Fashionably late to the party
"I was suddenly on high gaydar alert for any mid-life lady-lovers"
This is quite a shocking admission, coming as it does on a website for lesbians, bisexual and queer women, but until I fell in love with a woman at the ripe (some might say fermenting) old age of 42, I don’t think I had consciously ever known or even met a lesbian. It is hard to believe now but, in my defence, I grew up in a village in the Midlands in the seventies and eighties, so I guess the dearth of gay girls and boys coming out to play at my large comprehensive school is no big surprise? Yet even during my (ever-so- slightly-cooler) university years in central London, although I knew gay men, the closest I got to a lesbian was the rumour that one of the girls in my department was gay. In fact she did give one of my (admittedly hot and gorgeous) friends a red rose on Valentine’s day, but that is the closest I have to evidence of her sexual orientation!
After university I taught English in Egypt, a sexual playground for the half of the British male teachers who were gay, but still no lesbians crossed my path. Let’s be honest, I wasn’t actually looking for lesbians. All those years I was (mostly unsuccessfully) looking for a boyfriend, so I had not been kitted out with even the most rudimentary of gaydars. And although gaydar was first noted in 1982, it would be at least another twenty years before I acquired one. (It transpires that 1982 was actually quite a big year for new words… it was also the year that the words G-spot, phone-sex, multi-tasker and e-mail first appeared - words which doubtless, with a bit of multi-tasking, could all make their way into the same sentence?!)
Anyway, after nearly 20 years of straight, married life, the woman I fell in love with was, although straight, definitely more Sapphic-savvy than me. Working and living in the more liberal and liberated world of personal development as she did, she had lesbian friends and colleagues, and she would sprinkle stories of them into conversation. Was she trying to gauge my reaction, I wondered? To see where I aligned myself on the sexuality scale?
Whether conscious or not, the passing mention of her lesbian friends increased, as we oh-so-tentatively explored the awesome and utterly unforeseen new feelings which were budding inside both of us. With each conversation and fragment of information about these women, it felt like we were swimming nearer and nearer to the ever-brighter light of recognition. To the truth of what our passionate and all-absorbing friendship really was. The elephant in the room could no longer be ignored.
Once we had finally admitted to ourselves and each other that our mutual attraction was more sexual than platonic, and as we tried to decide what to do with this bombshell of information, all of a sudden it seemed we were not alone!
For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by lesbians, and not only that, but by older ones, many of them women who were leaving their longstanding heterosexual relationships and proclaiming their love for a good woman. What was going on? Admittedly these were still not women I knew in person, but back then, in 2010 and for the next few years, it seemed as if you could barely open a lifestyle magazine without finding an article about a woman in the public eye talking about her same-sex relationship. Mary (Portas) was marrying Melanie (Rickey), Cynthia Nixon declared her love for her fiancée (now wife) Christine Marinoni, Ellen and Portia were loved up... as were Susie Orbach and Jeanette Winterson. And thanks largely due to the London Olympics, Clare Balding was now a national treasure. Meanwhile, mainstream cinema had Annette Bening and Julianne Moore’s middle-aged lesbian couple centre-stage in The Kids are All Right.
Was it merely because I was suddenly on high gaydar alert for any mid-life lady-lovers or was it actually that I was in the slipstream of the Zeitgeist? It certainly appeared that way - in July 2010, the Guardian G2 even ran a four-page, cover-story article about this very concept: "It’s never too late to be a lesbian", and in August 2012 Rachel Johnson, writing in Vogue about the proliferation of older woman who were turning, coined the phrase "Late-onset-Lesbian". As Lucy Spraggan sings: "I remember when LOL meant lots of love"… Well now it seems it can also mean someone like me!
The discovery that sexual fluidity was not only a thing, but even something of a buzzword, was incredibly helpful to me. Reading these articles made sense of my feelings, giving them a reality, rather than tossing them onto the oh-it’s-just-a-mid-life-crisis scrapheap. Oh boy,it was good to know that I was not alone, and not only that – I was high fashion!
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