Dating a man – lesbian leader JoAnn Loulan is having a heterosexual relationship with a man; analysis of its implication in the lesbian community
She’s long been considered a leading authority on lesbian sex, having penned what many consider the definitive sexual handbooks for lesbians. She’s been on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Donahue, and Geraldo. As a respected therapist, she’s lectured at the medical school of the University of California, San Francisco, as well as throughout the country. For 22 years she’s been an in-your-face gay rights activist, serving on the board of directors for the National Center for Lesbian Rights for a time. But now she’s done something more controversial than being a pioneer in the arena of lesbian lovemaking. JoAnn Loulan is making love to a man.
“I know that to others–and to myself, in some respects–part of this feels like I’m cavorting with the enemy,” Loulan says. “What can I say? It doesn’t feel like this particular person is the enemy. But I also understand that I have broken one of our lesbian cultural taboos.”
Talking publicly about the relationship for the first time, Loulan, 48, knows that she’s poised for some embarrassing confrontations: “Some people will remember my flipping out a couple of years ago in a newspaper because somebody had accused me of having sex with a man. My response was, `I haven’t had sex with a man in 20 years’ and, essentially, `Fuck you.'” (Married for three years, Loulan divorced 22 years ago.)
Her anxiety over how her lesbian fans will react could be well-founded. “There are several possible reactions women are going to have,” says NCLR executive director Kathryn Kendell. “One is a sense of absolute betrayal and anger. The middle response would be one similar to mine–a sense of loss, wondering what this means, and having to go through some processing. The third response would be a `So what?'”
Loulan, however, doubts that many will say “So what?” because she’s already been scorned by some women who know about her new boyfriend. “I have friends who aren’t going to come to my house again,” Loulan says. “I have friends who are very awkward. I have friends who don’t ask me a thing about him. They’re mad at me. They feel like I’m a spokesperson for the community and I shouldn’t be doing this.”
Those who feel that way are particularly upset that Loulan insists she still wants to be known as a lesbian. “There’s this total chill when I identify myself as a lesbian,” Loulan says, adding that she resents being labeled heterosexual or bisexual. For Loulan, as she candidly admits, her philosophical self is in conflict with the reality of what she’s doing. “I’m not into men. My culture is really lesbian- and woman-identified,” she says.
But can a lesbian still call herself a lesbian when she’s in a heterosexual relationship? And does it undermine gay politics when a high-profile leader is “sleeping with the enemy”? Regardless of how Loulan wants those questions answered, it is ultimately up to other lesbians what role she continues to play as a lesbian leader.
“Many in the lesbian community believe–and largely rightly so–that the term lesbian is a sacred identity and the term means something: that one’s primary relationship is with a woman,” Kendell says. But Kendell herself wants to continue the NCLR’s affiliation with Loulan. “It’s critical to recognize, in JoAnn’s case, her contributions to the lesbian community and culture, which are so significant that this choice she’s made should not be allowed to undermine that.”
However, Robin Tyler, longtime lesbian activist and producer of the main stage shows at all three gay and lesbian marches on Washington, D.C., thinks Loulan could very well fall from grace. “There are so many women who’ve been attacked the minute they didn’t follow what other women expected them to be,” Tyler says. But being a friend of Loulan’s and an innovative political thinker, Tyler hopes this will not be the case. “The gay community has to stop saying we are talking about sexual politics. We’re not. We’re not a movement from the waist down. What we’re fighting for is the right to love,” she says, adding that lesbians should therefore defend Loulan’s right to love a man.
For many, respecting Loulan’s right to be with a man and understanding how she could do it are two different things. Loulan herself has a hard time comprehending how she fell in love with a man. The man in question is 35 and has been a family friend for 28 years, says Loulan, who refuses to reveal his name, since he’s in a well-known rock group and would be easily recognized. Speculating that part of the attraction is their long history and his strong feminine side, Loulan says, “I can’t tell you why. I can say only that it’s about following my heart.”
Lesbian therapist and advice columnist Jackie Black says she has counseled a number of self-identified lesbians who found themselves in relationships with men under a variety of different circumstances. “Sexuality is not static–it’s fluid,” says Black, who believes that Loulan may have simply grown into another aspect of herself. “All of JoAnn’s writings implore us to live our passions, to tell the truth about who we are. She says that whoever we are is OK, and I think that’s what she’s doing. Her passion has taken her in a different direction at this point in her life. She has the courage to risk saying yes to whatever’s going on inside her now and to risk being judged probably very harshly.”
But now that Loulan has made the decision to come forward and be judged, she’s afraid: “The thing that’s the most painful and the scariest to me is that I have to give up this community that I haven’t been a peripheral person in. When I came out as a lesbian, I didn’t have one ounce of trouble. But now I really get what agony people go through in terms of coming out because I feel like there isn’t a place for me.”
COPYRIGHT 1997 Liberation Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group