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Vicki Iovine

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Switching Sides Later In Life

Posted: 05/15/09 11:03 AM ET

"A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle" was a clever little slogan of the Women's Movement during the Seventies. Little did I realize then how prescient it would prove to many of my peers as they hit middle age. In the past five years, I've been stunned by how many of my formerly married-with-children Girlfriends have bolted from their traditional family geometry and found true love with other women. It's happening in the Parent's Associations of my kids' schools, in my knitting group, in my yoga class and it's a big topic in women's 12-Step groups throughout Los Angeles (and lesbianism was not the addiction they were trying to overcome.) Once I became aware of this quiet Pink Revolution, I couldn't not see it everywhere I looked. But it was comedian Carol Leifer's new book, When You Lie About Your Age The Terrorists Win, that convinced me this stunning phenomenon wasn't exclusive to the experimental, artsy, truth-seeking addicts that make LA such a piquant town--newly minted mid-life lesbianism is a national trend.

My gay brother and other "natural born" homosexuals in my crowd insist that they were gay from day one and that it was a reality, not a decision. I confess that I, personally, had always felt that people who claimed they were "bi" were just smudging the fact that they were gay. But apparently there is this thing called a Kinsey Scale of Sexuality that Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues created in the 1930's and 40's. It ranked people on a scale from 0 to 6, 0 being entirely hetero and 6 being oh-so-homo, and in their studies, most people were somewhere in between. This was in Indiana, a state I would put near the top of my Straight List, but then, my science is only anecdotal and often accidental.

I guess this supports the number of seemingly straight guys, and according to an Oprah show I saw a couple of years ago, African American guys, who live on the DL with their homosexual trysts. But try as I might, I can't find mid-life men in my acquaintance suddenly hooking up with other guys, white, black or brown, and that makes it all the more curious to me. Since the penis seems a good place to start any investigation I will begin there. Because male sex often requires an erection, or -- in other words -- male arousal is visible and therefore not fake-able, it could be said that more women who were born lesbians (versus men who were born homosexual) are in hetero relationships because, really, who could tell the difference, right? That said, women can only fake it up to a point; if she felt like retching every time she had sex with her guy, eyebrows would eventually be raised in any sensible fellow. And then again, a faked orgasm probably fooled even Dr. Kinsey from time to time.

My Girlfriends who have crossed over after years spent in a satisfying marriage
(satisfaction being entirely subjective) said it had a lot to do with hormones. Well, that word is mine because I think everything is hormonal, but they described the time when they had finished with their biological imperative to move their DNA into the future. That makes sense to me; in their most fertile years they were driven by the same frothy hormonal milkshake that makes teenagers yearn to couple up and steam up the inside of their cars at night and keeps women keenly aware of their biological clocks. For women who are somewhere closer to a 4 or 5 on Kinsey's scale, perhaps once the urge to merge with men dissipates somewhat with the onset of menopause, they ride the "bicycle" less enthusiastically. In fact, I read somewhere that more women than men initiate divorces in middle age and the cliché of men dumping the old model for a hot young one is exaggerated by Hollywood and paparazzi because it is so damn photogenic.

A well-known neurologist, Dr. Louann Brizendine wrote in her book, The Female Brain, that when we approach menopause, women cease to gush the hormones that make us want to nurture and caretake everything that breathes, particularly husbands. It's a feeling I admit to experiencing more and more myself, something I like to call the, "Everybody Get Off My Back" Syndrome. For more women than I ever knew, this is the profound moment when they decide that a relationship with a person as equipped as they are to discuss complex emotional issues, feed the cat and check the fridge to see what can be turned into a meal all at the same time is like entering the Age of Enlightenment. Not to mention how much better than men's women's sex toys are.

And the sex is great! As Carol Leifer put it (much more succinctly than I) another woman already knows where all the happy spots are and what makes them downright euphoric. She said that it's like knowing your own house--even with the lights off, you still know where all the furniture is. I can only barely imagine what it must be like to have sex and have someone to talk to after. Think about it, we Girlfriends are usually so intimate with each other in a non-sexual way; we hug and kiss and can even share a bed without thinking about sex. We already behave like lesbians, in fact, most men fantasize that we are, so if we do or don't actually become lesbians isn't necessarily apparent to the outside world. One of my cross-over Girlfriends has gone back and forth between being an occasional lesbian and a hetero wife a couple of times and says it is like being bilingual--she can speak in either tongue. I don't know if the pun was intentional.

Here's what I'm dying to know about mid-life lesbianism--if we choose to become one, can we give up a lifetime of worrying about our weight? Is a female lover more tolerant of the imperfections like cellulite and back fat? If that is true, then the line forms behind me, Ladies!