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Real Stories of Sexual Fluidity in "Dear John, I Love Jane"
Real Stories of Sexual Fluidity in "Dear John, I Love Jane"

Sexual fluidity: What happens when she leaves him for her? Add to ...

Candace Walsh was heterosexual until the age of 18, bisexual until she turned 24, back to heterosexual for a decade after that, and a lesbian since she left her husband about four years ago.

Ms. Walsh writes about the experience, described as "sexual fluidity," in Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write About Leaving Men for Women, a collection of essays by women who, as psychology professor Lisa Diamond writes in the foreword, "report sudden and surprising adult experiences of same-sex desire - sometimes after 10, 20, or 30 years of heterosexuality - which turn their worlds upside down."

Ms. Walsh edited the anthology with Laura André: The two met on Match.com after Ms. Walsh divorced her husband; the marriage had become mutually "loveless" after eight years.

Of her newfound lesbianism - she hasn't felt straight or bisexual since October, 2006 - she said, "When I was married, I thought there's no more exploration. Once I was out on my own again, I thought it would be really silly to go end up with the next guy who liked me."

From their home in Santa Fe, N.M., Ms. Walsh and Ms. André spoke to The Globe and Mail about women leaving their husbands for other women.

Tell me about "sexual fluidity," which seems central to these memoirs. It's not homosexuality.

Candace Walsh Lisa Diamond's book Sexual Fluidity helped me to understand it. She did groundbreaking research, asking a group of women how they identified sexually and checking in on them every three years. The women changed their identification - they were shifting throughout their lives, way more than Dr. Diamond expected. It wasn't just straight women going to the gay side; it was also gay women hooking up with male partners, getting married, falling in love. There are certain women who absolutely stay put, but way more than we would anticipate shift. And yet we assume that sexuality is fixed. It's very easy to think that you're wrong or maybe a liar or in denial if you identify as straight for the first 30 years of your life and that completely changes. You think, 'Am I wrong now, or was I wrong then?'

How is it different from being bisexual?

Laura André Sexual fluidity is the idea that one's orientation can shift. Instead of being equally attracted to men and women, someone can go from one to the other and embrace it fully.

For husbands, is it worse to leave be left for another woman or another man? In both cases you may have infidelity, but in one case there's also a question of sexuality.

Ms. Walsh I definitely don't want to speak for those husbands, at all. I thought my ex-husband would be happier that my intention was to date women after the marriage was over. But I can't say any husband in the book was quoted as saying, 'Well, thank God you're with a woman so I don't have to think about some guy in bed with you.' Women might hope that it's a softer blow.

What's the hardest aspect of it for the husbands in the book?

Ms. André In some cases the relationships were moribund and fizzling out anyway, but for the relationships that were very strong, it's earth-shattering. You're losing the woman you love and in some cases families are being broken up. Most of the men in the stories ended up being very supportive partners and remain friends with their exes. They've been able to get through the difficult period.

Ms. Walsh We're now getting acquainted with this as a reason for a divorce. One of our most senior writers in the book, Sheila Smith, is in her 70s. She spent decades privately yearning to be with a woman but didn't want to go back on her word. Her husband ended up leaving her for a grad student. She made this sacrifice and the marriage ended anyway for a reason we're more accustomed to.

Lesbians are often fetishized in pop culture, especially if they are performing for men. Here they're leaving men for other women. Are men threatened by this book?

Ms. Walsh We're not really coming up against threatened reactions. The guys who have reviewed the book have a little bit more of an edge. It doesn't show up at all when women review it, which makes you wonder.

What's their edge?

Ms. Walsh They tend to attack it as being glib.

Are they saying it's indulgent to be sexually fluid?

Ms. Walsh Some men might see it as not prioritizing the primary relationship.

Ms. André I think it's possible to misread the subtitle of the book, Women Write About Leaving Men for Women to think that we're promoting women jilting men en masse in order to go join other women. That's not what the book is about. It's about women finding that they have to leave heterosexuality itself, something they do after a lot of thought and consternation.

What about the logistics of dating a woman when you're used to stepping out with a man all your life?

Ms. Walsh As somebody who can really compare straight culture to being out with a woman who I'm on a date with or in a relationship with, I have a certain level of vigilance. Lesbians can be a titillating thing for men. If I have the desire to be a little more canoodley or demonstrative with Laura, and we're in public, there's that part of it. I have an awareness that because of the way that this culture views women with women, it might be something that's turning some guy on. That would never happen if a man and a woman were cuddly in a restaurant.

You write that the gay community is hesitant to accept these women because they have no history.

Ms. Walsh I was definitely met with skepticism. It was very intimidating for me to go out to women's dances and events. I was certainly not met with open arms. People were nice but there was a certain level of distance and questions about whether I was pissed off at men or on the rebound or watching The L Word and got curious. I remember this woman was speaking with me at a party and she said, 'So how long?' And I said, 'I haven't been attracted to men in six months.' And she's like, 'Oh. That's really impressive. And when did you move away from your husband?' 'Two weeks ago.' I would advise any woman trying this on to give it time.

Some of the women in the book skirt the lesbian label, preferring to say they're in love with a woman.

Ms. Walsh After being with Laura for going on three years now, I still have a bit of a hard time saying, 'I am a lesbian.' As somebody who had a straight life for 35 years, I'm not used to being defined by my sexuality.

There's a lot of talk in the book about how courageous these women are, even though in some cases, infidelity is involved.

Ms. André We didn't want to glamorize or promote infidelity in any way. We thought of the book as a resource for women who were finding themselves in this situation. I would advise any woman about to embark on a same-sex relationship to make sure that her previous relationship was cleaned up and to live with integrity, which means being respectful to your current or former spouse or boyfriend, as well as to one's self.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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