On top of remembering that sexuality is so very diverse, I think it’s also very important all of us remember that sexuality is fluid, especially over a lifetime, and a lifetime is the length of time it truly takes to develop our sexuality. Something I find both hilarious and maddening all at once, for instance, are older people who criticize younger people for having a sexuality that resembles one of younger people rather than older people. It’s kind of like being annoyed with a three-year-old for being short. We all get to have, and need to have, developmental phases in our sexualities, and they get to be different from where other people are at.
Most people will have personal growth and change in their sexuality just like they will in all the other big parts of their lives and who they are. Someone’s journey in that, all of our journeys in that, is going to be as unique as we are. How long any of us stay in things that will be phasal for us, or stepping stones, is going to vary. If ever we have the idea that we’re helping someone to insist they be pushed out of a given place or sexuality “for their own good,” (or ours) we need to take a step back and check ourselves. While any of us can often be helped in our personal growth, real growth, the kind where we are simply becoming more of and the best of our unique selves, just can’t be forced, any more than we can — or should — try and force a plant to grow in conditions or an environment that just don’t really take it, rather than what people want from it, into account.
Early on, when I first started my research, some of the women that I interviewed would say things like, “Oh, I never knew that I was really attracted to women until I became close friends with one particular woman, and I fell in love with her…” In my naïveté, I sort of discounted these stories as evidence of repression (which was pretty common at that time).
As the years went by and I would re-interview these women, and as I would talk to lesbian-identified women who would say things like, “Wow, I was never really attracted to men, but now I sort of feel sexually attracted to my best male friend!” I began to realize that there was something really profound going on within these relationships, and that deep emotional attachments had the power to really change one’s entire way of experiencing desire.
It took me a while to really come to grips with this, scientifically; I kept rereading the interview transcripts, trying to interpret them within the conventional models of sexuality that were available at that time, and it just didn’t work. I remember that there was a particular day… actually, I was on an airplane with a stack of transcripts, struggling to make sense of them, and I just put down my pen and said, “OK, I need to throw out everything I think I ‘know’ and just start again, and reread everything, from the beginning. And really listen this time.”
The hard truth is that life is a lot more complicated than scientific models present it as being.
- Dr. Lisa Diamond here.