I love Lady Gaga for her crusade to educate the masses about the variety of normal sexual and gender orientations and expressions, as well as any personality quirk that might seem to make one person stand apart from the next. Everything in her personal presentation and body of work, including her latest release “Born this Way”, not only preaches but demonstrates the virtue of individuality, acceptance of self and others, and the beauty of expressing one’s true inner self, in whatever form it may take. I see the way she affects the “tweens” with whom I work and I praise her for it. And although the premise of her new song is inspirational and certainly in keeping with the idea of homosexuality as a natural state, I want more.
Research on all aspects of humanity has historically been performed on male subjects with the results generalized to both genders. We now know this is often not helpful to women and can be quite misleading and actually dangerous in some cases. Although information on homosexuality has historically been gleaned from the lives of men, it is now known that sexual orientation in women often develops quite differently. In a nutshell, gay theory espouses that people’s sexual orientation is hardwired from the start and there is, at some point, a grand “coming out” which reveals what was there all along. Fascinating research by Dr. Lisa Diamond and others shows that the process is actually much different for a high percentage of women. Rather than present a literature review on the academic findings on this topic, I prefer to present examples of normal realization and expression of female sexuality, based on composites of real women I have known. These three styles are modeled after women who are interpersonally successful, productive, and content with their lives.
Style #1: “The Classic”
Jeanette’s first crush was on her first grade teacher. She knew her tingly feelings were more than just appreciation for the way Mrs. Summers recounted the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Jeanette went on to develop intense feelings for her girlfriends, and by the time she was 7 or 8 it was clear that something about her was different from the stories she read in class and saw on TV. She struggled with her feelings throughout school, even having some suicidal thinking in her teens as her experience of isolation and inadequacy became overwhelming. She had her first girlfriend in high school and finally put a name to her experience, as she realized the love she felt was overwhelmingly real. She then began to identify as a lesbian and has never looked back.
Style #2: “Late bloomer”
Helen always had boyfriends in her growing-up years. The truth is, her family and culture did not actually present her with alternate versions of “normal”, so she just followed the norm for girls and didn’t think to consider other options. She married relatively young and had a couple of kids. Life had its challenges and her relationship with her husband was often strained. Her husband’s mood and addiction problems further complicated the marriage and preceded their eventual divorce. As Helen entered her 50s with a hefty dose of life experience, greater self-confidence, and a desire to finally live for herself, she approached the next phase of her life with a different mentality. Perhaps related to her new perspective, Helen began noticing different types of people crossing her path. Some were women for whom she inexplicably (but somehow not surprisingly) noticed feelings of attraction. She eventually found herself in a relationship with a woman, and it felt very natural and right. Some people thought she had been fooling herself all those previous years, but she feels that this stage came about naturally when the time was right. She now fully accepts herself and feels at home in her current life situation.
Style #3: “Don’t call me bisexual”
Maria was always a free thinker. She didn’t typically fit in with the mainstream crowd and she often felt misunderstood and overlooked. As a young person she had crushes on boys, but certain qualities in girls also caught her eye. Her appearance was pretty standardly feminine and she was not perceived by others or herself as “gay”, but she certainly didn’t identify with the typical dreams and expectations of the straight world. Over time, she developed greater interest in and comfort with the idea of being sexually and romantically involved with women, but she continued to have attractions to men, as well. Maria has had relationships with both men and women, but is always committed and monogamous within the context of any relationship. She may be drawn more intensely to one or the other at any given time, but she believes that when she meets “the one”, that person may be of either gender and she will gladly commit herself to that relationship for the long run.
These three styles are common among non-heterosexual women, but they are not the only “normal” ways for women to experience and share their sexuality. Truly, one important piece of learning to be taken from this new perspective is that our definition of “normal” needs to expand to include a wider range of options for women. Research is showing that although some men follow similar alternative routes to blossoming in their sexuality, it is still most common for males to follow the “classic style” upon which the common understanding of homosexuality has been built. Dr. Lisa Diamond has coined the phrase “sexual fluidity” to describe a woman’s normal tendency to shift in sexual identity throughout the life span. This leads to the conclusion that just because someone wasn’t “born this way” doesn’t mean she isn’t exactly who she is meant to be, right now.
This article can also be seen on: http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/female-sexual-development-lesbian-bisexual/