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‘Late-Blooming’ Lesbians and Incomplete Views of Fluid Sexuality

23 Jul

I read a hugely disturbing article [paywalled] in The Sunday Times a couple of weeks ago on ‘late-blooming’ lesbians. There’s a very similar article from the Sunday Telegraph that’s freely available here. Here’s a brief summary of the Times’s reporting of studies into women’s fluid sexuality:

Researchers have found that many women switch their preferences once they pass the age of 30 because of a biological “fluidity” in their sexual orientation that is much more common than in men.

The phenomenon, whose discovery has taken researchers by surprise, suggests lesbianism could be more widespread than previously thought. While many women could be future lesbians without knowing it, others may already have switched but be concealing their sexuality to keep their families together…

Most textbooks assume that, as with men, women’s sexual preferences are partly genetic and become fixed in the teens and early twenties, with relatively few changing sexuality later in life…

a series of studies have shown that in reality women’s sexual orientation may become more fluid as they grow older, with many developing lesbian or bisexual tendencies after the age of 30…

Researchers believe the phenomenon of fluid sexuality is far more common in women than men. “Women have a uniquely female potential for periodic shifts in sexuality over time,” said Christan Moran, a researcher at Southern Connecticut State University…

for many women, love and desire are not heterosexual or homosexual but fluid concepts, changing as women grow older, changing their social groups and relationships.

I’m certain a lot of people will view these findings not as evidence of women ‘developing lesbian tendencies’ in later life but of women who have always been lesbians finally feeling comfortable enough to express their desires publically.

What struck me most about the article though (and by extension the studies) was the way it repeatedly set up women’s fluidity in opposition to men’s stablility. It continually referred to how women’s sexuality is fluid in a way men’s isn’t. It almost felt like it was saying “yes some women will become lesbians in later life, but wives don’t worry, it won’t happen to your husband and don’t worry men either, it definitely won’t happen to you.”

As the article acknowledges, it is simply inconceivable that genetic makeup is the sole reason why some women express a variety of sexualities throughout their lives. Similarly, non-genetic factors play a huge role in some women’s repression of same-sex desires. As one of the researchers Christan Moran points out in the Sunday Telegraph’s article:

many women who develop lesbian feelings in later life refuse to “come out” for fear of society’s reaction…

To leave a heterosexual marriage in favour of lesbian identity is to abdicate enormous and undeniable privilege.

This is a perfectly acceptable position which could be drawn out to build a theory of how women come to express their sexuality or sexualities. One possible theory stemming from this could see women as having a genetic makeup which offers a certain range of sexual identities and a myriad of environmental conditions allow them to be aware of or feel comfortable expressing various positions within that range. This would take into account the environmental as well as the genetic in the forming of sexuality and presumes neither a predetermined outcome nor a sexuality completely free of genetic influence. The problem is that it’s apparently unthinkable to these researchers that this theory, or anything similar, could be applied to men.

Moran and others take it for granted that it’s men’s genes which are responsible for their apparently stable sexuality. If though we are to accept that women’s sexuality is unstable, it must be problematic to see men as necessarily of a single, stable and essential sexuality. It’s strange and hypocritical to hold the position that genes don’t determine everything in the case of women’s sexuality and simultaneously to assume that genes are the only factor in men’s sexuality.

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The Tale of Two Scandals (or the Telegraph’s Missed Opportunity)

7 Jun

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here. To be clear, I disagree with the headline’s assertion that Laws’s practice was unethical. This article continues with some of my ideas from a previous blog post on David Laws.

The recent case of David Laws has illustrated the hypocrisy about how sexuality is often represented in Britain today. The Daily Telegraph accused Laws of illegally claiming expenses on the rent he was paying to his landlord who was also his long-term, though secret, boyfriend. Laws soon resigned from his ministerial post where he was responsible for reducing government spending. The ethics of Laws’s expenses claims are much disputed but that is to miss the most crucial aspect of the episode. If he had been open about his sexuality, he could have also claimed for his partner’s living costs and hugely increased his claims. His motives were clearly to keep his homosexuality private and the effect was to save the taxpayer money!

The Telegraph maintains it did not intend to divulge Laws’s sexuality. This is little more than a cynical attempt to deflect criticism that they were unfairly violating Laws’s privacy. As soon as Laws heard the story was soon to be published, he had little choice but to declare his sexuality. Neither his friends, nor his very traditionally Catholic family were aware that he is gay. Laws grew up in an inhibited family environment during a time typified by the Conservative government’s legislation banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by teachers. It is hardly surprising that Laws valued his privacy so highly.

Many in the media and various (mainly Labour) MPs have argued however that it is equally as unethical for a privately gay MP to bend the expenses rules to avoid his sexuality being revealed as it is for an aristocratic MP to claim for his moat cleaning bills. In many cases, the viewpoint underpinning this assertion is that there is no reason for gay people to keep their sexuality secret in modern Britain. Two tweets from Ben Bradshaw, a gay Labour MP, epitomised this stance and asked ‘why should anyone in Britain today feel ashamed to acknowledge they’re gay’ and later ‘when is “protecting your privacy” a euphamism [sic] for feeling shameful about who you are?’

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On the Expenses and Privacy of David Laws

30 May

The case of David Laws is more complicated than many would wish to portray it, both on the issue of the legitimacy of his expenses claims and on his sexuality. Yes, he is a millionaire and could have easily afforded the rent for which he was claiming but all MPs are allowed to claim on rent for a second home under the current rules. Implementing a means-tested expenses system would perhaps go someway towards solving this problem.

It is wrong though to conclude that Laws was somehow cynically ripping off the tax-payer. As the Independent on Sunday’s leader points out,

had he been honest about his personal life, he could have legitimately claimed more from the public purse, as Mr Lundie’s housing costs would have been claimable as his property would have been the couple’s second home.

I am prepared then to accept that Laws is being truthful when he says the reason he covered up the use of his expenses was to protect his privacy and more specifically his sexuality. After all, if Laws was somehow claiming on public funds to maximise his personal monetary gain, it made no financial sense to keep his relationship with his partner secret. Continue reading

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