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A Secular Switch

A Woman Chooses to Change Her Sexual Orientation – Part 1 in a Series

I remember hearing years ago about a “British comedian” who had experienced a change in her sexual orientation, and who was rather adamantly distancing herself from the Christian “ex-gay movement” as having anything to do with her experience.  Recently I came across an article written by this woman, whose name is Jackie Clune.  It led me to backtrack and read over several things she has written about her life.

Of course, this is the perspective of one person, and I caution anyone reading this not to over-simplify in assuming that the life experience of Jackie Clune applies to every woman who is dealing with SSA.  However, I found that she raises good questions, thought-provoking insights, and it was also interesting to see how her thoughts on this topic developed over a period of years.  I found three articles, which were written in 2003, 2010, and 2013, all published in the British press, with British word spellings used throughout.  (You’ll find the referenced links below.)

First we’ll look at what Jackie Clune wrote In “My Crime Against the Lesbian State.”* published in June of 2003, in The Guardian.

In February 1988, I decided to become a lesbian. For the next 12 years I had relationships with women exclusively. Then, in October 2000, I decided to “go back in” and went straight. The reasons for both these decisions have by turns appalled, fascinated and challenged almost everyone in my life, from my parents, friends and enemies to the loyal lesbian fan base I had built up during my career as a cabaret artist and comedian.

Right off the bat, Jackie Clune describes her orientation as something she consciously “decided” to do, and then chose to un-do.  This is something that is currently foreign to the mainstream of American thought on the topic.  Even suggesting that change in one’s sexual orientation is possible is ridiculed as bigoted and unrealistic.  As we’ll see, Ms. Clune found her wording and actions questioned in England in 2003 as well…

Since jumping back over the fence, I have been asked many times, “How come you felt able to swap so easily? Do you think you’re in denial? Maybe you were never really a lesbian? Is it that you just couldn’t hack it? So what are you, then, bisexual? Or straight? Do you think you’ll ever go back to women? Is your boyfriend scared about that?”

Despite turning over these questions in my own mind again and again over the past two years, I find even I don’t really know the answers. Am I just contrary? Am I cowardly? Am I, as some would have it, a “traitor” to the gay “cause”? What was I doing all of those years if this is who I truly am now? Is there such a thing as what one “truly” is?

So we find a real person, honestly wrestling with deep questions about who she was and who she is now, and what all of that means in a world that has been trying to settle things into back-and-white categories of identity that don’t always fit everyone.  People are not comfortable with the concept of sexual orientation as a fluid entity, even when it is experienced by someone who isn’t seeking it as a matter of reconciling with their faith.

Jackie Clune had been open about her life as a lesbian, and faced a wave of backlash as a sense of betrayal came over the GLBT community in England.

As time wore on, and my stand-up material became more explicitly heterosexual, this friendly fire became openly hostile. According to a lesbian friend of mine, I was recently named “Most Disappointing Lesbian Of The Year” in a lesbian magazine. Some women stopped talking to me altogether. The gossip pieces have become more vindictive and accusing in tone.

There is an inverse phobia in many parts of the gay community which decrees same sex = good, mixed sex = bad. There are solid reasons for this heterophobia. Heterosexuals are everywhere, and their creeping omnipotence must be resisted, the heterophobes reason. Queer people, stuck in a ghetto, on the margins of society no matter how many soaps show gays kissing, are prone to caving in and joining the straight masses.

This must be guarded against at all times by constantly undermining everything that does not bend. One gay friend looked crestfallen before announcing that he felt as though a sheep were missing from the fold, and could not relax until it had returned. I felt irritated beyond measure – I was still me, I wasn’t “missing”, and as far as I was aware I wasn’t in a flock – but also vaguely guilty.

Although I’ve frequently seen this “inverse phobia,” I’ve rarely read it described in the media, and Clune’s take on it is interesting – as a constant pressure vs. the smaller percentage.  Personally I’ve seen it as a mark of insecurity, and as a means of shoring up one’s belief that their identity is hard-wired.  For, if you truly believe that you were born with SSA and it will never change, what difference does it make that someone else experiences a change in their attractions?  Why does everyone else have to fit into a immutable, narrow category in order for one to feel comfortable with themselves?  Undermining others in order to build oneself up is a poor foundation.

What Clune wrote about the hidden community of “hasbians” surprised me.

And I am not alone. There’s a quiet ex-lesbian minority of hasbians out there, having a gay old time with men after years of sapphistry. I know seven. Two are pregnant. Slowly we are seeking each other out; a quick nod here, a sly wink there. We know who we are. I have had hushed conversations in the corners of parties with fellow ex-dykes where we discuss how we have politically browbeaten our boyfriends on gay issues, and have made tearful phone calls to gay activist friends, promising we will still be on the barricades come the gay revolution.

I know that there is a quiet minority of ex-gays and ex-lesbians in Christian circles, and when we come across one another we often talk for hours about things that we have in common with few others.  I’d not thought about that group existing in the secular world at large.  And where would we gather?  There aren’t exactly cruise lines setting up excursions for “hasbians” – we’re the minority of a minority!  And it’s odd to be in a group organized around something one no longer feels to be a part of.

Back in the day, I spoke with a TV producer about the possibility of flying out to California to appear on their show.  She was frustrated about how difficult it was to find those of us who had experienced a change in our orientation.  She asked why this was so when she could see so many of us gathered in an ad that appeared in the Washington Post.  That photo was taken at an Exodus conference in Seattle, and I was in it.  I explained that we were scattered across the country – we didn’t gather together en mass on a regular basis.  We were, and still are, the ex-GLBT diaspora.

Since Exodus has closed, I’ve seen more individuals keeping in touch via social media, and other ministry groups forming.  It is nice to be able to talk to someone from time to time who shares your perspective, although once you’ve experienced a change in your orientation, you tend to move on into the heterosexual world at large.  Looking back can become a drag  (pardon the pun.)  I don’t find that there is any movement developing among us to gather just for the sake of comparing notes.  Mostly there is the desire to make opportunities available to others who want to seek change that were made available for us.  We might need to gather at some point to show that we indeed do exist, but at this time I only see that happening in small ways.

Back to the article.  Clune shares her own perspective on the fluidity of sexual orientation…a slide theory:

I find the many possibilities of human sexual expression infinitely fascinating, not least my own. If there is one woolly belief to which I know I subscribe, it is this: that one’s sexuality is on a continuum, the polarities being absolutely straight and absolutely gay. Most of us fit somewhere between the two poles, and depending on what and who we experience in our lives, we may slide about a bit.

I love talking about this theory, such as it is…..Some of my audience have been profoundly unhappy about this, but isn’t it a mark of political maturity that one can withstand contradiction and difference? I’ve been called a scab, a sellout, a mainstream wannabe. I have been found guilty of crimes against the lesbian state.

Again, it would be nice to be able to have discussions of such things without the name calling and labeling.

In the article, Clune goes on to describe the complex emotions and thoughts that led her into lesbianism, and that have haunted her since leaving that world behind.  She’s rather apologetic in tone:

We are still on your side, gay world. Don’t think of us as the enemy. Don’t hate us for having a life and not a gay lifestyle. For God’s sake don’t call us bisexual.

She shares quite a bit, and it’s worth the time to read.  I’m going to quote one more section of this particular article here, though, where she outlines the exhausting pattern she found herself in while dating and living with women:

My relationships had all taken the same pattern – idyllic start, passionate intensity, massive conflict, slow merging of identities, rebellion, more conflict, couple therapy in hideous lesbian cushion-rooms with salt-and-pepper-haired dykes who nodded too much in phoney displays of empathy, tears, splitting up, dividing of friends and kd lang CDs, huge separation anxiety dramas in pubs, clubs, on the street, in cars, in supermarket car parks, hours on the phone, guilt, abusive letters, slurs and lies, silence.

In many ways, this is all standard-issue break-up stuff, straight or gay; but I couldn’t help feeling my answer lay back on the other side. I longed for my mind back, my own personal head space and the blissful state of basic incomprehension between man and woman which means you don’t have to waste years talking about your bloody feelings.

I wanted gadget-free sex, friends that were my own, something different to get my teeth into. There was something so exhausting about being a lesbian, and maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the hard work. I spent an asexual summer working myself up to crossing back over.

Now I know that this is not the pattern that all women experience – and Clune herself states that “In many ways, this is all standard-issue break-up stuff, straight or gay…”  It could just be that she had intensity issues, and I believe that it is possible to work on this within the confines of a same-sex relationship.  I did think it was mature of her to take some time off from relationships to sort out her own feelings.  (Too often I’ve seen people go from one relationship to another without having the presence of mind to live life on their own for a bit.)  What jumped out at me, though, was her description of the different kind of freedom that she experienced in relationships with men, because men are different.  “I longed for my mind back, my own personal head space and the blissful state of basic incomprehension between man and woman…”

That difference between the genders is common comic fodder – there are constant examples of mis-communication and divergent ways of seeing the world to trip over just about daily in my own relationship with my husband.  But there is a blessing in that – it is a less claustrophobic way to live life.  I really appreciated Clune’s bringing this to light, and she went on to write more about this in the years to come.  We’ll look more at that and other topics in upcoming posts.


Quotes taken from Jackie Clune’s article that can be found here:  http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2003/jun/14/comedy.artsfeatures


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