around the latest celebrity “lesbian phases”.
Just recently, Mel B of Spice Girls fame revealed that she had been “one of those” straight women who has had a same-sex relationship “for a few years”. Totally fine. What wasn’t fine was various news sources deciding to label this her “lesbian phase”. Even she said “I would not call it that” when asked if she would describe herself as a lesbian.
Despite it being reported that she had “admitted” to having had a lesbian phase, the truth is far from it. She admitted to having had a same-sex relationship – she said nothing about it being a “lesbian phase”. She said she didn’t even identify with that word.
“I did have a four-year relationship with a woman. But I’ve been very happily married for seven years to a penis. An amazing guy,” she said.
Somehow these lines turned into a “four year lesbian phase”.
Apparently, bisexuality doesn’t exist. Apparently, experimentation doesn’t either. Apparently, the person you choose to be with for however long or short of a time defines your entire personality and sexuality. According to this logic, sexuality is a “phase”.
Maybe these reporters need a bit of schooling in the Kinsey Sexuality Continuum, or the Kinsey Scale – which was developed in 1948 but seems to have been all but forgotten.
The idea that we still believe that all sexuality must fall in one camp or another, or even the outraged surprise from the media when a self-described straight celebrity has a same-sex experience, reeks of a lack of understanding around crucial sexuality issues.
It’s not just limited to Mel B. When Miley Cyrus kissed another woman it was labelled as a “faux lesbian phase” – as though there are two categories of real and fake lesbian phases. As though when one person does it, it’s okay. When someone else does, it’s not. For all the criticisms we can level at any celebrity, who are we to judge their sexuality?
Peaches Geldof was seen kissing a woman – and suddenly referred to as a lesbian. Lindsay Lohan is another classic example.
Kissing and being with another woman doesn’t make you a lesbian. To be a lesbian is to identify with what that means. Two straight women can kiss each other and not be lesbians. They can even live together for years and sleep together and still not identify that way.
I know many women who say they are attracted to women in some way, but consider themselves straight. Others identify as bisexual, although they say that they are not interested in having a relationship or sleeping with men.
A recent book My Year as a Lesbian by Brooke Hemphill had this same monotonous flaw. The premise was that, for one year, she was going to “be a lesbian”. I don’t give a care in the world who consensually sleeps with each other, but I do care when someone starts acting as though sexuality is something you switch on and off at will for the sake of your own amusement. Spend a year sleeping with women by all means, but considering Hemphill does not identify as a lesbian – something she repeatedly reveals throughout the book – don’t call it a year as a lesbian.
She even talked about her experiences with women and men prior to this. She allowed herself to have some different experiences with different people. That’s not lesbianism. Maybe there’s a case for bisexuality and maybe there’s a case you were just interested in something else. Suggesting that spending a year toying with the idea somehow qualifies you to use the word is insulting. She even told the Daily Mail that she used the term as it “made a good title”. How thoughtless and, once again, indicative of how most people see homosexuality as just about sex. Sexuality is fluid, as she has said in many interviews since, but that doesn’t mean it can be trivialised.
It’s not as though Hemphill is blissfully unaware of this. “It’s one thing to have slept with a woman, but something else entirely to call yourself a lesbian,” she writes in the book. Sadly, she doesn’t take her own thoughts on board when coming up with a title.
I do not doubt the love or attraction that any of these people had for the women they were with. What I doubt is their choice, or more often the choice of the media, to use a word that is fraught with emotion, with tales of coming out, with fears of being abnormal and with, hopefully, eventual self acceptance for those who live with that descriptor. It’s perfectly acceptable to have same-sex encounters, but it’s ridiculous to suggest that anyone has the right to then automatically assume a label that’s so much more than just a sexual act.
You do not choose your attraction, your sexuality, but you do choose how you act and who you sleep with. A lesbian can sleep with no one at all, and still be a lesbian. A lesbian can be in a straight relationship for years and still identify as a lesbian. Someone who is gay or straight cannot suddenly do a 180 by having sex.
If only life, and sexuality, were that simple.